Morris Zapp has gone downhill

Stanley Fish is moved to let us know that he is just as woolly and assertive and bad-mannered and rhetorical as Terry Eagleton and Mark Vernon and Madeleine Bunting and the rest of the ‘new atheists are bad‘ crowd.

[T]he British critic Terry Eagleton asks, “Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God?” His answer, elaborated in prose that is alternately witty, scabrous and angry, is that the other candidates for guidance — science, reason, liberalism, capitalism — just don’t deliver what is ultimately needed.

Eh? ‘Other candidates’ than what? Other than Eagleton? Those are our choices – Eagleton on the one hand and science, reason, liberalism, capitalism on the other? Why? How? Who says?

Perhaps Fish means ‘other candidates’ than literary criticism, and we’re supposed to be able to figure that out via the word ‘critic’ in front of ‘Terry Eagleton’ – but ‘critic’ could mean restaurant critic, movie critic, dance critic – it could mean a lot of things, and in any case, it’s far from obvious that we’re supposed to understand Terry Eagleton as standing for the entire genre of literary critics. In short, that’s a bit of remarkably slovenly careless lazy writing, and it’s the opener for an attack on – you’ll never guess – the ‘new’ atheists. An opener as sloppy as that doesn’t bode well for the care and intelligence of the rest – and the rest is indeed surprisingly crappy stuff.

Fish goes on to say that Eagleton admits religion is flawed but ‘at least religion is trying for something more than local satisfactions, for its “subject is nothing less than the nature and destiny of humanity itself…”

The other projects, he concedes, provide various comforts and pleasures, but they are finally superficial and tend to the perpetuation of the status quo rather than to meaningful change: “A society of packaged fulfillment, administered desire, managerialized politics and consumerist economics is unlikely to cut to the depth where theological questions can ever be properly raised.”

Again, already, the sloppiness makes it hard to tell exactly what is being claimed, but it seems to be that religion alone is trying for something more than local satisfactions and that religion alone takes the nature of humanity for its subject, and all other projects are finally superficial and are merely about consumerism. That suggestion is so obviously stupid I can’t be bothered to say why it’s stupid – I don’t think anyone who reads this needs to be told.

By theological questions, Eagleton means questions like, “Why is there anything in the first place?”, “Why what we do have is actually intelligible to us?” and “Where do our notions of explanation, regularity and intelligibility come from?” The fact that science, liberal rationalism and economic calculation can not ask — never mind answer — such questions should not be held against them, for that is not what they do.

So that is what he’s claiming – on the one hand there are theological questions, which are alone able to ask ‘why is there something rather than nothing’ and related questions, and then there are ‘science, liberal rationalism and economic calculation’ which are all much of a muchness and which can’t ask ‘ ‘why is there something rather than nothing.’ Further, the interpolated ‘never mind answer’ implies that ‘theological questions’ can answer – without of course offering any actual examples of such ‘answers.’

This is lamentable stuff.

On and on it goes – sneers at progress, liberalism and enlightenment, sneers at cures for diseases, sneers at technology, much use of the word ‘Ditchkins,’ and finishing up with a triumphant blast at ‘the shallow arguments of school-yard atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins.’

It is so hard not to wish both of them suddenly transported to a place bereft of progress, liberalism and enlightenment – the Swat valley would be just the ticket – and see how they like it.

That’s not a nice thing to say, it’s even a bit schoolyardy, but I am so sick of smug prosperous safe comfortable pale men urinating all over progress, liberalism and enlightenment while desperate threatened terrified women would weep scalding tears of joy and deliverance to get just a taste of some. I am so sick of safe prosperous men who are never, ever going to be grabbed on the street and whipped, or shot in the back, or locked up in their houses, or married off to some abusive bully, going on and on and on and on about how much they hate progress, liberalism and enlightenment.

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