Yale University Press
September 24, 2013
Despite the recent ferocious public debate about belief, the concept most central to the discussion—God—frequently remains vaguely and obscurely described. Are those engaged in these arguments even talking about the same thing? In a wide-ranging response to this confusion, esteemed scholar David Bentley Hart pursues a clarification of how the word “God” functions in the world’s great theistic faiths. Ranging broadly across Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Vedantic and Bhaktic Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, Hart explores how these great intellectual traditions treat humanity’s knowledge of the divine mysteries. Constructing his argument around three principal metaphysical “moments”—being, consciousness, and bliss—the author demonstrates an essential continuity between our fundamental experience of reality and the ultimate reality to which that experience inevitably points. Thoroughly dismissing such blatant misconceptions as the deists' concept of God, as well as the fundamentalist view of the Bible as an objective historical record, Hart provides a welcome antidote to simplistic manifestoes. In doing so, he plumbs the depths of humanity’s experience of the world as powerful evidence for the reality of God and captures the beauty and poetry of traditional reflection upon the divine.
David Bentley Hart is, by my rough estimate, about three times smarter than I am. The difficulty is that he writes as though he is five times smarter, and I find this off-putting.
Seriously, I rate this book at three stars taking an average of extremes. There are stretches where he is dispatching the bombast of the new atheism in a magnificent way, or puncturing the pretensions of the devotees of artificial intelligence, and so five stars it is. There are other stretches where he is bumping along the one-star bottom, and so that to be thrown into the mix.
The chief difficulty is that what Hart describes as classical theism is a mash-up of Sufi mysticism, Muslim philosophy, Hindu wisdom, Platonism, and Gregory of Nyssa. An entire book about experiencing God, by a Christian, and I am not sure that Jesus was even mentioned once. In these sections, he is describing the god who is the mascot of the smart guys club, and not the God who through Christ toppled the wisdom of the world, which, through all its wisdom, did not know God (1 Cor. 1:21).
Further, Hart makes this mistake while patronizingly dismissing people who could never ever belong to the smart guys club, such as advocates of Intelligent Design. So a Trinitarian creationist can get patted on the head and sent off as a worshiper of an idol while Hart smoothly quotes that great sage Rami Dumbunni. In this, the book is simply fatuous.