Augustine Against Vitalism

George Eliot’s 1872 novel Middlemarch is memorable for many reasons—its characters, its politics, the bittersweet note upon which it ends, and its eerie prescience. (After all, the obsessive Mr. Casaubon’s Key to All Mythologies uncannily foreshadows James Frazer’s The Golden Bough.) But beyond that, the book is also charged with an uncanniness, a hard-to-capture distance from the more familiar Jane Austen canon. It’s impossible to read Middlemarch without getting the sense that here, one enters a very different life-world from Austen’s, animated by a very different sort of “theo-logic.”

Middlemarch offers a life-world fundamentally discontented with the pieties of its day. As the novel’s heroine, Dorothea Brooke, muses:

“I have a belief of my own, and it comforts me.”
“What is that?” said Will, rather jealous of the belief.
“That by desiring what is perfectly good, even when we don’t quite know what it is and cannot do what we would, we are part of the divine power against evil—widening the skirts of light and making the struggle with darkness narrower.”
“That is a beautiful mysticism—it is a—”
“Please not to call it by any name,” said Dorothea, putting out her hands entreatingly. “You will say it is Persian, or something else geographical. It is my life. I have found it out, and cannot part with it. I have always been finding out my religion since I was a little girl. I used to pray so much—now I hardly ever pray.”[1]

Something about Dorothea’s spirituality feels arrestingly contemporary. Her creed is nothing like Austen’s affirmations of “religion and morals, and consequently of the manners which result from their influence”[2]—nothing so austere as all that. For Eliot’s Dorothea, divine power lies within, not outside, and manifests through the great “struggle with darkness” that is the world’s endless worlding.

In a certain sense, time has vindicated Eliot’s theological instincts. Dorothea’s faith is now the tacit creed of a generation that increasingly describes itself as “spiritual but not religious.” By comparison, Austen’s moralism often appears anachronistic. It has even generated a cottage industry of imitators—the Bridgerton franchise comes to mind—dedicated to its subversion.

And here lies the problem of history that confronts any defense of tradition, or the past at all. One reads Middlemarch and sees that its pages are pregnant with the future. But in reading Sense and Sensibility or Mansfield Park, one leaves haunted by the sense that there is no way “back through time” to Austen’s world. Something fundamental has changed in the intervening years.

Several months ago, I authored an article raising precisely this point in a different context. That piece was a critique of the vitalist philosophy of the post-Christian right, which takes antique paganism as its philosophical lodestar. I argued there that such reconstruction is impossible: there is no path “back behind” the cognizance of moral guilt and human mortality that the Jewish and Christian traditions provoked.

There is, undoubtedly, something of a historicist shape to that argument. And unsurprisingly, that was the central criticism the article attracted: if the Jewish-Christian “knowledge of death” bars the way back to vitalist innocence, doesn’t the same iron logic preclude any Christian retrieval? Haven’t the modern world-picture and the discovery of the individual—of the sovereign subject who stands in judgment of authority and tradition—made the Christian past unthinkable? Perhaps, in the end, my critique proved far too much.

These pre-Christian and post-Christian confessions, in short, share a common orientation. They might be called theologies of immanence, creeds that find the divinity of the world latent within it rather than exceeding it.

Indeed, that is precisely the question that Middlemarch—especially when read alongside Austen’s work—invites. Institutional religion takes a beating in Eliot’s novel: Dorothea speaks from a part of her soul untouched by ossified religious forms, while her husband spends his days poring over lifeless mythologies from the past. The clear message is that the old forms must be superseded—that something new and powerful is bursting through.

But is Dorothea’s creed really new at all? Curiously enough, there is a kind of symmetry between Dorothea’s spiritual vision and that of today’s retro-pagan vitalists. At root, both are driven by a sort of faith in life qua life, a faith both postreligious and postsecular. What could possibly be more vitalist than an account of human existence as radically shot through with the divine? For such a world-picture, the ur-principle of all things lies not in transcendence—a transcendence that implies an interval between the “here below” and the “there beyond”—but in the perennial flux of life or will or power. Such a vision sounds positively Dionysiac.

