I’ve got a new review in The American Prospect of two books published by Yale University Press on the same day last month, both rejoinders to the New Atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris, etc.): Terry Eagleton’s Reason, Faith, and Revolution and David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions.
Only Nixon could go to China, so perhaps it is only Terry Eagleton, the irreligious British literary critic, who can stand up for theology. It has been three years now since evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins set off the New Atheist controversies with his bestselling The God Delusion. Following him has been an eager crop of fellow nonbelieving snoots, on the one hand, and no end of pious refutations, on the other, all as polemically audacious as they are cosmically unsatisfying.
With Eagleton, though, there’s a glimmer of hope. His October 2006 essay on Dawkins in the London Review of Books forged an intriguing middle ground in this usually polarized debate. Doubling the fun, Eagleton’s new book, Reason, Faith, and Revolution, adds Christopher Hitchens to the dock, who apparently contributes so little to the discussion that the name “Ditchkins” suffices to encompass them both. The book’s scope may be somewhat wider, but Eagleton’s claim hasn’t changed: “Such critics buy their rejection of religion on the cheap.” When you actually bother to grasp what religious ideas mean and have meant throughout history, you’ll find guillotining them to be neither so easy nor so desirable, Eagleton argues. You might even come to like them.
Interestingly, both works have “revolution” in the title (Hart’s subtitle, far less hideous than his actual title, is The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies):
When Eagleton speaks of revolution, he calls to mind a pseudo-Marxist dream, admittedly betrayed by 20th-century history but still offering some hope of justice rolling down our earthly streams. Hart, though, means something rather more precise: a long, fraught process over the course of which Christianity transformed the West’s idea of what it means to be human.
For those of you who haven’t encountered Hart’s work before, I hope you take this as an invitation to explore it.