In his very philosophical and satirical style, Terry Eagleton attempts to uncover the flaws in modern philosophical thought that have attempted to defame religion, specifically Christianity, in Western culture. His style is very academic; yet he occasionally comes up for air to interpret and relate to a non-academic mind. Eagleton, to his credit, is arguing for an Orthodox Christian faith over the many philosophical and “other gospel” voices that are trying to capture the minds and souls of a twenty-first century populous. I am glad to have a comrade in this ideological world who fights on the side of Orthodox Christian faith since I don’t have the mind to deal with the likes of Nietzsche, Voltaire, Schopenhauer, and the gamut of other thinkers whom Eagleton lists in his narrative.
So what is it that can fulfill the heart and soul of a human being, particularly in this new millennium? Are the answers to be found in Enlightenment thinking (namely, in Reason)? Or might the answers be found in “Idealism,” a mix of spiritual freedom, art, myth, culture, and nationalism? Or might we find solace in the thinking of “Romanticism,” which stresses the benefits of subjective “feelings”? Perhaps “Culture” holds the answers to the big questions of life – but will a culturalized religion meet the eternal and daily longings of humanity? And which culture? Which religion? Which God? These are important questions for thinking people, ones that must eventually be answered in every life, every heart. Is God dead or alive? Perhaps a wanted poster needs to be made that says, “Wanted: God. Dead or Alive.” Perhaps we can have these placed in every post office and every place of worship. I wonder what we would find?
According to Eagleton, Nietzsche was the first real atheist. But Eagleton also points out:
Of course there have been unbelievers in abundance before him [Nietzsche], but it is Nietzsche above all who confronts the terrifying, exhilarating consequences of the death of God. As long as God’s shoes have been fulfilled by Reason, art, culture, Geist, imagination, the nation, the state, humanity, the people, society, morality, or some other specious surrogate, the Supreme Being is not quite dead. He may be mortally sick, but he has delegated his affairs to one envoy or another, part of whose task is to convince men and women that there is no cause for alarm, that business will be conducted as usual despite the absence of the proprietor, and that the acting director is perfectly capable of handling all inquiries.
So is there really such a thing as an atheist? Or are there merely different versions of non-theistic religions? Is Man merely worshipping his own species, or as Eagleton points out, is Man “…a true image of the God he denies, so that only with his disappearance from the earth can the Almighty be truly laid to rest”? So, if God is dead, one needs to ask the question, “Which God is dead?”
Of modern societies who are entrenched in the doctrines of Nietzsche and other secular-oriented thinkers, Eagleton says:
Modern secular societies…have effectively disposed of God but find it morally and politically convenient – even imperative – to behave as though they have not. They do not actually believe in him, but it is still necessary for them to imagine that they do. God is too vital a piece of ideology to be written off, even if it is one that their own profane activities render less and less plausible. There is a performative contradiction between what such civilisations do and what they proclaim that they do. To look at the beliefs embodied in their behaviour, rather than what at what they piously profess, is to recognise that they have no faith in God at all, but it is as though the fact has not yet been brought to their attention.
I found this most interesting, particularly because I have met many secular people, particular my students, but there have been few true atheists among them. Salvoj Zizek asks an import question that is pertinent to this discussion, “We know that God is dead, but does he?” I love Zizek; he meets humans where their feet are as important as their heads!
I think that Eagleton hints at his Orthodoxy all through his text, but he finally “comes out” when strongly stating:
That the death of God involves the death of Man, along with the birth of a new form of humanity, is orthodox Christian doctrine, a fact of which Nietzsche seems not to have been aware. The Incarnation is the place where both God and Man undergo a kind of kenosis or self-humbling, symbolized by the self-dispossession of Christ. Only through the tragic self-emptying can a new humanity hope to emerge. In its solidarity with the outcast and afflicted, the crucifixion is a critique of all hubristic humanism. Only through a confession of loss and failure can the very meaning of power be transfigured in the miracle of the resurrection. The death of God is the life of the iconoclast Jesus, who shatters the idolatrous view of Yahweh as irascible despot and shows him up him instead as vulnerable flesh and blood.
Wow! This description of the Gospel touched my heart deeply. Yes, God died. But he came back from the dead. Yes, humans are part of God, but this is only true through the Incarnation of Christ. Perhaps our poster should more accurately say, “Wanted: God. Dead and Alive.” That would indeed be an accurate description of the true Christian God.
My own faith journey has been one of belief and of disillusionment and doubt. Even as I came into this doctoral program, I wondered if perhaps I was jumping the gun. Another “Christian” institution? Why? Will I fit in? Isn’t it time I got a degree from a secular institution? As I have said in other posts, I do not consider myself to be an Evangelical Christian. There are many reasons for this, but the biggest reason I do not claim these roots any longer is due to experiences of poor Christian role models, particularly with Christian leaders through the years. Frankly, I think, it is too easy to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” And I, at times, have done just that. This is hard to admit, but it is true. As I have read Eagleton, I was reminded that I am solidly a Christian, a believer in Jesus – in beliefs – though not always in behavior. I am amazed how our readings are reaching into my life, my mind, and my soul. This one was no exception. I am grateful for our readings. Thank you, Jason, for including this text at this time.