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Anthony Kenny on ‘Atheist Delusions’

Posted on May 13, 2010
book cover

By Anthony Kenny

(Page 2)

Well aware that the Christianization of the Roman Empire did not wipe out the evils of pagan society, Hart is generous in concessions to the opposition. He has no illusions about the great Christian emperors. Constantine was “a violent, puritanical, ponderous, late Roman brute”. Theodosius was a harsh persecutor of pagans and heretics. Justinian was one “whom nobody very much liked or likes”. Surprisingly, the one emperor who gets a kind word is Constantine’s apostate nephew Julian, who tried to reintroduce paganism. “Of all the emperors in the Constantinian line Julian alone stands free of any suspicion of bad faith. He was also without question the most estimable and attractive of the lot.” It is wrong, Hart argues, to see Christianity as invading a joyful pagan milieu of vitality and mirth, and turning the world grey with its breath. Late antiquity was an era of fear and melancholy, and contempt for the body was a leitmotif of many of its thinkers. Christianity provided a liberating message, in which the resurrection of Jesus offered hope of the transfiguration of the flesh and the glorification of all creation.

Christianity slowly gave greater freedom to the oppressed of the present world. The legislation of Constantine and Theodosius II improved the status of women, whether virgins, wives or widows. Christian husbands, unlike pagan ones, could not force their wives to submit to abortion or to expose their infants. In the course of Christian history, the foundation of hospitals, leper asylums, almshouses and hostels palliated the lot of the most downtrodden members of society.

Hart cannot deny that the institution of slavery long outlasted Western Europe’s conversion to Christianity. With a shrug, he observes that it is no more surprising that some pagan moral values survived in a Christian culture than that some Christian moral values survive in our secular culture today. He can point to imperial edicts ameliorating the lot of slaves, and he can quote a sermon of St Gregory of Nyssa as early as 379 that attacked slavery as an institution, denouncing as blasphemous the claim of any human being to own another human being.


book cover


Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies


By David Bentley Hart


Yale University Press, 272 pages


Buy the book

In his final plea for the defence, Hart puts to the jury the question “When Christianity departs, what is left behind?”. The highest ideals of the secular project, he proclaims, are borrowed ideals, and Nietzsche was right that any effort to cast off the Christian faith while retaining the best elements of Christian morality is doomed to defeat. In an ultimate flourish he dons the robes of opposing counsel. “To use Richard Dawkins’s justly famous metaphor (which unfortunately he does not quite grasp is a metaphor), memes like “human rights” and “human dignity” may not indefinitely continue to replicate themselves once the Christian ‘infinite value of every life’ meme has died out.”

Let us now abandon the forensic context, and ask how accurate is Hart’s historical narrative .

The set-piece treatments of the iconic events of secularist propaganda—the burning of the Alexandria library, the Spanish Inquisition, the trial of Galileo and so on—are detailed and often convincing. But the book is full of generalizations that spur the reader to look for—and often to find—counter-examples.

For instance, in expounding the significance of the gospel story of the denial and repentance of Peter, Hart claims that in a pagan world “Peter, as a rustic could not possibly have been a worthy object of a well-bred man’s sympathy”. To say this is to ignore the existence of a whole genre of classical poetry devoted to the joys and sorrows of rustics, namely pastoral elegy.

Frequently, in order to emphasize the originality of Christianity, Hart devalues the achievements of Classical antiquity. Science as we understand it, he claims, depends on Christian underpinning. But if science is the collaborative pursuit of truth about the world by empirical inquiries whose results are structured into a theoretical discipline, then the West’s first centre of scientific research was Aristotle’s Lyceum.

Hart is not at his best when discussing Aristotle.

He cannot have read The History of Animals when he calls Albert the Great “the father of biological field research”. In physics he believes that Aristotle’s prime mover was an outermost crystalline sphere, when in fact it was an incorporeal divinity outside the universe. (How Hart would have crowed if he had come across such a howler in Hitchens!) Hart is right that the discoveries of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton were not so much a liberation from religious authority as from latter-day Aristotelianism. But the persistence of Aristotle’s cosmology for many centuries after its sell-by date was partly due to the religious cultures in which it survived. His works became the possession of “peoples of the book”—Muslims, Jews and Christians, and accordingly they were treated in the way that sacred texts are treated. That is why many of the greatest minds of the Middle Ages, instead of following Aristotle’s example of original investigation, wrote commentaries on his scientific works.

Hart’s comparisons between Classical and Christian eras are all too often partisan. In order to portray Christianity as more cheerful than paganism, he has to downplay the patristic teaching that everlasting torment awaited the majority of mankind. To claim that the ultimate equality of all humans is an exclusively Christian doctrine he has to ignore the teaching of Stoics such as the slave Epictetus and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. To explain his admiration for Julian the Apostate, he has to claim that of all the emperors between Constantine and Theodosius he was the most “genuinely Christian in sensibility”.

The truth is surely that the institutions and values we cherish, like the works of art and architecture that we prize, are not the exclusive property of any one stage in our long history. Some institutions, like democracy, were invented in the ancient world, and others, like universities, date from the Middle Ages. Some values, such as philanthropy, are part of our Judaeo-Christian inheritance: others, such as freedom of speech, we owe to the Enlightenment. Some values and institutions can be credited to more recent times, such as the abolition of slavery and the empowerment of women. Surely, we should be grateful to our ancestors, near and distant, for the good things they handed on to us, and we should do our best to eradicate the evils we have inherited from them. But we can also agree with Hart that to regard our own age as blest beyond all others with an overplus of good versus evil is the height of folly.

