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3.0 out of 5 stars Eagleton straw-targets atheist position but offers virtue, 2 Jun 2009
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This review is from: Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (Terry Lectures) (The Terry Lectures) (Hardcover)
Eagleton is an amazing combination of Catholic believer and Marxist. He derides much of what Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens write, disrespectfully calling them `Ditchkins'. He is contemptuous of their Oxford/Washington/neocon etc scene, adding in Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan for good measure. His main critique is that whilst Dawkins and Hitchens critique religion, they do not apply the same critique to science or the enlightened modernity they promote, summed up in their castigation of the Inquisition but not of Hiroshima. Eagleton however commits the same errors he accuses Dawkins and Hitchens of. They attack a straw man of extremist religion rather than more credible expressions and interpretations - `this straw targeting of Christianity is now drearily commonplace he complains' - whilst Eagleton himself attacks Dawkins and Hitchens rather than the more credible atheist arguments of Simon Blackburn, Andre Comte-Sponville, Julian Baggini etc. He challenges that Dawkins and Hitchens should know more about religion before critiquing it but then himself freely lambasts multinational corporations about which he is equally uninformed. Eagleton deploys streams of similes to support his points - `it is rather like saying that thanks to the electric toaster we can forget about Chekhov' - which start as amusing but soon become irritating. He is clearly annoyed with Hitchens for leaving the Marxist camp where they were former fellow travellers. He doesn't like modernity's belief in its inevitable progress to a finer world, but he fails to say that belief in the kingdom of God offers the same hope. We are told of `the social devastation wreaked by economic liberalism' p145!

Eagleton simply assumes God. By page 7 he is writing in detail about the nature of God without any supporting argument - God is just as Eagleton says he is. He says on page 34 that he has given a theological account which he clearly hasn't. He has simply speculated on some ideal fabrication of an imagined God. And Jesus is Eagleton's revolutionary, a Che Guevara figure who stands for the poor, critiques the establishment, and himself suffers ignominy and bears injustice.

He does offer allegory as a useful interpretation of religion and this deserves further development. He says p48 `there has been no human culture to date in which virtue has been predominant' which is a succinct moral challenge to human society which should cause reflection and correction? For Aquinas p122 `all virtues have their source in love' so here is Eagleton's key virtue which compares to Iaian King's twin virtues of empathy and obligation and Comte-Sponville's 18 virtues in his 'A Short Treatise on the Great Virtues'.
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Showing 1-10 of 13 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 3 Jun 2009 10:45:27 BDT
excellent, and thoughtful review. thankyou. still, i look fwd to digesting it, warts and all. as you say, a curious mix of philosophies by anyone's book.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Jun 2009 15:25:05 BDT
Danny Boy says:
Yes, I agree with you about Blackburn and as Blackburn himself says, his argument with Dawkins is that David Hume did it so much better.

Posted on 7 Aug 2009 12:34:41 BDT
Last edited by the author on 7 Aug 2009 12:35:07 BDT
N. Rogall says:
Crazy to suggest that Eagleton shouldn't have targetted Hitchens & Dawkins. They are the most well known 'militant atheists'. Eagleton is not a marxist fellow traveller, he is a marxist as was Hitchens way back in the 70s when was he a member of the 'International Socialist Tendency'. There is nothing strange about Eagleton, Marxism in the classical tradition has always seen religion as both a vehicle of protest, and an acceptance of oppression. I as a Marxist and a Jew-by-birth have a lot more in common with a religious Palestinian fighting the Israeli state than a secualar Israeli atheist

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Aug 2009 11:18:45 BDT
I don't at all object to targetting Hitchens and Dawkins. I simply feel that this is too low a target. Dawkins 'God Delusion' is a futile book and hardly deserves serious attention, although his earlier work in 'Selfish Gene' and 'Blind Watchmaker' is more serious and worthy of considered reply. My challenge to Eagleton is that he concentrates more on addressing the better argued atheism of philosophers who match his capability such as Simon Blackburn, Julian Baggini and Andre Comte-Sponville. I'm not in favour of the postmodern image-driven emphasis in who is famous rather than modernity's emphasis on who offers better content. But I share your concern for justice for Palestine.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Nov 2009 09:20:41 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 4 Nov 2009 09:55:01 GMT]

Posted on 28 Apr 2010 09:52:18 BDT
Mr. Bde Wall says:
The reason why Eagleton's book doesn't 'straw target' atheism as you claim is because because he doesn't have a problem with atheism, only misrepresentations of religion by anti-religious writers. Thats why Dawkins and Hitchens are the main targets.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 May 2010 13:16:42 BDT
Last edited by the author on 5 May 2010 13:21:57 BDT
Dawkins and Hitchins have a high public profile and influence people who know, little or nothing about science or religion and deserve challenging for that reason alone. I have a scientific background, like Dawkins, but have to admit that I haven't read 'The God Delusion' because I found 'The Selfish Gene' full of overblown literary rhetoric.

Ultimately neither theism nor atheism can be argued as both require a leap of faith. Science operates on models which are rejected as soon as a better one comes along. Evolution has had a good run, but doesn't either have all the answers or disprove the existence of God. Dawkins is the evangelist for evolution. For me the wonder of creation, even through a modified view of evolution,, together with Herbert McCabe's argument (based on the writings of Thomas Aquinas) that there is something rather than nothing, points to the existence of something outside ourselves. There is so much we don't know that the only position reason can reasonably take is agnosticism. I wonder what makes Dawkins and Hitchins so angry. Much evil has been perpetrated by men in the name of religion but the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches love of ones neighbour and a concern for the poor is not to blame. That brings me back to Eagleton. The first century Christians held their goods in common so I can see where Eagleton, who I admire as a literary critic, is coming from. I look forward to reading this book and his new one, 'Evil'.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Jun 2010 11:31:16 BDT
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In reply to an earlier post on 20 Aug 2010 19:31:32 BDT
SJG says:
William - I rather feel you miss the point. Of course Dawkins is a 'real' scientist (or at least was - I don't know how active he is these days), but Eagleton's charge is that Dawkins fails to use scientific rigour when criticising faith/God etc and rather he uses excessive rhetoric and populist demagogy.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Mar 2011 18:59:03 GMT
Last edited by the author on 6 Mar 2011 18:59:52 GMT
Mr Podmore, how would you go about designing a scientific experiment that would prove your hypothesis that there is something called 'material reality' which exists independently of the deliverances of your own (and everyone else's) brain/mind-derived consciousness? And for seconds, how would you establish (by scientific experiment) that this 'material reality' (whose independent existence you are postulating) is in fact a universe of time/space and causality (like the one our brains/minds show us) and not (for example) a transcendental realm containing a creator God?

Just curious
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