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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

David Hart and Nature

On Paul's blog, they've been talking about pantheism and nature and morality and how that fits with theology. It made me think of Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart's book, The Doors of the Sea, because he writes a little about the subject. Here below are some relevant bits from his book ....

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What - to pose a question so large, indeterminate, and abstract as to border on the meaningless - is "nature" or the "natural world"? ...... as children of the modern scientific age, well indoctrinated in all its reigning metaphysical deisms, we do not really think that nature is a source of compelling moral truths .....

It is easy, and among the most spontaneous movements of the soul, to revere the God glimpsed in the iridescence of flowered meadows, the emerald light of the deep forest, the soft, immaculate blue of distant mountains, the shining volubility of the sunlit sea, the pale, cold glitter of the stars. This is a perfectly wise and even holy impulse.

But at the same time, all the splendid loveliness of the natural world is everywhere attended - and, indeed, preserved - by death. All life feeds on life, each creature must yield its place in time to another, and at the heart of nature is a perpetual struggle to survive and increase at the expense of other beings .....

So, then, what sort of God should a purely "natural" theology invite us to see? ..... To put the matter starkly, nature is a cycle of sacrifice, and religion has often been no more than an attempt to reconcile us to this reality ..... And this sacrificial sense of reality leads quite reasonably, even when religious thought achieves prodigies of metaphysical sophistication, to an image of God as sacrifice, as life and death at once, peace and violence, the creative source and consuming end of all things .....

The Christian vision of God and the world, however, and of how God is reflected within his creation, is of a different order. For, while the Christian is enjoined to see the the glory of God in all that is, it is not a glory conformed to the dimensions or logic of "nature" as we understand it; in fact, it renders the very category of "nature" mysterious, alters it, elevates it - judges and redeems it .....

The Christian eyes see (or should see) a deeper truth in the world than mere "nature" ..... the Christian should see two realities at once, one world (as it were) within another: one the world as we all know it, in all its beauty and terror, grandeur and dreariness, delight and anguish; and the other the world in its first and ultimate truth, not simply "nature" but "creation", an endless sea of glory, radiant with the beauty of God in every part, innocent of all violence. To see in this way is to rejoice and mourn at once, to regard the world as a mirror of infinite beauty, but as glimpsed through the veil of death: it is to see creation in chains, but beautiful as in the beginning of days .....

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6 Comments:

Blogger Paul said...

Thanks for the link - although I was starting to get curious about your other fixtures, appliances, etc., lol...

Minor point: I've never understood how the beauty of flora and fauna can be thought of as demonstrating or tending to demonstrate the existence of something beyond nature. (I do see a relationship between God and the natural world - but not that.)

Major point: Seems to me that mortality is indeed central to "the trouble with nature" or life as we know it. At the least, it can sure look like trouble. And Christianity addresses this problem very directly with belief in the resurrection.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Kathy said...

Thanks crystal for sharing that! :)

12:24 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

've never understood how the beauty of flora and fauna can be thought of as demonstrating or tending to demonstrate the existence of something beyond nature.

I don't think it would count as a proof, at least not to me, but once you do believe, maybe then nature takes on a new significance?

I think the idea of beauty is really interesting. Why is nature perceived of as beautiful? Why does looking at the stars make a person feel a certain way? I have to read more about aesthetics :-)

7:11 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Kathy - you're welcome :-)

7:11 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

I know what you mean. Aethetics - aesthetically speaking, I prefer that initial "a" too, but I think it may be dying out - interests me also.

I think that the aesthetic response and love are two experiences which, though distinct, might share some important attributes.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Happy Guy Fawkes Day, Crystal!

4:09 PM  

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