© Copyright of the Newspaper Licensing Agency.

Anthony Kenny is a former Master of Balliol College, Oxford. He is the author of the four volumes of Oxford University Press’ “New History of Western Philosophy,” published from 2004 to 2008.

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RAE's avatar

By RAE, May 15, 2010 at 3:34 pm Link to this comment

“Death, the last new experience you will ever have!” TheHandyman

That’s the way I’m betting so I plan to damned well enjoy it if I can!

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By TheHandyman, May 15, 2010 at 2:47 pm Link to this comment

I don’t even know where to begin with this book review. I cannot tell who is the more ignorant, the author of the book or the author of the book review.

The Christian religion was and is nothing new. It did not start with Jesus where it should have. He was killed at the request of rich Jews who saw his preachings as a threat to their way of life. And yet we don’t even know for sure if that part of the mythology is accurate because Christianity is made up one part ancient legends from previous religions, one part recorded history of a nasty nomadic tribe that went around smiting and destroying everyone else and hasn’t stopped, declaring themselves the chosen people of the One True God, ohmygodnotthatagain, one part letters and writings collected by like named people who were not the Disciples and who never heard Jesus utter a single word, and one part writings of some people who lived a thousand years after Christ’s death telling everyone else what it all meant. The basis of Christianity and the other two religions also based on that same god are nothing but a bunch of writings by men who had their own agenda.

The notion that humans could not survive without Christian moraliy is a bunch of horse manure! Humanity had survived thousands of years and even flourished to a GREATER EXTENT previous to the rise of Catholicism in various places in the world. Christians conveniently forget that the Muslim Culture flourished with libraries, paved roads, running water, and laws against intolerance while Europe was in the Dark Ages burning witches! We secularists didn’t makeup what Christianity was doing to science and humanity. It is all there in the records of the Church to see and to say that Atheists are delusional because we look at the history of Christianity and deem it a blight on humanity is absurd. It is not we who pretend that what we do is or will be forgiven by some mythical being.

What makes Christianity such a blight on humanity is the first position it takes with regards to human character. Right off the bat it declares us evil and unworthy because of “original sin.” Humans at birth are neither. Didn’t either of these idiots read anything about the history of Psychology. Don’t they know about BF Skinner and his Behaviorist theories or maybe Abraham Maslow or Carl Rogers whose theories have proven to bring sanity to many people driven by religion into thinking that they are defective?

And why should anyone have to defend GOD. If there is one I can only imagine that IT is sorely disappointed in his creation. It is only a matter of no more than a couple of hundred years and the human species will have disappeared from the planet unfortunately taking every other thing that made this planet a precious jewel with it merely because it allowed religion to cloud it’s collective mind and keeping it from seeing it’s march towards the cliffs of oblivion!

Death, the last new experience you will ever have!

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By nemesis2010, May 15, 2010 at 2:11 pm Link to this comment

Re “Atheist Delusions”

Excreta bovinus! fantastica fornicatio!

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By nemesis2010, May 15, 2010 at 2:09 pm Link to this comment

By Outragedtoo, May 14 at 6:51 pm

” I haven’t read this book, so should probably not comment. But here I go anyway:Iam not sure I should trust David Bently Hart’s research, since I can’t count on his objectivity.
Second, I have engaged with and listened to many conservatives and Christians who are absolutely wonderful at weaving complex and extremely logical sounding arguments. The only problem is that at the foundation of their argument is quite often an absolute falsehood or gross misinterpretation.
I can only say that “god” help us if this alleged new Christian revolution actually
succeeds, considering the actual track record of Christianity so far.

1. Why not? Being written by a Christian means that this book—in all likelihood—is nothing more than pages of incoherent and twisted logic, opinion and belief passed off as revelation and/or fact, lacking in extra-biblical evidence and filled to the rim with bull excrement; nothing more than fertilizer for the posies that fill the pews.

2. Well said and you’re not the only one. Sometimes all one can do is stare incredulously into the face of the stupefied believer in shocked silence.

3. Relax; this book is delusional wish-thinking on the part of the author. Christianity, because of its eschatology, is doomed for the trash heap. It’s a monument to monkey credulity that after 2,000 years Christianity is still around. Any non-delusional individual reading the eschatology of the New Testament can easily see that the writers are first century flat-earthers, without the slightest clue of cosmology, astronomy, or physics and believe that the end of the world and return of their savior god was imminent.

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By nemesis2010, May 15, 2010 at 2:03 pm Link to this comment

By Toot_toot, May 15 at 11:40 am

”Mankind has often misinterpreted most religions and, thereby, ran amok. It was not the fault of the religion but fools and evildoers who are to blame. Mankind has proven again and again the need for the identity and guidelines for living most religions spellout for them.”

Religion is nothing more than a system of beliefs, values, and practices that usually involve a supernatural power or powers. Religion is not a living breathing entity. Religion is manmade and cannot be misinterpreted. Different denominations, sects, groups, etc. interpret ancient mythological writings, old wives’ tales, or invent from whole cloth—called revelation—criteria that are usually based on the needs of the leadership, principally their need to maintain their hold on power and wealth, and limits of credulity of the stupefied myrmidons that follow them. To be able to misinterpret there must first be a true interpretation against which to judge. No such thing exists.

