Reflections on the God Debate

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Lausten
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Reflections on the God Debate

Post by Lausten » Mon Apr 05, 2010 8:30 pm

“Reason, Faith, and Revolution – Reflections on the God Debate”
By Terry Eagleton, 2009

Found in Google Books
http://books.google.com/books?id=xznRvm ... tion&cd=1#

This is a great book that unfortunately will (most likely) not find a wide audience. Eagleton has some good to say about the several sides of the God debate, but so much bad to say that few will embrace him. As he says, after giving his analysis of the New Testament, “Left-wing Christians are in dire need of dating agencies.” Personally I agree with his socialist perspective on the teachings of Christ, so the first part of the book was an easy read for me.

I also found his criticisms of both Christianity as a whole and some specifics of the so-called New Atheists a refreshing break from the shouting that passes for debate these days. He begins with “Religion has wrought untold misery in human affairs. For the most part, it has been a squalid tale of bigotry, superstition, wishful thinking, and oppressive ideology. I therefore have a good deal of sympathy with its rationalist and humanist critics.” But don’t get your hopes up atheists, because he immediately follows with, “But it is also the case, as this book argues, that most critics buy their rejection of religion on the cheap. When it comes to the New Testament, at least, what they usually write off is a worthless caricature of the real thing, rooted in a degree of ignorance and prejudice to match religion’s own. It is as though one were to dismiss feminism on the basis of Clint Eastwood’s opinions of it.”
Eagleton does recognize that for most people, Christianity is a hiding place, something that they don’t think about in reasonable terms, but he notes that the average person’s view of evolution probably does not match that of Richard Dawkins either. We cannot determine what these things are by popular vote. For Eagleton, his religion is not an opiate: “For Christian teaching, God’s love and forgiveness are ruthlessly unforgiving powers which break violently into our protective, self-rationalizing little sphere, smashing our sentimental illusions and turning our world brutally upside down. In Jesus, the law is revealed to be the law of love and mercy, and God not some Blakean Nobodaddy but a helpless, vulnerable animal. It is the flayed and bloody scapegoat of Calvary that is now the true signifier of the Law. Which is to say that those who are faithful to God’s law of justice and compassion will be done away with by the state. If you don’t love, you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you. Here, then is your pie in the sky or opium of the people, your soft-eyed consolation and pale-cheeked piety.”

But he does not end his defense of Christianity by simply attempting to repaint it as some sort of early version of Marxism. In fact he spends quite a bit of time in the second chapter exposing the many evils of religion. While doing so he occasionally stops to point out how both Dawkins and Hitchkins, sometimes concatenated into Ditchkins, tend to avoid doing this for science and reason. As Eagleton says, “It goes without saying that we owe to the Enlightenment freedom of thought,..” and more. But Eagleton does say it, and points out, “At the same time, this enlightened liberal humanism served as the legitimating ideology of a capitalist culture more steeped in blood than any other episode in human history.”

Eagleton goes well beyond a tit for tat comparison of which is better, science or religion, reason or faith. To do this, he looks at where each came from and where each has gone wrong. For example, “Christianity long ago shifted from the side of the poor and dispossessed to that of the rich and aggressive.” “…it has become the creed of the suburban well-to-do…” not the type of people Jesus hung out with.

Thankfully, he does not stop at pointing out the problems, he attempts to find a solution. His answers are no simpler than the problem. He examines politics and culture and finds them both lacking. He recommends some faith and some reason mixed in with both will be needed.

What he means by faith and reason are not common definitions. His understanding of faith was the most interesting I have ever read. It comes by way of Alain Badiou, a French philosopher (and atheist) who says faith is a loyalty to an “event” – “an utterly original happening which is out of joint with the smooth flow of history…” “Truth is what cuts against the grain of the world,…” Examples are the French Revolution, Cantor’s set theory, Schoenberg’s atonal composition, militant politics of 1968. “For Badiou, one becomes an authentic human subject, as opposed to a mere anonymous member of the biological species, through passionate allegiance to such a revelation.”

Eagleton does not redefine “reason” or denigrate it, but he finds it “too shallow a soil” for it to accomplish much. Reason alone can’t hold a political systems together, or inspire people to sacrifice for a common good. Something deeper is needed. Exactly what that is, is not thoroughly defined in this book. That may be Eagleton’s inability to do so or mine to understand him, or it may be more than can be expected of one book or one man. More likely it is something that we will all need to work on together.

