Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Terry Eagleton – Culture and the Death of God

Written by: on June 30, 2014

To summarize and render a text a fairly complete injustice — God’s hard to get rid of.  There you go. Done. Point is that some of the greatest minds and cultural movements have tried really intriguing ways to get rid of God, but…no dice. That is, God might metamorphosize and/or lie dormant for a while, but sooner or later, in one form or another…”Presto! Surprise! God’s still around!”

For me, Eagleton’s engagement of the topic doesn’t appear to really be anything new.  What’s new is that Eagleton – a celebrated socialist/leftist/Marxist – is the one offering the rendition and recognizing that there is an apparently unavoidable conundrum of this sense of “God” continuing to unexpectedly pop-up.  I italicize “God” here because that’s a major part of the point; no one can really seem to box God in appropriately in order to keep God contained.  No matter how it’s gone about, God seems to later sneak back into conversation.

Again, overall, it seems to me that Eagleton offers relatively little new thinking on the matter.  But that’s okay. I really appreciated the broad-ranging historical overview through the so-called modern era (The Enlightenment era) into the so-called post-modern era (“un-Enlightenment” era?) through the lens of philosophical movements and appreciated his quick-pace and quick-wittedness throughout.

It’s a short text and Eagleton covers a lot of ground.  So, people shouldn’t expect to be hand-held through the various figures and movements that are mentioned.  Basically, if you don’t already know much about the movements and figures written about in this text, you won’t come to know about them through this text.  You’ll hear particular aspects of certain movements and certain thinkers’ thoughts within those movements, but you won’t generally be offered an understanding of their interactions with each other — who read and influenced whom, etc.  This makes this a book primarily for those already somewhat in conversation in these arenas.

Basically, the text suggests that people have tried to do away with the direct notion of God in various manners throughout recent history, but that many of the principles that were ensconced in the idea of God seemed important and people wanted to keep such principles, characteristics, attributes, etc.  However, in doing so, inevitably God reappeared like the phoenix out of these vestiges of “Godness.”  Thus, apparently in this case, to mildly misuse a metaphor, where there’s smoke there’s fire.

It seems to me that Eagleton’s book is a lot about a conceptual throwing-in-of-the-towel.  Basically, it’s an offering of why kick against the apparent goads of the universe when instead one can just feint a bit and utilize the principles to further ones previously oriented interests?  So, for instance Eagleton likes the idea of rebirth and solidarity – particularly solidarity with the poor.  The first fits a general idea of personal renewal which gets everyone a bit giddy and the second one suggests potential for cultural renewal from below which is something that Eagleton has been keen on for a long time.  The problem with this is that in many senses, Eagleton is doing in his own way what he writes about being done for centuries – essentially, an attempt to use the forms of religion through various means while denying the very Core of religion.

I do think that there is a fluidity to the understanding of God.  I think that there is a definitional overabundance to God.  God is always more; more than we define, more than we allow, more than…etc.  However, I also think that God is more than simply/solely a vacuous metaphorical literary concept waiting to be filled with largely random meaning which we can bat about willy-nilly.  To do only this, does an injustice to the original texts and loses touch with the historical-contextual realities in which the texts arose.  There are a never-ending supply of textual permutations and connotations to consider and reconsider that will offer us new understandings which we will go forth and offer testimony to and apply as we continue forward on our journeys.  However, to further delineate my point, allow me to be so brash as to use a modernistic quote from C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity that in my mind still bears some consideration these many years on now into our postmodern milieu.  The quote diverges a bit from our overarching 30,000 foot discussion of God to the more specific discussion of God as Jesus,

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

That is, there are certainly ongoing metaphoric extrapolations to be made from the text, but there is a Core (at least within Christianity) which cannot be simply dismissed with a literary wave.  And arguably, through all of the different methods and forms, it is this God that turned-up in the unexpected form of Jesus Christ that continues to show-up beyond the allowances of our variously defined conceptual parameters even today.  The principles continue to work because there’s a Principle upholding them.  The name of the Principle that is a Person is Love.

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Clint Baldwin

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