Monday, December 06, 2010

What Kind Of World Do We Wish To Inhabit?

A theme running through Terry Eagleton's Reason, Faith, and Revolution is the perspective from which questions concerning the status of religious belief are asked. Unlike his main interlocutors Dawkins and Hitchens, Eagleton is quite clear that his perspective includes a concern for justice, honesty concerning the moral depravity of western hegemony, and the self-destructive capacity of late liberal capitalism. Bearing these concerns in mind, his approach to the Christian faith is one of generous thanks in the midst of honest acceptance of the horrors visited upon our world in the name of religion.

Being supporters of various aspects of the status quo, intellectual and political, Dawkins and Hitchens voice no similar criticism for either scinetific advancement or the kind of humanism both seek to see supplant religious belief. Eagleton is willing to grant, as did even the great critic of liberalism Karl Marx, that at one time liberal humanism, and the Enlightenment from which it burst forth, was quite simply the most revolutionary force in western history. For all that, it has, in the words of the title of the second chapter/lecture of Eagleton's short work, betrayed that revolution. Living as do we do among the rising ruins wrought by a political and economic system that seeks above all domination in the name of profit - a dominance that includes not just human populations but the planet that is under dire threat as well - it should be easy to insist that we should be far less worried about, say, the effort to push intelligent design in our schools and more worried about the unintelligent designs upon the natural resources of other nations that has led to the growing uprising we call Islamic radicalism.

Eagleton sees Ditchkins as late-Victorian triumphalist rationalists, celebrating the grand march of human reason over and against the darker forces of superstition and ignorance. Even as the edifice of capitalism simultaneously expands even as its center collapses from within - a potential supernova that could drag so many down with it - one reads not a word of caution about the inherent dangers of supporting, either intellectually or otherwise, a system whose internal incoherence is the diabolical creator of many of the horrors they deplore.

Eagelton is quite correct, in my estimation, that the question is not whether or not God can be shown to exist, or whether or not organized religion has been a bane to human existence. The first is unanswerable in the terms Ditchkins sets forth (which they had to understand from the beginning) and the second even the most ardent believer with a scrap of understanding would admit. The real issue that confronts us, as the political and corporate elites retrench against their populations across the West, is whether or not we, any of us, religious believer or not, wish to work for a world ruled by real justice and peace. Eagleton finds resources for that struggle in the Christian theological tradition (and mentions both Jewish and Muslim traditions as also supplying some of the same tools), including a belief in God as understood in the best of Christian theology.

It seems to me that solidarity would create conditions in which the question of whether or not one is a believer in the Christian God and all that entails could be set aside. Except Ditchkins is not interested in solidarity in the face of the sufferings of the wretched of the planet. Instead, they are interested in ensuring that the threat posed by radical Islam and fundamentalist Christianity - two deformed offspring of western Imperialism and capitalist triumphalism - is wiped out before it threatens their heremtic lives.

I would side with Eagleton on his vision any day.

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