Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Reason, Faith, and Literary Critics

Today is the birthday of Terry Eagleton, who is most famous for being a Marxist literary critic. For my thoughts on Eagleton and literary criticism and art, go here to read my post on those subjects. His book Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate is likely to stay one of my favorites of the books that Eagleton has written.

As you might expect from a writer who began intellectual life as a Marxist, Eagleton is sympathetic to liberation theology. In fact, he proclaims, "All authentic theology is liberation theology" (32).

About Christianity theology in particular, he says, "The morality Jesus preaches is reckless, extravagant, improvident, over-the-top, a scandal to actuaries, and a stumbling block to real estate agents: forgive your enemies, give away your cloak as well as your coat, turn the other cheek, love those who insult you, walk the extra mile, take no thought for tomorrow" (14).

About the recent debates that pit Science against Christianity (think Richard Dawkins), Eagleton says, "Science and theology are for the most part not talking about the same kind of things, any more than orthodontics and literary criticism are" (10). How elegant--in that one sentence, Eagleton captures the most important thing that eludes many of the shouting people in these arguments.

About the recent sexuality debates, Eagleton observes, "Jesus is remarkably laid back about sexuality, unlike those millions of his followers who can think of hardly anything else, and who have that much in common with the pornographers they run out of town. In fact, there is hardly anything about sexuality in the New Testament, which is no doubt one reason why the work is not taught in cultural studies courses" (29-29).

Even if you haven't gotten sucked into debates with atheists, even if you've managed to avoid the Hitchens and the Dawkins of the world, the book is well worth your time. Don't let the fact that it's written by a literary critic throw you off. It's accessible to all of us, even if we don't have college degrees.

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