Tag Archives: David Bentley Hart

Integrated into a large choreography.

Reason, in the classical and Christian sense, is a whole way of life, not the simple and narrow mastery of certain techniques of martial manipulation, and certainly not the childish certitude that such mastery proves that only material realities exist. A rational life is one that integrates knowledge into large choreography of virtue, imagination, patience, prudence, humility and restraint. Reason is not only knowledge, but knowledge perfected in wisdom.

In Christian tradition, reason was praised as a high and precious thing, principally because it belonged intrinsically to the dignity of beings created in the divine image; and, this being so, it was assumed that reason is also always morality, and that charity is required for any mind to be fully rational. Even if one does not believe any of this, however, a rational life involves at least the ability to grasp what it is one does not know, and to recognize that what one does know may not be the only kind of genuine knowledge there is.

-David Bentley Hart, from Atheist Delusions

He made comely poems.

I was so sorry to hear a couple of weeks after the event that the poet Richard Wilbur had fallen asleep in death. It’s interesting to read about the ambivalence within the community of literary critics regarding his work throughout his career and now at his passing.

The New York Times quotes its own reviewer David Orr who mused that “Mr. Wilbur had ‘spent most of his career being alternately praised and condemned for the same three things’ — for his formal virtuosity; for his being, ‘depending on your preference, courtly or cautious, civilized or old-fashioned, reasonable or kind of dull’; and finally for his resisting a tendency in American poetry toward ‘conspicuous self-dramatization.’”

Might it be that one’s opinion about Wilbur’s poetry has something to do with whether you appreciate his perspective on things? If when you read his poems you find they quicken your own love for life and the cosmos? In another quote from the New York Times: “’I feel that the universe is full of glorious energy,’ he said in an interview with The Paris Review, ‘that the energy tends to take pattern and shape, and that the ultimate character of things is comely and good.'” My favorite not-so-recent article on Wilbur draws attention to his Christian vision and is found in First Things.

Over the life of my blog many of Wilbur’s poems have shown up here — which you might find by putting his name in the search box on the right —  and I’ve been wanting to post his poem “Worlds” for a year or more now. I first read it when David Bentley Hart’s book The Experience of God was fresher in my mind, and I had some brilliant idea that linked the two philosophers… that thought has dimmed to the vanishing point. Now I offer the poem as a picture of two ways of looking at the world, represented by Alexander the Great and Isaac Newton. If Richard Wilbur imagined himself in this poem, I’m sure he would hope to be found serenely playing alongside Newton, another man of faith and great vision. May God grant him the Kingdom.

WORLDS

For Alexander there was no Far East,
because he thought the Asian continent
ended with India.
Free Cathay at least
did not contribute to his discontent.

But Newton, who had grasped all space, was more serene.
To him it seemed that he’d but played
With a few shells and pebbles on the shore
Of that profundity he had not made.

– Richard Wilbur

 

mythology of floating logic

It’s been a while since I picked up David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God, and I was pleased to see that I’m a third of the way through the book, nearing the end of the first part, on Being. I wasn’t pleased to find myself struggling to follow his train of thought as he picked apart what is known as Anselm’s argument, and was relieved when he moved on after a few pages, saying that he didn’t want to get “entangled in needless complications on this matter.”

Though I am philosophical by nature, I’m woefully unschooled in the discipline and its fundamentals. How many times have I looked up words like phenomenology, ontology,  and epistemology? Whatever I read on the subject is an attempt to correct that lack, and I appreciate Hart’s clarity and organization; he does seem to be writing for someone like me.

When we say that God is Being or “the source and ground of all reality,” following in the tradition of centuries of philosophers and theologians, many contemporary thinkers say it is because we are “mired in sheer nonsense.” Hart tells what he considers an important source of this lack of agreement:

…The analytic tradition is pervaded by the mythology of “pure” philosophical discourse, a propositional logic that somehow floats above the historical and cultural contingency of ideas and words, and that somehow can be applied to every epoch of philosophy without any proper attention to what the language and conceptual schemes of earlier thinkers meant in their own times and places. This is a pernicious error under the best of conditions, but it has worked arguably its greatest mischief in the realm of ontology, often as a result of principles that, truth be told, are almost entirely arbitrary.

I enjoy learning about particular people of the past and of their contributions to the wealth of humanity’s philosophical legacy. Hart mentions Meister Eckhart and his idea of “Is-ness,” and that takes me back to when I was a college freshman and privileged to be in a tutorial course that was an introduction to Meister Eckhart. I certainly had no intellectual grid prepared to fit him into then! How nice to have him come around again when I can appreciate his place in history.

Hart’s book was on the table with my bowl of stew this morning, but now the breakfast philosophy session has come to an end and other tasks are calling; I will go forward with the prayer that the presence of Him Who Is will sustain me. Given my ignorance of that floating kind of logic, I shouldn’t have any trouble keeping my feet on the ground and my self in the flow of history, soon to close out the year twenty-fifteen.

Enjoy it while it lasts! Let’s be here, now.

There is a pure fragility.

Part II of The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss contains three chapters on those three aspects of the experience. In “Being” the author says that our wonder at the universe comes from a deep realization that it didn’t have to be this way, it didn’t have to be at all. Some snippets:

All thingsPippin 4th are subject to time…they possess no complete identity within themselves, but are always in the process of becoming something else, and hence also in the process of becoming nothing at all. There is a pure fragility and necessary incompleteness to any finite thing; nothing has its actuality entirely in itself, fully enjoyed in some impregnable present instant, but must always receive itself from beyond itself, and then only by losing itself at the same time. Nothing within the cosmos contains the ground of its own being….

One knows of oneself, for instance, that every instant of one’s existence is only a partial realization of what one is, achieved by surrendering the past to the future in the vanishing and infinitesimal interval of the present. Both one’s essence and one’s existence come from elsewhere — from the past and the future, from the surrounding universe and whatever it may dKtree 81JABMCBepend upon, in a chain of causal dependencies reaching backward and forward and upward and downward — and one receives them both not as possessions secured within some absolute state of being but as evanescent gifts….

Simply said, one is contingent through and through, partaking of being rather than generating it out some source within oneself; and the same is true of the whole intricate web of interdependence that constitutes nature.

–David Bentley Hart in The Experience of God