God is both p and not-p, okay?

So I’m not the only one who found Terry Eagleton’s review of Dawkins’s book more than slightly incoherent, especially the ‘God is not a person God is not a celestial super-object or divine UFO but then again God is an artist who did it for the sheer love or hell of it God is the condition of possibility’ stuff. Others have had the same reaction. Good. A C Grayling for instance.

Terry Eagleton charges Richard Dawkins with failing to read theology in formulating his objection to religious belief, and thereby misses the point that when one rejects the premises of a set of views, it is a waste of one’s time to address what is built on those premises…Eagleton’s touching foray into theology shows, if proof were needed, that he is no philosopher: God does not have to exist, he informs us, to be the ‘condition of possibility’ for anything else to exist. There follow several paragraphs in the same fanciful and increasingly emetic vein, which indirectly explain why he once thought Derrida should have been awarded an honorary degree at Cambridge.

James Wood for another instance.

One doesn’t need to have Richard Dawkins’s level of certainty to find Terry Eagleton’s Catholic sermon utterly incoherent. On the one hand, according to Eagleton, God is transcendent, invisible, not a principle nor an entity, not even ‘existent’: indeed, ‘in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist.’ This God is neither inside nor outside the universe, but is mysteriously ‘the condition of possibility’. On the other hand, Eagleton just happens to know that this God chose to reveal himself in Jesus Christ, that he created the world ‘out of love rather than need’, and because this act was gratuitous God is ‘an artist who did it for the sheer love or hell of it’.

Well exactly. What I said. How does he know all this? Divine insertion, or what?

Eagleton mocks Dawkins’s mockery of ‘a personal God’ (‘some kind of chap’), but how is this gratuitously loving and unneurotic but possibly rather cross and murderously neurotic modernist artist who speaks to us via Jesus not a personal God? It would not be obnoxious of Richard Dawkins to ask how Eagleton knows these things. The reply, I think, would be threefold: Eagleton was brought up a Catholic and is reverting to his roots; God or Christ has somehow ‘spoken’ to Eagleton at some point in his life; and Eagleton just has ‘faith’ that his assertions are true. These are all forms of irrationality, however understandable or even magnificent we find them, and it is not overweening for rational atheism to expose this irrationality, as it always has done.

I don’t find them magnificent, especially not in the sneering-dogmatic form Eagelton presented them in, and I don’t really even find them all that understandable, coming from someone with Eagleton’s pretensions to insight and general all-round cleverness.

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