I have commented on “Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion” in an earlier post. Considering the number of faithful in the various monotheistic religions, it is to be expected that his book will be violently opposed by many. We can only hope that it will not have the consequences which the Satanic Verses of Salmon Rushdie had. Here I present extracts from a review of Dawkins’ book by Terry Eagleton, John Edward Taylor Professor of English Literature at Manchester University. According to the Wikipedia Encyclopedia, “He began his career studying the literature of the 19th and 20th centuries. Then he switched to Marxist literary theory in the vein of Williams. More recently Eagleton has integrated cultural studies with more traditional literary theory. He was, during the 1960s, involved in the left-wing Catholic group Slant and authored a number of theological articles as well as a book Towards a New Left Theology. His most recent publications have suggested a renewed interest in theological themes. Another significant theoretical influence on Eagleton is psychoanalysis.” His latest book is How to Read a Poem. The review was published in the London Review of Books Vol. 28 No. 20, 19 October 2006, and is titled Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.
Here are some extracts of the review. I leave judgement to the readers, but include some comments by me in parantheses and bold.
“God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.
This, not some super-manufacturing, is what is traditionally meant by the claim that God is Creator. He is what sustains all things in being by his love; and this would still be the case even if the universe had no beginning. To say that he brought it into being ex nihilo is not a measure of how very clever he is, but to suggest that he did it out of love rather than need.” (I certainly always thought that a personal God in monotheistic religions is one who created the world and maintains it. If not, what then is the difference between pantheism and monotheism? I certainly would be very sympathetic to pantheistic views. Is, what Eagerton says here, really the view of the Pope and Catholicism, or is it the view perhaps of a small group of “leftwing” catholics? And is it really acceptable in theology to claim that “God does not in fact exist”? That seems to me atheism or perhaps better theological homeopathy: God is so diluted that she does not exist anymore.)
“God is an artist who did it for the sheer love or hell of it, not a scientist at work on a magnificently rational design that will impress his research grant body no end.” (?????)
“Nor does he (Richard Dawkins) understand that because God is transcendent of us (which is another way of saying that he did not have to bring us about), he is free of any neurotic need for us and wants simply to be allowed to love us. Dawkins’s God, by contrast, is Satanic. Satan (‘accuser’ in Hebrew) is the misrecognition of God as Big Daddy and punitive judge, and Dawkins’s God is precisely such a repulsive superego.”
“Dawkins thinks it odd that Christians don’t look eagerly forward to death, given that they will thereby be ushered into paradise. He does not see that Christianity, like most religious faiths, values human life deeply, which is why the martyr differs from the suicide.”
“The Christian faith holds that those who are able to look on the crucifixion and live, to accept that the traumatic truth of human history is a tortured body, might just have a chance of new life – but only by virtue of an unimaginable transformation in our currently dire condition. This is known as the resurrection. Those who don’t see this dreadful image of a mutilated innocent as the truth of history are likely to be devotees of that bright-eyed superstition known as infinite human progress, for which Dawkins is a full-blooded apologist. Or they might be well-intentioned reformers or social democrats, which from a Christian standpoint simply isn’t radical enough.
The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you. Here, then, is your pie in the sky and opium of the people. It was, of course, Marx who coined that last phrase; but Marx, who in the same passage describes religion as the ‘heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions’, was rather more judicious and dialectical in his judgment on it than the lunging, flailing, mispunching Dawkins.”
“The mainstream theology I have just outlined may well not be true; but anyone who holds it is in my view to be respected, whereas Dawkins considers that no religious belief, anytime or anywhere, is worthy of any respect whatsoever.”
“On the horrors that science and technology have wreaked on humanity, he is predictably silent. Yet the Apocalypse is far more likely to be the product of them than the work of religion. Swap you the Inquisition for chemical warfare.” (Are these horrors really due to science and technology, or are they the result of economic conditions, colonisation, perhaps religious misconceptions, etc.? Certainly one cannot blame the invention of fire for the burning of witches and the inquisition).
