Illogic Primer Quotes Clippings Books and Bibliography Paper Trails Links Film

David Bentley Hart on Defaming History

Atheist Delusions (Yale University Press: 2009), pp. 33-34.

Hence modernity’s first great attempt to define itself: an ‘age of reason’ emerging from and overthrowing an ‘age of faith’. Behind this definition lay a simple but thoroughly enchanting tale. Once upon a time, it went, Western humanity was the cosseted and incurious ward of Mother Church; during this, the age of faith, culture stagnated, science languished, wars of religion were routinely waged, witches were burned by inquisitors, and Western humanity labored in brutish subjugation to dogma. All was darkness. ¶ Then, in the wake of the ‘wars of religion’ that had torn Christendom apart, came the full flowing of the Enlightenment and with it the reign of reason and progress. The secular nation-state arose, reduced religion to an establishment of the state and thereby rescued Western humanity from the blood-steeped intolerance of religion. ¶ This is, as I say, a simple and enchanting tale, easily followed and utterly captivating in its explanatory tidiness; its sole defect is that it happens to be false in every identifiable detail. This tale of the birth of the modern world has largely disappeared from respectable academic literature and survives now principally at the level of folklore, ‘intellectual journalism,’ and vulgar legend.

2 thoughts on “David Bentley Hart on Defaming History

  1. Andy Walters says:

    I agree this story is nothing but a fairy tale, but I must confess I don’t know anyone that actually believes it. Do you know of any concrete cultural examples of someone perpetuating this myth?

  2. nathanjacobson says:

    It’s a good question, Andy. Though I can’t cite chapter and verse off the bat, I must say that I feel like I absorbed this impression if only in a diffuse way in my own schooling. I do think the situation is improving because of the historical, academic progress that Hart mentions. In fact, I remember when my teachers started using the term “Middle Ages” instead of “Dark Ages”. Still, I’m willing to bet that if I keep my ears open over the next several weeks I’ll run across an example or two. I think this tale is still very much in the winds.

Comments are closed.