Yes, it’s the inimitable Terry Eagleton, erstwhile critic of The God Delusion, who now fixes his sights on the milder “religious atheist” Alain “I can haz cathedral” de Botton. Eagleton, for whom I have very little use, does have his uses, as in his scathing review of de Botton’s book Religion for Atheists in the January 12 Guardian. I haven’t read that book, but Eagleton suggests that it’s more than just a guide for how atheists can appropriate the trappings of religion. It also seems to be a manual of “belief in belief.” As Eagleton says,
There is something deeply disingenuous about this whole tradition. “I don’t believe myself, but it is politically prudent that you should” is the slogan of thinkers supposedly devoted to the integrity of the intellect. . . .
God may be dead, but Alain de Botton‘s Religion for Atheists is a sign that the tradition from Voltaire to Arnold lives on. The book assumes that religious beliefs are a lot of nonsense, but that they remain indispensible to civilised existence. One wonders how this impeccably liberal author would react to being told that free speech and civil rights were all bunkum, but that they had their social uses and so shouldn’t be knocked. Perhaps he might have the faintest sense of being patronised.
LOL! Well said, even if it is by Eagleton. Smart believers do know when they’re being patronized. The mystery is why there are smart believers in the first place. Eagleton continues the evisceration:
. . . What the book does, in short, is hijack other people’s beliefs, empty them of content and redeploy them in the name of moral order, social consensus and aesthetic pleasure. It is an astonishingly impudent enterprise. It is also strikingly unoriginal. Liberal-capitalist societies, being by their nature divided, contentious places, are forever in search of a judicious dose of communitarianism to pin themselves together, and a secularised religion has long been one bogus solution on offer. The late Christopher Hitchens, who some people think is now discovering that his broadside God Is Not Great was slightly off the mark, would have scorned any such project. He did not consider that religion was a convenient fiction. He thought it was disgusting. Now there’s something believers can get their teeth into …
Umm. . . the gratuitious slap at Hitchens, of course, implies that Hitch got it wrong and is now roasting in hell (alternatively, with God’s grace he might be imbibing with the angels). I wonder if Eagleton, who appears to be a Christian but is loath to admit it explicitly, shares that view.
But there is a parallel here between Eagleton and me: both of us dislike “believers in belief” for their hypocrisy and lack of intellectual honesty. On those counts give me an honest fundamentalist over an accommodationist, just as Eagleton would prefer an honest atheist like Hitchens to a milquetoast accommodationist like de Botton.