Terry Eagleton pwned again

Some of the writings of “sophisticated” theologians are so convoluted, so lacking in substance, so, well . . . dumb, that they could easily be mistaken for a Sokal-style hoax.  Karen Armstrong and Terry Eagleton belong to this “are-you-kidding-me” club.  Eagleton, for example, has excoriated Gnu Atheists who presume to attack ideas of a benevolent and paternal sky-God, but then Eagleton presumes to know that God not only has emotions like humans, but that they are dominated by love.

Some Sokalian prankster could do us all a favor by writing some Eagleton-style piffle and placing it in a newspaper or magazine.  That would demonstrate the vacuity of modern theology in precisely the same way that Sokal showed up postmodern science studies.  (Deliberate satire is also good; see for instance Miranda Hale’s hilarious “Rabbit is the Question.“)

In this month’s issue of the Australian Book Review, critic James Ley goes after Eagleton’s latest book, On Evil. The money quote:

Of course, if we accept what Eagleton calls the ‘orthodox’ theological view—namely, that God is an inhuman, inexplicable, intangible, unlocatable, unthinkable, pointless, non-creating, uncommunicative nonentity—then God’s relevance to human affairs would appear to be limited. Certainly, anyone who claims to speak on God’s behalf can be safely told to rack off. By definition, such a deity has no implications for questions of morality, value or meaning. It can have no objection to gay marriage, contraception or female priests; nor could it father a son or require any form of religious observance. Even attributing indifference to such an ineffable non-being would seem to be laying on the anthropomorphism a bit thick.

32 Comments

  1. Posted October 20, 2010 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    Right arm!

  2. Posted October 20, 2010 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    That’s it. The human-like “God” of the Bible could indeed be expected to have some moral preferences (although most of the Bible moral examples are pretty terrible), but the “ground of all being” or whatever can’t even be said to have an opinion on such things, or even a mind with which to form an opinion.

  3. Joe Lalonde
    Posted October 20, 2010 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    It goes to whoever is teahing from the Bible and what message he is personally sending to the congregation. I have had a minister preach her personal opinion of recycling from specific passages in the bible.
    I could preach war and use many passages to back this claim as well.
    This is how vague the bible was made to be.

  4. Posted October 20, 2010 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    The apophatic eagle has come home to roost.

    • Posted October 20, 2010 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      Is Eagleton really considered to be part of the “apophatic” school? He seems to make far too many positive pronouncements about the nature of his God to qualify.

      I ask because as vacuous (literally and intentionally!) as the apophatic school of thought is, it is at least still more or less coherent — well, at least not self-contradictory, which I guess is not too much of a trick because how can you contradict yourself if you never make any actual assertions? — while Eagleton’s brand of theology just seems… confused. Badly confused.

      Apophatic theology is silly and elusive and has nothing to do with religion as most people practice it, but we can at least somewhat define it. Eagleton’s theology is just random noise, seems to me…

      • Sigmund
        Posted October 20, 2010 at 8:30 am | Permalink

        “Is Eagleton really considered to be part of the “apophatic” school?”
        There are strong elements of Catholic theological reasoning present in Eagletons works. The best way to describe this is to say that the distinguishing feature of Catholic theology is the insistence on being able to argue from two contradicory positions simultaneously – think Madelaine Bunting!
        They really do want to eat their cake and stll have it.

        • Posted October 20, 2010 at 9:06 am | Permalink

          Perhaps God is the cake of all being…

          • Tulse
            Posted October 20, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

            It seems especially apropos here: “The cake is a lie.”

      • Sigmund
        Posted October 20, 2010 at 11:01 am | Permalink

        “Is Eagleton really considered to be part of the “apophatic” school?”
        There are strong elements of Catholic theological reasoning present in Eagletons works. The best way to describe this is to say that the distinguishing feature of Catholic theology is the insistence on being able to argue from two
        contradictory positions simultaneously – think
        Madelaine Bunting!
        They really do want to eat their cake and stll have it.

        • Sigmund
          Posted October 20, 2010 at 11:04 am | Permalink

          I think I’m repeating myself!

          • GrueBleen
            Posted October 20, 2010 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

            Just once more and you hit the magic “… what I thrice repeat is true.”

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted October 20, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        We could just shorten it to “Phat” theology.

  5. Dominic
    Posted October 20, 2010 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    Frankly I never thought much of Eagleton’s Literary Theory & never liked him since I read his ridiculous review of the God Delusion -
    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/terry-eagleton/lunging-flailing-mispunching

    I am not a fan of Dominic Lawson at all but his review of Eagleton’s book seems relevant. Eagleton, a Marxist/Roman Catholic note, exonerates Stalin & Mao for their massacres because of the end they were supposedly seeking…
    http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/non-fiction/article7117980.ece

  6. Tim Harris
    Posted October 20, 2010 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Ah, the Ineffable Eagleton is at it again. What a bore the man is, along with Woozy Ward and Extreme Unction McGrath…

  7. Kevin
    Posted October 20, 2010 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Nice. So nice that I think plagiarism will be the next order of business.

