Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Knowing Darkness: On Skepticism, Melancholy, Friendship, and God

Knowing Darkness: On Skepticism, Melancholy, Friendship, and God by Addison Hodges Hart. Eerdmans, 2009. 136 pages.
In Knowing the Darkness, Addison Hart argues against popular ideas of Christianity. He seeks to correct false views about conventional piety, skepticism, melancholy, friendship, and God. The first few chapters analyses popular views of skepticism and melancholy. Then he looks at two biblical books that discuss melancholy and skepticism. He believes the discussion leads to friendship because friendship sustains believers in difficult times. He concludes the book with a discussion of what faith is and what it is not.
            Addison Hodges Hart is Parochial Vicar for the Newman Center at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois and a contributing editor for Touchstone magazine.
            In the introduction Hart illustrates the subject of the book by discussing the doubts of Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa wrote: “In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me—of God not being God — of God not existing” (1). Mother Teresa wrote this in 1959. She struggled with doubts her whole life. She once remarked, “If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of darkness” (1). Hart writes about this darkness in his book. Hart observes, “Darkness of an interior kind, and even a sort atheism, are not inimical to faith, and certainly not to Christianity and Judaism” (3). St. John of the Cross wrote of the dark night of the soul in the sixteenth century.
            Hart chooses to write of melancholy instead of depression. He does not see melancholy or skepticism as sinful. In addition, melancholy does not necessarily indicate clinical depression. Hart thinks that skepticism is compatible with faith. He insists that a mature faith includes skepticism. He distinguishes it from cynicism. Hart defines skepticism as “to fix one’s gaze on, to look into, to examine, to observe. It has to do with inquiry, consideration, investigation. It isn’t synonymous with doubt, and it isn’t the antithesis of faith” (17). He seems to be thinking of unbelieving doubt. He insists again: “Skepticism, again, is not the same thing as doubt, but rather the act of looking hard at things for the purpose of discovering and understanding what may be true about them” (18). The author argues that skepticism is beneficial to the Christin. Hart writes: Skepticism “is firmly rooted in a Hebrew concept of faith, one that instinctively distrusts human reason, recognizing its fallibilities and limitations, but embraces relational trust in a self-revealing and self-interpreting God. It is a faith open to questioning God, examining His ways, complaining to Him, and even expressing exasperation and impatience at his silence” (23).
            The last chapter of Knowing Darkness Hart discusses faith. He notes that this is what the book is actually about. He seeks to correct false views of faith: “Faith is not good feelings. It isn’t rationalism. Nor is it superstition” (127). The author states that faith is not “static or flat.” He thinks faith is “dynamic,” ever changing. Faith is “living, growing, changing, and it is integral to a human being’s very existence and maturing” (129). This idea makes a lot of sense to me. We do not stand still. So our faith must not either.
            The author describes why he believes skepticism is necessary for faith: “Skepticism will always preserve him from the false forms of faith —the emotionally dependent, the rationalistic, the irrational and superstitious. It will also preserve him from the sort of perennial popular and philosophical atheism that has plenty of argument and rebuttal, but not much else. Skepticism will always doubt the value of doubt itself, because doubt — as opposed to faith — explains nothing about the most essential mystery of humanity” (133-134).
            In addition, Hart notes that friends are a gift of God. Friends will help us to get through the tough times. I would add they also make the good times better and help us to flourish in life. This is a truth even Aristotle saw.

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