Religious tenets are constantly evolving or morphing because religion, being manmade, is highly schismatic. We don’t see Wal Mart workers being stoned for working on Sunday because enlightenment has caused Homo sapiens to view the stoning of fellow Homo sapiens for working on a particular day of the week as abhorrent. The more enlightenment influenced a society, the less rigid the mythological belief system. One need only compare the Muslim world and Western civilization to behold the stark contrast between enlightened societies and those still under the iron yoke of religious extremism.

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By RAE, May 15, 2010 at 1:35 pm Link to this comment

“...they used the very last sentence of Matthews Gospel “Jesus said “I will be with you until the end of the ages”. ” Omygodnotagain

To which I would have asked:

“So where were you at the BEGINNING when a little clear guidance might possibly have “bent the twig” in the proper direction instead of waiting until the “oak” is a useless, irrevocably twisted, gnarled and completely corrupted blight in the universe. Dropping in for a few years after everything is completely screwed up has only made matters worse. Any real “God” would have known better.”

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By omygodnotagain, May 15, 2010 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment

diman May 14 11.40 am
Good question what is traditional Christianity. The breaking point would be the Reformation. Traditional Christianity means Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Syriac, Armenian, Coptic, Anglican etc. they used the very last sentence of Matthews Gospel “Jesus said “I will be with you until the end of the ages”. so the Councils and Decrees played an important part in what constitutes their version of Christianity. The Council of Nicea agreed on the Creed prayed by all the listed above and more.
The Reformation led to groups of Bible fundamentalists who disregarded these Councils and just interpret the Bible in their own way. Christianity can be thought of as a tree growing out of the acorn of Pentacost. Non Traditional Christianity is in a sense a broken branch looking for its acorn.

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By samosamo, May 15, 2010 at 12:12 pm Link to this comment



Their wise ones said ‘we might have their religion’,
but when we tried to understand it we found that
that there were too many kinds of religions among
white men for us to understand, and that scarcely
any two white men agreed which one was the right
one to learn. This bothered us a good deal until we
saw that the white man did not take his religion any
more seriously than he did his laws, and that he
kept both of them just behind him, like helpers, to
use when they might do him good in his dealings
with strangers.
These are not our ways. We kept the laws we
made and lived our religion. We have never been able to
understand the white man, who fools nobody
but himself.

Plenty Coups
Absaroke Crow Indian

This is why I find little credence in any of the major middle
eastern religions all based on the ancient Egyptian astrotheology.
That in itself was/is a rather beautiful piece of sun, moon and
star worship.

But when humans are involved, too many ideas and opinions
usually distort what could have been a perfectly good idea. And
before anyone can turn around there all sort of competing ideas
of all sorts of religious thought and arrogance.

This guy Hart tries to make christianity to be the ultimate in
religious ideology there by arrogantly dismissing indigenous
peoples of any land as basically ‘life unworthy of life’ and
definitely too stupid to develop a religious idea. His not even
mentioning indigenous people supports the notion that those
peoples have nothing to contribute. I believe the above quote
rather destroys Hart’s attempt to promote christianity as the
ultimate form of religion.

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By Unorthodox Behaviour, May 15, 2010 at 11:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I agree that Hart seems to have done a good job of interpreting history to his pre-
conceived conclusions. This is fairly obvious considering his glossing over of the
Crusades. If his pre-concieved conclusions would have be different I’m sure he would
have focused on them in an objective manner. That non-objectivity should tell us a lot.
His title of the book screams non-objectivity. Now one could say the same of Dawkins of
course, but I’m thinking Dawkins is on firmer ground. He writes of religious delusion as is
pertains to the core question of existence and he has the definition of delusion on his
side IMHO. To me one of the core issues is burden. If I say something exists and has
actually communicated with mankind isn’t the burden upon me to offer some proof?  Just
because I’ve convinced millions of people to agree with me won’t change my obligation.

My experience has been that when discussing religion with people that without fail
eventually their beliefs will be based on a foundation of believing in magic. That is in my
view the weakest foundation of all. Historically society has allowed this weak foundation
to stand and thus it’s been used for many ruthless ends.

Here’s a thought; The Christianity ‘experiment’ has been around for centuries and it
arguably dominates the world power-wise. And where are we? Are things better? Let’s
consider the USA. Christianity thoroughly dominates the levers of power and what has
unfolded? Two current pre-emptive wars killing many thousands of families with no end
in sight. How long must this experiment go on until we realize it’s not working out very

My question is this, if Christianity is truly a moral guide and an overall good for society
then why did virtually all Christians support these attacks not to mention the tireless calls
for more attacks on Iran for instance? Why do ‘good Christians’ support clear
discrimination? I feel the foundation for all of this boils down to the belief in magic. And
unfortunately the world seems to have accepted that even asking for proof is ‘off the table’
so to speak. My ‘belief’ is that this sort of dynamic is dangerous and I think I’ve got lots of
examples to prove my ‘belief’.

At this point some may suggest that secularism is bad too with the standard examples
such as Stalin. My response is that I don’t believe those dictators killed in the name of
atheism. Atheism has no dogma per say. It doesn’t identify ‘sinners’ and ‘sins’. It does
seem to identify delusion in this case but I don’t believe it says to hate the delusional. I
believe it says to “try and enlighten” and be “wary” of the delusional for the religious
delusional will kill because and unseen ‘God’ tells him it’s okay.

Anyway, Hart seems to be bending over backwards to say Christianity is an overall good
but current events almost everyday tell us his reasoning is flawed.

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By hark, May 15, 2010 at 7:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It just amazes me the consternation that non believers cause believers.

