David Bentley Hart on the death penalty

Stefano di Giovanni - Burning of a heretic (1430-32)

David Bentley Hart has written an excellent little piece (a review of Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette’s book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment) on why those who argue that there could be any theological justification for the death penalty ‘have essentially excused themselves from civilized Christian discourse’.

[Image: Stefano di Giovanni, ‘Burning of a Heretic’, 1430–32]

David Bentley Hart on God, Creation, and Evil

This past week, the University of Notre Dame has been host to an impressive line up of minds for the Creation out of Nothing: Origins and Contemporary Significance conference. Some of those papers can be listened to here, including David Bentley Hart’s wonderful paper of ‘God, Creation, and Evil’, its concern being to highlight the obvious implications of such for a theology of apokatastasis panton.

David Bentley Hart on ‘The Violence of Christian History’

David Bentley Hart is not only an extraordinarily erudite theologian, he is also very generous in his service of the gospel, always worth listening to, and always offers much to learn from. Here he is in a CPX interview on the question of violence in Christian history:

I’ve drawn attention to this part of the interview before, and to the five parts which follow it:

      1. The violence of Christian history
      2. The new atheists and an ugly God
      3. Ethics and the good life
      4. Nostalgia for a pagan past
      5. Gnosticism and alternative gospels
      6. Suffering and the problem of evil

Unfortunately, CPX seems to have removed the video version of the interview. The full interview, however, is still available here (in MP3 format) or here via iTunes.

Reading First Things

The latest edition of First Things is now out, and includes a piece by Timothy George on ‘Reading the Bible with the Reformers’, and a provocative piece by Douglas Farrow on ‘Blurring Sexual Boundaries’, wherein Farrow (speaking to the Canadian context) argues that ‘Sex cannot serve as an effective legal marker for discrimination if its binary nature dissolves into fluid sexual subjectivities’.

There are also pieces by David Bentley Hart, a regular contributor, on ‘Golf and the Metaphysics of Morals’ and on Heidegger, ‘A Philosopher in the Twilight: Heidegger’s philosophy as a meditation on the mystery of being’, as well as Hart’s scathing and most-entertaining review of All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age, ‘an oddly empty’, ‘vacuous’, simplistic, ‘twaddle, tosh, balderdash (etc.)’ and factually-skewed (according to Hart) book by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly. Hart is somewhat less enthusiastic about the book than is Charles Taylor.

Some Sat’day morning stuff

  • Ray S. Anderson on God’s Presence in Dying.
  • The ever-engaging Slavoj Žižek on ‘Are we living in the end times?’
  • David Bentley Hart on anarchism and monarchism: ‘The ideal king would be rather like the king in chess: the most useless piece on the board, which occupies its square simply to prevent any other piece from doing so, but which is somehow still the whole game. There is something positively sacramental about its strategic impotence. And there is something blessedly gallant about giving one’s wholehearted allegiance to some poor inbred ditherer whose chief passions are Dresden china and the history of fly-fishing, but who nonetheless, quite ex opere operato, is also the bearer of the dignity of the nation, the anointed embodiment of the genius gentis—a kind of totem or, better, mascot’.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi is ‘a new Mandela’.
  • Byron Smith posts 12 responses to a series of converging crises in our economy, energy and ecology.
  • Ben Myers on smiling and sadness.
  • David Congdon negotiates his ecclesial identity.
  • Stanley Hauerwas writes an ‘open letter to young Christians on their way to college’.
  • Tomorrow, I will engage in my first (the first of many, to be sure!) real act of parental irresponsibility for Samuel: he will be placed on the road to (or in the river of) death and made an outlaw; i.e., he will, in Kim Fabricius’ words, ‘enter this strange new household of the church, and this strange new world of being a Christian’. He will enter the castra caelestia. Exhausted by the event, he’ll then come home and sleep, or that’s the plan anyway.
  • BTW: I’m not sure what significance I should attach to it, if any, but this is my 1500th post.

David Bentley Hart interview: ‘Revolutionary Christianity and its alternatives’

The Centre for Public Christianity has generously made available a six-part interview with David Bentley Hart wherein Hart talks about the impact of Christianity on the West, some questionable interpretations of history, suffering and the problem of evil and why he remains a believer.

  1. The violence of Christian history
  2. The new atheists and an ugly God
  3. Ethics and the good life
  4. Nostalgia for a pagan past
  5. Gnosticism and alternative gospels
  6. Suffering and the problem of evil

The full interview is also available here as a download via iTunes.

