More on that Eagleton review. I have my doubts about other parts of it.
For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief.
Well, for one thing, that depends how you define mainstream Christianity (and I’m not too sure about that ‘always,’ either, in fact I think it’s wrong – for most of mainstream Christianity’s history, honest doubt has damn well not played an integral role, but led straight to the nice hot bonfire). For another thing, it could be seen as a contradiction to say that doubt plays an integral role in belief. For another thing, Eagleton doesn’t do a great job of modelling honest doubt himself.
He is what sustains all things in being by his love; and this would still be the case even if the universe had no beginning…The Creation is the original acte gratuit. God is an artist who did it for the sheer love or hell of it, not a scientist at work on a magnificently rational design that will impress his research grant body no end. Because the universe is God’s, it shares in his life, which is the life of freedom.
How does he know? Where is the honest doubt in all this?
And what does he mean? There’s a lot of it that I can’t make head or tail of. It scans, it makes grammatical sense, but I cannot figure out what it’s saying. Maybe I’m thick. Or maybe there’s no head or tail to be made.
Dawkins holds that the existence or non-existence of God is a scientific hypothesis which is open to rational demonstration. Christianity teaches that to claim that there is a God must be reasonable, but that this is not at all the same thing as faith. Believing in God, whatever Dawkins might think, is not like concluding that aliens or the tooth fairy exist. God is not a celestial super-object or divine UFO, about whose existence we must remain agnostic until all the evidence is in. Theologians do not believe that he is either inside or outside the universe, as Dawkins thinks they do. His transcendence and invisibility are part of what he is, which is not the case with the Loch Ness monster.
What does all that mean? Why is believing in God not like concluding that aliens or the tooth fairy exist? Why is God not a celestial super-object? And what on earth does it mean to say that theologians do not believe that he is either inside or outside the universe? And the bit about transcendence and invisibility? I’m lost. It all seems like pure blather – grand words that fail to refer to anything.
He asks how this chap [meaning God] can speak to billions of people simultaneously, which is rather like wondering why, if Tony Blair is an octopus, he has only two arms.
For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing.
Except that ‘he’ (who is not a person, remember – yet ‘he’ does have a gender) is not the answer, because that’s not an answer. It’s just a lot of declaration, most of it incomprehensible.
After that he gets onto Jesus, and that part is much better. Jesus is compelling, and Eagleton puts the rhetoric to better use there. There’s one thing though –
On the horrors that science and technology have wreaked on humanity, he is predictably silent. Yet the Apocalypse is far more likely to be the product of them than the work of religion. Swap you the Inquisition for chemical warfare.
No, what’s really far more likely is that it will be both. It will be Islamists offing Musharref and taking over Pakistan – and bye bye misbelievers.
Dawkins, as one the best of liberals as well as one of the worst, has done a magnificent job over the years of speaking out against that particular strain of psychopathology known as fundamentalism, whether Texan or Taliban. He is right to repudiate the brand of mealy-mouthed liberalism which believes that one has to respect other people’s silly or obnoxious ideas just because they are other people’s. In its admirably angry way, The God Delusion argues that the status of atheists in the US is nowadays about the same as that of gays fifty years ago.
But he overplayed his hand, Eagleton ends up. He’s clear enough once he leaves God behind.