Eagleton Quotes

In no particular order, just to share the passion and power of expression.

The idea …. that Islamic radicals are envious of western freedoms is about as convincing as the suggestion that they are secretly hankering to sit in cafes smoking dope and reading Gilles Deleuze.

A small cabal of dogmatists occupied the white house and proceeded to execute their well-laid plans for world sovereignty like characters in some second-rate piece of science fiction. It was almost as bizarre as Scientologists taking over 10 Downing Street or Da Vinci Code buffs patrolling the corridors of the Elysee Palace.

As president Eisenhower once announced in Groucho Marx style “Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious belief – and I don’t care what it is.”

“An excess of light can result in darkness.” – Edmund Burke

“A surplus of reason can become a species of madness.” – Jonathan Swift

I “guessed” in the previous post that Eagleton was a Marxist Christian. He puts that right …

A “congenital Skeptic with mild Baptist leanings”

Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God ?

As well as love, Eagleton is also fond of the word grace. Me too. Here a very long sequence of extracts that just sums up my non-theist view. (In a nutshell – Strong views, lightly held. Binary opposition excludes middles and creates self-reinforcing extremes. Scientific objectivity can be as grotesquely faith-based as any religion. Hyper-rationality is a neurosis.)

Some of those these days who dislike religion do so because they are suspicious of conviction as such … In a pluralistic age, conviction is thought to be at odds with tolerance, so that one would not exist without the other. Postmodernism is allergic to the idea of certainty and makes a great deal of theoretical fuss over this rather modest, everyday notion. As such it is in some ways the flip side of fundamentalism which also makes a fuss about certainty … Some postmodern thought suspects that all certainty  is authoritarian. It is nervous of people who sound passionately committed to what they say. In this, it represents among other things and excessive reaction to fascism and Stalinism. The totalitarian politics of the twentieth century did not only launch an assault on truth in their own time; they also helped to undermine the idea of truth for future generations. The line between holding noxious kinds of belief, and holding strong beliefs at all, then becomes dangerously unclear. Conviction is itself condemned as dogmatic.

Certainties may indeed destroy. But they may also liberate … Liberals hold the conviction that they should tolerate other people’s convictions. On the whole, they are more concerned with the fact of other people’s convictions than their content. They can even be more zealous in the cause of other people’s convictions than their own.

Our age is divided between those who believe too much and those who believe too little – or as Milan Kundera would put it, between the angelic and the demonic. Each party draws sustenance from the other. The age is equally divided between technocratic reason which subordinates value to fact, and a fundamentalist reason which replaces fact with value.

Faith – any kind of faith – is not in the first place a matter of choice. It is more common to find oneself believing something, than to make a conscious choice to do so. – or at least to make such a conscious decision because you find yourself leaning that way already. This is not, needless to say, a matter of determinism …. It is not primarily a question of the will, at least as the modern era imagines that much fetishized faculty.

Such a cult of the will  characterizes the United States. The sky’s the limit, never say never, you can crack it if you try, you can be anything you want: are the delusions of the American dream. For some in the USA, the C-word is “can’t”. Negativity is often looked upon as a kind of thought crime. […]

The Christian way of indicating that faith is not in the end a question of choice is the notion of grace. Like the world itself from a Christian viewpoint, faith is a gift. This means among other things that Christians are not in conscious possession of all the reasons why they believe in God. But neither is anyone in conscious possession of all then reasons why the believe [their beliefs]. Only ultrarationalists imagine that they need be.

Because faith is not wholly conscious, it is uncommon to abandon it simply by thought. Too much else would have to be altered as well. It is not usual for a lifelong conservative suddenly to become a revolutionary because a thought struck him. This is not to say that faith is closed to evidence … or to deny that one can change one’s mind about one’s beliefs. We may not choose our beliefs the way we choose our starters; but this is not to say that we are just helpless prisoners of them. Determinism is not the only alternative to voluntarism. It is just that more is involved in changing really deep-seated beliefs that just changing you mind. The rationalist tends to mistake the tenacity of faith (other people’s faith, anyway) for irrational stubbornness rather than a sign of certain interior depth, one which encompasses reason but also transcends it. [Conversion] involves a lot more than  just swapping one opinion for another. This is one reason why other people’s faith can look like plain irrationality, which indeed it sometimes is.

Copyright (c) Terry Eagleton Reason, Faith and Revolution p136 .. p139.

I need a more conventional theist response to Eagleton ? Anyone ?

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