Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Eagleton and the New Atheists

I've never understood the appeal of Ditchkins and their imitators, the exponents of the New Atheist shock-jockery. Leave aside Richard Dawkins' endearingly hopeless ignorance of the Abrahamic religions and Hitchens' frantic raids on any straw man conjured up by his mind's eye, the better to camouflage his ongoing gallop to the right. Leave aside the fact that our aging iconoclasts fail to appreciate the heroism of those persecuted for their faith from the Maccabees to Bishop John Han Dingxiang, or how these magnificent examples of self-denying courage inspire the faithful; martyrdom, as St Augustine aptly observed, is the lifeblood of the Church. Leave aside the fact that Hitchens' polemics on all matters religious, for all their agreeable literary flourishes, aren't quite as daringly original as the dustjacket encomia might lead one to supppose.

Leave aside all that, to your humble blogger it all seems rather backward. Allow me to expostulate: For heaven's sake, Gambetta was passé in the 19th Century. Who the hell cared about that hot air balloon, the Belleville Manifesto, when workers were organising themselves and socialists asking vastly more significant questions about the economic realities of life than the windier anti-clericalists could ever articulate?

As an aside, just as when Pope Pius IX was told that the anti-clericalist firebrand had an amitiés réligieuse in the form of a Romanian Catholic nun with whom he conducted a sweet and sensitive correspondence over many years, a fact which rendered the hammer of the modernists quite literally speechless; a couple of years back, my friends Neil and Padraig of Resonance FM's cult science and rationalism show, Little Atoms, trekked up to Oxford together with Nick Cohen to interview Christopher Hitchens. Interview over and settling back in expectation of a long lubricated evening, the Hitch startled them by announcing that he had another appointment to make - Evensong in an Anglican church - and shuffled off into the night.

Marxist literary theorist and former altar server, Terry Eagleton, is another person who is less than bedazzled by Ditchkins' money for old rope and Deo Gratias, it's inspired him to pick up pen and paper and get to writing. I look forward to reading it. If it's anything as good as this review, on the Socialist Resistance website, by Andrew Johnson, it'll be well worth getting stuck into as the nights draw in. Here's an excerpt for your delectation:

Eagleton convicts Ditchkins of a number of interlinked philosophical faults. For materialists, they are remarkably idealist in their view of religious belief as the source of most of the world’s evils. The question of their positivism is not quite so clear. Dawkins, as a distinguished scientist in his own right, is well aware of the provisional nature of scientific knowledge, and certainly knows that scientists disagree with each other all the time – as they would have to for there to be any scientific progress. The air of absolute certainty Dawkins adopts – which stands him in good stead with those laymen who are in awe of scientists – is to a large extent a matter of style, and is less in evidence in Dawkins’ scientific writings. As for Hitchens, he is always more comfortable with concrete political issues than theoretical ones, and his great sweeping statements are not so much a case of dogmatism as of his using rhetorical flamboyance to cover up the gaps in his knowledge.


Blogger Londiniensis said...

Seeing what a mess he made over his attack on Amis père et fils a couple of years back and his antediluvian Marxist views, Eagleton would not be a particularly wished-for ally in my camp, but then, who's asking me?

9/16/2009 5:40 PM  

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