There are very few of us to begin with, and the vast, vast majority of us don’t proselytize or wear our lack of belief on our sleeves. 

Why all the ruckus, fuss, outrage and uproar?

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By Leefeller, May 15, 2010 at 7:31 am Link to this comment

I don’t believe, so therefore I do not exist!

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By OzarkMichael, May 15, 2010 at 6:37 am Link to this comment

As far as rewriting history, the secularists in the last 50 years have been very successful in doing just that. There has been a campaign to ascribe the evils of the world to religion,  simultaneously assigning the good things to secularism, while the shining future of hope goes to atheism, which can only be realized when the religious finally whithers. That is not history but a mythos. The small minds which consider these questions settled simply because the secularists say it is are burying their heads in the sand. 

Assumptions that David Bentley Hart is an ignorant fundamentalist Christian says a great deal about those who assume it. I would like you to keep your prejudiced assumptions. It works to my advantage.

But on the other hand, Mr Hart should be correctly identified. He is an agnostic who asserts an old school version of history. Whether his book and ideas are really worthwhile can best be evaluated by (shock! gasp! horror!) reading it.

GW asks me: You agree that many Christians are terrible people and that Christianity itself, in one way or another, is to blame for it?  Atrocities committed by Christians and done in the name of Christianity are one of the crosses that Christianity must bear?

Yes. There is no other way to evaluate Christianity in history. One must not cherry pick historical events, ideas, and developments. Some of your   questions edge into a theological understanding of whether particular events or certain people are truly ‘Christian’ or not.  That would be important to me, but that isnt what i jumped in here to discuss.

We are talking about Christianity in history.

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By DaEggman, May 14, 2010 at 6:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Delusion is in the eye of the beholder. Dawkins is a scientist. Scientists like proof. This guy is a believer, he likes opinion.

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By RAE, May 14, 2010 at 6:07 pm Link to this comment

Outragedtoo: “...I have engaged with and listened to many conservatives and Christians who are absolutely wonderful at weaving complex and extremely logical sounding arguments. The only problem is that at the foundation of their argument is quite often an absolute falsehood or gross misinterpretation.”

I’m with Outragedtoo. The millions who just accept what they’re told to believe on faith blow my mind.

One of my greatest amusements is to listen attentively to otherwise intelligent people when they wave their Bibles and speak of “God’s word.” I’m dumbfounded they don’t realize they have nothing but hearsay to support their belief that a God even exists and that ALL their arguments that follow from this untested assumption can be no more valid than a “gross misinterpretation” at best.

But, it takes all kinds, as they say. And as long as “they” don’t waste my time with their proselytizing nonsense it’s OK with me.

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By Night-Gaunt, May 14, 2010 at 5:11 pm Link to this comment

Remember Dawkins‘s book title Afs? “The God Delusion” and that was an insult too. So it is tit for tat. So you should also chastised Dawkins for his high handed slap at all believers.

I have seen shorter versions of this Christian re-telling of history. Only now in more extensive form. Who knew Christianity fostered the scientific method! So they say. Revisionism is what it is and wrong. Carefully wrong. Or should I say not quite complete?

Arguing religion or scripture is a waste of time. What bothers me are those who would want to eliminate the other by one way or another. We should be able to live with our differences and maintain our rights between them. A difficult task since true free speech is what you don’t want to hear.

If I could I wold read the book for the detail and then search them out. Maybe I will be able too if I have the time and money. I concentrate much of my research into biology, evolution and ecology.

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By LocalHero, May 14, 2010 at 3:30 pm Link to this comment

“Without the social cohesion and bonding that flows from such organized belief system, personal identity tends to run amok.”

Well, heck! We wouldn’t want real, live, thinking, loving people to actually express their own “personal identity”!

No sir-ee. Just keep quiet & be one of the sheep. Let the dogma do the thinking & killing for you. The blood is so much easier to wash off that way.

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By ray keith, May 14, 2010 at 3:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hard 2 believe this character can sell knowledge w/o any real factual groundwork.
Begin w/the ‘council of laodicea 363 a.d.’ then get a firm knowledge of the ‘Spanish Inquisition’
Real Christian’s have no physical church,(as yet)nor do we have anything 2 do w/religion’s of this earth
Better start over in your study of the bible junior!

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By gerard, May 14, 2010 at 3:17 pm Link to this comment

Regarding religion, since nobody can prove either the existence or the nonexistence of a God, let alone what God is, if anything other than an idea,—or how this vast overwhelming universe came to be—how come people keep on trying to explain the unexplainable, believe the unbelievable, create a creator?  And argue over who is right and who is wrong? 

It’s the doctrines, the systems of belief about social guidance, that believers create and spread which help or hinder the development of a humane civilization—or not.

If we could agree on what are the essentials of a humane civilization and then work toward that goal together, maybe the result might be better than arguing about unknowables.

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By Outragedtoo, May 14, 2010 at 2:51 pm Link to this comment

I haven’t read this book, so should probably not comment. But here I go anyway: I
am not sure I should trust David Bently Hart’s research, since I can’t count on his

Second, I have engaged with and listened to many conservatives and Christians
who are absolutely wonderful at weaving complex and extremely logical sounding
arguments. The only problem is that at the foundation of their argument is quite
often an absolute falsehood or gross misinterpretation.

I can only say that “god” help us if this alleged new Christian revolution actually
succeeds, considering the actual track record of Christianity so far.

