On post-Christian culture

David Bentley Hart distinguishes between the pagan and nihilism.



David Bentley Hart distinguishes between the pagan and nihilism.


Post-Christian culture is not neo-pagan. It can’t be. I mean pagan culture was just as pious, just as religious, just as saturated with a sense of the transcendent as high Christian culture. But with the departure of Christianity, what comes is something new. The Christian world assumed into itself all the glories of the pagan world, and they pass out of existence along with Christianity in the cultural imagination.

What we have now is something unprecedented. It’s a culture that has, as the ultimate horizon of the good, merely human willing. Technically, if you want to give it its philosophical name – and I’m not using the word polemically – it’s a nihilist culture, because there’s no alternate transcendent horizon of the good to which the will should be turned. There’s only the good of the will in its liberty to choose its own ends. And that’s a culture that can breed an intoxicating sense of liberation on the one hand, but it can also breed a great deal of ennui, purposelessness, cruelty, indifference. 

But that’s just a general observation, I don’t know. I do know that there’s something happening to the cultural imagination – the more post-Christian a culture is, the less interesting it is, and at the moral level the more troubling it seems to be becoming.