IVP - Addenda & Errata - The Delusions of Pseudo-Scholarship

April 29, 2009

The Delusions of Pseudo-Scholarship

Last weekend I picked up a copy of David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (Yale University Press). I’d been seeing comments on this new book, and I was looking forward to getting my hands on it. Over half way into it, I’m not disappointed. It’s difficult to put it down.

This is surely one of the best books of the season. And it’s got some endorsements many an author or editor would die for. George Weigel calls it a “rousing good read,” names David Hart “one of America’s sharpest minds” and tells us “This is Hart in full, all guns firing and the band playing on the deck.” John Milbank says, “Surely Dawkins, Hitchens et al would never have dared put pen to paper had they know of the existence of David Bentley Hart. After this demolition job all that is left for them to do is repent and rejoice at the discreditation of their erstwhile selves.”

I’m tempted to run on about this book, but I fear my colleagues might scold me for promoting another publisher’s book on the IVP Academic website. Of course, I’d have to tell them that I am doing so in the broader interest of truth! And I suspect they’d go for that.

One of the burdens of Hart’s book is to correct the caricatures of history that are being promulgated by writers of the New Atheism, from the “rhetorical recklessness” of Christopher Hitchens to the “extravagantly callow attack” of Sam Harris to the “embarrassing incapacity for philosophical reasoning” of Richard Dawkins to the “borderline illiterate” (but wildly profitable) work of Dan Brown.

In attempting to correct the modern mythology of the Middle Ages, Hart lands on a point that has surely provoked many a serious scholar of history or religion:

Sadly, however, it is not serious historians who, for the most part, form the historical consciousness of their times; it is bad popular historians, generally speaking, and the historical hearsay they repeat or invent, and the myths they perpetuate and simplifications they promote, that tend to determine how most of us view the past. However assiduously the diligent, painstakingly precise academical drudge may labor at his or her meticulously researched and exhaustively documented tomes, nothing he or she produces will enjoy a fraction of the currency of any of the casually composed (though sometimes lavishly illustrated) squibs heaped on the front tables of chain bookstores or clinging to the middle rungs of best-seller lists. For everyone whose picture of the Middle Ages is shaped by the dry, exact, quietly illuminating books produced by those pale dutiful pedants who squander the golden meridians of their lives prowling in the shadows of library stacks or weakening their eyes by poring over pages of barely legible Carolingian minuscule, a few hundred will be convinced by what they read in, say, William Manchester’s dreadful, vulgar, and almost systematically erroneous A World Lit Only By Fire. After all, few have the time or the need to sift through academic journals and monographs and tedious disquisitions on abstruse topics trying to separate the gold from the dross. And so, naturally, among the broadly educated and the broadly uneducated alike, it is the simple picture that tends to prevail, though in varying shades and intensities of color, as with any image often and cheaply reproduced; and the simple picture, in this case, is the story that Western society has been telling about itself for centuries now. (Hart, p. 35)

Hart brings to light some of the work of these “academical drudges,” focusing his rhetorical powers on the intellectual darkness that masquerades as enlightenment in our culture today. It’s a sophisticated polemic and an absolute delight to read.

Posted by Dan Reid at April 29, 2009 12:51 PM Bookmark and Share


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