A fascinating interview with DBH

“I think, there’s been such a mythologization of the consensus patrum, the notion that there’s a sort of a Patristic system. And the fathers have been merged into a kind of system, and an infallible system every bit as dogmatically narrow and indubitable and unquestionable as the Magisterium of the Catholic church. I think that the bad aspect of the Neo-Patristic revival was that it was revival in the form of a system. And believe me I know this better than anyone else writing in English in the Orthodox world. If you raise an issue, or you disagree with the dominant interpretation of the tradition, the response will not be a principled argument, so much as a sort of fundamentalist quoting of pericopes from the fathers. The same way a Catholic is taught to use the Catechism as a guide to dogma, doctrine. And this is stifling in its effect. I actually don’t think theology should be fixed in any particularly paradigm. I think there was a golden age of Patristic thought, but there might be a golden age in which instead of the natural and fluid commerce between Hellenistic Judaism and Platonic and Aristotelian thought and Christian thought, you can imagine an equally rich period in which Christian theology would be drawing on Asian philosophies, making creative use of modern German thought, or… One of the things I like about Bulgakov and Florensky is that they didn’t think that Orthodoxy came to a crashing halt with John of Damascus. They believed that even a doctrine is a terminus ad quem only in the sense that it is a terminus a quo—that it may close down certain avenues of argument, but it opens up larger avenues of speculation.” ~ David Bentley Hart

Read the entire interview:

David Bentley Hart: «The theologian is a quiet rioter»

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80 Responses to A fascinating interview with DBH

  1. Geoffrey McKinney says:

    I am glad to read Dr. Hart say, “I’m writing more fiction than theology these days.” Of his writings that I have read, the one I enjoy the most is his collection of stories entitled The Devil and Pierre Gernet (with my favorite of those five tales being “The House of Apollo”). Dr. Hart writes in the apologia of that volume, “I came to conclude that God is no more likely (and probably a good deal less likely) to be found in theology than in poetry or fiction.” Indeed. David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus moves my spirit more deeply than most theology.

    The thought of Dr. Hart’s forthcoming fantasy novel (the title of which escapes me) especially delights me. I hope to see it published soon.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Anderson says:

    It would be easier to be intellectually curious about, even sympathetic to, Hart’s anarchism with respect to tradition, if I had some idea about where and whether his rejection of religious authority comes to an end. One suspects that, if there really were a consensus among the Fathers on some issue, and Hart disagreed with that consensus, he would be completely unbothered by the disagreement. One further suspects that Hart would be equally unbothered if (per impossibile, I’m sure) he found himself in opposition to this or that passage of the New Testament.

    I would be sincerely interested to know what Hart thinks of the authority of revelation. And if he does believe there is such a thing as authoritative revelation, where he thinks such revelation can be found.

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    • I too do wonder how Hart thinks authority or tradition or revelation works, though you’d have to wait for Hart to give a full articulation before you accuse him of “anarchism,” by which you probably mean “anything goes.” I would be heartened to find out his understanding is the same as Bulgakov’s, though Hart talks a good deal more about judging things by reason and logic than Bulgakov did. Though I don’t find Hart’s universalism unorthodox at all, I do have to say his lack of epistemic humility is not something one finds in much of the Orthodox Tradition. The difference between figures like Athanasius and Maximus who stood by themselves against everyone else with their theological opinion, is that they never seemed to take the attitude that they would simply leave the Church if they were condemned (in one sense, this wasn’t even really possible for them, but their general attitude was still quite different from Hart’s). They saw themselves as upholding the TRUE TRADITION of the Church, and I would assume that Maximus WOULD HAVE HAD TO have had some hope that even after his death and excommunication, things could turn around and his position would be vindicated. Same for Athanasius. This is how Bulgakov seemed to view things and how he made sense of his own condemnation. Hart, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have much of a problem at all with saying that he would simply pack his bags and leave the Orthodox Church if it didn’t like what he had to say.

      Not that I don’t understand his frustrations with modern day Orthodox fundamentalism. But it is precisely because Hart is RIGHT that Orthodoxy has taken on many forms throughout its history that his comment about NOT converting to Orthodoxy today seems a bit short-sighted. In the United States, things are definitely taking a turn towards the right, in some cases, the very far right. Nevertheless, in Orthodox academia, sometimes this trend is reversed to the point of some people making pretty bad arguments for far left positions (Hart is NOT one of the people I’m thinking of here). Most new converts, however, seem to be more of the far right variety than far left. But things shift all the time in the Church. If Christ doesn’t return for another thousand years or so, there’s no telling what type of theology the Church of the final era would be. The U.S. is in a fundamentalist era right now, as are other Orthodox countries. I don’t know what will stop this trend. But I still do believe that at some point, the pendulum will swing back towards the center. All this to say, I can sympathize with Hart’s current distaste regarding modern Orthodoxy, but because I still do believe that the Orthodox Church IS the Church in its fullness, his ambivalence towards it as a whole makes me a bit uncomfortable.

      Great interview though! Really enjoyed it. When the heck is his part 2 podcast coming out on Gregory of Nyssa? The first one was fantastic.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Owen-Maximus says:

        Mark, insightful comment as always. I was wondering what your thoughts were on religious inclusivism. Within your understanding of the Orthodox Church as containing the fullness of revelation, do you think there exists a deposit of saving revelation in the non-Christian religions as well? Thanks.

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        • Meant to post this here:

          Thanks Maximus. Yes, I think God can use and does use the specific religions that someone finds themselves in to bring them closer to Himself. But I still see the Orthodox Church as supplying everything one needs for one’s salvation more than any other religious tradition. So for example, I don’t deny that certain Tibetan Buddhist practices greatly aid saints of that tradition in their theosis, and I tend to think the “rainbow body” phenomenon is a variation on what occurs to certain Roman Catholic and Orthodox saints- like one’s being found incorrupt. I would just say that had those Buddhist saints been Orthodox (and not had a horrible priest, etc.), they simply would have received more grace. However, I still think that whatever can be found good in other religions ultimately comes from the Logos who was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. Based on orthodox Christology, I see his incarnation in human nature as totally sufficient for all humanity, and so other avatars of Hindu and Buddhist traditions would have to be understood in a more docetic sense of theophanies, but not in an orthodox Christological sense.

