Monday, November 29, 2010

Eager For Eagleton

There is a small but highly vocal group of people who insist that the received scientific understanding of development and change of the world is wrong. They publish parodies of scholarly journals with allegedly scholarly articles that attempt to prove their point. They have even sponsored a museum to display their ignorance to the world, in the form of a Creation Museum.

They are, and should be, objects of derision.

There are a few highly vocal people who demonstrate their ignorance, and have their ignorance celebrated as the triumph of reason and good sense, of other fields of human endeavor. Their demonstrated lack of understanding of the length and breadth and depth of part of human experience is breath-taking. Their proud refusal to engage that history is seen not as a sign of dogmatic irrationality but the pinnacle of human rationality.

These folks - Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris - are celebrated as leaders of a movement.

If we were honest with ourselves, we would make them the object of derision, too.

Several months ago, a friend of mine on Facebook let me know that British literary critic Terry Eagleton had published a book entitled Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate. I didn't rush out to get it because I was in the midst of packing to move, and in the months since have been preoccupied with other things. I finally had the opportunity to purchase it, so on Saturday I ordered it to be mailed to my home. To get ready for it, I have been perusing reviews and interviews on the subject that Eagleton gave after publication. I have to say that, so far, there is little in his presentation, or in the summaries of others, with which I could disagree.

I have presented many, similar arguments over time, but I think the best summary argument against Dawkins (in particular) is offered here (the original link has gone bye-bye):
There are six billion people in the world . . . . If we think that we are going to persuade them to live a rational life based on scientific knowledge, we are not only dreaming - it is like believing in the fairy godmother.
Taking in to account the false equivalence offered here that "rational life" and "scientific knowledge" are opposed to a life of faith, the main reason I like this quote is simple. For Dawkins, and to a lesser extent Harris and Hitch, have this naive, narrow view of what "rationality" is, that this narrow view is the sole truly human way of understanding the world, and that it would be far better if everyone lived that way. Rather than learn to live with and celebrate the variety of expressions of human life and understanding and, yes, even rationality, they would impose their own rather narrow understanding, and eliminate those that are different. This isn't just believing in the fairy godmother; it borders on politically and socially vicious.

None of this is new. It will be nice to dive in to Eagleton's relatively short (about 200 pp. or so) book, not because we agree on this issue, but because these arguments, thanks in no small part to Eagleton's influence, are receiving a wider audience. Also, unlike the aforementioned authors, Eagleton demonstrates in previous works as well as the linked interviews and reviews that he has a marvelous wit, lacking in the strident and dismissive hauteur of Dawkins and Hitch.

Having read one Marxist wrestling with the Christian faith in a non-dismissive way (Ernst Bloch's Man on His Own) and found some truly moving words and seeds for enhancing my own life of faith, even while acknowledging that Bloch's endorsement of aspects of the Gospel is done all the while rejecting the metaphysical trappings of faith (including God), I find nothing incongruous about a Marxist finding in Christianity tools with which to work and live. As a Christian who finds much in Marxism that helps in understanding the world (in order, as St. Karl wrote, to change it, which is the real point) the interchange between these two large and diverse ways of understanding and living in the world should be fruitful and mutually respectful, rather than antagonistic. If Eagleton offers more tools for the tool box in these matters, so much the better.

Virtual Tin Cup

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