Terry Eagleton takes on the revival of religion as a force in the 21st century, as manifested by the New Atheism and Islamic fundamentalism.
Advanced capitalism is inherently agnostic. It looks particularly flaccid when its paucity of belief runs up against an excess of the stuff-not only abroad, but domestically too, in the form of various homegrown fundamentalisms. Modern market societies tend to be secular, relativist, pragmatic, and materialistic, qualities that undermine the metaphysical values on which political authority in part depends. And yet capitalism cannot easily dispense with those metaphysical values, even though it has difficulty taking them seriously. (As President Dwight Eisenhower once announced, channeling Groucho Marx, “Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious belief — and I don’t care what it is.”) Religious faith in this view is both vital and vacuous. God is ritually invoked on American political platforms, but it would not do to raise him in a committee meeting of the World Bank. In the United States, ideologues of the religious Right, aware of the market’s tendency to oust metaphysics, sought to put those values back in place. Thus does postmodern relativism breed a redneck fundamentalism; those who believe very little rub shoulders with those ready to believe almost anything. With the advent of Islamist terrorism, these contradictions have been dramatically sharpened. It is now more than ever necessary that the people should believe, even as the Western way of life deprives them of much incentive for doing so.