Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Modern Secular Narrative


Following is an excerpt from David Bentley Hart's book, Atheist Delusions, The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. Hart treats the modern, popular 'reason vs. faith' narrative like the Navy Seals dealt with Osama bin Laden.
Hence modernity's first great attempt to define itself: and "age of reason" emerging from and overthrowing an "age of faith." Behind this definition lay a simple but thoroughly enchanting tale. Once upon a time, it went, Western humanity was the cosseted and incurious ward of Mother Church; during this, the age of faith, culture stagnated, science languished, wars of religion were routinely waged, witches were burned by inquisitors, and Western humanity labored in brutish subjugation to dogma, superstition, and the unholy alliance of church and state. Withering blasts of fanaticism and fideism had long since scorched away the last remnants of classical learning; inquiry was stifled; the literary remains of classical antiquity had long ago been consigned to the fires of faith, and even the great achievements of "Greek science" were forgotten till Islamic civilization restored them to the West. All was darkness. Then, in the wake of the "wars of religion" that had torn Christendom apart, came the full flowering of the Enlightenment and with it the reign of reason and progress, the riches of scientific achievement and political liberty, and a new and revolutionary sense of human dignity. The secular nation-state arouse, reduced religion to an establishment of the state or, in the course of time, to something altogether separate from the state, and thereby rescued Western humanity from the blood-steeped intolerance of religion. Now, at last, Western humanity has left its nonage and attained to its majority, in science, politics, and ethics. The story of the travails of Galileo almost invariably occupies an honored place in this narrative, as exemplary of the natural relation between "faith" and "reason" and as an exquisite epitome of scientific reason's mighty struggle during the early modern period to free itself from the tyranny of religion. This is, as I say, a simple and enchanting tale, easily followed and utterly captivating in it explanatory tidiness; its sole defect is that it happens to be false in every identifiable detail. (Italics mine)
Hart does an excellent job of debunking the popular narrative concerning 'faith vs. reason' that is so widely espoused these days without whitewashing Christendom's faults.

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