          If you look up C.S. Lewis’s quotes on different religions, my perspective is pretty much the same as his. Though he didn’t seem to know anything about Sufi Islam and the riches of that mystical tradition. But that tradition draws on a large amount of Eastern Christian inspiration. Ibn Arabi writes of epektasis in such a way that it’s almost impossible not to see Gregory of Nyssa lurking SOMEWHERE in the background.

          I wish someone would publish in English Fr Alexander Men’s book on world religions. Sounds like there would be a lot of useful stuff there.

          I also like what I’ve found in this book. But I am no world religion scholar.

          Liked by 1 person

      • DBH says:

        I’m fine with the accusation of “anarchism.” To submit to any belief that your reason rejects, especially if you have made every effort to understand that belief in its own terms, is not faith. It is mere epistemic nihilism. The one great sickness that afflicts Orthodoxy is the fear to engage with the tradition as a living thing, which is always imperfect in its grasp of the few–and very minimally formulated–dogmatic commitments genuinely required of believers. When the Orthodox learn to think boldly again, after the very model of the fathers they profess to admire (even while converting those fathers into static symbols of some mythical consensus), Orthodoxy may enjoy a true theological renaissance. Certainly, that’s what Bulgakov and the other Russian religious philosophers and theologians were attempting.

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        • Rob says:

          “To submit to any belief that your reason rejects, especially if you have made every effort to understand that belief in its own terms, is not faith.”

          How would you, personally, define faith and how does it differ from pure reason?

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          • DBH says:

            The two do not differ; like will and intellect, they are one and the same act, analytically separated into distinct faculties only because of our imperfections. They are one passionate and rational adherence to Truth in its transcendent fullness. At the end, if they do not coincide, then faith is nihilism and reason is folly.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Owen-Maximus says:

      My understanding is that Hart perceives true revelation in all the great world religious traditions, each containing divinely inspired texts, true saints, etc. The formal externals of a given tradition may be superfluous and even distracting from the essence of it, but the metaphysical and mystical core of any great religious tradition is the same as any other, granting the opportunity of “salvation” (e.g. purification, illumination, deification) to its adherents. The question concerning whether he sees one tradition as containing the fullness of Revelation, I’m less clear on. That’s how I read him, anyway. Perhaps his upcoming book on Christian Tradition will answer some of your other questions re religious authority.

      Tradition and Apocalypse: An Essay on the Future of Christian Belief https://www.amazon.com/dp/080103938X/ref=ord_cart_shr?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER

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    • DBH says:

      “One suspects that, if there really were a consensus among the Fathers on some issue, and Hart disagreed with that consensus, he would be completely unbothered by the disagreement.”

      You are absolutely correct. And the same should be true of you. The fathers are not dogmatic authorities, for one thing. They were just theologians. And only a few of them were genuinely great theologians. Even if they were all in agreement on some principle, that by itself would mean nothing more than that the principle should be considered seriously before being accepted or rejected. Orthodoxy of old always held the fathers in high reverence, but only very late in Orthodox history did the kind of Patrolatry practiced by many today–for want, I suppose, of an Orthodox magisterium–take shape,

      Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      “One further suspects that Hart would be equally unbothered if (per impossibile, I’m sure) he found himself in opposition to this or that passage of the New Testament.”

      That too is true. The various authors of the New Testament explicitly contradict one another on certain issues (even the day of the week on which Christ was crucified). The truth of scripture lies not simply in the letter but in its interpretation, and that is an endless task.

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    • TJF says:

      He does seem to be a little too sure of himself sometimes. I get that you become more sure of things once you learn more about them and his level of erudition is great indeed, but it still seems he is either on the border or has crossed the border into radical individualism. I’m much unsure of myself and jive more with Stephen RL Clark who seems to be influenced more by Pyrrhonian skepticism. Perhaps it’s just a temperament thing. Who knows?

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  3. arthurjeffriesthecatholic says:

    Hello. I am a regular reader of the site but this is my first comment.

    I am intrigued by Dr. Hart’s endorsement of Sikhism. Dr. Hart, if you are reading, are there any books on Sikhism that you would recommend to somebody (me) who is basically ignorant of the religion? I am committed to my faith tradition, but I am often blessed by the spiritual insights of non-Christian religions, and I would be very interested to learn about Sikhism from reliable experts.

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  4. After reading much of the “interview” — pontification — of DBH, I am tempted to think his great learning has made him mad. I greatly benefitted from That All Shall Be Saved — the good news is even far greater than I had realized — and for that I am eternally grateful. But Hart’s blanket judgments of anyone who, seemingly, disagrees even a little with his perspectives and conclusions (a la POTUS 45) cause my ears to glaze over and wonder if he would be completely satisfied to join his oxymoronically named “church of one.” By the grace of God, I’m one of those terrible “Evangelical converts” who’s come home to Mother Church.

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    • DBH says:

      “But Hart’s blanket judgments of anyone who, seemingly, disagrees even a little with his perspectives and conclusions…”

      Give an example.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “Unfortunately, American Evangelicalism is an extraordinarily crude and fundamentalist religion.” And the state of Orthodoxy in America right now is absolutely catastrophic, precisely because it’s been so successful in gaining converts. And the influx of former Evangelicals has made this something of a disastrous situation, because they bring with them very narrow habits of thought—the way they were taught to think about religion, about faith. And also, like converts everywhere, to everything, the version of the religion to which they converted they cling to more fiercely than people who were born Orthodox.
        And because they’re evangelicals, that also means simplified, inflexible and cruel. The rigidity and boorish unimaginativeness of a lot of the Orthodox world is I think easily documented. And I don’t know what to do about it, one way or the other. In my case I am just indifferent, because I don’t care how I’m viewed. But it is a problem. I think that Orthodox theologians have to start claiming, reclaiming their liberty from the expectations of these dogmatists who’ve created this myth of the golden age of Patristic consensus, which produced all answers to all questions infallibly, and all other forms of thinking, all other approaches, whether the German idealist, or psychological, or Vedantic are to be rejected out of hand because they can’t be found in Basil of Caesaria, or else in some other figures.”