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By "G"utless "W"itless Hitler, May 14, 2010 at 1:21 pm Link to this comment


So you’re a Christian who’s willing to own it?  You agree that many Christians are terrible people and that Christianity itself, in one way or another, is to blame for it?  Atrocities committed by Christians and done in the name of Christianity are one of the crosses that Christianity must bear?  There is no difference between a true Christian and a Christian?  If one calls himself a Christian, believes himself to be a Christians, but nevertheless fails miserably to live a Christian life, he’s still a Christian?

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By OzarkMichael, May 14, 2010 at 10:58 am Link to this comment

I am surprised that Truthdig published the review of this book. While it is a habit of mine to read books i disagree with, I didnt think any Truthdiggers had that habit. Somebody on the Truthdig staff is stealing my schtick…

But more than a schtick, it is a wonderful advantage to read and understand what the opposition is thinking. Kudos to someone up there at Truthdig for having enough confidence to publish a view that contradicts their own.

I dont know if the book is good or not. Unlike the author of “Atheist Delusion”, i would not treat the Crusades so lightly, nor would i finish with it without a more wide ranging discussion.

GW Hitler said: The problem is that there are no Christians to “own it”.  Therefore, all we get are apologists for Christianity (rather than actual Christians) whose response to criticism is something like “yeah, but those folks weren’t really Christians” or “that’s not how I practice Christianity” or “that doesn’t mean the Christian faith itself is bad.”

Untrue. Check out on Truthdig “After Religion fizzles all we have is Nietzsche”. I quote myself:

“But as we evaluate Christianity in history we cannot select just the actions that we approve of. Therefore we face everything, and our evaluation is stronger for it…The Inquisition is one of the most frequently referenced events on Truthdig. Or perhaps it comes in second to the Crusades. Both are held up as evidence that Christianity is the bad actor in the world. Let us discuss it.”

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By dihey, May 14, 2010 at 10:54 am Link to this comment

Many years ago a Jesuit told me in response to my question: “where is your God”?: “God is inside you”. For many years I wondered what he meant. Today I know: It is my genome!

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By Inherit The Wind, May 14, 2010 at 10:39 am Link to this comment

“David Bentley Hart? C’mon down!  Th’ Great State-uh-Texas wants YOU, Boy, to teach History to our young’uns!  Christian an’ Merkun history, not that Commie New York City stuff!”

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By Eugenio Costa, May 14, 2010 at 10:18 am Link to this comment

Trained silken monkeys
chattering away glibly:
noises by the pool….


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By Eugenio Costa, May 14, 2010 at 10:12 am Link to this comment

En archei estin he pistis?

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By Eugenio Costa, May 14, 2010 at 10:06 am Link to this comment

Pistis and/or Logos and/or….


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By CitizenWhy, May 14, 2010 at 9:50 am Link to this comment

In reply to Diman, traditional Christians are well aware that there is no proof of
God except the “proof” of revelation as documented in Scripture. Which
obviously requires an act of faith to accept.

Traditional Christianity also uses rationalistic “proofs” of but most theologians
acknowledge these “proofs” as tautological, that is, requiring as a starting
premise “God exists”. Easy enough to logically prove God exists after that
concession. Most would say rationalistic proofs of God do not prove God’s
existence but do show that a belief in God is reconcilable with reason.

It seems to me that Hawkins wants to introduce at least an uncertainty principle
into Christianity and religion in general. This would allow the religious to enter
into open inquiry along with the secular. But faith, not primarily reason, cannot
be argued away by reason. And faith is certain. But at least in Christianity
traditional expressions of faith are subjective, not claiming to be objective. The
Credo begins “I believe,” not “There is for certain ...”

It is when certainty of personal faith is replaced by the certainty of absolute
reason or the certainty of aggressive missionary assertion that Christianity, or
any religion, gets imperialistically hostile to the rest of us and to science and
other forms of secular knowledge.

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By "G"utless "W"itless Hitler, May 14, 2010 at 9:34 am Link to this comment

The problem is that there are no Christians to “own it”.  Therefore, all we get are apologists for Christianity (rather than actual Christians) whose response to criticism is something like “yeah, but those folks weren’t really Christians” or “that’s not how I practice Christianity” or “that doesn’t mean the Christian faith itself is bad.”  In response, I say that eugenics was a good idea that happened to be practiced by bad people, so why do we have such an aversion to eugenics programs?  Communism is a fantastic idea that historically has been implemented and administered by thugs.  Why then is it a dirty word?  And economically speaking, the Free Market sounds like a winner.  Why the hell would we want to regulate it?

Yessiree, Christianity, Eugenics, Communism, and the Free Market, four fantastic ideas that share the same fatal flaw: human nature.

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By Terradea, May 14, 2010 at 9:32 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I don’t trust any religious people for the following reasons:  If they are sincere in their beliefs, they are silly, superstitious fools who cannot be mentally healthy, reasonable and/or intelligent; if they are mentally healthy, reasonable and/or intelligent, they cannot be sincere in their beliefs.

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By WriterOnTheStorm, May 14, 2010 at 9:05 am Link to this comment

This un-believer gave up on what I call the religion-is-wrong-because-it’s-
bad argument years ago. Not because bad things have never happened in the
name of religion, but because those things may not represent the religion as a
whole. Based on this review, it seems Hart has done a good job of re-
interpreting history to suit his case. I suspect that it’s just another
interpretation, however, and may not be any closer to the truth than the
“delusions” held, not only by atheists, but by most conventional historians.