“He is like a man who equates socialism with the Gulag. Like the puritan and sex, Dawkins sees God everywhere, even where he is self-evidently absent. He thinks, for example, that the ethno-political conflict in Northern Ireland would evaporate if religion did, which to someone like me, who lives there part of the time, betrays just how little he knows about it.” (Yes, I agree with this and pointed this out in my earlier post. Overemphasis on religion, ignoring economic, social and other aspects may not be helpful and sometimes even dangerous).
“These are not just the views of an enraged atheist. They are the opinions of a readily identifiable kind of English middle-class liberal rationalist. Reading Dawkins, who occasionally writes as though ‘Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness’ is a mighty funny way to describe a Grecian urn, one can be reasonably certain that he would not be Europe’s greatest enthusiast for Foucault, psychoanalysis, agitprop, Dadaism, anarchism or separatist feminism. All of these phenomena, one imagines, would be as distasteful to his brisk, bloodless rationality as the virgin birth. Yet one can of course be an atheist and a fervent fan of them all. His God-hating, then, is by no means simply the view of a scientist admirably cleansed of prejudice. It belongs to a specific cultural context. One would not expect to muster many votes for either anarchism or the virgin birth in North Oxford.” (I cannot comment on this, having no firsthand experience of the cultural context).
“There is a very English brand of common sense that believes mostly in what it can touch, weigh and taste, and The God Delusion springs from, among other places, that particular stable. At its most philistine and provincial, it makes Dick Cheney sound like Thomas Mann. The secular Ten Commandments that Dawkins commends to us, one of which advises us to enjoy our sex lives so long as they don’t damage others, are for the most part liberal platitudes. Dawkins quite rightly detests fundamentalists; but as far as I know his anti-religious diatribes have never been matched in his work by a critique of the global capitalism that generates the hatred, anxiety, insecurity and sense of humiliation that breed fundamentalism. Instead, as the obtuse media chatter has it, it’s all down to religion. (Yes, I agree in part: Dawkins has ignored the economic and social causes of much of the problems, which may often be more important than religion: see my earlier post).
“Dawkins tends to see religion and fundamentalist religion as one and the same. This is not only grotesquely false; it is also a device to outflank any more reflective kind of faith by implying that it belongs to the coterie and not to the mass. The huge numbers of believers who hold something like the theology I outlined above can thus be conveniently lumped with rednecks who murder abortionists and malign homosexuals. As far as such outrages go, however, The God Delusion does a very fine job indeed. The two most deadly texts on the planet, apart perhaps from Donald Rumsfeld’s emails, are the Bible and the Koran; and Dawkins, as one the best of liberals as well as one of the worst, has done a magnificent job over the years of speaking out against that particular strain of psychopathology known as fundamentalism, whether Texan or Taliban. He is right to repudiate the brand of mealy-mouthed liberalism which believes that one has to respect other people’s silly or obnoxious ideas just because they are other people’s.”
(In summary, I think that some of the criticism of Eagleton are quite justified, but some of the main points, such as, what or who is God, seem to me fairly obscure. As a scientist, I am more impressed by the logical and clear exposition of Richard Dawkins. And what about the many horrible events in history and now that were really entirely or largely due to religion? No word on these by Eagleton. – One main point made by Eagleton is that Dawkins is ignorant of much of Christian theology and nuances within it, and should therefore keep quiet about it. Does one really have to be a theologian to comment on the principles of a religion? If we accept Eagleton’s requirement, we would have to abolish all critical comments on anything except our own narrow field of expertise, i.e., leave everything to the experts. I believe this would be a disaster, because it would open the door to suppressing all opinions that are not considered to conform to what a self appointed “elite” thinks is true. We would probably still be in the dark ages, if a few dissidents had not established new versions of the “truth” against the “experts” of the time).