        . . . Dr. Hart, obviously I take issue with such broad characterizations of the primary and secondary sources which greatly expanded my vision and experience of the unspeakable Gospel of the incarnate God who took on our humanity, buried it with the first Adam and all the corruption and futility he passed on, and raised us up to unimaginable freedom in union with the One uncreated Truth, Goodness, Beauty of our God. I know and have had conversations with so many Evangelical “converts” to Orthodoxy who wouldn’t come close to the often barbaric picture you paint of them.

        Since reading TASBS, I have referred it to many Evangelical friends who are locked into the destructive mind-set of infernalists . . . but I cringe to think how they may “hear” some of the phrases quoted above about their current communion of believers and thus, unfortunately, fail to sift through to the theological and philosophical nuggets you so often bring to us. Curious, do you in any way see your writing and teaching vocation as being an example of St. Paul’s “becoming like all men so that by all means I may win some”? You said in your interview that certain trends are very troubling to you, which I infer you have a real desire to convince as many as possible of your thoughts. You made it very clearly all that you’re against . . . what specifically are you for, short of anyone doing even a smidgeon of the reading you are capable of doing?

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      How’s the interview a pontification? Come on now. The man is asked his take on various subjects and provides off the cuff replies, and quite eloquently so. You may disagree, but labelling the interview as pontification is beyond the pale. What has happened to freedom of expression, reasonable disagreement, opinion? Get out of the kitchen.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Julian says:

    I must say, as much as I love DBH, I am worried about the tone of many of his recent interviews and articles. He strikes me, in many of his public comments, as very pessimistic, cynical and angry/depressed; often as someone who is at the edge of his patience. I’m not trying to say that the situation in American ‘Christianity’ is not a cause for cynicism and anger, but that the stance Hart seems to be taking is one that cannot be healthy in the long term, either for himself or for the life of faith. Where is the basic posture of hope and generosity? I don’t mean to attack Hart in any way, but he doesn’t sound like he is in a good place; May God be with him.

    Am I out on left field in my observations?

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    • DBH says:

      Far out in left field, yes. Pointing out that American Orthodoxy has been taken over to a remarkable degree by a form of Christianity that isn’t actually Orthodox is simply an observation on an evident fact. It is an observation that should be made more often and by more people.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Julian says:

        I guess you’re making those observations more forcefully than I would be comfortable making them. Especially since I’m part of a community in which, your description in the article, very aptly describes their basic outlook:
        “It’s being turned into a version of the American religion, which is about civil order, prosperity, capitalism, a moral code that is not premised on forgiveness so much as upon judgement.”
        I’ve just noticed in my own life that dwelling too much on these realities, incessantly focusing on them ends up leading me to despair and distorted judgement. I become blind to the ordinary acts of goodness and love around me become and self-righteous and alienated from people in my community. I don’t see how fighting fire with fire is going to “convert” these people: if I respond self-righteously and judgementally to their self-righteousness and judgementalness (Is that a word?), that will be counterproductive and out of step with the spirit of the gospel.
        But then again, who am I kidding, the bombastic, judgemental tone that has characterized so much of your polemical writing is part of what we have come to love and expect from you. So, keep doing what you’re doing I guess.

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        • DBH says:

          You must have a low or mixed opinion of Jesus’s preferred rhetorical style when addressing corruptions of faith.

          Look, friend, we’re living in an age when tens of millions of American Christians supported Trump. We’re well past the point of mild demurral. American Christianity isn’t in crisis. It’s on a slab in the morgue.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Rob says:

            I think this sort of statement (the mere act of preferring Trump to Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden being evidence of being a slab on a morgue) is just the sort of blanket judgement pointed out above.

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          • Julian says:

            Jesus is always giving shit to exactly the kind of people who can give him power and status. The paradox in this situation is that while pointing out that American Christianity has capitulated to Donald will not get you published in First Things, but it will give you a hearing in the NYT. So I don’t know, depending on your cultural milieux, its a lot easier to “speak truth to power” depending on what earns you cultural capital.

            Well, that may be so, but can’t be any more of a “slab in the morgue” than when Christians were telling their slaves to be subject or sending their heritics to the torture chamber…

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Rob, I’m totally with David on this. The enthusiastic Christian support for Trump is, IMO, absolutely scandalous, especially since Jan. 6th. But this thread is NOT the proper location for a discussion of Trump and so I am exercising my dictatorial powers to forbid further mention of Trump. I ask all to respect my decision. Thank you.

            Liked by 2 people

          • arthurjaco says:

            “You must have a low or mixed opinion of Jesus’s preferred rhetorical style when addressing corruptions of faith.”

            That’s where *one* particular question that I’ve always had arises in my mind : is a mere Christian authorised to use *that* precise rhetorical style or is *only* Jesus, as God in the flesh (therefore having divine authority), authorised to do that?
            I mean, I can’t help but recall the words “Judge not, lest ye be judged” (among others).
            Not that I don’t like your tone, Dr Hart, and I certainly think that those people you criticise (most importantly calvinists and thomists, though the list is long) have had it coming (for quite a long time, actually).
            Just wondering.

            Also, as you’ve repeatedly said that you’d be interested in embracing sikhism at some point in the future, I was wondering… Does that mean that you find reincarnation to be a plausible belief?

            Have a very lovely day, Mr Hart.

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          • DBH says:

            Rob,
            That’s such a foolish remark it barely deserves a response. Biden or Clinton may not float your boat, sinful and imperfect and ideologically mixed souls that they are, but Trump represented pure evil, the absolute rejection of every Christian value, total nihilism. If you do not grasp the difference between the evil he represented and the mere sinful folly that most political figures represent, then you are morally damaged at a deep level.

            And Julian,
            Your point is?

            Liked by 1 person

          • Rob says:

            DBH

            I’d love to reply, but apparently es ist verboten to talk about Trump here, so I’ll hold my peace.

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          • Julian says:

            My point? I guess I’m asking, why is Christianity more of a slab in the morgue (I quite like this turn of phrase) now, than at any other point in history?

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          • DBH says:

            I didn’t say it is. As I have said repeatedly in my writings, Christianity has at most ever “flickered through the history of the West.”

