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Eagleton’s phoenix, God.

Written by: on June 26, 2014

In “Culture and the Death of God,” Terry Eagleton takes us on a fast interesting train through the variety of philosophies found in the eras of the Enlightenment, Idealism, Romanticism, Modernism, and Post-Modernism.  He specifically discusses the topic of the Judeo-Christian God and the atheistic strivings that only helped morph God into other forms and keep God alive and well.  For this writing I’ve picked a few choice quotes from his book to discuss.

“The God of Scripture has the distinct advantage of being in some sense personal, whereas Reason is distinctly un-godlike in its impersonal hauteur. As Edmund Burke suggests of our attitude to the law, we may revere such an authority, but it is hard to love it. Reason cannot offer us ecstatic fulfilment, a sense of community or wipe away the tears of those who mourn.” (pp. 33-34).

“The kind of morality Price has in his sights can stir men and women to action, but it is perilously reliant on sentiment, intuition or moral sense. By contrast, a morality based on Reason is solidly founded, but lacks the power to motivate.”(p. 41).

“Moreover, if Reason signifies the rational design of the universe, then there is no compelling argument as to why one should obey it in the sense of living in conformity with this order, as Friedrich Nietzsche was later to point out.”(p. 42)

These quotes are interesting to me in light of discussions I’ve had with some of my friends who are atheists.  Reason, for them, is the “God” of meaning and morality.  However, as Eagleton points out, it lacks the ability to console and dry tears, motivate, or inspire obedience.  Reason alone, therefore, becomes for many in the postmodern generations, just another deconstructed opinion.  And one that does not offer warmth or love.  Although it offered an escape from superstition it also did not replace a personal God.

“To banish him to the periphery of his own cosmos is to treat him as largely dispensable, but also to deepen his mystery. Reason extended too far can thus end up undoing itself.“ (p. 34)

This quote reminded me of one of my Twitter tweets.  “In their atheism they crave magic.”  Many of my young college students would label themselves agnostic or atheist but are deeply intrigued and involved (through games, books, movies, and art) in the supernatural worlds of angels, demons, and animated magical beings.  With the “new Atheist” movement there seems to be a longing and interesting devotion to ancient and fantasy gods and goddesses.  As Eagleton demonstrates, for these young atheists God has not died, God is found in different forms.

“For orthodox Christianity, God is the ground of all being, the condition of possibility of anything at all, so that to fall out of his hands would be to fall out of existence. Yet since he is unconditional freedom, humanity’s dependence on him, which is what is meant by its createdness, is what allows it to be fully itself. God is the source of human freedom and autonomy, not what suppresses them. It is through the dependency of grace that men and women achieve their self-determination, as they do through their dependency on language and culture.” (p. 49)

This idea is sort of haunting to me, especially the part about “falling out of existence.”  It is true, for me God is All, so to think about not being inside the All would make me question my own existence.  So, as I write this post, late at night, I won’t be contemplating this idea any further; and just rest in the arms of the Creator and know that I do exist.

“What Nietzsche recognises is that you can get rid of God only if you also do away with innate meaning. The Almighty can survive tragedy, but not absurdity. As long as there appears to be some immanent sense to things, one can always inquire after the source from which it springs.” (p. 155)

What, then, is meaning?  Some might suggest it is only association.  But there must be an original something to give rise to the comparisons and adjectives needed for association.  Therefore, to say there is no meaning to anything, which is absurd, might possibly be the only way one might argue against the existence of God.  But, of course, one would have to bury one’s own belief in his/her existence as well.

One thing that makes this book fun to read is Eagleton’s sporadically placed humor.  His statement regarding Alain de Botton made me laugh.  “A committed atheist like himself, de Botton argues, can therefore still find religion ‘sporadically interesting, useful and consoling’, which makes it sound rather like rustling up a soufflé when you are feeling low. (p. 205)

Although Eagleton doesn’t seem to state his own stance on the topic of God, his final sentence reveals something of his opinion on religion and culture.  He explains, “What it (the New Testament) adds to common-or-garden morality is not some supernatural support, but the grossly inconvenient news that our forms of life must undergo radical dissolution if they are to be reborn as just and compassionate communities. The sign of that dissolution is a solidarity with the poor and powerless. It is here that a new configuration of faith, culture and politics might be born.
(p. 208)

Overall, I enjoyed this book very much and the style in which it is written.  It is a concise, interesting and often humorous ride through the writings and ideas of the philosophers who have shaped Western thinking.  Its main thread of analysis regarding the existence and essence of God provides a unique perspective into these philosophies. Ultimately, Eagleton has revealed that God is a phoenix, rising again and again from the ashes of human reason and historical cultural ages of doubt and faith.

Eagleton, Terry (2014-02-01). Culture and the Death of God. Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

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Sharenda Roam

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