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The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss [Englisch] [Gebundene Ausgabe]

David Bentley Hart

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1. Oktober 2013
Despite recent ferocious public debate about the likelihood of the existence of God, the most central concept in such arguments remains strangely obscure. What is God? Are those engaged in the debate all talking about the same thing? In this beautifully written contribution to reasoned discussion, a revered religious thinker clarifies how the word "God" functions in various religious traditions. Ranging broadly across Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Vedantic and Bhaktic Hinduism, Sikhism, various paganisms, Buddhism and Taoism, David Hart explores how the world's major theistic traditions treat divine mysteries. One cannot fail to notice, he contends, that on a host of philosophical issues, and especially the issue of divine transcendence, areas of accord among the great faiths are vast. Hart takes pointed issue with those who refute ideas they have not even examined with care and with simplistic assertions designed to mislead. He demolishes modern aetheist arguments, including the blatant misconception of God as puppeteer, as well as the fundamentalist view of the Bible as an objective record of historical data. Instead, the author plumbs the depths of humanity's experience of the world as powerful evidence for the reality of God. Offering a bold corrective to careless or incoherent treatments of his subject, Hart captures the beauty and poetry of traditional reflection upon the divine.

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"Creative and engaging . . . a stunning and provocative achievement."--Kenneth Oakes, "Reformation 21"--Kenneth Oakes "Reformation 21 "

Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox theologian, philosopher, writer and cultural commentator. He has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of St. Thomas (MN), Duke Divinity School, Loyola College (MD), and Providence College (RI). He is the author of Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies, which won the 2011 Michael Ramsey prize, presented by the Archbishop of Canterbury.


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5.0 von 5 Sternen Rich, Readable, and Vintage Hart 20. September 2013
Von Derrick A. Peterson - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
My general preamble to Amazon reviews these days starts the same way: I have fallen out of the habit of writing reviews because I think to do a review properly takes the time and energy at this moment in my education I would prefer be spent reading. Nonetheless both the excellence of this book and what in my humble opinion is the poorness of another review, have momentarily called me back. It is of course anyone's right to give a one-star review to a book--even a book I love; in doing so however one would hope cogent reasons other than "I didn't understand it" or vague incriminations of association with a journal one apparently dislikes, would be more than forthcoming. Sadly, such was not the case. That said, I can assure you that my "five-star" rating is not merely serving as a countervalence to the one-star, it is my genuine opinion of the book that would have been given either way. But now that the throat-clearing is done, lets get down to business.

Long story short: if you have read Hart and enjoyed his learnedness and witticism in the past, buy this book. If you haven't read Hart but are intrigued: this, or Atheist Delusions, are the places to start. In short: buy this book. Read it, Enjoy it. Pop some popcorn and wait for the fireworks. There really is no second guessing (especially at the affordable price). I was initially expecting something of a sequel to Beauty of the Infinite (which I still consider my favorite of Hart's books, despite its difficulty) but really for those interested I would consider this more akin to Atheist Delusions than anything. Much like Hart taking great pleasures dismantling many of our august myths regarding Christian history, here Hart takes aim at much of the tosh that passes for "talk about God," in the modern arena--particularly in the "God debates" between Fundamentalists and New-Atheists of all sorts. If you were like me, and were confused by the description of the book (Sanskrit? Hinduism? What is going on?) Hart attempts to dismantle--in classical Hart style--all these poor imitations of the Almighty by marshaling the resources of the "Classical theistic traditions" (note the plural, Hart includes Judaism, Islam, several forms of Hinduism, and others alongside Christianity). Here Hart thus takes an interesting--and perhaps controversial, for those of us still riding the avalanche of trinitarian scholarship of the last thirty years--approach by noting many of the conceptual similarities between these traditions and their theological and philosophical attempts to come to a "rational" picture of God. Thus Hart explicitly marshals the language of Thomas (which I'm sure many will recognize from Rahner's criticism of it): "There is an old Scholastic distinction between religious treatises written 'De Deo Uno' [on the one God] and 'de Deo Trino' [on the Triune God]..between, that is, those that are 'about the One God' known to persons of various faiths and philosophies, and those that are about the 'Trinitarian God' of Christian doctrine. I want to distinguish in a similar way between, on the one hand, metaphysical or philosophical descriptions of God and, on the other, dogmatic or confessional descriptions, and confine myself to the former." (4)

