Culture and the Death of God by Terry Eagleton is an academic world-wind history of the 300-year funeral for God and the search to replace the idea of God with something else. It’s a project that Eagleton argues has failed and will continue to fail. What’s fascinating to me is that one wouldn’t think of Eagleton as a defender of God. After all he wrote, “Why Marx Was Right,” and most people don’t generally associate a defender of Marx to also be a defender of God.
As I’ve thought about Eagleton’s thesis (and also Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age”), I’ve pondered why a ‘Godless society’ doesn’t make sense and why I don’t think it can survive on its on merit, but only as a parasite that draws from the ethos and morals of another ideology, one where God does exist. I do not mean these thoughts to be a defense of Christianity, but more of religion in General. Which religion is ‘right’ is a debate for another day.
Without God there is nothing that calls one to greatness or even goodness. I have a friend who’s an atheist and he isn’t afraid to tell you about this view of God. I would call him a friend, but I would also say that he is absorbed with himself and is cynical about anything related to other people. More often than not you hear words of criticism and disdain rather than anything that remotely resembles something that is generous or kind towards someone else. In a world where God does not exist, this isn’t only normal, but should also be expected. It might even be something to be proud of. I can’t imagine a world where this person is the standard or norm, someone that our children are supposed to look up to. Now I know people will say that there are just as many people in ‘X’ religion that act the same way, and I would absolutely agree that those people exist. I also fully acknowledge the worst that religion has done. BUT, most faith traditions would argue that that kind of self-absorbed ideological framework isn’t okay and would seek to transform that person into something else (and have systems and institutions that do so). Many might also argue that there are lots of ‘good people’ that are atheist and I would agree. But, I think those ‘good atheists’ have been influenced by a broader culture that has shaped and formed them even if they don’t’ know it, or won’t acknowledge it. Imagine what would happen if we all agreed to stop believing in God tomorrow, the next 40 years might not be so bad because we have this cultural and religious inertia that influences our choices and helps create a common life and mentality. But, what happens 200-300 years from now where any notion of God and being the best version of yourself is long gone? We would undoubtedly expect more of a ‘survival of the fittest mentality’ where you each person is the center of the world and looking out for ones own interest is paramount. It would heighten the worst parts of humanity. That’s not a world I desire to live in, there are echoes of it enough for me in our time and place between both atheist and religious people.