More of Eagleton’s Quips

Eagleton seems to be the king of disarming, funny one-liners. For example:

With dreary predictability, Daniel C. Dennett defines religions at the beginning of his Breaking the Spell as “social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought,” which as far as Christianity goes is rather like beginning a history of the potato by defining it as a rare species of rattlesnake. Predictably, Dennett’s image of God is a Satanic one. He also commits the Ditchkins-like blunder of believing that religion is a botched attempt to explain the world, which is like seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus. (p. 50).

Hilarious to be sure, but am I the only one starting to wonder if Eagleton relies a little too heavily on his fantastically brash “thinking this is ‘rather like’ this ridiculous other thing that makes you look stupid”-type statements?

7 comments on this post.
  1. Hill:

    If the repetitiveness of this trope reflects poorly on Eagleton, it is because there is only so much one can say about Dennett, et al. on the topic of religion and theology. Their arguments are non sequiturs built on errors built on unvarnished animus. Once this is established (something that can be done relatively quickly) it quickly becomes a dead horse. I think Hart’s article on Dennett is the perfect length for this sort of treatment. I haven’t perused the structure of Eagleton’s book, but if it is a primarily negative engagement with these thinkers, then I could see how it would be quite tiring. Regardless of what might think about what he actually says on the subject, Hart at least undertakes the constructive project of demonstrating how Christianity was (at least contingently) responsible for the changes in social morality that make the critiques of people like Dennett et al. imaginable. A book I’d rather read is a treatment off what a compelling kind of atheism would look like (from the perspective of Christianity). Hart has suggested several times that such a thing exists (Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov, e.g.). Not that Hart should write it necessarily, but a book on convincing atheism would be a far more interesting treatment of the likes of these guys. Along the lines of: if you aren’t going to believe in God, at least make it interesting like these guys did/do. Talk about Nietzsche, Zizek, etc. Give the atheists their due from the point of view of Christian theology.

  2. Halden:

    Yeah, maybe a book is just too long a treatise to write on these buffoons.

  3. kim fabricius:

    In defence of Eagleton, remember the book is based on the Dwight H. Terry Lectures that he gave at Yale in April 2008: you’re always going to smartass more before an audience than a screen.

    Also, Eagleton is well aware of the “compelling kind of atheism” that Hill mentions: “Marx and Nietzsche,” he writes, “are atheistic in what are by and large the right kinds of ways” (p. 39). And Eagleton links – perceptively, I think – the “troglodytic” atheism of Ditchkins to the banality and vulgarity that is pandemic in advanced capitalist culture: “A society of packaged fulfillment, administered desire, managerialized politics, and consumerist economics is unlikely to cut the kind of depth where theological questions can even be properly raised” (p. 39).

  4. Nate:

    And honestly, Eagleton does have enough of a way with these little turns of phrase that the book isn’t unpleasant. I agree that there’s really not enough substance to the Ditchkins group to mount a genuine assault on them–for that one must turn to real philosophers.

  5. adamsteward:

    Saying that Eagleton’s “rather like” move is worn out is like saying Larry Bird took too many mid-range bank-shot jumpers. If it works, man, go with it.

  6. roger flyer:

    I loved Larry Bird. And not because he was slow, white and couldn’t jump (like me)…

    So you’re saying Eagleton’s ‘rather like’ jousts are rather like Larry Bird’s mid-range bank-shot jump-shots. Maybe he could have gone to the rim, but they all count as two points…?

  7. adamsteward:

    Count it!