this monstrous rival to market—God

A late capitalist culture …that is truly consumerist, is a culture whose primary cultural task, the great adventure of the culture, is the fabrication of desires and ever more desires for an ever greater diversity of things—desires for things that were not even desirable before they became necessities and then to make room for other desires within that sort of order of social-cultural relations in which acquisition and disposal become the primary business of life. Look, we are surrounded by advertising all of the time. We don’t even think about it. It’s a white noise. That’s what our culture does. It’s teaching us to fabricate desires.

Such a culture is inherently atheist. It has to be. That doesn’t mean that you can’t live a perfectly decent life within building a small business and employing people. That’s not what I mean. But the consumerist culture is one in which prohibitions on desire progressively have to be erased, new desires have to be fabricated constantly for things. Ultimate values that could possibly distract from or act as rivals to the momentary, the finite desires by which the economy is sustained and the culture advances have to be abolished. There is no value more problematic than God because He might actually send you out into the desert rather than into the world of business.

This isn’t an opprobrium cast to people who make their lives making things and employing people, but you can do that without having embraced the culture and the inherent nihilism of consumerist capitalism.

What I see in the new atheists is a kind of predictably vulgar expression of this need to do away with [God]. I also see a contemptible Western supremacism: the late modern notion that those who have not embraced the late modern western mechanistic vision of reality have cultures that are worthless, literally worthless. You get the O’reillian notion that the only light that comes from the east is the sun. Aboriginal culture in Australia, with this very rich language of the Dreaming, that’s meaningless because it’s not mechanisms is just folk mythology, it’s not even folk phycology. So there is that. I just see new atheism as this popular expression of this imperative of a capitalist culture to do away with this monstrous rival to market—God.

Prayer is an essentially subversive activity in a culture like that. Prayer is the one thing that you should not be allowed to do in a truly good consumerist culture. It gets in the way of advertising. It gets in the way of your openness to advertising. You should be opening your pours and your mind and your soul to constant advertising, and prayer is something that should be discouraged.

My transcription from this video of a Q&A with David Bentley Hart, posted on March 3, 2017 by YouTube user ObjectiveBob.

Hart’s point about “this very rich language of the Dreaming” within Aboriginal culture in Australia is very extensively developed within his most recent book Roland in Moonlight. Hart’s point about prayer being subversive reminds of these points made by Eugene H. Peterson from his book The Contemplative Pastor.

another kingdom is right now being formed in secret

I remember that I am a subversive. My long-term effectiveness depends on my not being recognized for who I really am. If he realized that I actually believe the American way of life is doomed to destruction, and that another kingdom is right now being formed in secret to take its place, he wouldn’t be at all pleased. If he knew what I was really doing and the difference it was making, he would fire me. Yes, I believe that. I believe that the kingdoms of this world, American and Venezuelan and Chinese, will become the kingdom of our God and Christ, and I believe this new kingdom is already among us. That is why I’m a pastor, to introduce people to the real world and train them to live in it. I learned early that the methods of my work must correspond to the realities of the kingdom. The methods that make the kingdom of America strong – economic, military, technological, informational – are not suited to making the kingdom of God strong. I have had to learn a new methodology: truth-telling and love-making, prayer and parable.

…But isn’t that dishonest? Not exactly, for I’m not misrepresenting myself. I’m simply taking my words and acts at a level of seriousness that would throw them into a state of catatonic disbelief if they ever knew.

…Everybody treats us so nicely. No one seems to think we mean what we say. When we say “kingdom of God,” no one gets apprehensive, as if we had just announced (which we thought we had) that a powerful army is poised on the border, ready to invade. When we say radical things like “Christ,” “love,” “believe,” “peace,” “and “sin” – words that in other times and cultures excited martyrdoms – the sounds enter the stream of conversation with no more splash than baseball scores and grocery prices. It’s hard to maintain a self-concept as a revolutionary when everyone treats us with the same affability they give the grocer.