            Liked by 2 people

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Julian, while I can’t say that I have listened to or read every interview of DBH over the past couple of months, I have a few, including the present interview. One thing I have noticed is an element of whimsy that was not present in many of his post-TASBS interviews. He does not come across as angry and bitter, which I think is all to the good. This tone will, I hope, help to rebuild bridges to those whom he may have alienated. Of course, David will say that he does not give a shit what others think about him … but I do. Whimsy is good! 😎

      Liked by 3 people

      • Julian says:

        I think it is the post TASBS that I’m thinking of. I have wondered if that “experience” gave Hart a new kind of “don’t give a shit” attitude. 🙂

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        • DBH says:

          I wouldn’t use that phrase, and would prefer others avoid it too, but the experience did in fact make me more indifferent to certain things. Had there been one intellectually interesting or at least accurate negative response to the book, perhaps I would not have concluded that it’s all more trouble than it’s worth.

          That said, the interview recorded here was a perfectly light and whimsical exchange. What others read into it I cannot govern, but there was certainly no bitterness there.

          Liked by 1 person

    • janotec says:

      It would be better to respond to the actual argument made by Dr Hart, rather than how he made it or, rather, how you think he made it. The situation of American Christianity — especially as it has affected (or infected) Orthodoxy — is not so much a cause of cynicism and anger, but a cause of thought and maybe repentance. We clergy (especially we convert clergy) have colluded with the fundamentalization of Orthodoxy because we were too afraid to leave behind our revivalist ghosts.

      Oh, and Dr Hart, your whole interview is rem acu tetigisti.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Cody Hatch says:

      I am an Episcopalian who has a high degree of respect, appreciation, and interest in the Eastern Church. I drink deeply from the Patristic waters and have a profound gratitude for the work and sacrifice of the Orthodox Church over the centuries in preserving that beautiful tradition in the face of serious obstacles not faced by, say, the English church.

      However, in my neck of the woods, much of the members of the Orthodox parishes are converts from Evangelical traditions and are highly fundamentalist. There is a “bunker” mentality which sees the world at large, and most of mankind, as some sort of threat. As a result, they do very little work within their communities. They cloister and shun “the world” at a time when “the world” most needs Orthodoxy’s rich tradition of seeing creation, existence, etc. as gift and grace; an appreciation of “the world” as loved by God, beautiful. If God does not cloister himself from the world, why should his church? At a time when “this world” most needs to see the beauty of the Infinite and Good as present in all things, beautifying them through grace, his church is turning inward, anathematizing the world through culture war. The world needs Orthodoxy, not Evangelicalism 2.0.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Thanks Maximus. Yes, I think God can use and does use the specific religions that someone finds themselves in to bring them closer to Himself. I’m probably where Karl Rahner and C.S. Lewis were on this question. But I still see the Orthodox Church as supplying everything one needs for one’s salvation more than any other religious tradition. So for example, I don’t deny that certain Tibetan Buddhist practices greatly aid saints of that tradition in their theosis, and I tend to think the “rainbow body” phenomenon is a variation on what occurs to certain Roman Catholic and Orthodox saints- like one’s being found incorrupt. I would just say that had those Buddhist saints been Orthodox (and not had a horrible priest, etc.), they simply would have received more grace. However, I still think that whatever can be found good in other religions ultimately comes from the Logos who was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. Based on orthodox Christology, I see his incarnation in human nature as totally sufficient for all humanity, and so other avatars of Hindu and Buddhist traditions would have to be understood in a more docetic sense of theophanies, but not in an orthodox Christological sense.

    If you look up C.S. Lewis’s quotes on different religions, my perspective is pretty much the same as his. Though he didn’t seem to know anything about Sufi Islam and the riches of that mystical tradition. But that tradition draws on a large amount of Eastern Christian inspiration. Ibn Arabi writes of epektasis in such a way that it’s almost impossible not to see Gregory of Nyssa lurking SOMEWHERE in the background.

    I wish someone would publish in English Fr Alexander Men’s book(s) on world religions. Sounds like there would be a lot of useful stuff there.

    I also like what I’ve found in this book. But I am no world religion scholar.

    Technically, one could be an extreme religious exclusivist and still be a universalist. Barth and Balthasar both did NOT like Rahner’s idea of anyonymous Christians, yet both of them liked universalism.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Sometimes the tone deafness of Hart’s critics spill over into simply being bad readers – there were some absolute tongue in cheek gems in this interview, such as when David unequivocally states that he’s not God. I was in tears, because it was such a great way to illustrate the point he was trying to make, and there were more in this.

    However, on the serious side, I do think that he is pointing out not only inherent tensions and contradictions in contemporary Christianity, but is getting to a more fundamental point – and that is what appears to be emerging at the present moment are two (or possibly more) fundamentally incompatible visions of what it actually means to be Christian. I think he’s just being more honest with the state of affairs than many who quite understandably love the Church and her traditions and hope to see reform and positive change. But, there is a very real sense, at least in the way Christians speak about God that those who are firmly infernalists and those who are universalists have quite distinct understandings about the nature of God – and this might possibly extend further into his discussions on anthropology in You Are Gods (which I eagerly look forward to reading, and I suspect will be a rather complimentary work to Jordan Wood’s upcoming book on Maximus) where we have fundamentally irreconcilable views on what it actually means to be human.

    If there is any criticism of the Patristic universalists that I have, it is that they were not more militant on this issue when they did have the upper hand. Allowing for the minority faction of infernalists to use the specter of everlasting torment to keep the rabble in line, while reserving the doctrine of apokatastasis for the more enlightened has had disastrous effects. David’s approach is invariably the correct one here, what is at stake in these arguments isn’t merely a question of human morality, but the nature of God and whether or not the Christian depiction of him is a God worth trusting and worshipping. This ground should never have been conceded in the first place, especially not when Universalists held the majority and the upper hand in terms of intellectual weight either advocating it, or theologizing in such a way that leads to no other conclusion (e.g. Athanasius). Part of the reason why, broadly speaking, we lost the script post EC 5, whatever one wishes to make of what actually happened there, is because universalists did not take up the fight, and conceded their vision of God for the peace of the church – and in so doing we have endured a nightmarish millennium and a half of spiritual practices and dogmas that belie the sadistic infernalist vision of God.

