Monday, May 25, 2009

Terry Eagleton's Reason, Faith and Revolution.

Ever since I was a very young and innocent man I've read Terry Eagleton. He came to my notice in the late 60's during the Vietnam war. He was a young academic from Cambridge who described himself as a Marxist and co-founded a UK magazine called Slant, which became a fierce, articulate and passionate voice of criticism of Western political and cultural 'decadence'. These were the days of student uprisings and incipient revolutions across the spectrum - political, social, sexual, cultural. It was the counter-culture in full swing. It was a heady and exciting time to be a young student, to say the least.

Over the years Eagleton went on to become an important voice in literary and cultural criticism in Britain, but never lost his taste for radicalism. He also never lost his extraordinary talent for writing. He has written numerous, well-regarded books, and is currently Professor of English Literature at the University of Lancaster and Professor of Cultural Theory at the National University of Ireland in Galway (where he lives).

All this by way of introducing his latest work Reason, Faith and Revolution, which I've been unable to put down for the last three days. I've barely eaten or slept. It's just utterly absorbing. The subtitle is 'Reflections on the God Debate', which is exactly what it is. He takes aim at the anti-God brigade: Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens in particular, authors of The God Delusion and God is Not Great respectively.

It is witty, polemical and wise, full of marvellous literary and philosophical allusions, and wonderfully provocative, with full-frontal attacks on all sorts of juicy targets. And it's such a joy to read. The prose is lively, at times poetic. He is a master of the telling and accurate simile.

If you have a penchant for theology, philosophy, literature and politics - and what civilised person doesn't? - then you will love this book.

Here is a taste:

Astonishingly, we are saved not by a special apparatus known as religion, but by the quality of our everyday relations with one another. It was Christianity, not the French intelligentsia, which invented the concept of everyday life....There is nothing heroic about the New Testament at all. Jesus is a sick joke of a saviour. Messiahs are not born in stables.

It ever there was a pious myth and piece of credulous superstition, it is the liberal-rationalist belief that, few hiccups apart, we are all steadily en route to a finer world.

Science has its high priests, sacred cows, revered scriptures, ideological exclusions, and rituals for suppressing dissent. To this extent, it is ridiculous to see it as the polar opposite of religion.

The sky's the limit, never say never, you can crack it if you try, you can be anything you want: such are the delusions of the American dream. For some in the USA, the C-word is 'can't'. Negativity is often looked upon there as a thought crime. Not since the advent of socialist realism has the world witnessed such pathological upbeatness.

Neoconservatism is a species of fideism, untroubled in its ideological ardour by anything as trifling as reality.

Buy and read this book. As for me, I'm about to read it again!

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