Beyond the boring limits

Selected quotes from David Bentley Hart’s Religion in America.

For, if we succumb to post-Christian modernity, and the limits of its vision, what then? Most of us will surrender to a passive decay of will and aspiration, perhaps, find fewer reasons to resist as government insinuates itself into the little liberties of the family, continue to seek out hitherto unsuspected insensitivities to denounce and prejudices to extirpate, allow morality to give way to sentimentality; the impetuous among us will attempt to enjoy Balzac, or take up herb gardening, or discover “issues”; a few dilettantish amoralists will conclude that everything is permitted and dabble in bestiality or cannibalism; the rest of us will mostly watch television; crime rates will rise more steeply and birth rates fall more precipitously; being the “last men,” we shall think ourselves at the end of history; an occasional sense of the pointlessness of it all will induce in us a certain morose feeling of impotence (but what can one do?); and, in short, we shall become Europeans (but without the vestiges of the old civilization ranged about us to soothe our despondency). Surely we can hope for a nobler fate. Better the world of Appalachian snake handlers, mass revivals, Hispanic Pentecostals, charismatic Catholics, and millenarian evangelicals (even the Gnostics among them); better a disembodied, violent, and even dionysiac hunger for God than a dispirited and eviscerate capitulation before material reality; and much better a general atmosphere of earnest, if sometimes unsophisticated, faith.

…material circumstances (unless they are absolutely crushing) possess only such gravity or levity as one’s interpretation of them; and how one interprets them is determined not merely by one’s personal psychology, but by the cultural element in which they subsist.

Either the material order is the whole of being, wherein all transcendence is an illusion, or it is the phenomenal surface — mysterious, beautiful, terrible, harsh, and haunting — of a world of living spirits. That the former view is philosophically incoherent is something of which I am convinced; but, even if one cannot share that conviction, one should still be able to recognize that it is only the latter view that has ever had the power — over centuries and in every realm of human accomplishment — to summon desire beyond the boring limits marked by mortality, to endow the will with constancy and purpose, to shape imagination towards ends that should not be possible within the narrow economics of the flesh.

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