…Jesus’ favorite speech form, the parable, was subversive. Parables sound absolutely ordinary: casual stories about soil and seeds, meals and coins and sheep, bandits and victims, farmers and merchants. And they are wholly secular: of his forty or so parables recorded in the Gospels, only one has its setting in church, and only a couple mention the name God. As people heard Jesus tell these stories, they saw at once that they weren’t about God, so there was nothing in them threatening their own sovereignty. They relaxed their defenses. They walked away perplexed, wondering what they meant, the stories lodged in their imagination. And then, like a time bomb, they would explode in their unprotected hearts. An abyss opened up at their very feet. He was talking about God; they had been invaded! Jesus continually threw odd stories down alongside ordinary lives (para, “alongside”; bole, “thrown”) and walked away without explanation or altar call. Then listeners started seeing connections: God connections, life connections, eternity connections. The very lack of obviousness, the unlikeness, was the stimulus to perceiving likeness: God likeness, life likeness, eternity likeness. But the parable didn’t do the work – it put the listener’s imagination to work. Parables aren’t illustrations that make things easier; they make things harder by requiring the exercise of our imaginations, which if we aren’t careful becomes the exercise of our faith.

…Three things are implicit in subversion. One, the status quo is wrong and must be overthrown if the world is going to be livable. It is so deeply wrong that repair work is futile. The world is, in the word insurance agents use to designate our wrecked cars, totaled. Two, there is another world aborning that is livable. Its reality is no chimera. It is in existence, though not visible. Its character is known. The subversive does not operate out of a utopian dream but out of a conviction of the nature of the real world. Three, the usual means by which one kingdom is thrown out and another put in its place – military force or democratic elections – are not available. If we have neither a preponderance of power nor a majority of votes, we begin searching for other ways to effect change. We discover the methods of subversion. We find and welcome allies.

From Eugene H. Peterson’s book The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction.

Christian subversion is nothing flashy

The subversive works quietly and hiddenly, patiently. He has committed himself to Christ’s victory over culture and is willing to do those small things. No subversive ever does anything big. He is always carrying secret messages, planting suspicion that there is something beyond what the culture says is final.

…Our task is that we develop a self-identity as Christians and do these things not incidentally to our lives, but centrally. By encouraging one another, by praying together, by studying Scripture together, we develop a sense that these things are in fact the very center of our lives. And we recognize they are not the center of the world’s life, however much cultural talk there is about Christianity. If we can develop a sense that sacrificial love, justice, and hope are at the core of our identities – they go to our jobs with us each day, to our families each night – then we are in fact subversive. You have to understand that Christian subversion is nothing flashy. Subversives don’t win battles. All they do is prepare the ground and change the mood just a little bit toward belief and hope, so that when Christ appears, there are people waiting for him.

…We’re working the depth, the heart of things. The gospel images are images of growth that comes from underneath. A seed, for example, is subsoil and subversive.

Eugene H. Peterson from an interview with Rodney Clapp published in a forward to Peterson’s book, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction.

defiance against any claim by the current regime

Prayer has to be a response to what God has said. The worshiping congregation – hearing the Word read and preached, and celebrating it in the sacraments – is the place where I learn how to pray and where I practice prayer. It is a center from which I pray. From it I go to my closet or to the mountains and continue to pray. A second thing about praying in community is that, when I pray in a congregation, my feelings are not taken into account. Nobody asks me when I enter the congregation, “How do you feel today? What do you feel like praying about?” So the congregation is a place where I’m gradually learning that prayer is not conditioned or authenticated by my feelings. Nothing is more devastating to prayer than when I begin to evaluate prayer by my feelings, and think that in order to pray I have to have a certain sense, a certain spiritual attentiveness or peace or, on the other side, anguish. That’s virtually impossible to learn by yourself. But if I’m in a congregation, I learn over and over again that prayer will go on whether I feel like it or not, or even if I sleep through the whole thing.

…Prayer is subversive activity. It involves a more or less open act of defiance against any claim by the current regime…. [As we pray,] slowly but surely, not culture, not family, not government, not job, not even the tyrannous self can stand against the quiet power and creative influence of God’s sovereignty. Every natural tie of family and race, every willed commitment to person and nation is finally subordinated to the rule of God.

Eugene H. Peterson from an interview with Rodney Clapp published in a forward to Peterson’s book, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction.