Even if I knew how to properly review a book (which I do not), I would still not know how to review The Experience of God by David Bentley Hart. Is it a work of theology? Yes. Is it a work of philosophy and a critique of modern philosophy? Yes. Is it a cutting polemic directed against atheism, materialism, naturalism, ideology, and every form of superficial thinking that refuses to wrestle with the critical metaphysical questions of existence? Yes. Is it a work of deep and sometimes profound spiritual reflection? Yes. Is it a book that is well beyond my competence to review? Absolutely yes.
Hence I will not even attempt a review. Instead I will share a few brief ponderings about The Experience of God. My hope is that this series will provoke you to read this book. If you should do so, one piece of advice: do not allow either Hart’s massive erudition or luxuriant language to discourage you. This is a book that works on the reader at many levels. Persevere. One does not need to have read Plotinus or Thomas Aquinas to benefit from Hart’s argumentation. When you come to a difficult passage—and there are many of them—just keep reading. As I said, the book works on the reader at many levels.
“My intention,” Hart announces at the very beginning of his book, “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” (p. 1). I confess that this sentence immediately generated resistance within me, as throughout my priesthood I have emphasized the differences between the Christian understanding of God from the understandings of deity found outside the Judaeo-Christian tradition. But Hart reaches out beyond his Christian faith to Judaism, Islam, Vedantic and Bhaktic Hinduism, Sikhism, as well as ancient Greek philosophy. He is not promoting a generic theistic religion; but he does want his readers to see that the human longing for the transcendent “lies at the heart of all human culture” (p. 6). It cannot be trivially or arrogantly dismissed as primitive superstition. Yes, terrible evils have been done, and continue to be done, in the name of religion; yet it also remains true that “most of the unquestionably sublime achievements of the human intellect and imagination have arisen in worlds shaped by some vision of transcendent truth” (p. 6).
Hart hopes to awaken us to this transcendent truth and restore to us a glimpse of the God who is the infinite source of our life and being.