These pre-Christian and post-Christian confessions, in short, share a common orientation. They might be called theologies of immanence, creeds that find the divinity of the world latent within it rather than exceeding it. And when viewed from this direction, the historical argument takes on a different shape. The rise and fall of the Christian concept of transcendence—over against its rival old and new—is not necessarily a unidirectional Comtean process. There is no systematic evolution here from theological to metaphysical to positivist accounts of things. Quite the contrary: the competing theo-logic of immanence is a tide that once receded before flowing in anew.

Theological discoveries can be forgotten. But they can also be recovered.

* * *

In his incisive 2018 volume Pagans and Christians in the City, law professor Steven D. Smith lays out the case for a return of the “immanent sacred.” Emphasis on return: for Smith, Dorothea Brooke’s individualist theology is not something historically novel, but reflects a religious impulse quite old indeed.

As Smith explains, the usual conflation of antique paganism with polytheism is a category error. Sophisticated exponents of the pagan philosophical tradition did not envision their gods as discrete supernatural beings exercising agency upon the world from afar. Rather, the worship of the past was directed towards aspects of an essentially unitary divine reality found within the existents of everyday experience.[3] Amidst a raging thunderstorm, to pray to Zeus was to address the storm itself as a manifestation of the divine. To summon Demeter to bless one’s crops was to address the growing wheat itself, considered according to its divine aspect.[4]

In philosophical terms, here the ”All”—the totality of finite existents, as opposed to any reality over-and-beyond them—is the subject of ultimate concern. Drawing out the uniqueness of this paradigm, Smith writes,

if we understand religion as a relation to the sacred . . . then pagan religion differs from Judaism and Christianity in its placement of the sacred. Pagan religion locates the sacred within this world. In that way, paganism can consecrate the world from within: it is religiosity relative to an immanent sacred. Judaism and Christianity, by contrast, reflect a transcendent religiosity; they place the sacred, ultimately, outside the world—”beyond time and space.”[5]

Important implications naturally follow from this. In a world where the sacred is everywhere at hand—indeed, where the sacred is everything—the intensification of human experience is necessarily an experience of divinity itself. Hence, it is unsurprising that sexuality played such a central role in the pagan religious world. Sex, of course, is a mode of human experience pressed to its utmost, to the loss of the self in the other; to this day, the French language calls the moment of climax la petite mort, the small death. Within a pagan theological frame, the sex act is communion with the divine reality of all things.

Smith argues that contemporary mass culture now treats sexual expression as similarly sacred—a shift driving the ongoing battle between traditionalist conservatives and LGBT activists.[6] It is a point echoed by cultural critic Tara Isabella Burton, who muses that for many today, “[i]f the divine is to be found not just within ourselves but in the specifically physical experience of our embodied selves, why shouldn’t sexuality be the place for us to access not just pleasure but meaning and purpose?”[7]

Smith’s book—focused as it is on culture wars then and now—emphasizes the resurgence of “theologies of immanence” within the progressive or left-liberal branches of the Western tradition. But the appeal of such a new, or rather old, worldview extends well beyond the left.

Theologies of immanence can appeal to classical liberals, those committed to Enlightenment principles of reason, democracy, and equality. Indeed, Yale Law School professor Anthony Kronman makes precisely that argument in his 2016 doorstopper Confessions of a Born-Again Pagan. For Kronman, a reduction of transcendence is the only religious move capable of withstanding the razor of today’s science. On a Christian view of things, Kronman avers, “modern science cuts us off from the eternal and divine and therefore empties the world of all meaning.”[8] But the progress of modern science cannot be stopped, and so “attempting to resurrect the God of Abraham in any form…is no longer a serious option.”[9] The “only viable alternative,” posits Kronman, is a theology of immanence rooted in the work of Baruch Spinoza, one that grasps the infinite intelligibility of the cosmos and hence locates divinity within the world itself.[10] After all, an immanent account of divinity requires merely a shift in attitude towards the world, and so cannot in principle be scientifically falsified.

Like sexual ecstasy, this pursuit of wisdom is a kind of human good pressed to the utmost—as Leo Strauss, who famously bifurcated the life-path of the pious man from that of the philosopher, well knew. Though no liberal, Strauss too grasped something like Kronman’s point: for him, there could be no real rapprochement between Athens and Jerusalem, no “Christian philosophy.”[11] That is because the wisdom grasped through philosophical—or scientific—inquiry is the wisdom of an exclusively immanent frame. Any revelation that might speak “from the other side,” from a transcendent origin, is foreclosed.

