Two quotes from David Bentley Hart


I have never really been able to make myself want to specialize in some very narrow section of one very narrow field of study.  This may be why I was unable as an undergraduate to decide whether I might want a degree in philosophy, classics, religious studies, musicology, art history, world literature, or several other fields.  But, really, these divisions are all an academic fiction, aren’t they?  It seems to me that one of the real tragedies of the modern academy has been the fragmentation of the humanities into a collection of hermetically sealed disciplines that do not seem to understand one another.  That simply is not how culture works, high or low, intellectual or material.  We have Milton scholars, for instance, with no knowledge of the history of philosophy or theology, and only a second-hand acquaintance with the classical sources upon which he drew.  But how can one possibly, then, really know anything about Milton, if nine-tenths of his references and allusions are unintelligible or even invisible to one?  Humane learning has to be omnivorous, indifferent to disciplinary boundaries, or it becomes a fragment of a fragment, with no meaning or intelligibility whatsoever.  And theology is no different from any other humane pursuit in that regard.

I have probably made some complaints about over-specialization on this blog before. But here we go again – all of us academic types are in danger of sliding into some form of philistinism/parochialism or another. For instance, while I love the logical precision of analytic philosophy, I wonder whether its narrowing imaginative scope is less due to a misguided attempt to ape the sciences and more to the fact that a lot of professional philosophers have not had much intellectual exposure to anything other than analytic philosophy. I owe at least as much in the course of my education to reading books that weren’t on the syllabi.

Part of the attraction I currently find in theology is the holistic, almost interdisciplinary nature of it – abstract speculation, history, literary analysis, law, etc. Of course, if my academic career proceeds towards the PhD, things will have to get a little more narrowed down, though I hope I don’t narrow down along with it.


The truth is that all of us in the West, believers and unbelievers alike, are the heirs of a seventeenth century revision in our general understanding of the nature of creation and therefore of the relation between God and creation.  My dislike of the Intelligent Design movement, for instance, is not simply a verdict on the science involved; in fact, some of those involved in the movement may raise very real questions about the adequacy of the neo-Darwinian synthesis as an explanation of evolution, and those who claim that it is all just pseudoscience are often being intellectually dishonest.  My real problem with the movement is the disastrously silly picture of the universe and God that one finds lurking between the lines or in the last chapters of their books.  ID theorists merely repeat the mechanistic narrative about physical reality and then reinsert an intelligent designer—a deist God—into the picture, one whose role is little more than that of a discrete causal agency among others, making periodic interventions in a reality outside himself.  But such a God could be removed from the picture again just as easily, by the rise of another scientific paradigm, and (more to the point) such a God is not the fullness of being that classical theism sees as the logically necessary source and ground and end of all finite things.  What we need is the radical recovery of the classical intellectual tradition, with its richer (and I think much more coherent) understanding of physical reality, and with its far more intelligent understanding of divine transcendence.  Whether such a recovery is a cultural possibility at the moment is very much an open question.

Indeed. So much of the atheism/theism debate is incredibly parochial, since it is for the most part a debate over a conception of God that arose out of Protestantism and which is foreign to both traditional Catholic and Eastern Orthodox thought (Mr. Hart confesses the latter, by the by). Of course, by way of cultural osmosis, more than a few Catholics and Orthodox have unwittingly drunk the koolaid as well. I was a bit lucky when I studied philosophy of religion, since I wound up with a Catholic prof. who wanted to drill that point home (most Christians who do philosophy of religion are Evangelical or something similar)

(Full interview here)

(h/t Dreher)

About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
This entry was posted in Catholicism, fragments of culture, higher education, Stuff other people said, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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