In this flat-out phenomenal essay, David Bentley Hart argues that there is no danger of our culture reverting into a kind of paganism; on the contrary, the only remaining alternative to Christianity in Western society is the nihilism of individualist self-love. This is far worse than the rather more noble ancient paganism, which, for all its problems, at least had some sense of the numinous, some sense that there was something to be feared, that man ought to stand in awe at. Christianity, he suggests, in asserting the absolute ultimacy and universality of God, devoured all that was good in the ancient pagan faith, all the traces of nobility which held nihilism in check, showing that they were properly fulfilled in the Christian God. Because of this, paganism was so thoroughly demolished that it is no longer a genuine option for Western civilization…all roads to paganism ultimately lead to Christ now. All that is left is the husk of nihilism that was left when Christianity plundered paganism.
I really shouldn’t give it all away, but here’s the last page, just to give you an idea of how amazing it is:
Modern persons will never find rest for their restless hearts without Christ, for modern culture is nothing but the wasteland from which the gods have departed, and so this restlessness has become its own deity; and, deprived of the shelter of the sacred and the consoling myth of sacrifice, the modern person must wander or drift, vainly attempting one or another accommodation with death, never escaping anxiety or ennui, and driven as a result to a ceaseless labor of distraction, or acquisition, or willful idiocy. And, where it works its sublimest magic, our culture of empty spectacle can so stupefy the intellect as to blind it to its own disquiet, and induce a spiritual torpor more deplorable than mere despair. But perhaps Christians—-while not ignoring how appalling such a condition may be—-should actually rejoice that modernity offers no religious comforts to those who seek them. If this is a time of waiting, marked most deeply by the absence of faith in Christ, it perhaps good that the modern soul should lack repose, piety, peace, or nobility, and should often find the world outside the Church barren of spiritual rapture or mystery, and should go about vainly looking for terrible or merciful gods to adore. With Christ came judgment into the world, a light of discrimination from which there is neither retreat nor sanctuary. And this means that, as a quite concrete historical condition, the only choice that remains for the children of post-Christian culture is not whom to serve, but whether to serve the God Christ has revealed or to serve nothing—-the nothing. No third way lies open now, because—-as all of us now know, whether we acknowledge it consciously or not—-all things have been made subject to him, all the thrones and dominions of the high places have been put beneath his feet, until the very end of the world, and—-simply said—there is no other god.