First things first, I felt a lot like Marlin trying to understand the turtle in the movie Finding Nemo, “You’re cute, kid, but I can’t understand a thing you’re saying.” While I recognize the value and need for us to discuss and unpack the differing influences from the Enlightenment and the transition from modernity to post-modernity, I often felt I was a spinning top without a clear point of reference. In other words, I need contextual anchors (or at least illustrations) to stay with the flow. If someone were to ask me if I would recommend this book, my first response would be to become familiar with the key players and influencers in each of the eras Eagleton describes. If one lacks a love of philosophy or cannot draw that fundamental knowledge out of their hat they may feel as I did. This does not mean I do not think Eagleton’s work in Culture and the Death of God is unimportant. No, just the opposite, it is, but I think its audience may be limited to those in philosophy (or DMin programs J), rather than the general public.
As I was reading this week I also found it timely to see an article today (via Twitter of course) from the New York Times Opinion Page on Room for Debate featuring various perspectives on God and Mammon, “Is contemporary capitalism compatible with Christianity values?” Thus far I am not too engaged in this debate having only read James K. A. Smith’s piece on “Steadfast Principles in a Changing World.” However this seemed more than relevant to our reading this week, “Christianity isn’t incompatible with free markets. But it may be incompatible with modern capitalism and its growing inequality and exploitation.” That might seem to overlap just a little with either Idealism or Romanticism as it merged into Modernism? (Maybe?).
If I had to write a quick, short synopsis in no more than 25 words, but in at least 12, I would say: Culture and the Death of God explores different schools of thought that have attempted to steadfastly conquer God but would instead come to their end. (Tada! 25 words). Of course it is not quite that simple. But it is close.
Several things stood out to me as I was reading; they provided connection and points of reference as I was drifting along. We seem to be recognizing (or at least considering) that Christianity has lost its rigor and commitment. Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenged us with cheap grace. Last Sunday’s gospel Lectionary reading was from Matthew 10:24-39. Wrestling with Jesus words in verses 37-39,“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” is simply not easy. Though it may have taken some years after the Enlightenment for the results to be cemented I think we might agree that even though the Enlightenment’s purpose was rooted in a political nature it certainly has contributed to what Eagleton referred to as an effort to “oust a barbarous, benighted faith in favour of a rational, civilized one.”
As is so often the case humans over-correct or we at least emphasize one point at the expense of incapability with the other. Such seems to be the case with Reason. Its neglect of lived experience or culture reduced its impact; Idealists and Romantics tried to avoid. Interestingly there were various places throughout the book where I felt a present attempt within the emerging Christian effort to try to correct Enlightenments strategic efforts. “Linking reason and the sense is the role of the aesthetic.” Return To Our Senses: Re-imagining How We Pray, which engages and acknowledges our senses in prayer, is but one signpost. Are we returning full circle or was there something that the Enlightenment discovered in its efforts to discredit Christianity?
Even though there are some within Christianity that take atheism to the debate platform perhaps we are on another hand discovering that Christianity’s “hand” to play is indeed where our strength lies. “That the death of God involves the death of Man, along with the birth of a new form of humanity is orthodox Christian doctrine … The Incarnation is the place where both God and Man undergo a kind of kenosis or self-humbling, symbolised by the self-dispossession of Christ.”
Truthfully if I am to more fully understand what Eagleton was writing I would need the diligence and motivation that Abraham Lincoln applied in learning complex math. For right now I am challenged enough with the recognition that imagination may just have a place in how we, as the Body of Christ live out Incarnation as witness.
 James K.A. Smith, “Steadfast Principles in a Changing World,” New York Times, June 26, 2014, accessed June 26, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/06/25/has-capitalism-become-incompatible-with-christianity/christian-principles-hold-steady-as-the-system-worsens.
 Christine Sine, Return To Our Senses: Re-imagining How We Pray (Seattle, WA: Mustard Seed Associates, 2012).