In doing so, Hart opens with the wonderful line "this is either an extremely ambitious book, or an extremely unambitious book." Which is to to say the goal of the book is such: "My intention," says Hart, "is simply to offer a definition of the word 'God' or of its equivalents in other tongues, and to do so in fairly slavish obedience to the classical definitions of the divine found in the theological and philosophical schools of most of the major religious traditions." As such, Hart wants to clarify just what this "God" is that we should, or should not believe in. He organizes this task around three themes familiar to anyone who has read the subheading to the book: Being, Consciousness, Bliss. Which is to say, how these "moments" or "concepts" implicate, and are implicated by, God: (taking some limited examples from the chapters) our Being as contingency implying an Ultimate non-Contingent, our conscious orientations to the world presupposing in every mundane thought, act, and supposition a reference to the infinite, and indeed a saturation by it--or that the mind and reality should be compatible with each other at all, and (to those familiar with Hart's work on Gregory of Nyssa this will sound familiar) our "bliss" or the ecstatic moments of rapture and joy, our "stretching out" or epektasis into infinity. Thus Hart provides three basic reasons for these terms: 1.) They more or less adequately summarize three concepts by which classical theism represented God (here those with Trinitarian hesitation to Hart's "separation of Treatises" will be relieved to note Hart's extensive talk of the Cappadocians, Augustine, Maximus the Confessor, and Bonaventure's concept of God as Love in Trinitarian form, a la Beauty of the Infinite. Hart has not strayed from his roots) 2.) Represent how humankind's relationship to God can be summarized by concepts and 3.) These three "moments" represent that which, it seems to Hart (quite rightly, I think) cannot be "metaphysically accounted for" by assuming metaphysical naturalism (42-45).

Thus, following Beauty of the Infinite's discourse of the "beautiful rhetoric" of Theistic discourse's ability to "illuminate existence," there is here a limited apologetic purpose; Hart repeatedly affirms that he is not attempting to "prove" God, yet he also frequently repeats that authentic theology and apologetics have a fuzzy line, and that part of the task of unburdening us of idols and caricatures of God is also to bring forth the true power of the theistic tradition's actual "picture of God" (for lack of a better term) and how it represents a rationally, emotionally, and aesthetically robust "explanation" (again, for lack of a better term) of reality. This is, of course, not "God-of-the Gaps" here, where God appears in spaces allowed by the aporia of some natural mechanism: "All the classical theological arguments regarding the order of the world" in fact "assume just the opposite: that God's creative power can be seen in the rational coherence of nature as a perfect whole; that the universe was not simply a factitious product of a supreme intellect but the unfolding of the omnipresent divine wisdom or logos." (38)

It would be difficult to summarize further without simply spoiling the book, but I will end with a few anecdotal observations of my own. The first is that one of the great surprises of the book is its readability. Atheist Delusions was of course quite readable, but this book represents Hart at his most "purified" and understandable (contra another reviewer, in my opinion); he is of course classic Hart (thus there are still flourishes that will make one reach for the dictionary), but classic Hart, I might say, doing his best Chesterton impression. His lucidness here is uncanny, as his ability to calmly explain and lay out themes one may already have familiarity with. There are--at least there was for me--many "wow" moments when Hart shows you something you have been looking at but did not quite recognize you saw. This is also, in my opinion, Hart's funniest book, with Hart's typically penetrating observation producing (at least for me) some actual laugh-out-loud moments. There is for example (I won't ruin it) a particularly great moment where Hart is tearing into analytic theology by telling a brief story of a coffee-loving dolphin; or there are great one-liners like "I am enough of a romantic to believe that if something is worth being rude about, it it worth understanding as well." Other surprises abound. For example, Hart takes on analytic theology repeatedly (though he is quite respectful of those like Alvin Plantinga, he is almost palpably frustrated by others), and I for one was quite surprised with Hart's extensive engagement with evolutionary and cognitive science literature (some of Hart's book reads very similar to his friend Conor Cunningham's book Darwin's Pious Idea). These are fun new territories to watch Hart turn his immense talents and intellect toward. Further, if I had a complaint about Atheist Delusions it was that Hart, despite his obviously immense learning, is often coy about his sources. I do not doubt the veracity of his claims, but for those like myself who like to hunt down new avenues of reading, the sparse annotations and bibliography were irritating. Here, Hart does follow much the same formula, with very few endnotes trailing his oceans of prose. However he adds a wonderful (and surprisingly fun to read) "Bibliographic Postscript" which is a sort of annotated bibliography (343-350), but reads more like one is having coffee with Hart and he is giving his opinion on sources used, and others which should be read by those interested.

