Saturday, March 8, 2014

Terry Eagleton's 'Culture and the Death of God'

If you're at all fascinated by religion and philosophy, and particularly the 'God debate' Terry Eagleton's latest book is a must read. 

It's a superbly written survey of Enlightenment, Idealist, Romantic, Modern and Postmodern thinkers, and its thesis is this: 'It is remarkable how long it took modernity to achieve an authentic atheism....Not believing in God is a far more arduous affair than is generally imagined. Whenever the Almighty seems safely dispatched, he is always liable to stage a reappearance in one disguise or another. Secular concepts contain so much religious baggage that religious faith is not easily consigned to a benighted past'.

You could safely categorise this book as yet another big boot up the arse to the hated Richard Dawkins and his ilk who he mercilessly attacked in his wonderful 2009 polemic Reason, Faith and Revolution. Dawkins and Sam Harris are 'old-fashioned nineteenth century rationalists who dismiss religious belief without grasping the kind of phenomenon that is is meant to be'. 

Eagleton also has fun with the unctuous Alain de Botton and his Religion for Atheists: 'A committed atheist like himself, de Botton argues, can still find religion 'sporadically interesting, useful and consoling', which makes it sound rather like rustling up a souffle when you are feeling low'.

But a word of warning: don't attempt this book unless you want to seriously engage on an academic level with its arguments. Eagleton inhabits a rather rarefied atmosphere with his God and his European philosophers. As is his usual style it could be called a huge exercise in name-dropping, and therefore tedious in the extreme. And in a real sense, apart from the final challenging chapter on Postmodernism, it could have been written fifty years ago.

Nevertheless, as a huge fan, I persevered, and can safely say it was well worth it.

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