What Hart seems to have completely overlooked, is the far more potent
religion-is-bad-because-it’s-wrong argument. Here Hart is guilty of the
fallacy that ‘my opposition is wrong therefor I am right’. I don’t think you’d
have to get midway through your course in logic to understand the errors of
this one.

It doesn’t matter one whit if Dawkins’ interpretation of christian history is
wrong. All that matters is the question of the existence of christian god. The
church could be as evil as the Nazis, but if there was verifiable evidence that
their god actually existed, I’d stop my non-believin’ ways at once.

But given the evidence, even if that church were a everlasting force of pure
love, I’d still say they were wrong.

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By Dave24, May 14, 2010 at 8:52 am Link to this comment

A nice summation, by the late great Carlin:

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By CitizenWhy, May 14, 2010 at 8:38 am Link to this comment

Interesting study on religion and society: more religion, more dysfunction. ...

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By firefly, May 14, 2010 at 8:34 am Link to this comment

Dawkins is not a philosopher. He’s a scientist and as
such, his argument is solely about proof and truth.
Anyone who has listened to him or read his books (as
I have done) will know that he doesn’t argue against
the enlightening, inspirational, civilizing, literary
aspects of Christianity, nor the beauty of the
historical and artistic devotion to a god.

As a scientist he argues only that God is unproven
and not real. In the same way that any well-loved,
heroic and magnificent fictional characters can
motivate, enlighten and inspire, gods of any creed
have that power, but that does not make them true or
factual. The Bible and Koran were probably never
meant as factual script but as metaphors. God is
fiction. Christianity is merely the belief in a
particular god.

For some, that belief is about the teachings from
those scriptures, for others it means an absolute
conviction that God is true.

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By CitizenWhy, May 14, 2010 at 8:17 am Link to this comment

In reply to Diman ... Traditional Christianity includes: Anglicanism, Methodism,
Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, Orthodoxy,  Calvinism, and Roman Catholicism. It
does not include fundamentalism, the Baptists, Mormonism, or born-again
Christianity. Perhaps traditional could be replaced with: “having the patina of
enough history and some sort of scholarly tradition that embraces secular learning
as well as religious study.”

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By firefly, May 14, 2010 at 8:02 am Link to this comment

I completely agree with you tedmurphy41!!!

Religions, including Christianity are totalitarian and
despotic by nature. They all require unconditional
obedience to the arbitrary, prejudiced, fickle,
specious ‘word of God’ on pain of eternal damnation,
without question, without proof.

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By ssg13565, May 14, 2010 at 7:51 am Link to this comment

What happened to Judaism?  We went from Greece and Rome to Christianity without mention of Jesus’ religion itself?

No myopia here in either the author of the book, nor the reviewer.

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By diman, May 14, 2010 at 7:40 am Link to this comment

What is traditional Christianity? I’m hearing this mantra over and over again, but could anybody present the well-argumented definition of such a phenomenon?

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By tedmurphy41, May 14, 2010 at 7:31 am Link to this comment

As all faiths depend on complete and utter subservience, and when questions are asked that cannot readily be answered, the Bible/Koran, or any other religious book, is brought out or you are asked to blindly believe in the Lord.
It all breaks down to whether you believe or don’t; it’s really as simple as that.
You honestly don’t need any more books on the subject.

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By CitizenWhy, May 14, 2010 at 7:13 am Link to this comment

There are number of items the author could also cite in presenting a more
nuanced and accurate view of traditional Christianity:

1. The founding of the universities by the church. These institutions created a
paid body of intellectuals and allowed knowledge to pass from one generation
to the next in a orderly way and also provided a forum for new science to be
developed. Ironically their theological studies came to be based on reason
(systematic logic) rather than on prayerful reflection on Scripture.

2. The founding and spreading of a rational rule of law based on a body
principles and precedents, not just on rules and rulers. The first universities
were founded by the Pope after rediscovering the legal Code of Emperor
Justinian in the early 1000s The Code had been lost for hundreds of years). In
addition to law the traditional curriculum of the Roman Empire was also taught
at these universities, a combination of arts, math and science. The legal codes
and reasoning taught by the church produced a body of administrators who
went on to introduce a rational rule of law to all the major and minor states of

On reviewing Justinian’s code, based mainly on precedent, the Pope decreed
that the church and lawyers would not be bound merely by precedent but
would distill principles from the code that would be used to make room for
new and more suitable decisions about new situations.

Lawyers trained by the church first write down all existent legal codes in use,
including the barbarian codes that used “ordeal” as the basis for decision.
Ordeal involved gathering the two parties to a dispute and whichever party
could muster more followers and out shout the other was the winner. Sounds
like modern extremist politics, does it not?

In writing down manorial codes, often developed by large land owning
monasteries, it was clear that the serfs were considered human beings, with
souls and and in many places with legal rights. They could sue their lords, with
the protection of the church, and sometimes they won. No other feudal system
allowed any rights for peasants.

3. A much neglected area of history after the collapse of the Roman Empire was
the struggle of Roman city states to survive against barbarism, especially in
France, Spain, and northern Italy. In France and Spain the local senates,
dominated by Christians, had, in the late Empire, ruled with wisdom and
justice, in many cases having almost completely eliminated slavery. With the
Empire gone the local bishops also acted as the local Roman governors,
although they formally fell under the rule of a barbarian (German) king. The
barbarians were not Roman Catholics, but Christian heretics or pagans for the
most part. The synods of bishops often admonished the German kings on the
proper rule of governance and taxes, pointing out that taxes were not to be
used for the enrichment of the king’s family and favorites but for the common
good, for the purposes that the old Roman city-state senates had used them:
aquaducts, baths, sewers, roads, libraries, schools, and providing an economic
stake for manumitted slaves. The bishops used secular concepts of the just
state and Stoic philosophy (especially the civic, or public, virtues of prudence,
justice, fortitude and temperance) in laying out how states should be governed.

