Sunday, April 19, 2009

Theology holds the key

With Hat-tip to Arts and Letters Daily, this excerpt from a larger essay by Terry Eagleton published in Commonweal makes interesting reading in the face of the New Atheism's assault on religion:

"In theology nowadays, one can find some of the most informed and animated discussions of Deleuze and Badiou, Foucault and feminism, Marx and Heidegger. That is not entirely surprising, since theology, however implausible many of its truth claims, is one of the most ambitious theoretical arenas left in an increasingly specialized world-one whose subject is nothing less than the nature and transcendental destiny of humanity itself. These are not issues easily raised in analytic philosophy or political science. Theology’s remoteness from pragmatic questions is an advantage in this respect.

We find ourselves, then, in a most curious situation. In a world in which theology is increasingly part of the problem, it is also fostering the kind of critical reflection which might contribute to some of the answers. There are lessons that the secular Left can learn from religion, for all its atrocities and absurdities; and the Left is not so flush with ideas that it can afford to look such a gift horse in the mouth. But will either side listen to the other at present? Will Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins read this and experience an epiphany that puts the road to Damascus in the shade? To use two theological terms by way of response: not a hope in hell. Positions are too entrenched to permit such a dialogue. Mutual understanding cannot happen just anywhere, as some liberals tend to suppose. It requires its material conditions. And it seems unlikely these will emerge as long as the so-called war on terror continues to run its course.

The distinction between Hitchens or Dawkins and those like myself comes down in the end to one between liberal humanism and tragic humanism. There are those who hold that if we can only shake off a poisonous legacy of myth and superstition, we can be free. Such a hope in my own view is itself a myth, though a generous-spirited one. Tragic humanism shares liberal humanism’s vision of the free flourishing of humanity, but holds that attaining it is possible only by confronting the very worst. The only affirmation of humanity ultimately worth having is one that, like the disillusioned post-Restoration Milton, seriously wonders whether humanity is worth saving in the first place, and understands Swift’s king of Brobdingnag with his vision of the human species as an odious race of vermin. Tragic humanism, whether in its socialist, Christian, or psychoanalytic varieties, holds that only by a process of self-dispossession and radical remaking can humanity come into its own. There are no guarantees that such a transfigured future will ever be born. But it might arrive a little earlier if liberal dogmatists, doctrinaire flag-wavers for Progress, and Islamophobic intellectuals got out of its way."


Anonymous said...

Actually, Peter, Hitchens recently debated 4 Christian apologists in this video link:

and then one of them, William Lane Craig on April 4 at Biola U. The DVD is not yet out but details are on the above site. Craig came to NZ last year. With a doctorate in religious philosophy and a NT Habilitationsschrift done under Pannenberg, he knows a thing or two, & faults Hitchens for being rhetorical rather than analytical. (Of course it's very pomo to be rhetorical rather than logical, but as I always say, I wouldn't want to fly on a plane whose design team was chosen principally on the grounds of their cultural diversity.)

Do your students at Bishopsdale have to learn some apologetics? I believe bright congregations do respond to this stuff when it's presented engagingly. I know a lot of middle class educated Christians in the professions who are a bit tired of charismstic boosterism in sermons. The way to such people's hearts is often through their heads.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
Thanks for these 'hat-tips'.
(I have heard of William Lane Craig but am not yet familiar with his writings).
Re apologetics and Bishopdale - I am not sure about that: a compulsory course (as for all Laidlaw College students from now on) is 'worldviews' (which I do not teach) but which may include apologetics.