David Bentley Hart

by Oct 8, 2013Culture, Mission0 comments

David Bentley Hart with some wise words on the story of our times:

The late modern picture of reality is, culturally speaking, something altogether unprecedented. In the days of, say, Thomas Aquinas, there was no particularly cogent alternative to seeing nature as a rationally ordered continuum in which all things witnessed to a final good, at once cosmic and moral. Even if one did not concur with Thomas’ (often very questionable) moral judgments, one could scarcely reject many of his metaphysical presuppositions; and so one might not notice the covertly theological nature of those judgments. Not so now. The modern person’s failure to find a moral meaning in nature’s forms is not simply attributable to a perverse refusal to recognize objective truths. There is now a story that makes nihilism—in the technical sense of disbelief in any ultimate meaning or purpose beyond the physical—plausible and powerful.

With the rise of Darwinism, and finally of an essentially mechanistic genetocentric neo-Darwinism, an entirely new and seemingly exhaustive account of physical order and causality came into being, one in which there were no such things as intrinsic natures, but only local coalescences of diverse and meaningless material forces.

The nihilist narrative is far more tacitly pervasive than we are always aware.

This is because it is appealing. It is all part of the great ideological project of modernity. The metaphysical demotion of nature’s order from purposiveness to functionality is a license to believe that there is no meaning to life that we do not impute to it or—more excitingly—impose upon it. Metaphysical nihilism is a formula for limitless voluntarism, the exhilarating adventure of the will to power. To many this seems like liberation from the tyranny of the absolute, and so the very form of freedom. To others, more traditionally inclined, it seems like a cruel exile from participation in creation as a natural and supernatural order, and so slavery to nothingness.

The Back Page,” First Things Aug/Sep 2013, all quotes p.71.

I think Paul has something to say about this topic, too:

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Rom 6:16)

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