    These processes may take time, but I do not see how the kinds of fault lines David is simply identifying and pointing out, will not inevitably lead to a parting of ways across multiple communions.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “whatever one wishes to make of what actually happened there, is because universalists did not take up the fight, and conceded their vision of God for the peace of the church – and in so doing we have endured a nightmarish millennium and a half of spiritual practices and dogmas that belie the sadistic infernalist vision of God.”

      Fine. But how many more open minded infernalists aren’t able to get through Hart’s “That All Shall Be Saved” because of his rhetoric? I remember seeing Wesley Hill say that the rhetoric of the book was just too much, and he couldn’t very easily make his way through it. Hill does not strike me as vociferous infernalist. People like Hill are a missed opportunity.

      I know Jesus and the Church Fathers talked in a certain way, and people are free to make the “but Jesus and Cyril talked this way, so I can too” argument. But we live in a different culture than they did, and our culture is far less oral. I remember sitting through a Th.M. seminar at St. Vladimir’s where the entire class was focused on WHY the Church Fathers’ spoke with such polarizing rhetoric at some points. I see their rhetoric more as a problem rather than something to be imitated. Our culture is already more polarized than ever, and using the rhetoric of Cyril and Athanasius isn’t going to help anything. It’ll just make those who disagree even more fervent in their disagreement. More polarization, more more social breakdown, more grandstanding. The last thing we need right now.

      There is definitely inconsistency here though. There are plenty of Christians who were perfectly happy with Hart’s rhetoric in “Atheist Delusions” because it wasn’t about them. But Hart’s rhetoric has not changed. It’s now just directed at his fellow-Christians. Both great books, both far too polarizing.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Mark,

        I am more inclined to believe in unicorns than open minded infernalists. Hart is right, there are many who formally hold to the notion, though in the most tenuous fashion, while living out lives of Christian charity that put the lie to their formal confession – so you know good people who happen to have some (loosely held) bad ideas.

        But more to your issue, it is not only irrelevant, it is fundamentally wrong. I frankly wish Hart would be more belligerent on the matter. Being a vocal infernalist, who sees not only utility, but some sublime good in the doctrine is akin to being a Nazi party member, instead this time we have absolutized the Fuhrer and made him the first principle of all existence who will go onto perpetuate an everlasting Holocaust. If that is the vision of God that you are not only willing to defend, but to enjoin others into believing upon pains of hell, you are a moral monster who has inadvertently made God into the image of your fractured consciousness – in which case the only morally sane option is to subject such views to the damnable contempt that they deserve.

        And, to the point, I frankly don’t care about what the infernalists actually believe, or even trying to convince them otherwise if they wish to remain intractable on their insistence that God is evil. Who I do care about is the countless many of people I know who have been spiritually damaged by these pernicious doctrines – and in the discussions I have had with a few of them, Christian universalism has opened them back up to see Christ’s beauty – it is good hearted people that are the casualties in this conflict. Hart’s rhetoric means something to them – it means someone is pushing back and is taking the matter seriously. Who gives a damn about the fragile egos of a few theo-dorks? I mean really? People are being spiritually damaged by these doctrines, the church has been almost totally infected by it, and institutionally has committed tremendous evils as the only guardian of who gets in and who gets out of hell.

        And I am not kidding on the Nazi comparison here – having a high-minded discussion in the effort to convert reasonable Nazis is not how you confront that kind of evil. You confront it head on, and speak of it in terms that actually does justice to how morally and spiritually perverse the doctrine of everlasting hell is, and how morally and spiritually perverse it is to believe it. We have to stop making God into a monster, because the net historical effect is that we have justified our monstrous behavior in the name of this monster.

        Liked by 3 people

  8. brian says:

    I think you’re a bit too dire, Jedidiah, but I applaud the boldness. I tend to agree with Hart’s view of tradition whilst trying to maintain Catholic identity. And to be frank, there are plenty of Catholic thinkers who I have benefitted from who are infernalists. I don’t like it, but I can’t simply dismiss them as somehow beyond the pale of Christianity.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hart even hits on this in the article, where he points out that many great Christians who happen to tacitly affirm infernalism in some respect, have the weight of their Christian charity and practice that belies a very different story. So, I am not saying that there’s no such thing as a good infernalist or anything of the sort, even if the system of belief is atrocious.

      But, put in the terms that Hart argues in TASBS, it can no longer be a question of moral and spiritual indifference – the historical and internal contradictions are coming into focus, and I believe that as universalism gains steam across various traditions (who would have thought that universalism would be a live option for modern evangelicals until Parry and Talbott opened up that door), it will only actually heighten the debate. If the church proves irreformable on this point, I don’t think it will be able to maintain internal cohesion – these ideas are just too widely available to be ignored.

      In a sense, at least to me, it is like watching the Hegelian dialectic unfold in real time. Eventually the church is going to have to reckon with her eschatology. I would like to think it will be peaceful, but at this point I am more inclined to be hopeful for an amicable divorce. Obviously my opinions are very inflected by my own Protestant impulses, but I genuinely struggle to see how, if this pattern holds for another few decades (or perhaps sooner), that we don’t actually start seeing a real inflection point. This is the kind of debate that, at least to me, leaves no middle ground – even the hopeful universalist position leaves certain questions about God’s character in serious question – so an eschatological agnosticism here seems to me to be 1) a necessary but temporary theological development that did advance the question itself, but 2) no longer really a live option.

