Friday, 15 December 2006

Theology with Terry Eagleton

There are some really superb theological insights in Terry Eagleton’s much-discussed review of Richard Dawkins. Here’s a passage that’s well worth reflecting on:

“Jesus hung out with whores and social outcasts, was remarkably casual about sex, disapproved of the family (the suburban Dawkins is a trifle queasy about this), urged us to be laid-back about property and possessions, warned his followers that they too would die violently, and insisted that the truth kills and divides as well as liberates. He also cursed self-righteous prigs and deeply alarmed the ruling class.

“The Christian faith holds that those who are able to look on the crucifixion and live, to accept that the traumatic truth of human history is a tortured body, might just have a chance of new life – but only by virtue of an unimaginable transformation in our currently dire condition. This is known as the resurrection. Those who don’t see this dreadful image of a mutilated innocent as the truth of history are likely to be devotees of that bright-eyed superstition known as infinite human progress, for which Dawkins is a full-blooded apologist….

“The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you. Here, then, is your pie in the sky and opium of the people.”

9 Comments:

kim fabricius said...

Thanks for the heads-up, Ben. Eagleton is one of our most astute and acute theologically informed cultural critics - and he would be as a student of McCabe. In the Prefatory note to After Theory (2003), he writes that "The influence of the late Herbert McCabe is so pervasive on my arguments that it is impossible to localize."

On the same theme - sharp theological observation from the English department - check out Alan Jacobs, Shaming the Devil: Essays in Truthtelling (2004). As a taster, try this on Auden, on the poet writing "of his conviction that Jesus is Lord: 'I believe because He fulfills none of my dreams, because He is in every respect the opposite of what He would be if I could have made Him in my own image.' But why not one of the other great teachers, like Buddha or Mohammed? Because, Auden wrote, chillingly, 'none of the others arouse all sides of my being to cry "Crucify Him".'"

Auden should have worked this insightful confession into a poem called "Answer to Feuerbach"!

At one time I wished that I had studied classics as a first degree. In more recent years I am glad that it was English. And not only because of the writers we read, but - more importantly - because it taught me how to read.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great excerpt. Memorable.

Anonymous said...

After reading Eagleton’s review of Dawkins and his book, I’m feeling an unusual mixture of pity and thankfulness for that diminutive creature (once ominous) Mr. Dawkins. How else could such a resourcefully Christian apologetic have ever been written! You’ve gotta love it! Yes! And thanks for the hyper link Brother Ben.

John said...

Eagleton theologically informed?
My cat does better "theology" that Terry Eagelton! Try Googling:

On the Other Side of Purr

And besides which what does "theologicaly informed" really mean.
Words about words about words and so on forever, until the binding spell is broken by Divine Grace.
This essay provides a Divinely Illuminated understanding of the origins & consequences of the secular vs EXOTERIC religion culture wars.
2. www.dabase.net/noface.htm

kim fabricius said...

Hi John.

Well, we agree on this much: we both like cats. Mine's name is Thelma. What's yours?

Steven Carr said...

'to accept that the traumatic truth of human history is a tortured body, '


Another phrase which means nothing. Like most of Eagelton's 'review'.

Theology is not a subject which yields useful results. Is Eagelton suggesting that Dawkins should hang out with whores and social outcasts? (paedophiles, rapists, serial killers and the like)

Once I see the Archbishop Canterbury hanging out with whores, I will know that Eagleton's Christianity is the real thing.

kim fabricius said...

Hi Steven.

I think you mean that Eagleton is wrong, not that his article "means nothing". Unless, that is, you are, like Dawkins, a positivist, which is rather a quaint and embarrassing post-critical philosophical position to take. In particular, the sentence you quote - prosaically put, that the cross of Christ discloses the inner logic of human history - only someone with a tin ear could suggest that it is incoherent rather than incorrect.

And only a very obtuse reader could conclude from his reference to Jesus' hanging out with the socially excluded that Eagleton is saying that Dawkins invite them around for dinner. Rather, he is using the fact of our Lord's bias for the poor as part of his strategy for deconstructing Dawkins' reductionist and projectionist idea of God as (satanic) power (which, admittedly, far too many Christians believe as well).

As for the Archibishop of Canterbury, you should have done your homework. Rowan Williams has spent a visible but untrumpeted part of his ministry in support of "lost causes": his arrest at a demonstration against nuclear weapons; his personal acquaintance with the homeless of Cambridge, Oxford, and Newport; his professionally costly support for lesbian and gay people (whatever one thinks of his management of the church politics of the sexuality wars). I can assure you that the fellowship of whores would not be a problem for Rowan.

Doug said...

Ok, I'll bite. I must have a "tin ear". I can parse the sentence gramatically, but in what way is the traumatic truth of human history ... a tortured body?

Sure, I can come up with some meanings myself, but none of them seem very applicable to the discussion. It's such a vague sentence that I can understand why someone would call it incoherent rather than incorrect. I don't know if I think it's incorrect as I have no idea what he's trying to say.

Paul said...

That last quote is incredible. I've never heard it put that way before:

“The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you. Here, then, is your pie in the sky and opium of the people.”

Post a Comment

New book

Archive

Contact

Although I'm not always able to reply to all emails, please feel free to contact me.

Faith and Theology © 2008. Template by Dicas Blogger.

TOPO