In the desert


Orchids in the arid Chaco, Paraguay (Dueck)


David Bentley Hart, in Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (see previous posts), is not  optimistic about the state of post-Christian culture, with even its “tribe of the New Atheists” unable “to produce profound unbelief.” But still, the fear is real — if post-Christian, then post-human. Banality is one thing, but “monstrosity” another: “knowledge as power — unmoored from the rule of love or simply a discipline of prudent moral tentativeness–”

“Nietzsche,” Hart writes, “was a prophetic figure precisely because he, almost alone among Christianity’s enemies, understood the implications of Christianity’s withdrawal from the culture it had haunted for so many centuries.”

How do we live in the wake of such disappearance? 

Here Hart offers a final brief “lesson” which we puzzled over a little at our discussion of the book on Wednesday evening. It was precisely when Christianity was “on the verge of assuming political and social power” (Constantine) that Christian monasticism began “to flower in the Egyptian desert,” when the desert fathers and mothers began to devote themselves to prayer, fasting, charity.

From them another current opened:

…a renunciation of power even as power was at last granted to the church, an embrace of poverty as a rebellion against plenty, a defiant refusal to forget that the Kingdom of God is not of this world. [240]

Those Christians sought out the desert “as a shelter from empire.” Today, Western culture “threatens to become something of a desert for believers.” 

So we’re  in the desert already. Can we cultivate, as the desert fathers and mothers, “the pure eye (that could see all things as gifts of God) and the pure heart (that could receive all persons with a generous love)”?

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