And then, of course, there is the reactionary post-Christian right—the domain of Bronze Age Mindset and its many inferior imitators. Such books are not typically read as metaphysical treatises, but they too reflect a theology of immanence all their own. “The real man was a man filled by courage and daring that all came from an excess of being,” the pseudonymous Bronze Age Pervert writes.[12] “This idea was shared also by other Aryan cultures; the Roman vir, the Sanskrit and Avestan nar, the Welsh ner, the Proto-Indo-European Hner all ultimately refer to a kind of vital life-force capable of superhuman strength.”[13] What is this “vital life-force” if not something divine, something worthy of reverence?

As if to underscore the point, Bronze Age Mindset explicitly rejects the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, and any worldview that would “make[] time a line and make[] matter conditional on a deity or creator that lives outside it.”[14] Instead, “the original paganism of all mankind” is venerated.[15] That which is sacred, in short, lies within the world—not beyond it.

Bronze Age Mindset is a celebration of the days of war and chaos, before the “Iron Prison” of mass society rendered human beings inert.[16] And the argument resonates with many because it grasps that in violence, too, a dark kind of human excellence reaches its apex. In his 1920 memoir of World War I, The Storm of Steel, Ernst Jünger famously wrote of this phenomenon:

One hears it said very often and very mistakenly that the infantry battle had denigrated to an uninteresting butchery. On the contrary, to-day more than ever it is the individual that counts. Every one knows that who has seen them in their own realm, these princes of the trenches, with their hard, set faces, brave to madness, tough and agile to leap forward or back, with keen bloodthirsty nerves, whom no dispatch ever mentions. Trench warfare is the bloodiest, wildest, and most brutal of all warfare, yet it too has had its men, men whom the call of the hour has raised up, unknown foolhardy fighters. Of all the nerve-racking moments of the war none is so formidable as the meeting of two storm-troop leaders between the narrow walls of the trench. There is no retreat and no mercy then.[17]

There is a terrible energy in Jünger’s prose, a mesmerizing force that even the somber meditations of an Erich Maria Remarque cannot efface. For as any boy who has found himself in a schoolyard scuffle knows, Jünger has a point. There is a thrill in fighting. And didn’t the Christian tradition cast a pall over these violent delights?

In short, this theology of immanence is a paradigm that has come to challenge the Christian tradition at every turn. In its progressive aspect, this theology suggests that Christianity has shut off the wellsprings of sexual freedom from which all life flows. In its classically liberal aspect, this theology contends that Christianity has attached itself to a world-picture superseded by new science, and so denied the progress of knowledge. And in its reactionary aspect, this theology contends that Christianity has destroyed the possibility of fierce joy from unreflective life.

These are not really new arguments, but there is a seeming force to them. At bottom, the case for the theology of immanence distills down to a single striking claim: that the Christian tradition has, in some fashion or other, suppressed the development of uniquely human excellence. It is the claim that a life worth living demands more than the Christian tradition can offer.

But almost two millennia ago, that claim was answered in spectacular fashion, even if the force of that rebuttal has been widely forgotten.

* * *

Among critics of the Christian tradition, Augustine of Hippo is often written off as a dour schoolmaster. He is commonly treated as a gloomy contemplative, one who bequeathed the West a grim doctrine of original sin and a hard-edged predestinarianism.

This is an unfortunate—and inaccurate—caricature. To read Augustine as a sort of Jerry Falwell in nuce is to project modern neuroses back into the past, neglecting the backdrop against which Augustine worked. Indeed, that crabbed analysis does not stop with Augustine himself: City of God is typically read as a landmark of Western political thought—as, of course, it is—but without much attention being paid to the subtleties of Augustine’s critique of the pagan metaphysical tradition.

The immanent theology of the classical world did not, in fact, promote genuine human excellence—but rather undercut it.

Augustine’s critique of “theologies of immanence”—of the dominant philosophical milieu within which Christianity first emerged—is the farthest thing from life-denying moralism. Rather, it is an extended argument that the immanent theology of the classical world did not, in fact, promote genuine human excellence—but rather undercut it.

Thus, the tables are turned. Augustine inverts completely the immanentist challenge to Christianity: for Augustine, it is precisely the Christian affirmation of divine transcendence which can secure real human goods in the first place. It is impossible to do full justice to the sweep and depth of Augustine’s arguments on this theme in a few short paragraphs, but a few examples may prove illustrative.

