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Eagleton straw-targets atheist position but offers virtue
on 2 June 2009
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'.