What we call “civilization” is often expressed by cultureless transnational corporations only interested in their own material gain, but culture often only expresses itself as where it came from, not something to aspire to. We want the common values of cultures that have thrived, but we want the differences kept private, this can’t be done. The contributions of science are fairly well documented but we still need to sort out how to apply them. We are seeing the warning signs of doing a poor job of that. For what religion might be able to contribute, Eagleton says, “There are lessons which the secular left can learn from religion, for its atrocities and absurdities, and the left is not so flush with ideas that it can afford to look such a gift in the mouth.”

In an attempt to synthesize all points of view, Eagelton says, “The solution to religious terror is secular justice.” For some, Eagleton’s acknowledgement that even terrorists have a something that requires our attention may be too much to swallow. For those who oppose any ascription of rationality to an Islamic radical, Eagleton suggests studying the British secret service who monitored the Irish Republican Army. They knew not to swallow the tabloid hysteria. They also understood the rational behind the IRA’s murderous actions, and that they needed to acknowledge it to defeat them. In the same vein, it is wise for the those from the more radical left to understand the rational of the CIA. “The other side of pathologizing one’s enemy is exculpating oneself. As long as we see faith as the polar opposite of reason, we shall continue to commit these errors.”

There is no simple “Sermon on the Mount” type list of good ideas at the end of this book, rather a more sober suggestion that ”only by a process of self-dispossession and radical remaking can humanity come into its own.”
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Re: Reflections on the God Debate

Post by Martin Brock » Tue Apr 06, 2010 7:12 pm

Lausten wrote:In an attempt to synthesize all points of view, Eagelton says, “The solution to religious terror is secular justice.”
So what's the solution to secular terror?

I'm just sick of the God debate. Most of it is about as relevant to me as the Bigfoot debate.
People associating freely respect norms of their choice, and relationships governed this way are necessarily interdependent.

More central authorities conquer by dividing, imposing norms channeling the value of synergy toward themselves.

"Every man for himself" is the prescription of a state, not a free community. A state protects the poor from the rich only in fairy tales.

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Re: Reflections on the God Debate

Post by Lausten » Wed Apr 07, 2010 3:06 am

Martin Brock wrote:
Lausten wrote:In an attempt to synthesize all points of view, Eagelton says, “The solution to religious terror is secular justice.”
So what's the solution to secular terror?

I'm just sick of the God debate. Most of it is about as relevant to me as the Bigfoot debate.
My kneejerk reaction is secular justice, or just any justice is the solution to any terror. That statement comes near the end of a much longer discussion about Islam and the West's reaction to it, around page 100 if you want to follow the Google link.

I am sometimes sick of the debate, although I keep looking back at it like a gawker going by an accident, but would say it is relevant. Not so much for what is being said but how in the end we resolve our differences.
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Re: Reflections on the God Debate

Post by nmblum88 » Wed Apr 07, 2010 8:56 pm

Laussten: “Reason, Faith, and Revolution – Reflec ... tion&cd=1#
This is a great book that unfortunately will (most likely) not find a wide audience. Eagleton has some good to say about the several sides of the God debate, but so much bad to say that few will embrace him. As he says, after giving his analysis of the New Testament, “Left-wing Christians are in dire need of dating agencies.” Personally I agree with his socialist perspective on the teachings of Christ, so the first part of the book was an easy read for me.
Interesting, interesting... I would never have taken you for the militant Marxist (rather than Socialist), the role that Terry Eagleton claims for himself..
But never mind... people refer to themselves as all sorts of things.. '"democrats" or "republicans" for instance without having the slightest idea of what the terms mean..
However, before we get to Terry's political identity within the framework of post-Tony Blair England, back to your worry that Eagleton will be ignored despite what you find his cogency... and the supposed unpopularity of his stance AND his words, as expressed in person and in print.

No need to worry, Lausten..
While I'm sorry that in your circle of either friends, family or colleagues, Terry Eagleton is not a household name.... among many atheists on both sides of the pond, and in France and Germany (my experience extends no further on the passion for Terry Eagleton's latest remarks), he is not only exactly that, but his books and articles are avidly purchased, read, and discussions about them are pursued with both brio and lip-licking pleasure...
"Have you read (seen, heard in person, had repeated to you) Eagleton's latest?" is bread cast upon the common waters...

