The Awesome Subversiveness of Christian Teaching (a.k.a. Doctrine)

"It should be uncontroversial (though, given the mood of the times, it probably is not) to say that if the teachings of Christianity were genuinely to take root in human hearts--if indeed we all believed that God is love and that we ought to love our neighbors as ourselves--we should have no desire for war, should hate injustice worse than death, and should find indifference to the sufferings of others impossible.  But, in fact, human beings will continue to make war, and to slay the innocent and the defenseless with cheerful abandon; they will continue to distract themselves from themselves, and from their mortality, and from morbid boredom by killing and dying on a magnificent scale, and by exulting in their power to destroy one another.  And human society will continue, in various times and places, to degenerate into a murderous horde, even if it remains so civilized as to depute the legal, political, and military machineries of the state to do its murdering for it. 

"In such a world, Christians have no choice but to continue to believe in the power of the gospel to transform the human will from an engine of cruelty, sentimentality, and selfishness into a vessel of divine grace, capable of union with God and love of one's neighbor.  Many of today's most obstreperous critics of Christianity know nothing more of Christendom's two millennia than a few childish images of bloodthirsty crusaders and sadistic inquisitors, a few damning facts, and a great number of even more damning legends; to such critics, obviously, Christians ought not to surrender the past but should instead deepen their own collective memory of what the gospel has been in human history.  Perhaps more crucially, they ought not to surrender the future to those who know so little of human nature as to imagine that a society 'liberated' from Christ would love justice, or truth, or beauty, or compassion, or even life.

"The Christian view of human nature is wise precisely because it is so very extreme: it sees humanity, at once, as an image of the divine, fashioned for infinite love and imperishable glory, and as an almost inexhaustible wellspring of vindictiveness, cupidity, and brutality.  Christians, indeed, have a special obligation not to forget how great and how inextinguishable the human proclivity for violence is, or how many victims it has claimed, for they worship a God who does not merely take the part of those victims, but who was himself one of them, murdered by the combined authority and moral prudence of the political, religious, and legal powers of human society.

"Which is, incidentally, the most subversive claim ever made in the history of the human race."

--David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 17.


  1. This is the first I've read of Hart--he's quite a firecracker! Glad you like the quotation!


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