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The Experience of God

The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss

David Bentley Hart
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    The Experience of God
    Book Description:

    Despite the recent ferocious public debate about belief, the concept most central to the discussion-God-frequently remains vaguely and obscurely described. Are those engaged in these arguments even talking about the same thing? In a wide-ranging response to this confusion, esteemed scholar David Bentley Hart pursues a clarification of how the word "God" functions in the world's great theistic faiths.Ranging broadly across Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Vedantic and Bhaktic Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, Hart explores how these great intellectual traditions treat humanity's knowledge of the divine mysteries. Constructing his argument around three principal metaphysical "moments"-being, consciousness, and bliss-the author demonstrates an essential continuity between our fundamental experience of reality and the ultimate reality to which that experience inevitably points.Thoroughly dismissing such blatant misconceptions as the deists' concept of God, as well as the fundamentalist view of the Bible as an objective historical record, Hart provides a welcome antidote to simplistic manifestoes. In doing so, he plumbs the depths of humanity's experience of the world as powerful evidence for the reality of God and captures the beauty and poetry of traditional reflection upon the divine.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16733-7
    Subjects: Religion, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    This is either an extremely ambitious or an extremely unambitious book. I tend to think it is the latter, but I can imagine how someone might see it quite otherwise. My intention is simply to offer a definition of the word “God,” or of its equivalents in other tongues, and to do so in fairly slavish obedience to the classical definitions of the divine found in the theological and philosophical schools of most of the major religious traditions. My reason for wanting to do this is that I have come to the conclusion that, while there has been a great...

  5. PART ONE God, Gods, and the World

    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 11-12)

      A man who is asleep and deeply dreaming still usually has some awareness of the real world around him, and often this awareness shapes his dream. This means in turn that, while he sleeps, his dream is the only form in which he can know and interpret the world that he inhabits. He hears a wind chime ringing somewhere outside his open window, but in his dream it is transformed into the tolling of a bell in a high tower on a distant hill. A breeze enters at the window and passes over him, but to him it is the...

    • CHAPTER ONE “God” Is Not a Proper Name
      (pp. 13-45)

      An absolutely convinced atheist, it often seems to me, is simply someone who has failed to notice something very obvious—or, rather, failed to notice a great many very obvious things. This is not any sort of accusation or reproach. Something can be incandescently obvious but still utterly unintelligible to us if we lack the conceptual grammar required to interpret it; and this, far from being a culpable deficiency, is usually only a matter of historical or personal circumstance. One age can see things that other ages cannot simply because it has the imaginative resources to understand what it is...

    • CHAPTER TWO Pictures of the World
      (pp. 46-84)

      If philosophy had the power to establish incontrovertible truths, immune to doubt, and if philosophers were as a rule wholly disinterested practitioners of their art, then it might be possible to speak of progress in philosophy. In fact, however, the philosophical tendencies and presuppositions of any age are, to a very great degree, determined by the prevailing cultural mood or by the ideological premises generally approved of by the educated classes. As often as not, the history of philosophy has been a history of prejudices masquerading as principles, and so merely a history of fashion. It is as possible today...

  6. PART TWO Being, Consciousness, Bliss

    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 85-86)

      The sleeper, as he ascends from his dream toward the morning’s light, may momentarily drift back again more deeply into the illusory world—or half-illusory world—from which he is trying to emerge. He continues to hear his name called but still lingers at the boundary between sleep and waking consciousness. For a time, the figures of his dream retain a certain ghostly clarity, even as they have begun to melt away before the realities they symbolize, as though the dream were reluctant to release him. In a few moments, however, his eyes open and the fantasy entirely fades: the...

    • CHAPTER THREE Being (Sat)
      (pp. 87-151)

      The beginning of all philosophy, according to both Plato and Aristotle, lies in the experience of wonder. One might go further and say that the beginning of all serious thought—all reflection upon the world that is not merely calculative or appetitive—begins in a moment of unsettling or delighted surprise. Not, that is, a simple twinge of curiosity or bafflement regarding some fact out there not yet in one’s possession: if anything, it is the sudden awareness that no mere fact can possibly be an adequate explanation of the mystery in which one finds oneself immersed at every moment....

    • CHAPTER FOUR Consciousness (Chit)
      (pp. 152-237)

      In those moments when our experience of the world awakens us to the strangeness—the utter fortuity and pure givenness—of existence, we are confronted by two mysteries simultaneously, or at least by a mystery with two equally inscrutable poles. No less wonderful than the being of things is our consciousness of them: our ability to know the world, to possess a continuous subjective awareness of reality, to mirror the unity of being in the unity of private cognizance, to contemplate the world and ourselves, to assume each moment of experience into a fuller comprehension of the whole, and to...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Bliss (Ananda)
      (pp. 238-290)

      Consciousness does not merely passively reflect the reality of the world; it is necessarily a dynamic movement of reason and will toward reality. If nothing else is to be concluded from the previous chapter, this much is absolutely certain: subjective consciousness becomes actual only through intentionality, and intentionality is a kind of agency, directed toward an end. We could never know the world from apurelyreceptive position. To know anything, the mind must be actively disposed toward things outside itself, always at work interpreting experience through concepts that only the mind itself can supply. The world is intelligible to...

  7. PART THREE The Reality of God

    • [PART THREE Introduction]
      (pp. 291-292)

      Having fully awakened from his dream, the dreamer—or former dreamer—might momentarily reflect upon the ingenious intricacy of the distortions by which his sleeping mind had transformed the world around him into another world altogether. He may know that dreams seem coherent only from within, and that the limits that enclose them always lie very nearby, bounded by impenetrable mists. It is only because a dreamer has temporarily lost the desire to turn his eyes toward more distant horizons that he believes he inhabits a reality perfectly complete in itself, in need of no further explanation. He does not...

    • CHAPTER SIX Illusion and Reality
      (pp. 293-332)

      I suppose it has been a fairly central (if not always ostentatiously prominent) theme of this book that we should not mistake our ways of seeing the world for the world as it truly is. To which I might also add: we should not mistake every pronouncement made in an authoritative tone of voice for an established truth. Regarding the ultimate nature of reality, at least, neither the general consensus of a culture nor the special consensus of a credentialed class should be trusted too readily, especially if it cannot justify itself except by reference to its own unexamined presuppositions....

  8. Notes
    (pp. 333-342)
  9. Bibliographical Postscript
    (pp. 343-350)
  10. Index
    (pp. 351-365)