Thursday, April 16, 2015

The God Who Is Convincingly There

Over the past weeks and months I’ve been reading a book called “The Experience of God” by philosopher/theologian David Bentley Hart.  It’s a belief-challenger (or re-enforcer), and it’s not for the conceptually-timid, which is one reason it’s taken me a while to wade my way through it.
Let me make a few generalities about what Hart covers (and avoids):
     1) He exposes big leaks in the balloon of “New Atheism” (Hitchins, Dawkins, et al).  In short, he shows how the “anti-metaphysical method” of modern science simply is inadequate to account for existence, consciousness or bliss (defined as the desire for truth, beauty and goodness).
2) He spends a great amount of time considering, defining and providing scope for what is meant by the term “God,” and then sets out an apologetic, where a “transcendent reality” trumps naturalism.
3) He suggests there is a shared wisdom in all the major theistic traditions.  In addition to Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa and Thomas Aquinas, he draws from Jewish, Islamic, Baha’i, Sufi and Hindu thinkers.  However, the book does not specifically focus on the Bible or on orthodox Christian theology.
4) This also is not a “proof of God.” He does not take you by the hand and lead you down a flower-filled garden path to theistic happiness.  As an example, he even questions Anselm’s classic apology of God, suggesting that, philosophically, it clouds more than it clarifies.
5) On the other hand, Hart is convinced that the naturalist’s problems of accounting for the aforementioned existence, consciousness or bliss is the ultimate stumbling block to recognizing a “transcendent absolute reality.”
For individuals like me, who view life and existence from a philosophical, almost whimsical, but very logical point of view, this work by David Hart is like morphing into a bee and then finding an orchard in bloom.  It massages, and even suggests plausible answers for, so many “ultimate” questions I have always wondered about, but at the same time the book leaves open to interpretation much of the conclusive aspects.
I especially like the comment by Orthodox reviewer Michael Lotti, who says “he directly and indirectly guides his reader to a place of wisdom, which is what most lovers of philosophy are seeking.”
So, where is this “place of wisdom”?  And what lies therein? 
Hart clarifies that classical atheism itself misunderstands classical theism by making “God” to be a superpowerful perpetrator whose existence is (only) made possible as an “irreducible complexity.”  Classical theism, on the other hand, refers to God not as a being, or even an omnipotent being, but, rather, as the absolute source and end of being -- not a cause of a type that can induce change within a system of causes and effects, but the original and final cause, that which gives purpose and order to the whole system.
The greatest handicap of a naturalistic belief system is that it can sophisticatedly describe the what, but it has no clue as to the why Being, consciousness nor bliss cannot be explained by science because it is not observable.  Science becomes neurotic when it has no rational  enlightenment, and so it goes on to even  suggest the absurd; e.g., an effect without a cause, or, an infinite regress of causes – totally untenable.

At least the theist has a plausibility for being and consciousness, but, alas, the naturalist is left to pure conjecture.   A similar dilemma for the naturalist is present when trying to “de-transcendentalize” bliss.
Hart concludes (in many more words than this) it is the explanatory strength of theism’s answers to these questions, relative to that of atheism, that is commanding.   If you follow atheism’s answers, you will likely end up in a vicious circle that degrades and reduces, rather than defines and undergirds our humanity: being, consciousness, and bliss.  
At the end of the search, no matter where it takes you, there is great weight of evidence, according to Hart, that what is extant (giving you being, cognizance and hope) is a transcendental God.

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