03 October 2009

Reason and Faith

In the book, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Pr., 2009), Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton presents a reasonable view in favour of theism. However, in defending a belief in God, Eagleton does not ignore several key ways in which God-followers have not lived in accordance with the basic values taught by their religion. In one perceptive (and scathingly sarcastic) critique, he observes:
Reason . . . has to ground itself in something other than itself to be authentic as reason. If it grounds itself largely in material interests and political dominion, rather than in some kind of loving fidelity or peaceable community, faith and reason will spin apart from each other, becoming those bloodless caricatures of themselves known as fideism and rationalism. There is another sense, too, in which a paucity of faith leads to a surplus of it, which is simply that if the West really did have faith in a gospel of peace, justice, and fellowship, it would presumably not spend so much of its time burning Arab children to death, and thus would not have to worry quite so much about people crashing aircraft into nuclear reactors in the name of Allah. Nor would Muslims who know something about their religious faith consider doing so. There can surely be no doubt that if these values really were to prevail, the world would be a great deal better off. Justice would be brought to bear on the conflict between Palestine and Israel. Humanity would regard itself as exercising stewardship rather than dominion over Nature. War would give way to peace. Forgiveness would mean among other things forgiving the crippling debts which burden poor nations. Mutual responsibility would oust selfish individualism. It is just that, for all this to happen, believers themselves would have to take their own values seriously. And there seems to be fat chance of that (Eagleton, 149-50).
The text of the book, distilled from lectures given in 2008 at Yale University as part of the Terry Lecture Series, is a reply to Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) and Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great). In his discussion, Eagleton insists that the criticisms of these opponents of theism (which he refers to ingenuously--not to say ingeniously--as Ditchkins) are based upon conceptions of God which are not only inaccurate theologically, but indeed quite dated in terms of theological history. In short, Eagleton believes Dawkins and Hitchens to be guilty of a sort of 'straw man' fallacy (among other faults), and to be arguing against a view of God that is itself unreasonable. At the same time, Eagleton insists that Christians have been guilty of ignoring their basic religious values in favour of a popular support for the status quo politically, economically, and environmentally that undercuts the teaching of the Christ they claim to follow.
Although my posts in this blog chiefly concern the business end of educational support for online university students, this particular post is tangential to that discussion. I offer it to my (apparently non-) reading public to give an idea of some of my current reading, and to reveal that I am not just the owner of a small educational business, but a person who has some serious concerns about how we members of communities relate to each other on a personal level and how we relate to the planet that is our home.

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