But enough of my review, go start reading. Get lost in Hart's beautiful prose and wonderful mind. Even if you end up disagreeing with everything he wrote, I think you will have at least left the encounter having learned quite a bit.
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4.0 von 5 Sternen Great arguments, mixed delivery 9. Oktober 2013
Von North Dakota Reader - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
Well, this is a tough one for stars. On the one hand, the arguments are right on the mark. I especially like how Hart places the arguments of new atheists and creation scientists/fundamentalists within a shared world view that diminishes the whole idea of God to begin with -- call it materialist or naturalist, once you begin with those post-Enlightenment habits of seeing the world you've pretty much written a coherent notion of God out of the picture. And Hart is very good at pointing out the lumbering absurdities of such an approach. He's also very good at ripping through the just-so stories of evolutionary psychology (aka in an earlier guise, sociobiology). So on the merits of argument, he gets a very high score.

My problems with the book are really two: (1) It would be twice as good a book if it were half as long. Hart needs to learn some restraint. He's too besotted with his prose, trying to effect, I suppose, a tweedy Oxonian style that just gets tiresome for most contemporary American readers. I don't want to call it pretentious, but it is annoying how it calls attention to itself and gets in the way of the ideas. (2) More problematic for me is this undercurrent of what I can only call "anger" muddying his robust attacks on the new atheists. It's certainly true that they deserve to have their goofy illogic and ignorance unmasked and Hart does this with abandon. But his evident contempt for them takes on this unsettling character of boot-stomping that feels unpleasant, defensive, and ... well ... mean. It's either that or Hart is too fond of his own erudition -- an arrogance, probably better founded, that actually mimics that of the Dawkins, Dennett, Grayling crowd. But where their smugness is laughable, Hart's is more of a concern. I contrast Hart's approach with Terry Eagleton's Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (also from Yale and just 169 pages of core text compared to Hart's 332). While they don't cover exactly the same ground, they do overlap and complement each other. And Eagleton is much more fun to read precisely because he's clearly having the time of his life and invites the reader to laugh along with him at the inadvertent buffoonery of the new atheists. Hart doesn't mention Eagleton, which I found a little odd. Maybe he doesn't like his Marxism. Or maybe his (Eagleton's) Aristotelian & Aquinan roots are too redolent of that wonderful soul, Herbert McCabe.

I didn't know who Hart was when I ordered the book (the title and blurb were enough to grab me), but I got curious enough after reading to check and discovered he's involved with the First Things gang. I read that journal from time to time and it turns out to be the key to the rhetorical style of this book: a little fusty, a little too embroiled in a larger winner take all cultural struggle, a little too smug about being on the side of the angels, and very often spot on but with little joy for all that. Hart's punditry and commentary there is also a bit rambling and wordy, just like this book. If you wanted to save the time and the expense, I'd ask somebody for a photocopy of chapters one and two ("'God' is not a proper name" and "Pictures of the World" -- only 84 pages!) and buy Eagleton's.

Still, I know some folks like this kind of thing and I'm sure the book will be a treat for them, ungodly long paragraphs and all. Each to their own.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen A welcome corrective on the definition of God 14. Oktober 2013
Von CalebES - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
With works like "The Beauty of the Infinite," David Bentley Hart has already established himself as one of the most talented metaphysicians and theologians alive today. The man is clearly a genius. But occasionally, he bothers to write books that provide a public service for those of us who aren't academics--namely, books that offer a corrective to modern misunderstandings about religion, history, philosophy, and theology ("Atheist Delusions" was one such book). And now, with the publication of "The Experience of God," Dr. Hart has delivered another much-needed antidote to modern misunderstandings of the "God question"--what is God?

There are lots of books attempting to "defend" or "refute" the existence of God, but strangely enough, not many books attempting to explain just what exactly the word "God" is supposed to mean. And those that do make such an attempt (at least the ones that I've seen) fall short in numerous ways. One such shortcoming seems to me to be the failure to grapple with the various religious traditions of the world, which is no easy task, but certainly one that is necessary for any thoughtful person who wants to have a coherent account of the traditional meaning of "God." In this magnificent work, Dr. Hart does exactly that, aptly citing some of the greatest religious thinkers to reveal what the word "God" has traditionally meant across philosophical and theological faith traditions.