  8. Posted October 20, 2010 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Theology summarized: “I’m too dumb to understand science; therefore, you’re also too dumb to understand science; therefore, we should have a zombie wine and cracker party.”

    If it weren’t for the fact that the wine is served by the thimbleful and not worth drinking, and that you only get one cracker that’s no better than cardboard, I could almost pretend to go along with it.

    Cheers,

    b&

  9. Stephen P
    Posted October 20, 2010 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I though the key quote actually came from Eagleton himself:

    … it offers the view that God is, among other things, ‘pure vacuity’, ‘without point or purpose’, and ‘pure nothingness. He is
    not a material entity or an extraterrestrial object…’

    “Pure nothingness”? So Eagleton actually agrees with us?

    • Posted October 20, 2010 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      Eagleton’s god is the null set? He actually worships the null set? I mean…what the fuck?

      And if his god is pointless…what’s the point?

      Damn, but the dude’s dumb.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • GrueBleen
        Posted October 20, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

        The point ? Why ‘immanence’, of course. Remember that not only is ‘God’ omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent, he/she/it/they is also ‘immanent’.

  10. Saikat Biswas
    Posted October 20, 2010 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Apophatuous (adj.) : vacuous, contemptuous

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 20, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      Good one. :)

  11. hexag1
    Posted October 20, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed AC Grayling’s review of the book:

    http://www.newhumanist.org.uk/2290/book-review-on-evil-by-terry-eagleton

    • Tulse
      Posted October 20, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      My favourite passage of the review:

      As we are dealing with Eagleton here, note that this is of course not a mish-mash of inconsistencies, as it appears to be; this is subtlety and nuance. It is, you might say, nuance-sense.

      I’m going to steal that neologism, as it is just too good to pass up.

  12. Andy
    Posted October 20, 2010 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Eagleton the literary critic is worth reading; Eagleton the pundit, the theologian, and the “cultural commentator” can be dismissed at-a-glance. Every time I’ve seen or read this man opine on anything that wasn’t literary criticism, he’s made an ass of himself.

  13. Kevin
    Posted October 20, 2010 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    How do people like this actually get published?

    Reading Grayling’s review, it seems perfect nonsense. Do people actually buy this? Anyone other than libraries with a large acquisition budget, that is?

  14. MadScientist
    Posted October 20, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    The amusing thing is that even the normal yahoos who believe in a sky fairy which is nothing like Eagleton’s abstract delusion have a god which has no implications for questions on morality and so on down the list. Except for the consistent demands to be worshipped, the abrahamic gods make conflicting claims on morality and act in an immoral fashion (and yet they’re ‘loving’ gods). If we take the bible literally (any of them), I think they are proof that none of the abrahamic religions are true – better look for another religion or simply dump religion altogether.

  15. DrBrydon
    Posted October 20, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    “God is an inhuman, inexplicable, intangible, unlocatable, unthinkable, pointless, non-creating, uncommunicative nonentity”

    I read this, and suddenly remembered an old joke:

    A famous rabbi is granted an audience with the Pope. After the niceties, they begin to discuss their differences. The rabbi says, “Your Eminence, you and I are both like blind men in a dark room, looking for an invisible black cat that isn’t there. The difference is that you’ve found him.”

  16. Posted October 20, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    I think this is one of my favorite passages from the review:

    “Eagleton has, of late,
    taken to asserting that people who
    believe the world would be better off
    if there were a little more respect for
    human rights are utopian, while those
    who are calling for the overthrow of
    global capitalism are being truly realistic.”

    Zing! This review reminds me a lot of Chris Hedges, another atheist-hater who asserts that there’s no such thing as moral progress.

  17. Posted October 20, 2010 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    A good critique. Much in contrast to your own blundering attempts to address Eagleton.

  18. Paul g
    Posted October 21, 2010 at 12:34 am | Permalink

    Quote of the week. Quote of the year maybe.

  19. efrique
    Posted October 21, 2010 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    I like the use of “rack off” in that context, a phrase I heard a lot as a child – it seems to be much less used these days… mostly Americanisms now.

  20. Russell
    Posted September 17, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    “Certainly, anyone who claims to speak on God’s behalf can be safely told to rack off”

    I believe this is exactly Eagleton’s point. There is a reliance, within the “atheist community” on a certain categorical operation different from theology’s/subjectivity’s/non-positivist categorical operation…this, according to Eagleton leads into a (dreaded) categorical mistake.

    We hope to be a kind of Mobius strip; we delineate a space for ourselves, through a selection of criteria that rely on perception (sensory/somatic/etc) and then we toss out / bracket out anything that does not fit the schema.

    This is, I think, an error. There is a subjective potential within any process. The world exists through the paradigm in which it is perceived.

    Reason does not equal ethics.

    And yet there is a rise in positivism. This happened before (several times). And yet we are here again… Linearity always fluctuates into circularity.


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