Consider, for instance, the four “cardinal virtues” of the classical tradition—fortitude, justice, prudence, and temperance. These virtues constitute lodestars of the good life, as understood by the finest classical thinkers. (And, of course, not solely classical thinkers—the later Christian tradition took these four virtues over wholesale, just augmented by the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.) Throughout the opening parts of City of God, Augustine demonstrates that they can only find their proper grounding in a reality beyond the “becoming” of the immanent order.

In appealing to the soul’s transcendent anchor in the midst of life’s chaos, Augustine opened the possibility of confronting tragedy with real fearlessness—real fortitude.

Begin with fortitude—that is to say, courage, valor, bearing up under difficulty. Early on, Augustine considers the case of those Christians who suffered during the collapse of imperial Rome. And for him, it was precisely their sense of eternity—eternity beyond the flux of the world—which allowed them to endure. While “some good and Christian men have been put to the torture, that they might be forced to deliver up their goods to the enemy,” Augustine writes, “[t]hey could indeed neither deliver nor lose that good which made themselves good.”[18]

So too, the Christian who stands rooted in eternity is not morally stained by any damage wrought upon one’s physical form. Since “the virtue which makes the life good has its throne in the soul…while the will remains firm and unshaken, nothing that another person does with the body, or upon the body, is any fault of the person who suffers it[.]” [19] In a culture where damage to the body meant ostracism, this paradigm must have cut to the quick. In appealing to the soul’s transcendent anchor in the midst of life’s chaos, it opened the possibility of confronting tragedy with real fearlessness—real fortitude.

What of justice? The giants of classical philosophy, of course, were very concerned with the question of the best regime, and loathed the specter of tyranny. But for Augustine, theologies of immanence introduced a fatal political flaw: they depended on an interval between the polytheistic mythology enforced among the common people, and the abstracted conception of divinity held by philosophical elites. This, Augustine argued, introduced a poisonous element of ongoing deception into any regime. “[I]t was the business of such men as were prudent and wise to deceive the people in matters of religion, and in that very thing not only to worship, but also to imitate the demons, whose greatest lust is to deceive.”[20]

Such a deception, Augustine recognized, was necessary for shoring up the established social order. For after all, what use would any society have for a non-divine emperor or pharaoh? “[M]en in princely office, not indeed being just, but like demons, have persuaded the people in the name of religion to receive as true those things which they themselves knew to be false; in this way, as it were, binding them up more firmly in civil society, so that they might in like manner possess them as subjects.”[21] Hence, injustice—a tyranny built on an original deception. By contrast, a transcendent standard of justice necessarily relativizes any temporal regime. It is an appeal to a Kingdom—and a King—beyond-the-world. Hence, an unjust regime can be called to account.

How about prudence, wisdom, insight? For Augustine, a theology of immanence calls into question the meaningfulness of all philosophical endeavor as such. Wise though the thinkers of his time may be, Augustine muses, “still the teachings of the philosophers are not the commandments of the gods, but the discoveries of men, who, at the prompting of their own speculative ability, made efforts to discover the hidden laws of nature.”[22] In short, they are fundamentally human projects ungrounded in any relation to a divinity outside themselves.

Augustine’s point can be pressed into a more philosophical register: a thoroughgoing theology of immanence introduces a fundamental uncertainty into any quest for wisdom. The belief in a final truth beyond the horizon of history and change, which human beings may attain to in principle, is a belief in transcendence. So too, such a belief assumes a real correspondence between the efforts of the mind and the substance of the world—but what would ground such a relation except a reality that exceeds both? In the end, inquiry must be more properly conceived as participation in the handiwork of a transcendent Creator, if it is not to cannibalize itself.

And finally, whither temperance? Here, Augustine is at his most moralistic, denouncing a social order in which “the most cruel and the most voluptuous pleasures maintain a perpetual excitement.”[23] But his point needs little further development: if all experience as such is taken as essentially divine, what possible reason could anyone have for denying self-gratification, or pursuing moderation?

It is this last point that underscores Augustine’s most piercing critique of theologies of immanence: that such theologies cannot provide any internal criterion for reliably distinguishing the sacred from the horrific. Augustine puts it bluntly: “[W]ho, unless he is quite mad, could bear the thought that parts of God can become lascivious, iniquitous, impious, and altogether damnable?”[24] If the divine is everything and everything is the divine, then how can any life path be preferred over another?