By the way, the good local governance of the western Roman city states is
hinted at in the movie Gladiator, in contrast to the barbarrian behavior of the
emperor’s Praetorian Guard.

P.S, I am not a Christian and consider many of the churches, on the whole,
regressive forces in our society.

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mrfreeze's avatar

By mrfreeze, May 14, 2010 at 6:59 am Link to this comment

I have NO doubt (call it “faith” if you will) that the world might very well be a better place in the absence of many religions (especially the monotheistic ones).

There is no reason to believe that had mankind adopted beliefs apart from, let say Jesus, the world would have turned out worse. After all, look at all the ridiculous iconography of Christianity: the cross, the madonna with child (how vapid is that?), etc….What value do these symbols have except to dumb down an already superstitious and paranoid species.

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By elisalouisa, May 14, 2010 at 6:45 am Link to this comment

|di?lo? zh ?n|
an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder : the delusion of being watched.
• the action of deluding someone or the state of being deluded : what a capacity television has for delusion.
delusions of grandeur a false impression of one’s own importance.
delusional |- zh ?nl| |d??lu??nl| |di?lu??nl| |d??lu?n?l| |di?lu?n?l| adjective
ORIGIN late Middle English (in the sense [act of deluding or of being deluded] ):
from late Latin delusio(n-), from the verb deludere (see delude ).

Eugenio Costa
Please, Dawkins is a patsy. This Hart is a moron.
“Only Christianity fostered the concept of a dignity intrinsic to every human soul. Only the Church built hospitals and almshouses, and taught that charity
was the highest virtue.”
An absolutely virtuoso display of historical ignorance.
The first “hospitals” int he modern sense were an invention of the Roman Army.
I would add to that. Only the Church built hospital and almshouses “in a large scale manner.” Notice Dawkins did not use the word invented.
Certain orders of Catholic sisters were in charge of many hospitals who gave medical assistance to all who came and were in need. Other Christians denominations did likewise. It is sad to see the good works of so many people trashed because of personal feeling as to certain institutions.

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By Gil Gaudia, May 14, 2010 at 6:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Calling Richard Dawkins an “uneducated, narrow, ethnocentric moron” has to qualify as either supreme arrogance, monumental ignorance, ad hominem extremism or all or the above.  Why does Eugenio Costa insist upon withholding whatever reason he may possess and displaying instead his puerile churlishness?

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By The Old Hooligan, May 14, 2010 at 6:34 am Link to this comment

To paraphrase something I read long ago:

If you believe, no explanation is necessary. If you do not believe, no explanation is possible.

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By balkas, May 14, 2010 at 6:29 am Link to this comment

Dichotomizing people into godless and not godless [?godful]is akin to splitting thinking into thinking and non-thinking.

But we also split people into people and non-people; thus non-people like palestinians, indians,‘stanis can be even killed and people rejoicing over that.

One can be called an atheist only after that person sees god, and upon seeing IT, denies having seen IT.
So, the label “atheist” has a symbolic value of zero; i.e., eerie-airy nonsense.

If people wld understand this simplicity, it wld obviate wars on nerves and all talk ab what cannot be seen or ever known.

If we want to sort people into categories, it might be of some value to sort them into those who believe that no country has the right to attack another country for any reason and those who believe that for some reason a country has the right to attack another country or region.

Furthermore, one cld dichotomize people into gang members and non-gang members.
Gangsters rule US and non-gangsters do not. Pious gangsters also rule their serfs.
And as long we have such interclass relationships, expect even worsening.

As i often say, cast the widest look possible: the wider the vista, the wiser one is. However, nearly every collumnist consciously casts the narowest look possible.
Thus never ever proffers an elucidation, but always an obnubilation! tnx

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By Eugenio Costa, May 14, 2010 at 6:05 am Link to this comment

No wonder ninety-per cent of the US is schiz.

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By Eugenio Costa, May 14, 2010 at 6:04 am Link to this comment

“Atheist Delusions”—an attempt at a doublebind?

Typical crypto-Protestant idiocy, which in the US, you don’t have to be Protestant to indulge in.

“Kid, you must love your mummy-daddy of your own free will.”

Randy Newman did better in his Faust.

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By Eugenio Costa, May 14, 2010 at 5:58 am Link to this comment

Hart makes a “historical” case but, er, knows no history, and what history he knows is wrong to judge from the quotations.

Great debate—Dumb versus Dumber.

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By tdbach, May 14, 2010 at 5:32 am Link to this comment


I believe the title of the book is intended as jujitsu, to turn the claims of atheist authors like Dawkins and Hitchens on themselves. The appropriation of clinical terminology to apply ad homonym labels is pretty rampant in public debate – on all sides. Not justifying it, just pointing it out.

Also, I’m not sure where you get that the reviewer thinks atheists are delusional (or misguided). I have no idea what he thinks, as his review takes a pretty neutral stance. I think strong partisans on either side tend to find neutrality a betrayal. Not dissimilar from the state of our political debate.

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By Eugenio Costa, May 14, 2010 at 5:03 am Link to this comment

Confucius: “Do not do unto others what you do not want done unto you.”

Confucius:“Under Heaven, one family.”