About his "atheism"... well, maybe not.
Hard to accept as atheist someone who is still, by his own admission obesrvant of Roman Catholic rites, but who CERTAINLY argues scripture from a Roman Catholic (although markedly informed and educated) perspective.
But hey... anyone as lively and engaged (albeit capable of stretching either a truth or a posit to fit his need) as expressive, as in command of both language AND the intricacies of human desire, habit and history as they impact on how we behave and live now... can call himself anything he likes, Guy Fawkes, if he likes, or Alfalfa... as long as he can continue to stimulate healthy colloquy among people (atheists) who don't really get a lot of really good challenges from the available religious polemicists, lacking as they are in either acumen, insights, book learning (history, theology, anthropology, cosmology), worthy intuitions, or even wit.

Eagleton is the answer of sophisticated religious propaganda to atheism's Hitchens... and he drinks and sweats less, is a better and more comprehensible speaker, and equally if not superior public purveyor of his brand of drollery that does not disguise for a moment very serious intent.

For many and sundry reasons.
Not the least of which is that Eagleton is one of the wittiest, funniest people in the world of religious polemics... although his professional fame is as a philosopher, teacher and literary critic (of rather spectacular talent... his writings and lectures on the literature of Elizabethan England, in "Shakespeare and Society" is without peer).
His many - he is rather startlingly prolific, considering his speaking dates, and his teaching schedule, AND the breadth of his interests (his work on Walter Benjamin as a literary critic is really a gem in the genre (although at this moment the name of the book eludes me).
So he is more than prolific enough to keep him alive in the consciousness of his core audience., who are, not at all oddly, NOT the establishment religious of the Anglican rank and file.
Add to all that that Eagleton is both personally attractive AND intellectually interesting AND elusive enough to pique curiosity on a conversational if not a polemic level... one of the few (there were once more of them in the England between the World Wars... and in the post Churchill era of English politics and society) avowedly religious AND Roman Catholic MARXISTS now writing AND being published..
He wears the mantel, but with more gusto, venom, and fire, of Evelyn Waugh, Graham Green, et al... those Catholic writers and speakers who exceeded in talent expressiveness, AND productivity, as well as the charm of their creations, their counterparts on the left in post WW II England, and in English language letters.
Stephen Spender, Auden, and even the astounding Orwell, and others might have had their hearts in the right place, but those co-opting screen plays with their encouragements to faith came from the cultural cadres of the religious...
(The other famous and respected contemporary avowed Marxist is Erik Hobsbaum, the historian... who is prolific as a writer, but is not as electrifying as a lecturer or debater as is Eagleton...he is also in his nineties... while Eagleton can take on the current "4 Horseman (so called) of atheism..on their own terms, and as to their own emphases on religion's influence in secular affairs..)


I also found his criticisms of both Christianity as a whole and some specifics of the so-called New Atheists a refreshing break from the shouting that passes for debate these days. He begins with “Religion has wrought untold misery in human affairs. For the most part, it has been a squalid tale of bigotry, superstition, wishful thinking, and oppressive ideology. I therefore have a good deal of sympathy with its rationalist and humanist critics.” But don’t get your hopes up atheists, because he immediately follows with, “But it is also the case, as this book argues, that most critics buy their rejection of religion on the cheap. When it comes to the New Testament, at least, what they usually write off is a worthless caricature of the real thing, rooted in a degree of ignorance and prejudice to match religion’s own. It is as though one were to dismiss feminism on the basis of Clint Eastwood’s opinions of it.”

LOL... my own hopes are based.... perhaps you missed it not having read the entire book, but only the chapters available on the Internet (as per your URL citation....... on the fact that in this work, as well as two others, and frequently in public appearances and lectures, Eagleton refers to religion, as an organized force, as (harshly) "REPULSIVE.."
Even as he continues to be identified with the Roman Catholic apparatus... successfully in a manner of speaking having his wafer (and wine) and eating it too.
"Repulsive " has a ring to it that indicates that if push came to shove, this brilliant, entertaining, thought provoking man, might possibly be in the process of rethinking his allegiance.
ALTHOUGH, do keep in mind (it seems to elude you) .. that the atheist is not defined by his or her having rejected organized religion but by rejecting the possibility of the existence of the supernatural as a force or component of our existence... i.e, god or gods.

Eagleton does recognize that for most people, Christianity is a hiding place, something that they don’t think about in reasonable terms, but he notes that the average person’s view of evolution probably does not match that of Richard Dawkins either.


