Culture and the Death of God
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How to live in a supposedly faithless world threatened by religious fundamentalism? Terry Eagleton, formidable thinker and renowned cultural critic, investigates in this thought-provoking book the contradictions, difficulties, and significance of the modern search for a replacement for God. Engaging with a phenomenally wide range of ideas, issues, and thinkers from the Enlightenment to today, Eagleton discusses the state of religion before and after 9/11, the ironies surrounding Western capitalism’s part in spawning not only secularism but also fundamentalism, and the unsatisfactory surrogates for the Almighty invented in the post-Enlightenment era.
The author reflects on the unique capacities of religion, the possibilities of culture and art as modern paths to salvation, the so-called war on terror’s impact on atheism, and a host of other topics of concern to those who envision a future in which just and compassionate communities thrive. Lucid, stylish, and entertaining in his usual manner, Eagleton presents a brilliant survey of modern thought that also serves as a timely, urgently needed intervention into our perilous political present.
‘The death of God,’ as Peter Hallward comments of Badiou's work, ‘implies … the rigorous affirmation of our own infinity.’3 It is hard to see how this, as it stands, differs from the nineteenth-century Religion of Humanity, a school of thought we shall be glancing at later. In Badiou's judgement, it is hermeneutics, with its passion for sense-making, which has tried to fill the shoes of divinity, since religion in his view is essentially a desire to invest reality with a degree of meaning. The
demystifiers of the modern age, Marx and Freud. Culture and morality are the fruit of a barbarous history of debt, torture, revenge, obligation and exploitation – in short, of the whole horrific process by which the human animal is degutted and debilitated to be rendered fit for civilised society. The toil and strife from which all precious ideas are born is what Nietzsche calls genealogy, in contrast to the consoling evolutionism of the cultural idealists. What they know as history is for him no
Simon Critchley remarks, the philosophy of the tragic recurs with ‘an almost uncanny persistence in the German intellectual tradition’.8 One reason, no doubt, is that the idea of tragedy has acted as an indirect critique of modernity. It represents a memory trace of nobility in a drably bourgeois epoch, a residue of transcendence in an age of materialism. Tragic art is a question of gods, heroes, warriors, martyrs and aristocrats, rather than of the run-of-the-mill middle-class citizen.9 The
applied to the problems of secular society’.27 We have seen already how a number of earlier thinkers eager to press religion into the service of power have made the claim. One and a half centuries in the wake of Matthew Arnold, de Botton is still wistfully hoping that culture may wrest the baton from religion. ‘We are unwilling,’ he writes, ‘to consider secular culture religiously enough, in other words, as a source of guidance.’28 De Botton is a latter-day Arnold, as his high Victorian language
Gottfried Herder (Boston, 1987), Ch. 1. 5. Nicholas Boyle, Who Are We Now? (Notre Dame, Ind. and London, 1998), pp. 163 and 202. 6. Andrew Bowie, An Introduction to German Philosophy (Cambridge, 2003), p. 94. 7. Habermas, Religion and Rationality (Cambridge, Mass., 2002), p. 73. 8. See M.H J. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism (New York, 1971). 9. Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death (London, 1989), p. 100. 10. See John Neubauer, Novalis (Boston, 1980), p. 34. 11. F.W.J. Schelling,