Monday, 20 August 2007

David Bentley Hart: the importance of being earnest

In his insightful New Blackfriars article on David Bentley Hart, Gerard Loughlin criticises the “violence” of Hart’s own polemical rhetoric, and he suggests that such rhetorical practice is in tension with Hart’s proposal of a rhetoric of peace. (Similarly, our friend Patrik has described Hart’s rhetoric as “the exact equivalent of US foreign policy”!)

In his response to Loughlin, Hart clarifies his understanding of rhetoric, and he defends the importance of straight-talking:

“I never anywhere argue in The Beauty of the Infinite for a ‘peaceful rhetoric’. Quite the contrary…. I argue rather that rhetoric as such is not somehow always implicated in violence, as certain denizens of the world of ‘theory’ have been heard to opine; and that we are not bound to accept the ontological presuppositions that underlie the belief that it is…. Honestly, I never meant to suggest that we should be more peaceable or inoffensive in the rhetoric we employ. Indeed, the only sort of rhetoric that I grant to be essentially violent is the sort that conceals its own intentions behind a façade of ingratiating insincerity….

“I do, of course, regret those moments when my tone becomes ‘wearing’. But, if I may be frank, what I often find wearing is the faltering, apologetic, restrained, and hesitant tone of much modern theology. It is what I quite shamefully and unfairly tend to think of as ‘the modern Anglican inflection’: the sorrowful diminuendo towards embarrassed silence, by way of prolonged clearings of the throat and the occasional softly whistled tune, as one contemplates changing the subject before anyone is so indiscreet as to venture a firm opinion.”

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