Terry Eagleton

Christian Socialism

Christian socialism is all the rage. Bonhoeffer is the new black – cited by everyone from K-Rudd to Greens candidates… to Terry Eagleton. Terry Eagleton is the guy who wrote “that review” of the God Delusion – that took Dawkins and co for task for failing to understand theology when dismissing Christianity. He says they’re dismissing a caricature – they say the caricature is ok because they’re rejecting the fundamental premise that faith is based on.

This has caused a bit of a philosophical stink amongst friends in Britain’s intellectual circles. Eagleton is a Marxist with a Catholic background. He used to be a drinking buddy of Christopher Hitchens (another angry atheist). He’s got more in common with the writer of this interesting little interview from the New Humanist than he has differences. It’s worth a read. If only for these two quotes:

“Listen. If Dawkins has emancipated people, freed them from the religious closet as it were, then all credit to him. Loath as I might be to compare Dawkins to Jesus Christ, in this he resembles the heroic figure in the New Testament who comes to sweep away all the fetishism and sickness and cynicism of the neurotic religionists.”

In a sense, Dawkins is the opiate for the religious masses…

You want to save Christianity from the Christians?

“Yes, I quote my father who insisted that Jesus Christ was a socialist and that any Christianity that is not on the side of the dispossessed against the arrogance of the powerful and rich is utterly untraditional. Dawkins and Hitchens write about Christianity and never link the words God, justice and love. That is either a sign of their obtuseness or a sign of the massive self-betrayal of the Christian movement. It has got to the point where intelligent people like them don’t understand that Christianity is not about how many months you get in purgatory for adultery. It’s about a love and a thirst for justice that will bring you to your death. There’s nothing lovely about it.”

So, was Jesus a Marxist? Has the church got it so badly wrong that people need rescuing at the hands of someone like Dawkins?

I think Eagleton’s definition of Christianity is skewed – but it’s probably a useful thought for pulling people away from bible belt conservatism.

One of the central tenants of humanism is that humanity can basically “save itself” – that left to our own devices, and without nasty people causing trouble, humanity will move in a positive trajectory.

Reasonable doubt

Terry Eagleton is a former Catholic Marxist philosopher and academic who wrote a great critique of the God Delusion that even had die hard atheists (eg Jack Marx who at the time was blogging for the SMH and is now at News Ltd) pondering their positions.

He’s now got a book out – called Reason, Faith and Revolution – and it has been reviewed by a NY Times blogger.

While his own take on the book suggests he’s by no means sold on Christianity himself:

“I do not invite such readers to believe in these ideas, any more than I myself in the archangel Gabriel, the infallibility of the pope, the idea that Jesus walked on water, or the claim that he rose up into heaven before the eyes of his disciples.”

And he’s not a fan of “institutionalised religion” which comes in for a pretty stinging rebuke (according to the cover note). Instead he’s trying to empower the left by presenting Christianity as a solid option. So, while offering up the standard criticism of Dawkin’s insistence that religion and science are incompatible he tackles the issue from a social perspective too, here’s a passage from the review (which is worth a read):

“The language of enlightenment has been hijacked in the name of corporate greed, the police state, a politically compromised science, and a permanent war economy,” all in the service, Eagleton contends, of an empty suburbanism that produces ever more things without any care as to whether or not the things produced have true value.

And as for the vaunted triumph of liberalism, what about “the misery wreaked by racism and sexism, the sordid history of colonialism and imperialism, the generation of poverty and famine”? Only by ignoring all this and much more can the claim of human progress at the end of history be maintained: “If ever there was a pious myth and a piece of credulous superstition, it is the liberal-rationalist belief that, a few hiccups apart, we are all steadily en route to a finer world.”

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