Both voiced long before Christ.

In fact, Matteo Ricci concluded that, save in the specific ideology, the Confucians of China were more “Christian” in their doctrines than most western “Christians”, though they had never before heard of this Josh the Anointed one.

Both this Dawkins and this Hart are uneducated, narrow, ethnocentric morons arguing an absurd case.

Dawkins supposedly being a “scientist” is no defense.

One has seen more stimulating debates at professional wrestling matches.

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By Shaman Bob, May 14, 2010 at 4:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hart will sell his tripe to the intended right-wing audience of self-righteous
delusionists. Hitchens, suddenly regaining his cache with “liberals” will continue to
be the pompous wanker he’s always been, simultaneously pining for Empire in his
bloviating for the Iraq invasion while now posing as the champion of atheism.
It’s all about marketing books and tv appearances. Hardly worthy of attention in
the real world.

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By notexactlyhuman, May 14, 2010 at 4:44 am Link to this comment

Another tired, superstitious apologist.

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By Sidwith, May 14, 2010 at 4:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Only Christianity fostered the concept of a dignity intrinsic to every human

Platitudes like this weaken Hart’s position.  What is a soul?  Where is the
evidence that anything is intrinsic to human beings?

The unfortunate construct “dignity” should be abandoned.

“1. Our sense of an independent ‘I’ or ‘self’ is an eminently practical construct
that performs important biological functions and hence must have enjoyed
evolutionary advantage.

2. This sense, however, is illusory, insofar as it typically presumes more
functional unity, permanence, and independence than logical or scientific
analysis bears out.

3. And being illusory, it is inherently fragile and insecure, requiring constant
reconstitution through psychological machinations, social reinforcements and
cultural conventions.

4. Moveover, we are so largely “blind-sighted” to these conditions that the
constructed and interdependent processes underlying self-identity are
themselves largely obscured.

A fragile, constructed yet functional illusion whose originating conditions
remain obscure: this is the stuff of which madness is made. Avoiding these
plain, unwelcome facts is the madness of which history is made.”

-William S. Waldron

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By huemeister, May 14, 2010 at 4:33 am Link to this comment

I haven’t read the book, so it’s hard for me to critique it or the author, but I see no evidence that the Bible is literally true, and if one can’t prove the divinity of Jesus, what is left?  Ah, faith.  But faith requires something outside of reason - a leap, which I, for one, am uwilling to make. 

Clearly, Christianity (and Judaism) have given much to Western Civilization, but it has also been intolerant, reactionary and arrogant.  The Evangelical zeal of Christianity and Islam is frightening, even alarming. 

I’m not religious, but if I were, I’d hang with the Buddhists; they’re laid back, and they’re not trying to shove their religion down other people’s throats.

Thus speaketh my gospel.

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By Eugenio Costa, May 14, 2010 at 3:47 am Link to this comment

Please, Dawkins is a patsy. This Hart is a moron.

“Only Christianity fostered the concept of a dignity intrinsic to every human soul. Only the Church built hospitals and almshouses, and taught that charity was the highest virtue.”

An absolutely virtuoso display of historical ignorance.

The first “hospitals” int he modern sense were an invention of the Roman Army.

The Temples of Aesculapius provided treatment to all.

If a master abandoned a sick slave in the Temple and the slave recovered he or she was declared free.

You will be hard put to find a more charitable philosopher than Epictetus, who happened to be a slave.

And on and on and on.

People like Dawkins and Hart make their reputations slinging worthless trash at one another.

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By bogi666, May 14, 2010 at 1:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Kenny’s message is lacking in intellectual integrity. He seems to omit Plato’s influence on the “Church” and in fact Plato’s opposition to science was embraced by the “Church” ushering in the 2000 years of the dark ages starting about 500 B.C. The Ionians had a theory of the existence of the atom which was lost for well over 2000 years. The corruption of the “Church” seems to be missing. What exactly does he means by the “Church” anyway? This “Church” expected to have a perpetual monopoly on literacy. Wrong, once this monopoly ended the “Church” was subject to objective scrutiny and it was realized that the “Church” couldn’t “save” anyone and that is up to God. Then there’s the Galileo thing, the “Church” finally forgave him in 1991 when the Universe quit revolving around the earth apparently. The pretend christians are really a collection of cults that fleece their congregations of fools with insults and then beg the fools for their money and the fools give to them. It’s on TV.It seems that this author just has issues with Dawkins and needed to embellish the length of it by using a lot of adjectives, pronouns and nonsense.

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By oorebroo, May 14, 2010 at 1:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

How about pointing out some of these logical fallacies and the idiocy of Dawkins
and others…
Just saying this in the book, or for that matter in the review only reduces the
credibility of the writer/reviewer…

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By afs, May 14, 2010 at 1:11 am Link to this comment

Part of the title of this review Mr. Kenny wrote and Mr. Hart’s book are offensive.

I’m an atheist. Mr. Hart and Mr. Kenny claim atheists are delusional. Mr Hart and Mr. Kenny claim to be educated men. The word “delusions” is a medical term that has a very specific clinical definition. Educated men should not be flinging around medical diagnosis terms when neither has a medical license.

Their logical reasoning is fatally flawed, as well. For them to be able to state someone who is an atheist is “delusional,” the views of an atheist must be able to be proven wrong by the scientific method. The authors claims regarding Christianity must be able to be proven to be true in a lab with physical evidence supporting their claims. There is no physical evidence to verify the claims Christians make.

A. Smith
Portland OR

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