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At the New Criterion , Stefan Beck reviews David Bentley Hart’s latest book, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies :

This book, a rebuttal not of their atheism but of their historical and cultural claims about Christianity, is astonishingly calm and courteous next to the works of its “fashionable enemies,” like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and, especially, Sam Harris. But Hart has his fun. His writing, a marvel of both complexity and lucidity, is no stranger to the slyly understated putdown, which he might follow with: “A note of asperity, though, has probably already become audible in my tone, and I probably should strive to suppress it.” This debate, because it involves the public’s faith, requires style and salesmanship as much as it does substance. Hart has all of the above.

I confess here to having greatly enjoyed Hitchens’s God Is Not Great and to being leery of the argument that, as Hart puts it, “among Christianity’s most fervent detractors, there has been a considerable decline in standards.” This is a legitimate complaint—Sam Harris, unlike Hitchens, isn’t even entertaining—but if you believe the old saw that “God never gives you more than you can handle,” bear in mind that today’s novice atheists at least give novice believers something safe to practice on. Hart, however, is anything but a soft target.

Hart’s major theme is that early Christianity was a transformative faith in every sense, but, because we live in the world it transformed, we are often “insensible to the novelty and uncanniness of the gospel as it was first proclaimed.” Christianity civilized us, up to a point, but we take our comparatively exalted state for granted.

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