A Common Faith (Terry Lectures)

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What Keeps Funds Away from Purchasers. The Theory of Liberty. The Supreme Intellectual Obligation. Acquiescence and Activity in Communism. Congress Faces Its Test on Taxation. Lobby Asks Special Session on Debts. A Real Test of the Administration. Introduction to Challenge to the New Deal. To Save the Rand School. The Report of the Special Grievance. New York and the Seabury Investigation. A Great American Prophet. The Crisis in Education. Education and Our Present Social Problems. Dewey Outlines Utopian Schools. Shall We Abolish School Frills?

Education for a Changing Social Order. Education and the Social Order. The Need for a Philosophy of Education. A God or The God? Review of Is There. Social Stresses and Strains Review. After CapitalismWhat? He needs us no more than one needs a pet mongoose or a tattoo. He is therefore able to let us be; and the word for this is freedom, which is where for Christian theology we belong to him most deeply.

There is a sense in which replacing a transcendent God with an omnipotent humanity alters surprisingly little, as Nietz- sche scornfully pointed out. There is still a stable metaphysical center to the world; it is just that it is now us, rather than a deity. And since we are sovereign, bound by no constraints which we do not legislate for ourselves, we can exercise our newfound divinity by indulging among other things in that form of ecstatically creative jouissance known as destruction.

Otherwise humanism will always be secretly theological. It will be a continuation of God by other means. God will simply live a shadowy afterlife in the form of respectable suburban morality, as indeed he does to- day. There is a traditional cure for this malady, one known as tragic art; but like chemotherapy the remedy can be almost as devastating as the sickness. When the ancient Greeks wit- nessed such unrestrained striving, they trembled and looked fearfully to the sky, aware that it would have its comeuppance. Saint Augustine observes that created things should not pre- sume to create—not as a rebuke to artists, but to what we might now call the great bourgeois myth of self-origination.

Self-authorship is the bourgeois fantasy par excellence. Deny- ing that our freedom thrives only within the context of a more fundamental dependency lies at the root of a good deal of historical disaster. It is certainly one of the driving forces of Western neo-imperialism today. God for Thomas Aquinas is the power that allows us to be ourselves, rather as the love of our parents allows us to be ourselves.

We can fantasize like Oedipal children that we would be more free by breaking loose from the sources of our life, but this is self-deception. This, then, is what it means to say that God has created us in his own image and likeness, since he himself is pure liberty. It follows that he is also the ground of our ability to reject him—which is to say that in a splendidly big-hearted gesture, he is the source of atheism as well as faith. He is not a censorious power which prevents us from being good middle- class liberals and thinking for ourselves.

What writers like Pullman do not see is that the liberal doctrine of freedom derives among other sources from the Christian notion of free will, rather as the liberal belief in progress has a distant resonance of Christian ideas of Providence. Liberalism or radicalism and religious faith are not necessarily at odds with each other, whatever Ditchkins might think. Many Muslim thinkers have claimed a compatibility between Islam and socialism.

A Common Faith

A good deal of nineteenth-century Protestant theology is profoundly shaped by the liberal legacy. Friedrich Nietzsche did not op- pose liberalism to Christianity in the manner of Ditchkins. He saw them as pretty much of a piece and condemned them both, as the Nazis and the Stalinists were to do later.

Lawrence does much the same in Women in Love. It is a question of feeding the hungry, welcoming the immigrants, visiting the sick, and protecting the poor, or- phaned and widowed from the violence of the rich. Astonish- ingly, we are saved not by a special apparatus known as re- ligion, but by the quality of our everyday relations with one another.

It was Christianity, not the French intelligentsia, which invented the concept of everyday life. Jesus is a sick joke of a savior. Messiahs are not born in stables.

Lectures on Faith: The Exalted Nature of the Godhead (Part 1)

They are high-born, heroic warriors who will lead the nation in battle against its enemies. They do not reject weapons of destruction, enter the national capital riding on donkeys, or get themselves strung up. Instead, the good news is that God loves them anyway, in all their moral squalor. Men and women are called upon to do nothing apart from acknowl- edge the fact that God is on their side no matter what, in the act of loving assent which is known as faith. In fact, Jesus has very little to say about sin at all, unlike a great many of his cen- sorious followers.