Consider the contemporary ideological landscape. Today, theologies of immanence have emerged among defenders of left-liberalism, classical liberalism, and reactionary atavism alike, all reacting against the preceding Christian tradition. Augustine’s logic helps explain why this is possible. Each of these theologies merely identifies, in its own way, some facet of reality or other—sexual expression, knowledge, violent exultation, and so forth—which is then elevated to the level of a controlling principle. From the perspective of a competing “theology of immanence,” though, that particular facet of reality might be interpreted as “altogether damnable.”

Simply put, between pansexuals and pagan trads, there is no common ground in principle. While the underlying theology may be the same, the practical impasse is absolute. The various ”excellences” posited by modern theologies of immanence are all relative, since to pursue one is to exclude another. Theologies of immanence permit no genuinely transcendent unity beyond the scrum of time, no unity which might be the mediating “mean” towards which the best classical philosophy grasped. The Church may assert “the fixed stability of its eternal seat,” but others have no such foothold.[25]

* * *

To be sure, this reading of Augustine’s work amounts to a kind of a “metacritique” of theologies of immanence. And it is a metacritique that may not interest those concerned less with systemic consistency than with their personal well-being. Accordingly, the issue must be considered on a more granular level: what about the individual “excellences” defended today by the Christian tradition’s critics? What does the Christian account of divine transcendence, which Augustine defended so passionately, have to say regarding them?

Start with sexual self-actualization. An “Augustinian” critique of this modern ideal is straightforward enough: what kind of freedom is a pursuit of the erotic that abandons all guardrails, that inevitably trends toward darker and more outré desires? The recent spread of violent and sadomasochistic sexual behaviors—such as choking, which most women dislike and fear—testifies to this slow slide.[26]

Indeed, an ideal of infinite freedom excludes the possibility of happily choosing to restrict that freedom. As Emily Witt wrote in a haunting 2013 article for n+1, “[s]exual freedom has now extended to people who never wanted to shake off the old institutions, except to the extent of showing solidarity with friends who did. I have not sought so much choice for myself, and when I found myself with no possibilities except total sexual freedom, I was unhappy.”[27] Perhaps it is time to reconsider the possibility of a purposive order, anchored in a transcendent creative act, that exceeds the pursuit of pleasure (and that ironically, leads to greater pleasure in the long run).

What about knowledge? Has the progress of science demolished the Christian tradition’s “very particular theology of the hostile celestial powers, and of the shape of the cosmos, and of its relation to God’s empyrean, and of the difference between psychical and spiritual life, and of any number of other beliefs,” to borrow David Bentley Hart’s pithy formulation?[28]

Quite the opposite. Rather, it is a properly “ontological” account of divine transcendence that secures the integrity of the Christian tradition against the radical transformations of “ontic” world-picture that characterize philosophical history. As Brad Gregory rightly points out, even “the mathematization of ordinary natural processes could entail no exclusion of God’s alleged, abiding, mysterious presence in and through them.”[29] Kronman’s claim that modern science has killed the God of Abraham is flatly false. Indeed, Christian transcendence can better ground that project than any theology of immanence. After all, what sort of thing is a “science” that artificially excludes questions of final causality—of purpose and significance—from its investigative project? Is this not more intellectually cramped than the “open” view of the cosmos that the Christian tradition invites?[30]

Finally, what of the “excellence” and freedom found in war and violence? This too is not so liberating as its defenders have made it sound. For within an immanent frame where violence is the final truth of things, the manner of one’s death becomes particularly important. And failure to “get it right”—to die in the right way—leads to a world-constricting dread.

In classical times, those who died apart from their fatherland were condemned to wander the world as forlorn, aggrieved spirits[31]—a threat so pressing that Augustine devoted several lines of his City of God to addressing it. “[T]here are indeed many bodies of Christians lying unburied,” Augustine admits, “but no one has separated them from heaven, nor from that earth which is all filled with the presence of Him who knows whence He will raise again what He created.”[32] It is precisely God’s beyondness, His freedom from the vicissitudes of time, that allows Him to embrace the fallen dead. Death need hold no terror for the Christian.

