Just before Christmas, in a fit of last minute reading before the proposal went in, I read Terry Eagleton’s most recent book called Reason, Faith and Revolution. Some of the material is available in question and answer format here and although this post is not a review of the work, an email from Gavan last week reminded me that the book may be more roadmap than polemic. It is a series of four lectures which criticises Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens (or Ditchkins) for selling their rationalist critique of faith and religion too cheaply. Dawkins, a natural scientist, and Hitchens, an essayist, publicly proclaim their atheism with all of the zealotry of preachers. In doing this, Eagleton says, they undermine the basis of their rationalism and feed neo-conservative politics and a narrow liberalism with fodder. Eagleton is clever in his depiction of their respective positions and writes humbly about something he professes to know little about – Christian theology. I liked the book so much, I bought a another copy of it and gave it as a gift to one of my family. That’s the kind of proselyting family we are: no use extolling the virtues of a particular writer, you have to read the book.
Theo Hobson’s review of the book at Cif Belief says that Eagleton’s book is an attempt at Christian apologetics. Notwithstanding my own limited understanding of this monicker, it would never have struck me during my reading of it that Eagleton is nothing short of a reconstructed Marxist who has let go of the notion that world is composed of iron laws and material manifestations of market value. But Hobson ends with a question:
Why is he so cagey about his Christian sympathy? I just said that he is like a student, in a good sense, of being still a sort of seeker. But perhaps he also resembles a student in that he can’t quite bear the uncoolness of allowing the Christian label to stick to him.
The characterisation of Eagleton as a student who cannot bear the uncoolness of the Christian label (as opposed to the ahem, Dior label) is apt all the same. There’s a lot of it about at the moment but Eagleton is perhaps the most prominent English-language apologist. Ireland is not short of them either with professedly-secular progressives approaching Christianity with fresh eyes, albeit warily. Others like Karen Armstrong might inform them that religion is in the practice, not just in its professions of faith. Iris Robinson is doing her best impression of Tammy Faye Messner, helpfully putting much needed breathing space between integrity and hypocrisy. While I don’t expect to see Fintan O’Toole being doorstepped at Christ the King just yet, 2010 might be a year where we stop using that awful term lapsed Catholic. There’s a Census in 2011 and if a few hundred thousand more people tick something other than ‘Catholic’, it won’t panic this researcher of religion. Then at least the word Christian might get some more intellectual space to be re-evaluated.