eagleton on religion

Terry Eagleton takes on the revival of religion as a force in the 21st century, as manifested by the New Atheism and Islamic fundamentalism.

An excerpt:

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.

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2 responses to “eagleton on religion

  1. Eisenhower’s indifference (and that of others in liberal Protestantism) to what is believed, has itself contributed to the loss of faith that is proving so destructive. You can’t vaguely say that it is healthy to believe in something hazy, while at the same time dismissing those with a vibrant faith as believing in “redneck fundamentalism.” Life changing faith is too frightening for those smothered in comfortable materialism, so they can’t help but make fun of it (and yes, some practitioners give them plenty of ammunition) even as they mentally acknowledge that something akin to it is needed.

    By the way, did you get my email? God bless

  2. I think you’re right. If I’ve taken away anything from my Historical Theology course this semester it has been a strong aversion to liberal Protestantism’s sellout to culture and its squeamishness toward serious belief. And, on another note, I’m beginning to understand the origin of all of those tracts I saw growing up that opposed the notion of “attending the church of your choice.” It’s a really vacuous idea, and needed to be opposed, I think.

    And, yes, I did get your email. I’m sorry for my delay in responding. It’s a combination of needing some time to process the email (there’s alot to chew on in there) and being really busy (I’m near the end of my semester — in fact, I’m writing a paper for JMH this week). I do have lots of questions though. So if you don’t mind a series of short emails, I’ll probably start with those in the next couple of days as a way to keep all my questions manageable and “bite-sized.”

    Thanks, brother.

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