      Like

    • Joel says:

      Yeah, I tend to agree with Jedidiah here. Like you, I’m in the Catholic tradition and am now firmly in the universalist camp, thanks in a large part to this blog, and Ilaria Ramelli, and Robin Parry, though always had been part of the Balthasarian camp, and there are many Catholic philosophers, theologians, and spiritual writers and saints whom I love, modern and pre-modern, and, from an institutional perspective, while there are many reforms I’d like to see, there is an institutional cohesion globally which has done much good, as well as evil. Having known a lot of Jesuits in my graduate studies, I will say most Catholics – and my Protestant friends and prayer partners, both mainline and Evangelical – I know live, love, and worship the God of a universalist love in Christ and consign the departed, good or evil, to the love of God. If asked, I think most would answer that it’s a matter left to God’s love and might say, if pressed, God offers people some mysterious meeting either in the privacy of death or maybe thereafter at the judgment to every soul. Deep down, I think most wish they could openly affirm universalism and, on some level, believe in the universality of God’s love, but will hedge only out of deference to Church teaching or alleged Scriptural warrant. I know a Jesuit priest and medievalist who would, pretty daringly in my opinion, end funeral homilies by reminding us, rightfully, that early Christians believed the afterlife, before the formalization of Purgatory, was more “fluid” and “open,” where repentance was possible on the part of the dead, and whereby all the dead could merit from the prayers of the Church. I think the Catholic Church, except for a hardcore minority, at least I hope, has tacitly been moving to this unspoken universalist position since Vatican II, especially with Pope Benedict XVI’s endorsement of Balthasar. Sure, I have some problems with his pontificate, though not as many by far as with his predecessor (sigh…but that’s another issue), but that’s one of the bright spots. Is this quiet evolution of doctrine maybe dishonest to its own history, and is it discordant to not take the infinite love of God, in which many Catholics are able and willing to daily entrust themselves and those outside the Church, a God worth worshipping, to the fullest conclusion explicitly and out loud? Is it a concession to cultural heritage and upbringing and familiar love of the Roman liturgy and our favorite Western saints – St. Francis of Assisi for me – and practices? Maybe, but I figure that if the Church is big enough for Bl. Julian of Norwich’s God of love and the cosmic scope of Doctor Hildegard of Bingen, then we’ll get to it. There’s a lived thickness to growing up in the Catholic Church – socially, liturgically, and theologically – that, as I’m sure you know, feels like home (and I concede I was very fortunate in that regard to have that experience – and that doesn’t hold true for others), even when it’s a very sorely, and seemingly unremittingly, trying one.

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  9. TJF says:

    Hart comes off like he would too easily leave the Christian faith based on his rational understanding and how it departs from how others understand the faith. I wonder how this bodes for his understanding of the Eucharist. I know Maximus describes it as the chief means of attaining theosis, so it seems like it would be folly to leave the Church just because of intellectual disagreements if it means choosing a lesser means to attain divinizing union. I think most liturgical theologians like Bulgakov would agree wouldn’t they? Sorry if I’m very much out of my depth. I know I am, but I’m trying to understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      If I say I would abandon Christianity if I were to conclude that it is in fact a false creed, intrinsically, then obviously I would also have concluded at that point that the eucharist is nothing but bread and wine. Sort of obvious if you think about it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • TJF says:

        Then how am I to understand this statement you made?

        “If I were no longer convinced that God was revealed in Christ in a way that I can coherently understand in terms of Christian dogma, I wouldn’t abandon Christ, but I would come to understand him within the context of a different, broader religious framework, probably Indian.”

        Even if you left Christianity you say you would never abandon Christ. Your faith in Christ is astonishingly strong to me, so your words puzzle me. The only way I can interpret them without my mind fracturing is that you have not and will never abandon Christianity; this is a case of counterfactuals that will never materialize like possible worlds that have no existence, they’re irrelevant. Am I closer to understanding you?

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        • DBH says:

          No. It’s quite possible that the historical religion preserved evidences and records of Christ even while radically betraying his teachings. In fact, to a very great extent that obviously happened. I can imagine concluding that that’s the whole story. But, if I were to arrive at that conclusion, I would be open about. Therein lies the virtue of my refusal to pretend to be what I am not, or to pretend to be a more faithful son of Mother Church than I am.

          Like

          • TJF says:

            But then wouldn’t that be also true of the Eucharist? It is also in the NT.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            1. No full eucharistic doctrine appears in the New Testament.
            2. There would be no reason for a person who lost faith in the institution of the church to continue to believe in the New Testament as an impeccable witness.

            Anyway, this is a silly conversation. It’s all counterfactuals.

            Liked by 2 people

          • TJF says:

            Sorry for wasting your time. I still don’t really understand, but I won’t press further. Thanks for your answers. I will consider what you have said.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            The key here TJF is “counterfactuals”. No need to get worked up about it.

            Liked by 1 person

          • sybrandmac says:

            Ellul

            Like

  10. Anderson says:

    Dr. Hart,

    I didn’t mean ‘anarchist’ (concerning tradition) as an accusation. On a recent podcast, I heard you refer to yourself this way. I didn’t even mean my ‘suspicions’ to be critical (despite my ‘per impossibile’ jab). Indeed, I am quite the fan: I am now a universalist because of your arguments; I’ve come to see non-Christian religions (especially Vedanta Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism) as sources of theological insight; and I completely agree with your criticisms of materialist philosophies of mind.

    All that said, I find your views about tradition and scripture unsettling. I believe (and want to believe, and think it’s necessary to believe) in ‘revelation’. And on the rough concept I have of revelation, it must be reliably true (in whatever mode of truth is appropriate to a given revelation’s form of expression) and hence authoritative. How could the special self-disclosure of God not be? But if ecumenical councils, church fathers, and even scripture are not reliably true, how can they be revealed? And if they are not, where is the believer to find revelation?

    I know you have written a book on tradition (which, from what you’ve said, will be your last book on religion). People like myself—who don’t really know how to properly use the writings of the New Testament to inform our Christian belief—would be even further in your debt if you would perhaps write, say, a Commonweal piece on revelation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      As I said, I’m fine with the “anarchist” label, in any context. I can’t summarize the book on tradition here, so just wait for it. It’s a short work–fewer than 200 pages, I believe.

      As for “revelation,” I do not separate it into special and general, nor do I separate revelation from reason’s discoveries. That is an answer that will annoy many–Thomists, I hope, above all–but I think you will find that it is the only approach that allows revelation to remain a meaningful and intelligible concept.

      Like

      • Anderson says:

        Thanks for “merrily wallowing” in this comment box. I would gladly become a founding member of Leaves in the Wind to read an elaboration of how not separating revelation from reason’s discoveries allows the former to remain a meaningful and intelligible concept. (Although, I’ll probably get a monthly subscription, regardless.)

