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David Bentley Hart on Modernity

Modern persons will never find rest for their restless hearts without Christ, for modern culture is nothing but the wasteland from which the gods have departed, and so this restlessness has become its own deity; and, deprived of the shelter of the sacred and the consoling myths of sacrifice, the modern person must wander or drift, vainly attempting one or another accommodation with death, never escaping anxiety or ennui, and driven as a result to a ceaseless labor of distraction, or acquisition, or willful idiocy. And, where it works its sublimest magic, our culture of empty spectacle can so stupefy the intellect as to blind it to its own disquiet, and induce a spiritual torpor more deplorable than mere despair.But we Christians—while not ignoring how appalling such a condition is—should yet rejoice that modernity offers no religious comforts to those who would seek them. In this time of waiting, in this age marked only by the absence of faith in Christ, it is well that the modern soul should lack repose, piety, peace, or nobility, and should find the world outside the Church barren of spiritual rapture or mystery, and should discover no beautiful or terrible or merciful gods upon which to cast itself. With Christ came judgment into the world, a light of discrimination from which there is neither retreat nor sanctuary. And this means that, as a quite concrete historical condition, the only choice that remains for the children of post-Christian culture is not whom to serve, but whether to serve Him whom Christ has revealed or to serve nothing—the nothing. No third way lies open for us now, because—as all of us now know, whether we acknowledge it consciously or not—all things have been made subject to Him, all the thrones and dominions of the high places have been put beneath His feet, until the very end of the world, and—simply said—there is no other god.

–David Bentley Hart, “Christ and Nothing“, First Things (October 2003).

5 Comments

  1. Matt Wiebe wrote:

    Brilliantly written, but I disagree. There are plenty of gods to love and serve in modernity: pleasure, power, the accumulation of wealth and/or goods…

    Wednesday, October 17, 2007 at 10:00 am | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Matt, I recommend that you read the whole article. Hart is not, denying that such things function as gods in modernity, but rather showing that such things are in fact the worship of the self. The mythos of other “gods” was destroyed by Christianity which definitively overcame the paganism of the ancient world. With that mythos shattered, the hostile powers, if you will had to divinize the self (and Hart rightly connects this to Nietzsche).

    At any rate, I suspect that if you read the article you will find much to agree with. Perhaps the rhetoric is a bit different, but I think that what Hart is really trying to do is show that the “other gods” are in fact “nothing”, and with him I think Paul would agree (cf. 1 Cor. 8:4; Gal. 4:8).

    Wednesday, October 17, 2007 at 10:44 am | Permalink
  3. Halden. Thanks for this post. Always good to hear the truth that liberates us from our idols!

    Wednesday, October 17, 2007 at 3:19 pm | Permalink
  4. Matt Wiebe wrote:

    What, you mean that I should actually read the entire context of what someone is saying before throwing out my knee-jerk reaction?

    That would be no fun at all. ;)

    Thursday, October 18, 2007 at 12:39 pm | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    You’re right, I wouldn’t be able to have much fun if I took my own advice, either.

    Thursday, October 18, 2007 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

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