Around the traps … [updated]

David Bentley Hart on the rude interruption

resurrection‘Nietzsche, the quixotic champion of the old standards, thought jesting Pilate’s “What is truth?” to be the only moment of actual nobility in the New Testament, the wry taunt of an acerbic ironist unimpressed by the pathetic fantasies of a deranged peasant. But one need not share Nietzsche’s sympathies to take his point; one can certainly see what is at stake when Christ, scourged and mocked, is brought before Pilate a second time: the latter’s “Whence art thou?” has about it something of a demand for a pedigree, which might at least lend some credibility to the claims Christ makes for himself; for want of which, Pilate can do little other than pronounce his truth: “I have power to crucify thee” (which, to be fair, would under most circumstances be an incontrovertible argument). It is worth asking ourselves what this tableau, viewed from the vantage of pagan antiquity, would have meant. A man of noble birth, representing the power of Rome, endowed with authority over life and death, confronted by a barbarous colonial of no name or estate, a slave of the empire, beaten, robed in purple, crowned with thorns, insanely invoking an otherworldly kingdom and some esoteric truth, unaware of either his absurdity or his judge’s eminence. Who could have doubted where, between these two, the truth of things was to be found? But the Gospel is written in the light of the resurrection, which reverses the meaning of this scene entirely. If God’s truth is in fact to be found where Christ stands, the mockery visited on him redounds instead upon the emperor, all of whose regal finery, when set beside the majesty of the servile shape in which God reveals Himself, shows itself to be just so many rags and briars. This slave is the Father’s eternal Word, whom God has vindicated, and so ten thousand immemorial certainties are unveiled as lies: the first become last, the mighty are put down from their seats and the lowly exalted, the hungry are filled with good things while the rich are sent empty away. Nietzsche was quite right to be appalled. Almost as striking, for me, is the tale of Peter, at the cock’s crow, going apart to weep. Nowhere in the literature of pagan antiquity, I assure you, had the tears of a rustic been regarded as worthy of anything but ridicule; to treat them with reverence, as meaningful expressions of real human sorrow, would have seemed grotesque from the perspective of all the classical canons of good taste. Those wretchedly subversive tears, and the dangerous philistinism of a narrator so incorrigibly vulgar as to treat them with anything but contempt, were most definitely signs of a slave revolt in morality, if not quite the one against which Nietzsche inveighed—a revolt, moreover, that all the ancient powers proved impotent to resist.

In a narrow sense, then, one might say that the chief offense of the Gospels is their defiance of the insights of tragedy—and not only because Christ does not fit the model of the well-born tragic hero. More important is the incontestable truth that, in the Gospels, the destruction of the protagonist emphatically does not restore or affirm the order of city or cosmos. Were the Gospels to end with Christ’s sepulture, in good tragic style, it would exculpate all parties, including Pilate and the Sanhedrin, whose judgments would be shown to have been fated by the exigencies of the crisis and the burdens of their offices; the story would then reconcile us to the tragic necessity of all such judgments. But instead comes Easter, which rudely interrupts all the minatory and sententious moralisms of the tragic chorus, just as they are about to be uttered to full effect, and which cavalierly violates the central tenet of sound economics: rather than trading the sacrificial victim for some supernatural benefit, and so the particular for the universal, Easter restores the slain hero in his particularity again, as the only truth the Gospels have to offer. This is more than a dramatic peripety. The empty tomb overturns all the “responsible” and “necessary” verdicts of Christ’s judges, and so grants them neither legitimacy nor pardon’. – David Bentley Hart, ‘God or Nothingness’ in I Am The Lord Your God: Christian Reflections on the Ten Commandments (ed. Carl E. Braaten and Christopher R. Seitz; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005), 64-66.

Does evil exist?

In an interview in The Christian Century (January 10, 2006), David Bentley Hart addresses the question ‘Does evil exist?’ His answer:

‘If by “evil exists” you mean that evil possesses a real substance of its own, and that it therefore exists in the way goodness exists (or, for that matter, a tree, a rabbit, an idea or a dream exists), in point of fact Christian tradition has usually denied this quite forcibly. Patristic and medieval thought (drawing, admittedly, on Platonic precedent) defined evil as a privation of the good: a purely parasitic and shadowy reality, a contamination or disease or absence, but not a real thing in itself. This, incidentally, is a logically necessary claim if one understands goodness and being as flowing alike from the very nature of God and coinciding in him as one infinite life. That said, there surely is no contradiction between God’s omnipotent goodness and the reality of evil. It may seem somewhat trite to invoke the freedom of creation as part of the works and ends of divine love, or to argue that the highest good of the creature – divinizing union with God in love – requires a realm of “secondary causality” in which the rational wills of God’s creatures are at liberty; nonetheless, whether the traditional explanations of how sin and death have been set loose in the world satisfy one or not, they certainly render the claim that an omnipotent and good God would never allow unjust suffering simply vacuous. By what criterion could one render such a judgment? For Christians, one must look to the cross of Christ to take the measure of God’s love, and of its worth in comparison to the sufferings of a fallen world. And one must look to the risen Christ to grasp the glory for which we are intended, and take one’s understanding of the majesty and tragedy of creation’s freedom from that’. (HT: RLF)