        Liked by 1 person

        • DBH says:

          It is in fact on the list of topics to be addressed in the next month or so.

          Founding members report a 37% greater sense of satisfaction and personal virtue than monthly subscribers do. Yearly subscribers enjoy a 27% advantage even though they’re paying $11.00 less than monthly subscribers.

          Liked by 2 people

  11. Henry says:

    One of the problems I see in Roman Catholicism is that their magisterium is too rigorous, such that it becomes easy to attack various inconsistencies. It’s hard to reconcile the strict rules of the magisterium from the first Vatican Council with all of the changes the RCC has had over time. And even in dogmatics like Denzinger, one can find statements that seem contradictory, and require more mental gymnastics to fit together.

    The Orthodox Church avoids a lot of this problem by having more of a dogmatic skeleton. But funny enough, the people who attack the RCC for inconsistencies (whether real or imagined) resulting from this rigor are often the same people who want to introduce a similar rigorous system to Orthodoxy taken from (cherry picked) patristics that could open similar lines of attack against them.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thomas says:

    As an Orthodox catechumen, it is a little disorienting to hear that, on the one hand, that the West is too rational because of its attraction to systems, but on the other that there is a single official (or at least paradigmatic) theology derived from a certain reading of Palamas. Though if the alternative is the right wing post-modern anti-realism that seems to attract some converts (some of the Ancient Faith Radio stuff), maybe I’ll take Palamas.

    But then, these sorts of declarations of the “one true teaching” of Orthodoxy seem pretty far removed from actual parish life, at least in my very limited experience.

    Like

    • TJF says:

      They are except for someone bringing it up at coffee hour. Just ignore it, or engage, whatever you want. I’m more demur in my approach.

      Like

    • Julian says:

      Thats an interesting description of AFR stuff. Could you say more? And who are you thinking of?

      Like

      • Thomas says:

        Julian,

        I specifically had in mind Fr. Stephen de Young with respect to Ancient Faith Radio. Generally, I had in mind the point of view in that article Jonathan Pageau wrote, Most of the time, the earth is flat.

        Like

        • Julian says:

          I’m actually quite familiar with those circles. I can definitely see the right wing connection there: it seems to me that Pageau’s symbolic world is often basically just a defence of the established order. but postmodern? I think less so. There’s a using the language of postmodernity, but it’s then taken in a more premodern direction.

          Like

          • TJF says:

            Yeah I’m not sure what to think of him. One of my friends is enamored of him and Jordan Peterson and I watched one of Pageau’s videos on Moana and he basically saw it as a third wave feminist takedown of masculinity, which I found highly bizarre, although I do believe there is a lot of stupid political propaganda in movies.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Julian says:

            Yes. I think a lot of his stuff is quite brilliant. But the way he has become a kind of right wing political oracle of late really turns me off.

            Like

          • Thomas says:

            I didn’t mean right-wing politically, I just meant that genre of post-modernism that attempts to defend, rather than attack, traditional or pre-modern worldviews. Heidegger is cited favorably by both Fr. de Young (if I recall, chiding Hart for not relying on Heidegger enough in his NT Translation). Pagaue is also attempting a form of common sense phenomenology that in my view conflates the way the world is experienced by us with the way the world ought to be explained.

            Not that I’m opposed to engagement with Heidegger or phenomenology as such. But the uses to which these are put are a kind of anti-realism when it comes to theoretical or scientific understanding in favor of mythology or folklore. In a comment Fr. de Young’s made to me, he rejected claims about objective realities that exist independent of human traditions and experience, and regards that notion of objectivity as modern scientific rationalism.

            My concern is that if that sort of thinking were carried through to religious practice, it would turn religion into sentimental superstition. Faith would not be reasonable reliance on one possessed of superior wisdom (i.e., God) in our journey to make sense of our own lives and the world, but, as Hart says above, epistemic nihilism (albeit with diverting stories).

            Liked by 1 person

          • Julian says:

            Thank you, I find this all very interesting and helpful. Could you say more about the distinction you’re making here?
            “conflates the way the world is experienced by us with the way the world ought to be explained.”
            Can you think of anyone critiquing These guys or others in their line of thinking, that helpfully sees where the problem lies?
            I would like to hear more from you on this, but I’ve always assumed that especially Pageau—in his discussion of symbolism is thinking very much in line with the Allegorical reading of the Fathers and the neo-platonic background, albeit, as you say, with a modern twist. For example, Pageau will talk about how the Logos is embodied in all ancient myths and stories, and will often draw on Eastern religion as well—but is made most real in the Logos becoming flesh. It’s something like that. I actually think that’s much more in line with say, Hart’s project in a book like The Experience of God, than with postmodern epistemic nihilism.
            As for the work of De-Young, I’m not so sure about what he’s doing: there is some overlap with Pageau, but I tend to get weirded out by very strong focus on the demonic/spiritual beings.

            Like

        • TJF says:

          Can you point out what’s wrong with the article in your view. I read it and nothing stood out to me as particularly bad.

          Like

          • Thomas says:

            On a philosophical level, I think there’s quite a bit awry. Pagaue does not distinguish adequately between scientific understand and the pop-scientific imagination of the world, for instance.

            But the core problem is locating truth on the level of experience, rather than associating it with intellect, inquiry, and critical reflection. Observing that the earth appears flat most of the time is no more meaningful than saying spiders are scary or skunks are smelly. True, as far as it goes.

            I would argue that by failing to positively learn from the sciences, we fail in that task St. Gregory of Nyssa identified as the true meaning of the Israelites “borrowing” Egyptian gold in their exodus. There is something spiritually essential to the Christian life in the “pagan” wisdom of the sciences, both natural and moral.

            More broadly, it is critical as a human being to learn to distinguish between experience, on the one hand, and intelligence and rationality on the other. On the moral level, the confusion of experience and intellectual understanding results in doing what “feels right”. On the intellectual level, one can never really learn anything so long as one supposes the world must be as one imagines it to be. And on the spiritual level, truth based in experience severed from scientific criticism and rational explanation is simply superstition, whether in Christian or “neo-Pagan” guise.

