David Bentley Hart’s provocative book Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies has won the Michael Ramsey Prize, which was awarded at the Hay Festival on Friday by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The £10,000 Michael Ramsey Prize is a biennial award that aims to encourage promising contemporary theological writing and to identify it for a wider Christian readership. The prize commemorates Dr Ramsey, who was Archbishop of Canterbury 1961-1974, and his commitment to increasing the breadth of theological understanding of people in general.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams awarded this year’s prize to David Bemtley Hart on Friday 27 May at the Hay Literature Festival. Hart’s book Atheist Delusions outlines how Christianity transformed the ancient world in ways we may have forgotten: bringing liberation from fatalism, conferring great dignity on human beings, subverting the cruelest aspects of pagan society, and elevating charity above all virtues. He then argues that what we term the ‘Age of Reason’ was in fact the beginning of the eclipse of reason’s authority as a cultural value. Hart closes the book in the present, delineating the ominous consequences of the decline of Christendom in a culture that is built upon its moral and spiritual values. He dismantles religious histories offered up by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and other contemporary critics of religion, countering their polemics with a his argument that Christianity, with its message of human charity, is the most revolutionary movement in all of Western history.
Dr Williams described David Bentley Hart as
“a theologian of exceptional quality – but also a brilliant stylist. This book takes no prisoners in its response to fashionable criticisms of Christianity. But what makes it more than just another contribution to controversy is the way he shows how the most treasured principles and values of compassionate humanism are rooted in the detail of Christian doctrine. I am pleased that we have identified a prize winning book that is so distinctive in its voice. It is never bland. It will irritate some, but it will also challenge and inspire readers inside and outside the church. No one could pretend after reading this that Christian theology was lacking in intellectual and imaginative force or in relevance to the contemporary world.”
On receiving the prize David B. Hart said:
“Needless to say the honour is very great. For me, it lies especially in the name of the prize – as I have such a high regard for Michael Ramsey – and in its being conferred by the current Archbishop of Canterbury – whose work is among the richest theology being written in English today”.
Born in 1965 in Maryland, David B. Hart studied at the University of Maryland, the University of Cambridge and the University of Virginia. He has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of St Thomas in Minnesota and Duke University; he has also served as The Robert Randall Distinguished Chair and as a visiting professor at Providence College in Rhode Island. His areas of specialization are philosophical theology, religious studies, Asian religions, patristics and aesthetics. He is also a writer on cultural issues, with an emphasis upon aesthetics.