David Hart’s defense of God turns religion into philosophy

David Hart’s defense of God turns religion into philosophy.

David Bentley Hart has written a book that proves that God exists.  However, by the time I finished reading it I no longer cared, for the God he writes about has nothing to do with any God I would bother  worshiping.  For Hart, God becomes a Platonic form (eidos, είδος).

Hart writes that “it is impossible to say how, in the terms naturalism allows, nature could exist at all.” (p 18)  By “naturalism” Hart means materialism, and the scientific method by which we study matter.  I think what he is trying to say is that science can’t answer a basic question that puzzles a lot of philosophers, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”  The universe didn’t have to exist; why does it?  An answer like “the universe was brought into existence by the big bang” doesn’t answer the question, because the big bang is part of the story of existence.  One might as well ask “why did the big bang exist?”  I’m sure there are scientists puzzling over this question right now, but no answer they come up with could satisfy Hart.

It’s kind of like the question about “what does the earth rest on?”  The shoulders of Atlas, ancient Greeks replied.  And what does Atlas stand on, one might respond?  A giant turtle?  And what does the giant turtle rest on?  Another giant turtle.  And what does the second giant turtle rest on?  “Hey, man, it’s just turtles all the way down.”

To some people this answer, or rather its philosophical version, is deeply upsetting.  It is to Hart.

An honest and self-aware atheism, therefore, should proudly recognize itself as the quintessential expression of heroic irrationalism: a purely and ecstatically absurd venture of faith, a triumphant trust in the absurdity of all things.  But most of us already know this anyway. If there is no God, then of course the universe is ultimately absurd, in the very precise sense that it is irreducible to any more comprehensive “equation.” It is glorious, terrible, beautiful, horrifying — all of that — but in the end it is also quite, quite meaningless. (p 19)

            What’s so bad about that?  The universe is absurd, in the sense that it has no meaning other than that given to it by humans.  God didn’t write the Bible; humans did.  Even belief in God is absurd, in the sense that we give meaning to life by positing God.  (Which doesn’t say anything about whether God actually exists.  Perhaps God put this posit in us.)  Albert Camus, the foremost absurdist, has shown us how to live meaningfully in an absurd universe, one that does not respond to my demand for recognition.  Humans create a meaningful world by giving it meaning, beginning with human basics such as love and attachment, and then trying to overcome what we experience as the hostility of nature, “fighting against creation as he found it,” as Dr. Rieux says in Camus’ The Plague, a tale for our times.

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Are all religions basically the same?

Are all religions basically the same?

The Perennial Philosophy is the title of a book by Aldous Huxley (1945), but it’s an idea that’s been around for a long time. It says that all religion is based on an original experience of oneness.  In all its different varieties, from Protestantism to Hinduism, religion is an ineffable, inexpressible experience of one divine reality in which we all share.  Not only do we all worship the same God, but we all seek to reach the one reality beyond all appearances.  Most don’t succeed, a few do, and we should follow and learn from these few, who are sometimes called saints, or bodhisattvas.  We are God, as the perennialists put it, in the sense that we know God only by becoming one with him.*

Christian mysticism frequently expresses this ideal.

My Me is God, nor do I recognize any other Me except my God Himself. (Saint Catherine of Genoa, in Haught). 

God became man in order to make me God; therefore I want to be changed completely into pure God. (Saint Catherine of Genoa, in Haught)

In those respects in which the soul is unlike God, it is also unlike itself. (Saint Bernard)

The goal of life?

The ultimate reason for human existence, says Huxley, is “unitive knowledge of the divine Ground.”  I’m not quite sure what this means, but what Huxley says it that this knowledge is available only to those who are prepared to die to the self in order to make room for God (p21).

What happens to the living?  And to life?  What happens to the hungry and the poor?  It seems as if they hardly matter, that the goal of human existence is essentially and profoundly self-centered.  Huxley says not one word about dying to the self in order to better care for others.  That’s not what Huxley is about.

One can see this more clearly in a book he wrote almost ten years later, The Doors of Perception, an account of his experiences taking the hallucinogenic drug, mescaline.

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