Terry Eagleton on atheism

As people reading this blog would know, I’m no fan of Richard Dawkins writings on God.

However, having seen this video, I have to admit to preferring Dawkins to this guy, whose attack on the four horsemen of militant atheism I broadly agree with. On top of his superior manner, it turns out Terry Eagleton tells lots of jokes that aren’t funny and then ends up bitterly disappointed with his audience for not laughing. Terry – don’t shoot the messenger. Still I found the content of his lecture of interest. Some Troppodillians may, though not those holding fast to what Eagleton calls “the Yeti theory of God”

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desipis
8 years ago

Interesting lecture. I actually appreciated some of his amusing points (I’m not quite sure I’d call them jokes). However, he did seem to exude a disconcerting amount of haughtiness.

As for the content, I’m not quite sure how Eagleton differentiates philosophy from theology. Nor do I see how the existence or importance of morals, ethics or philosophy in general undermines the main thrust of Dawkins’ point of view.

desipis
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Gruen

That’s pretty obvious. Time to move on.

I think the pervasivity of the people who don’t find it obvious is reason enough for not moving on.

Can you articulate an alternative theory of god that justifies the adherence to scripture, ritual and authoritarian religious institutions?

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago

The funny thing about ‘dawkins’ on ‘god’ is that his view of ‘god’ is so closely aligned to the view of fundamentalists on ‘god’ .
And this is the rub: The one thing that unifies almost all fundamentalists is that they know very little (if anything) of mainstream religious thinking, at all.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago

one last thing, this will do for me:

My own preferred image of God comes from Dante. At the end of the “Paradiso,” Dante the pilgrim has at last ascended to the Empyrean and is vouchsafed a vision of God, who is not the white-bearded figure of iconography. As often throughout the last canticle of his Comedy, Dante stresses that what he witnessed “was greater than speech can show.” Everything he can say of his vision is but an approximation, a translation of the ineffable into human terms. With this qualification in place, Dante describes God as an infinitely transparent point of light, conflating “substances and accidents and their modes … in such a way that what I describe is a simple light,” where goodness is gathered. “And what is perfect there falls short elsewhere.”

Michael Robbins

David Walker
David Walker
8 years ago

Nick, I’d be interested to know: if one thinks that an all-powerful creator being is unlikely to exist, and that if he exists he is unlikely to be the source of all moral truth, and that if he exists and is the source of moral truth then he is probably not any of the currently popular worldly gods … if you believe all that, what should you say about it and in what circumstances?

As far as I can make out, Eagleton’s alternative to the Yeti Theory Of God is a stew of socio-political and literary observations that avoid engaging with the issue front-on, while not resembling in any way the religious views that most people actually hold. You see him here and elsewhere deriding this theory and then suddenly sliding away into side-points about Hollywood aliens and Whiggism and Californian new-ageism – and just occasionally demanding that non-believers engage with his nuanced and sophisticated version of Christianity rather than the “naive” popular version which most people actually believe in and which in its more vigorous versions is actually impacting on non-believers.

I’d also note that “militant atheism” can be readily distinguished from “militant Christianity” or “militant Islam” or for that matter “militant communism” by its lack of willingness to actually take up arms. Given that fact, the phrase “militant atheism” seems just an attempt to distort and slur.

(Eagleton can be much funnier in print, as readers of the first chapter of his “The Illusions of Postmodernism” will know.)

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago
Reply to  David Walker

I asked our priest what did she thing of god as a bearded yeti, her response was:
“The iconoclast in me wants to draw rude graffiti over all white-bearded God iconography!”

David Walker
David Walker
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Gruen

Nick, if I have this right, you think that religion is chiefly significant as a repository of ideas and literature, and that God is in some sense an artefact of that repository. This seems fine to me in a conceptual sense, but poses the communication problem that it is a long way from what most people think of religion as being.

By the way, I’d be genuinely interested to know whether you can think of anything for which, in your terms, it is true that we have the foggiest clue what it really is.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago
Reply to  David Walker

nick
‘it’ first came to me when I was seven, it is a visceral reality, lived experience , not some theoretical explanation.
For a long time I thought I was a bit odd, then I discovered it is a lived experience that underlies the faithful of many faiths .
This is from a very ancient song that can be sung by just about anybody of faith

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.

Mike Pepperday
Mike Pepperday
8 years ago

I think the essence of religion is prayer. (If there are religions without prayer, they are outside my purview.) On that basis, it seems to me religion is unavoidable.

If we don’t have some feeling of being in control, we cannot live. Voodoo death and the death of prisoners of war who “lose heart” are evidence. Animals that are convinced by an experimenter that they have no control over outcomes actually lose real control over outcomes. If we do have a feeling of control we cope better; this is the concept of morale.

Humans are aware of important influences that other creatures are not: the weather, the volcano, the harvest, sickness, death, and more. How not to go round the bend? Spells and prayer are the only possibilities. If you have a sick child and you pray to a god and the child gets better you will believe. And a god with that power is worthy of worship. If your child was healed by a shaman’s spell, you will honour the shaman.

So religion, as a means of controlling the uncontrollable, is inevitable.

Where other means of controlling one’s environment are available—science—religion and spells must lose force.

John walker
John walker
8 years ago
Reply to  Mike Pepperday

“Now these three remain:faith ,hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.