Don't get me wrong. Hart is not here engaging in the sort of naïve pluralism that says that all religions are saying the same thing; he is aware that there are clear theological differences across religious traditions, and he is respectful of those differences. But nor is Hart a fundamentalist who is willing to simply ignore the religious experience and philosophical thought of the rest of the world. There is a clear harmony in the metaphysics of the word "God" across religious traditions and it is that which he is trying to elucidate.

I should point out that Hart is very good at anticipating objections to his approach in this book. For instance, early on, he counters the common charge that average religious people don't think about God philosophically the way Hart expounds in his book. This is a common objection from New Atheist types like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, who often accuse "sophisticated theologians" of altering the traditional view of God in order to make it more reasonable and appealing. But as Hart points out, "there is absolutely nothing novel about the language I use in this book; it is a faithful digest of the primary claims made about the nature of God in the traditions I have named above."

Furthermore, "this is an entirely irrelevant argument" since "it is always true, for any shared body of knowledge, that the principles and logic of the whole `system' are most fully known only to a few individuals who have gone to the trouble to study them." And Hart adds, this objection is not really true anyway. If one asks the average believer what he understands God to be, the answers will often be perfectly concordant with the metaphysical formulae: God is Spirit, incorporeal, not an object located somewhere in space, not subject to the limitations of time, etc.

This is a much needed corrective for modern fundamentalists and zealous atheists alike. Hart delivers a prodigious blow to both groups, and he does so with erudition and scholarly seriousness. A book like this is long overdue and I, for one, am glad that it was written by none other than David Bentley Hart.
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3.0 von 5 Sternen Tough read, but compelling ideas 8. Januar 2014
Von Sunrise Susie - Veröffentlicht auf
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Not for the casual reader, into which category I belong. Hart writes like the academic he is. Wiki describes him as an "Eastern Orthodox theologian, philosopher, and cultural commentator." In the book, Hart takes on atheists (he basically thinks they're crazy for NOT believing in a God.) He is laser-focused on defining and arguing for the God he perceives, not on any tangential questions that are likely to arise for many readers. That's not necessarily a criticism, just know that's what you're going to get. If I understand Hart, he believes most people, and atheists in particular, define God in a ridiculously narrow way. Thus they are continually shooting down straw men. He believes God transcends all things and is all things and we must re-think what and where God is to find him.

I wish he would have written in a more straight-forward, simple way. I've read books on complex ideas and know it can be done. This one's a tough slough--long paragraphs and no subheads to help the reader categorize his ideas. Still, I found his beliefs and "proofs," those I could wrest from the writing anyway, provocative and compelling.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Bad Chesterton 11. November 2013
Von Ken Smith - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
"The Experience of God" is an enlightening and at times even thrilling book. I've been describing Hart to my friends as "Bad Chesterton", meaning nothing but praise in the comparison. Although Hart's style is nothing like Chesterton, he reminds me in many ways of the great Catholic author in his insistence on the sheer wonder of being. However, unlike Chesterton, who seemed to always be making friends with his worst (philosophical) enemies, Hart has little patience for those whose philosophical incoherence, he feels, is matched only by their unwarranted confidence, and he directs a good number of not-terribly-good-natured jabs in their direction. In this Hart resembles nothing so much as GKC's evil twin, delighting in watching his opponents twist on the spit of his wit. For some, this may be off-putting; for me, it was freeing. My own tendency is probably to listen too sympathetically to my atheist friends and to take their objections too seriously. Hart is troubled with no such compunctions, and his dry humor, combined with a style that is both crisp and elegant, florid and engaging, immediately pulled me in. This is not very philosophical, I will admit, but his confident attitude, as much as his (generally very cogent) arguments provided me with a sense of confidence that has often been lacking in my own faith.

That said, it's not a perfect book. I'm not nearly as confident as Hart that computers will never achieve consciousness - doesn't the sort of "pan-psychism" to which he alludes at one point seem to indicate that they might? Sometimes his arguments about the inexplicable remainder of ethical thought come uncomfortably close to the sort of "Intelligent Designism" which he elsewhere ruthlessly skewers. Nor am I as confident as he is about the powers of mystical, contemplative prayer - though he definitely got me thinking on that one.

But these are minor issues. I loved the book, will continue recommending it to others, and will certainly be rereading it.
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