Sunday, January 3, 2010

Terry Eagleton on Christianity, or perhaps God, or in any case "the God Debate"

I take the position that debate on the question whether God exists is futile.  I nonetheless annoy myself by now and then reading books which attempt to address the question.  I'm annoyed by the fact that none of the books I've read make what I consider a significant or intelligent contribution to the debate, but far more annoyed by the fact that I continue reading them, which indicates either that I don't really believe the debate is futile or that I enjoy futile debates.

Most recently, I've been reading Terry Eagleton's book, based on his lectures, Reason, Faith and Revolution:  Reflections on the God Debate.  I remain annoyed.

I'm not annoyed by the fact that he takes such as Dawkins and Hitchens to task, as I find them annoying on this issue as well.  I tend to agree with Eagleton that they can be arrogant and abrasive on the issues of God and religion, and that they are sometimes uninformed regarding them.  I think they are not above setting up straw men and beating them, rigorously and tiresomely.  What they have to say about the lack of proof (or the impossibility of proof) of God, and the oppressive and violent nature and history of organized religion, to the extent what they say is valid, has been said many times before, it seems to me.

Nor am I annoyed by the fact that he argues that the values of the Enlightment, science, and liberalism have been perverted and twisted.  I don't find it annoying that he points out that belief in Progress through Reason (note the capital letters) is often naive, and dangerous.  I tend to agree with him that things which cannot be explained or absolutely established through the scientific method or reason nevertheless are significant and have meaning.  I am not even annoyed by the fact that he is apparently a Marxist, and complains about the evils of capitalism. 

What I find annoying is the fact that he says he supports and, I think, even believes in Christianity, properly understood, and then makes no effort to explain why he does so, or at least no effort I can discern.

He appears to feel that the Gospels, properly understood (and it seems the Old Testament as well), are revolutionary, and preach some sort of life which is radically anti-social, anti-family, and indeed anti-relgious, in the sense that they do not sanction a belief in a God who must be placated in some fashion through worship and sacrifice, or who is the basis of some absolute and restrictive code of conduct.  He goes so far as to say at one point that the existence of a Supreme Being, or at least proof of such a being's existence, was not really of significance to Aquinas and other Christian philosophers, which may suprise some who have read the efforts of Aquinas and others towards that proof.

Although he doesn't seem to like the phrase "liberation theology" what he seems to be describing is the kind of view of Christ and Christianity which was popular in some circles immediately after Vatican II, and which I recall resulted in guitar masses and priests who made chalices out of artillery shells and protested the Vietnam War and marched for civil rights and did all sorts of socially relevant things in my distant youth.  He believes, as many others have, that Christianity betrayed itself and has been doing so for roughly the period from the death of Christ to Vatican II (although Paul, Augustine and Aquinas and certain others have been true to the true faith, in various respects).

This is well enough, but I would have been grateful if he had tried to support his claims regarding Christianity in detail.  He seems to assume that we all will know why Christianity is actually what he believes it to be, which is odd as he claims that most declared Christians are among those who believe in a twisted version of Christianity.  Also, he says virtually nothing at all regarding the divinity of Christ, which I think is one of the essential aspects of Christianity.  Even accepting that this cannot be established to the satisfaction of such as Dawkins and Hitchens, and that this fact is not and should not be determinative of what one feels, I think it is incumbent on someone who professes to be a Christian (or whatever) and believes others should be as well to explain why they are Christian and why others should be, in some comprehensible fashion.  Otherwise, they would do us all a favor by saying, quite simply, that is what they believe but they cannot explain why.

Which, as I think of it, might help end this futile debate, or at least help end my fascination with it.

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