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The God Atheists Can’t Easily Dismiss

Damon Linker raves about theologian David Bentley Hart’s new book, The Experience Of God. Linker says that Hart discusses the concept of God in ways that atheists cannot easily dismiss. For example, far from the atheist straw man of the deity as a cartoonish sky god, traditional religion conceives of God as the “unconditioned cause of reality” — that is, the prerequisite for anything existing at all. Linker:

This can be a difficult concept to grasp, but Hart does an exceptionally good job of explaining it — as he does the way this classical idea of God makes sense of the experience and unity of consciousness, as well as the ecstatic longing for the good and the beautiful that lies at the heart of moral experience.

In a move sure to enrage atheists, Hart even goes so far as to argue that faith in this classical notion of God can never be “wholly and coherently rejected” — and not only because it may very well be self-contradictory to prove the nonexistence of an absolute, transcendent ground of existence.

The deeper reason why theism can’t be rejected, according to Hart, is that every pursuit of truth, every attempt to be good, every longing for beauty presupposes the existence of some idea of truth, goodness, and beauty from which these particular instances are derived. And these transcendental ideas unite in the classical concept of God, who simply is truth, goodness, and beauty. That’s why, although it isn’t necessary to believe in God in some explicit way in order to be good, it certainly is the case (in Hart’s words) “that to seek the good is already to believe in God, whether one wishes to do so or not.”

That bracing and bold assertion, like the others that pack nearly every page of The Experience of God, should be questioned and subjected to scrutiny. But it should also be pondered.

To be clear, Linker says that Hart doesn’t prove God’s existence, but he does turn many popular would-be disproofs into straw men. Read the whole thing. I hate that Damon Linker. Now he has forced me to add yet another book to my must-read list.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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