            On a purely practical level, if young adults, on learning modern biology or cosmology are told that science is only useful for engineering applications rather than explaining the world and that science is not compatible with religion, then the very devotion to the truth by which we are oriented to God requires a rejection of religion in favor of modern science. I think a good portion of the attrition of young adults from Christianity can be attributed to this false choice.

            The religion vs reason (or religion vs science) frame is perverse, in my opinion, and it has damaged many people.

            Liked by 2 people

  13. thornsbreak says:

    Just wondering if anyone else laughed out loud at the bad Russian English backhanded compliment in the subtitle of the link to the full article, wherein DBH was hilariously named “the largest Orthodox theologian”

    A title, I believe, that GK Chesterton would heartily dispute

    Liked by 2 people

    • Andrew says:

      “The drowsy stillness of the afternoon was shattered by what sounded to his strained senses like G.K. Chesterton falling on a sheet of tin.”

      ― P.G. Wodehouse

      Like

    • DBH says:

      Unfortunately, especially after lockdown, it may be true.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. thornsbreak says:

    Also, if Hart is a Quiet Rioter, then come on feel the noize!

    We’re gonna get wild, wild, wild

    Like

  15. rephinia says:

    DBH continues to be the most refreshing and exciting theologian out there for me

    Liked by 1 person

  16. rephinia says:

    I would also love to explore Sikhism in greater depth. Are there any books you’d recommend in addition to the ones in the bibliographical postscript of The Experience of God?

    You also said it has the prayer rule you’re most drawn to, could you elaborate on that or point to sources?

    Liked by 1 person

  17. danaames says:

    Dr Hart, if you’re still reading, when do you expect the revision of your New Testament translation to go to press?

    Tone aside, I was in the Evangelical fold for +30 years after having been raised Catholic, and your diagnosis is spot on, especially regarding the truly kind people among them. I have good Ev. friends who would say that they act on the basis of their faith, but I’ve long believed that their sacrificial love and care for others is given in spite of their faith – not only because of infernalism. I came to the UR position while still an Evangelical, by reading Scripture (alas, only in English) and taking those “all things” passages seriously. One of the big reasons I became Orthodox is that dogmatically this is still an open question, evidence to me that the Holy Spirit is still at work in the Church… I sat down at the feet of St Gregory of Nyssa and St Isaac at their end of the table nearly 20 years ago.

    Anglicanism was a help for me at various stages of my journey, and believe it or not, it was reading N.T. Wright that helped lead me to both UR and the steps of the Orthodox Church..

    Thanks for reading. Grateful for your work.
    Dana

    Like

  18. Switching gears from the debates about Hart’s rhetoric, I find that a lot of the most interesting metaphysical discussions that I have been involved in (as a rather eccentric novice) have taken place on this site. While we are all waiting with baited breath for Hart’s You Are Gods to release, I can’t help but see that there are likely going to be some very interesting parallels to Jordan Woods’ work on Maximus where he argues in the strongest sense that we should see creation as Christ’s Incarnation. It leads me to what was probably my favorite exchange in the interview, partly because I found the way Hart put a point on the question in such riotously hilarious fashion, and partly because of the questions it raised:

    DB. My personal questions. Do you believe in the border between the uncreated and created realities. As it is supposed in Abrahamic religious metaphysics.

    DH. Oh, there is a border. What’s the nature of the border, though? There is a border between nature and supernature, nature and grace according to Western theology. What is the nature of that border? There’s obviously a difference: I’m not God.

    Wouldn’t Christ, in his hypostatic union function as both border and nexus between created and uncreated realities? The transfinite liminal figure that allows each to exist in a relational ontology that subsumes the identity and difference between Infinite and finite natures in his hypostasis? It seems to me that figures like Maximus and Bulgakov, and on the contemporary scene as Hart and Woods are discussing this, that there is a unique and compelling christological solution to the God-world relation that overcomes some of the most perplexing questions surrounding the problem of the One and the many.

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    • johnjlamb says:

      Sorry to quote to you at length, but what would you make of this passage from the Lankavatara Sutra? —

      Then Mahamati and the other Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas gave devout attention to the teaching of the Blessed One.

      Mahamati, since the ignorant and simple-minded, not knowing that the world is only something seen of the mind itself, cling to the multitudinous-ness of external objects, cling to the notions of beings and non-being, oneness and otherness, both-ness and non-both-ness, existence and non-existence eternity and non-eternity, and think that they have a self-nature of their own, and all of which rises from the discriminations of the mind and is perpetuated by habit-energy, and from which they are given over to false imagination. It is all like a mirage in which springs of water are seen as if they were real. They are imagined by animals who, made thirsty by the heat of the season, run after them. Animals not knowing that the springs are merely hallucinations of their own minds, do not realize that there are no such springs. In the same way, Mahamati, the ignorant and simple-minded, their minds burning with the fires of greed, anger and folly, finding delight in a world of multitudinous forms, their thoughts obsessed with ideas of birth, growth and destruction, not well understanding what is meant by existence and non-existence, and being impressed by erroneous discriminations and speculations since beginning-less time, fall into the habit of grasping this and that and thereby becoming attached to them.

      It is like the city of the Gandharvas which the unwitting take to be a real city when in fact it is not so. The city appears as in a vision owing to their attachment to the memory of a city preserved in the mind as a seed; the city can thus be said to be both existent and non-existent. In the same way, clinging to the memory of erroneous speculations and doctrines accumulated since beginning-less time, they hold fast to such ideas as oneness and otherness, being and non-being, and their thoughts are not at all clear as to what after all is only seen of the mind […]

      ***

      This passage seems to deny that there’s any (real) border between the created and that the uncreated, and that any such distinction is an illusion [maya] of the discursive mind. I’m coming more round to this view, though I can’t say I’ve fully grasped it intuitively. DBH says it’s obvious there’s a border because – I am not God – but God may not be God either, in the sense that any hard distinction between an isolated “God up there” really separate from “us down here” is an illusion. Obviously there’s a relative distinction between this All-knowing, universal Mind and this erring and partial human mind; but there’s no obvious sense in which this relative and conditional statement has any absolute validity. If the human I and the divine Thou are absolutely distinct then I can’t see how mystical union is possible or how there won’t always be some degree of alienation.

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