Sure, but Eagleton aside, can't we at least TRY to remember that Evolution is NOT a popularity contest to be settled or agreed upon by either polls or plebecites...
Evolution will be - if you can't bring yourself to agree that it already has been, for cause and since quite a while - decided upon in research laboratories or in the investigative disciplines of science where the results of WORK rather than speeches are being presented.
And while Eagleton has considerably more charm than does Richard Dawkins... Dawkins DOES have the advantage of being a WORKING scientist... he is a behavioral biologist and that does count in terms of his having to account for his adherence to scientific method.
Eagleton.. Lord love him.. as no such commitment.
We cannot determine what these things are by popular vote
.
Exactly....so glad you see it that way... and that when you have finished pursuing the interesting and creative words of Eagleton you will move on to some works of science on the subject....
For Eagleton, his religion is not an opiate: “For Christian teaching, God’s love and forgiveness are ruthlessly unforgiving powers which break violently into our protective, self-rationalizing little sphere, smashing our sentimental illusions and turning our world brutally upside down. In Jesus, the law is revealed to be the law of love and mercy, and God not some Blakean Nobodaddy but a helpless, vulnerable animal. It is the flayed and bloody scapegoat of Calvary that is now the true signifier of the Law. Which is to say that those who are faithful to God’s law of justice and compassion will be done away with by the state. If you don’t love, you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you. Here, then is your pie in the sky or opium of the people, your soft-eyed consolation and pale-cheeked piety.”
This is.. as always.. great fun and typical Eagleton.. brilliant, erratic, above all theatrical, and more than just a little meaningless, when put under a microscope...
As a matter of fact... while it gets the dander of the audience up, I doubt that even you in your incomparable bravery or rashness would care to expound further on what those ringing (or Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey) words "God not some Blakean Nobodaddy but a helpless, vulnerable animal. It is the flayed and bloody scapegoat of Calvary that is now the true signifier of the Law. Which is to say that those who are faithful to God’s law of justice and compassion will be done away with by the state," could POSSIBLY mean..."

Other than that if gets the audience both enraged and dancing in the aisles, whistles blowing, a good time had by all.
Me too.
Always...


But he does not end his defense of Christianity by simply attempting to repaint it as some sort of early version of Marxism. In fact he spends quite a bit of time in the second chapter exposing the many evils of religion. While doing so he occasionally stops to point out how both Dawkins and Hitchkins, sometimes concatenated into Ditchkins, tend to avoid doing this for science and reason. As Eagleton says, “It goes without saying that we owe to the Enlightenment freedom of thought,..” and more. But Eagleton does say it, and points out, “At the same time, this enlightened liberal humanism served as the legitimating ideology of a capitalist culture more steeped in blood than any other episode in human history.”

Eagleton goes well beyond a tit for tat comparison of which is better, science or religion, reason or faith. To do this, he looks at where each came from and where each has gone wrong. For example, “Christianity long ago shifted from the side of the poor and dispossessed to that of the rich and aggressive.” “…it has become the creed of the suburban well-to-do…” not the type of people Jesus hung out with.

Thankfully, he does not stop at pointing out the problems, he attempts to find a solution. His answers are no simpler than the problem. He examines politics and culture and finds them both lacking. He recommends some faith and some reason mixed in with both will be needed.

What he means by faith and reason are not common definitions. His understanding of faith was the most interesting I have ever read. It comes by way of Alain Badiou, a French philosopher (and atheist) who says faith is a loyalty to an “event” – “an utterly original happening which is out of joint with the smooth flow of history…” “Truth is what cuts against the grain of the world,…” Examples are the French Revolution, Cantor’s set theory, Schoenberg’s atonal composition, militant politics of 1968. “For Badiou, one becomes an authentic human subject, as opposed to a mere anonymous member of the biological species, through passionate allegiance to such a revelation.”

Eagleton does not redefine “reason” or denigrate it, but he finds it “too shallow a soil” for it to accomplish much. Reason alone can’t hold a political systems together, or inspire people to sacrifice for a common good. Something deeper is needed. Exactly what that is, is not thoroughly defined in this book. That may be Eagleton’s inability to do so or mine to understand him, or it may be more than can be expected of one book or one man. More likely it is something that we will all need to work on together.
Whew!! I need what the French call a "digestif" and Eagleton has been known to refer to as the mind equivalent of "colonic irrigation.."
Never mind...
I confess that you lost me when you threw poor Badiou into the pot of whatever you imagine you have cooking on the stove...
Badiou, not to make too much of what is a gratuitous mention on your part cribbed from your truncated reading... has as his main interest and as they impact on his philosophical teaching... not religion so much except in passing as an influence in our corrupted society, but in mathematics AND equally, language as a common bond and an impediment to resistance to outmoded ideas, ways of thinking about the world.