A similar argument can be addressed to those present-day vitalists who would deny any afterlife. If human excellence is bound up with the thrill of battle, culminating in a sublime moment of self-extinction, then the failure to achieve such an end is a life unworthily lived. This is no vision of freedom, but a crushing and omnipresent burden.

* * *

In the closing pages of Middlemarch, Eliot summarizes the waning years of her heroine’s life. “[T]he effect of [Dorothea’s] being on those around her was incalculably diffusive,” Eliot writes, “for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”[33]

There is a double sense to this passage. On the one hand, it can be read as an ethical preference for private charity over self-seeking ambition. But it is also an elegant statement of an essentially immanentist creed: souls live, die, and are lost in the great flow of time. As Augustine well knew, it is only the transcendence of God that makes any alternate fate possible, that allows the manifold dimensions of human excellence to be taken up and transformed within a Source that utterly exceeds them all. A life most fully lived—a truly human life—must be a life anchored in a transcendent God.

In the end, it must be this same transcendence which allows the Christian tradition to withstand the razor of historicism. The living Christian future will not be one of reaction, but of remembrance and rediscovery—rediscovery of a living Reality who never actually vanished from the world, but always already exceeds it. In that, Christians can be confident.

John Ehrett is an attorney and writer in Washington D.C. His work has appeared in American Affairs, The New Atlantis, and the Claremont Review of Books. He is a graduate of Patrick Henry College, the Institute of Lutheran Theology, and Yale Law School.

  1. George Eliot, Middlemarch (Hertfordshire, UK: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1994), 323. For the connection between “theologies of immanence” and Middlemarch, I am indebted to Anthony T. Kronman, Confessions of a Born-Again Pagan (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016), 877–79.

  2. Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (New Zealand: Cricket House Books, 2011), 59.

  3. Steven D. Smith, Pagans and Christians In the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2018), 109.

  4. See Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges, The Ancient City: A Study on the Religion, Laws, and Institutions of Greece and Rome, trans. Willard Small (Perth, Australia: Imperium Press, 2020), 97.

  5. Smith, Pagans and Christians In the City, 111–12 (emphases in original).

  6. Smith, Pagans and Christians In the City, 282–94.

  7. Tara Isabella Burton, Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World (New York: PublicAffairs, 2020), 157.

  8. Kronman, Confessions of a Born-Again Pagan, 781.

  9. Kronman, Confessions of a Born-Again Pagan, 781.

  10. Kronman, Confessions of a Born-Again Pagan, 781.

  11. See Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952), 104–08.

  12. Bronze Age Pervert, Bronze Age Mindset (Independently published, 2018), 58–59.

  13. Bronze Age Pervert, Bronze Age Mindset, 58–59.

  14. Bronze Age Pervert, Bronze Age Mindset, 44.

  15. Bronze Age Pervert, Bronze Age Mindset, 44.

  16. Bronze Age Pervert, Bronze Age Mindset, back cover.

  17. Ernst Jünger, The Storm of Steel, trans. Basil Creighton (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929), 131.

  18. Augustine of Hippo, City of God, trans. Marcus Dods, ed. Philip Schaff (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887), I.10.

  19. Augustine, City of God, I.16.

  20. Augustine, City of God, IV.32.

  21. Augustine, City of God, IV.32.

  22. Augustine, City of God, II.7.

  23. Augustine, City of God, II.20.

  24. Augustine, City of God, IV.13.

  25. Augustine, City of God, I preface.

  26. See, e.g., Louise Perry, The Case Against the Sexual Revolution (Medford, MA: Polity Press, 2022), 123–24.

  27. Emily Witt, “What Do You Desire?,” n+1 (Spring 2013),

  28. David Bentley Hart, Tradition and Apocalypse: An Essay on the Future of Christian Belief (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2022), 149–50.

  29. Brad S. Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 54.

  30. See Gudina Tumsa, “Unbelief from Historical Perspective, or Kairos,” in The Life, Works, and Witness of Tsehay Tolessa and Gudina Tumsa, the Ethiopian Bonhoeffer, eds. Samuel Yonas Deressa and Sarah Hinlicky Wilson (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017), 111 (“No truly scientific worldview can be closed or dogmatically rule out the possibility of essential new occurrences taking place.”).

  31. Fustel de Coulanges, The Ancient City, 10.

  32. Augustine, City of God, I.12.

  33. Eliot, Middlemarch, 688.


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