Posts Tagged ‘religion’
At least it’s quite irreverant :)!
Tags: reflections, religion
Given the intricacies of the human mind, dialogue can be quite fascinating. Here we have Terry Eagleton being interviewed on Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, two of the current ueber-atheists.
Eagleton could have a lot in common with them given his Marxist background that could make him see any religion, while having historical relevance, an illusion. Far from being such a straight-down-the -line materlialist though, Eagleton (who is also rooted in formative years of Catholic education in Ireland) attempts to construct an image of god on a level outside scientific but supposedly inside theological discussion and relevance: god as impersonal, unruffled and incomprehensible pure love; and Jesus in this narrative becomes a compassionate and also passionate social justice activist and agent of change (is that Liberation Theology revisited?).
It would be easy for almost any atheist to dismiss these arguments as those of just another religionist, but that would do them injustice. In a way, Eagleton argues against taking black and white views for and against religion. For example, and I hate to concede that point, but Catholic education might actually encourage analytical thinking and even lay a foundation for critical thought. And while the pope and his bishops might be part of the social injustice establishment, there is an army of nuns, monks and priests out there who have done and still doing lots more for social change than most likely all atheists thinkers put together.
All that of course is only relevant, if the atheist alternative to religion is not nihilism but for example humanism (and I’d prefer an even more holistic, cosmological approach that embraces all existence as we perceive it). Dawkins certainly seems to push the liberation line of humanistic thought and practice but, as the interview reveals, his interpretation of reality could be seen as idealistic as that of his adversary Eagleton. So, we have a Marxist Eagleton who is religious and a scientific Dawkins who abandons a central tenet of science, testability, when claiming his high ground. But that’s simplifying the argument – which makes this Laurie Taylor interview for the New Humanist magazine so readable: Eagleton certainly seems to have much more depth, and atheism therefore needs to become more sophisticated!
Tragic hero: Laurie Taylor interviews Terry Eagleton
Reading the first sentence of Terry Eagleton’s review of The God Delusion in the October 2006 edition of the London Review of Books was not unlike watching a gunfighter kicking over a table of cards in an otherwise well-ordered saloon. “Imagine,” fired Eagleton, “someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.”
And that was only the opening volley. Further down the page Eagleton proceeds to shoot up Dawkins’s failure to do justice to the complexity of the God he sought to rout (“He seems to imagine God, if not exactly with a white beard, then at least as some kind of chap”), his literality and lack of imagination (“Dawkins occasionally writes as though ‘Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness’ is a mighty funny way to describe a Grecian urn”) and his belief in the progressive nature of history (“We have it from the mouth of Mr Public Science himself that aside from a few local, temporary hiccups like ecological disasters, famine, ethnic wars and nuclear wastelands, History is perpetually on the up”).
Entertaining, even exhilarating stuff. But no great surprise to those who’ve followed Eagleton’s career in any detail. He has a reputation for entering other people’s rooms and kicking over their cards. He appears equally happy whether outraging conventional students of literature at Oxford with his vigorous espousal of critical theory, confounding his long-time Marxist allies with his periodic dabblings with spirituality, or lambasting Martin Amis for his suggestion that British Muslims “must suffer” for the actions of suicide bombers. (These comments, said Eagleton, were “not unlike the ramblings of a British National Party thug”).
Neither does the degree of Eagleton’s intellectual aggression seem to be modified by past friendships. In his new book Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate, he is not content with amplifying his LRB attack upon Dawkins. He widens his target to include a new antagonist he calls Ditchkins, a composite of Dawkins and Eagleton’s old International Socialist drinking mate and author of God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens.
It was enough to make me think, as I made my plans to interview Terry Eagleton, that I might be unwise to try to gain his attention or interest by stressing our biographical affinities, our shared attendance at northern Catholic schools, our one-time virtual comradeship in the ranks of International Socialism, even our common interest in the work of such cultural theorists as Roland Barthes or Michel Foucault.
None of this, after all, was likely to obscure the considerably less acceptable news that I was to interview him for a magazine which not only laboured under the intellectually suspect title of New Humanist but was also a product of an organisation called the Rationalist Association. (Eagleton is particularly exercised by the New Atheists’ tendency to conflate reason and rationality. “We hold many beliefs that have no unimpeachably rational justification, but are nevertheless reasonable to entertain.”)
But when we finally sat down to talk in a Dublin hotel (Eagleton currently divides his life between Dublin and Derry and a string of international universities) he looked so relieved to be out of the torrential rain that was pouring down outside on St Stephen’s Green that I decided to take a chance and play the Catholic card. As an ex-Catholic myself, I said, I couldn’t help but wonder why you were quite so generous about your Catholic schooling in your autobiography The Gatekeeper.