What we call “civilization” is often expressed by cultureless transnational corporations only interested in their own material gain, but culture often only expresses itself as where it came from, not something to aspire to. We want the common values of cultures that have thrived, but we want the differences kept private, this can’t be done. The contributions of science are fairly well documented but we still need to sort out how to apply them. We are seeing the warning signs of doing a poor job of that. For what religion might be able to contribute, Eagleton says, “There are lessons which the secular left can learn from religion, for its atrocities and absurdities, and the left is not so flush with ideas that it can afford to look such a gift in the mouth.”
Mishmash.. and despite the quotation marks around a sentence here and there does not accurately reflect what Eagleton writtes...
And if he did write it it wouldn't make sense...
Transnational corporations for instance are not CULTURELESS.. they like most institutions or human environments have a culture of their own.

In an attempt to synthesize all points of view, Eagelton says, “The solution to religious terror is secular justice.” For some, Eagleton’s acknowledgement that even terrorists have a something that requires our attention may be too much to swallow. For those who oppose any ascription of rationality to an Islamic radical, Eagleton suggests studying the British secret service who monitored the Irish Republican Army. They knew not to swallow the tabloid hysteria. They also understood the rational behind the IRA’s murderous actions, and that they needed to acknowledge it to defeat them. In the same vein, it is wise for the those from the more radical left to understand the rational of the CIA. “The other side of pathologizing one’s enemy is exculpating oneself. As long as we see faith as the polar opposite of reason, we shall continue to commit these errors.”
Except that FAITH IS the polar opposite (although not the only one... modern exegesis of either religious texts OR secular polemics can no longer be relegated to "either/or."
Both language, ideas and our accumulated knowledge does not permit of such pointless simplicity.
There is no simple “Sermon on the Mount” type list of good ideas at the end of this book, rather a more sober suggestion that ”only by a process of self-dispossession and radical remaking can humanity come into its own.”
WHA'?
Is the "Sermon on the Mount" so simple?
Given that its message is bruited about in sermons from one Pole to the other and back and forth around the Equator as the core message of Christianity?

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Re: Reflections on the God Debate

Post by Hotair101 » Thu Apr 08, 2010 10:11 pm

Here's a recent article about Eagleton.

True, the "Ditchkins" make some good points. But their sloppy thinking, strident language, and dogmatic condescension are warning signs of an atheism bought "on the cheap." Their stock in trade includes vulgar caricatures of religion, an "abysmally crude [and] infantile version of what theology has traditionally maintained," ignorance, cultural supremacism, an "eminently suburban" love affair with the Enlightenment myth of liberal progress, the refusal to acknowledge that religion has done any good anywhere or that science has done any harm, and an either/or mentality that ignores ambiguity. They are defenders of the political status quo, and hardly the revolutionaries they purport to be.
You've got to love him, right? lol.

http://www.journeywithjesus.net/BookNot ... tion.shtml" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Here is a link to the lecture he gave last month mentioned in above link. (It's over an hour long.)
http://www.ed.ac.uk/news/events/eagleton-050310" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
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Re: Reflections on the God Debate

Post by Jeff D » Fri Apr 09, 2010 9:35 am

Eagleton:
['modern atheists' / Ditchkins' ]abysmally crude [and] infantile version of what theology has traditionally maintained
I find Eagleton to be extremely witty and entertaining . . . in small doses.

But I confess that having spent big chunks of the last 30 years reading the dizzying variety of claims that theology has maintained (starting with Augustine), I've concluded (to borrow two phrases from Dan Dennett) that theology is "a pseudo-sophisticated mug's game," and a "variety of ways of not coming clean about th nature of the enterprise."

Theology is just making $h!t up, and then shuffling and recombining it, parsing it, splitting hairs, and devising new rationalizations, exegeses, distinctions, and excuses, so that thoughtful reflective people who want to be religious -- or to appear to be religious -- can couch or frame their belief / pretense of belief in terms that satisfy their sense of intellectual integrity.
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