It is a condition in which we come to fall morbidly in love with the Law itself, and with the oppressed, unhappy state to which it reduces us, desiring nothing more than to punish ourselves for our guilt even unto death. This is why Saint Paul describes the Law as cursed. It is this urge to do away with ourselves as so much waste and garbage to which Freud gives the name of the death drive, the opposite of which is an unconditionally accepting love.

John Dewey (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

As Paul writes, the Law, and the sin or guilt which it generates, is what brings death into the world. The choice is one between a life liberated from this pathologi- cal deadlock, which is known to the Gospel as eternal life, and that grisly caricature of eternal life which is the ghastly pseudo-immortality of the death drive. They can cling to their own oppression like a lover, and can go to almost any lengths not to relinquish the self- lacerating pleasure this yields them. To be unburdened of their guilt is to be deprived of the very sickness which keeps them going.

This, one might claim, is the primary masochism known as religion. It threatens to rob us of the misery which at least proves that we still exist. We do not want such a light yoke. Instead, we want to hug our chains. In Jesus, the law is revealed to be the law of love and mercy, and God not some Blakean Nobodaddy but a helpless, vul- nerable animal.

Here, then, is your pie in the sky or opium of the people, your soft-eyed consola- tion and pale-cheeked piety. The only authentic image of this violently loving God is a tortured and executed political criminal, who dies in an act of solidarity with what the Bible calls the anawim, meaning the destitute and dispossessed. The anawim, in Pauline phrase, are the shit of the earth—the scum and refuse of so- ciety who constitute the cornerstone of the new form of hu- man life known as the kingdom of God.

Jesus himself is consistently presented as their representative. His death and descent into hell is a voyage into madness, terror, absurdity, and self-dispossession, since only a revolution that cuts that deep can answer to our dismal condition. What is at issue is a slashing sword, not peace, consensus, and negotiation. Jesus does not seem to be any sort of liberal, which is no doubt one grudge Ditchkins holds against him.

He would not make a good committee man. Neither would he go down well on Wall Street, just as he did not go down well among the money changers of the Jerusalem temple. Given the lamentable state of humanity, this unashamed utopia does not come easily. All this is what Christianity knows as original sin.

The coming of the king- dom involves not a change of government, but a turbulent passage through death, nothingness, madness, loss, and futil- ity. There is no possibility of a smooth evolution here. That this is so is a tragedy in itself. They are not always easy to tell apart. If self-denial is not an end in itself for Christianity, neither is celibacy. Jesus was probably celibate because he believed that the kingdom of God was about to arrive any moment, which left no time for mortgages, car washes, chil- dren, and other such distracting domestic phenomena.

This brand of celibacy, however, is not hostile to sexuality as such. It is marriage, not celibacy, which is a sacrament. Fullness of life is what matters; but working for a more abundant life all round sometimes in- volves suspending or surrendering some of the good things that characterize that existence.

Celibacy in this sense is a revolutionary option. Revolu- tionaries are rarely the best image of the society they are work- ing to create. The martyr yields up his or her most precious possession, but would prefer not to; the suicide, by contrast, is glad to be rid of a life that has become an unbearable burden. Martyrs, as opposed to suicides, are those who place their deaths at the service of others. Even their dying is an act of love. Their deaths are such that they can bear fruit in the lives of others. This is not the case with Islamic suicide bombers.

Only by a readiness to abandon our dished-up world can we live in the hope of a more authentic existence in the future. This doctrine is known not as pessimism but as realism. Be- cause we cannot know for sure that such an existence is pos- sible, in the sense that we can know the speed of light or the price of onions, this self-dispossession requires faith.

We need to have faith that, against all appearances to the contrary, the powerless can come to power.


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Only by accepting this as the very last word, seeing everything else as so much sentimentalist gar- bage, ideological illusion, fake utopia, false consolation, ludi- crously upbeat idealism—only then might it prove not to be quite the last word after all. The New Testament is a brutal destroyer of human illu- sions. The traumatic truth of human history is a mutilated body. There are rationalist myths as well as religious ones. Indeed, many secular myths are degutted versions of sacred ones.

Far from greeting his own impending death with stoical aplomb, the thought of it plunges him into a frightful panic in the garden of Gethsemane. On the contrary, he seems to grasp the point that the diseased and disabled are prevented from taking their full part in the human commu- nity. His aim is to restore them to their full humanity by returning them to the fellowship of society at large. In fact, there is hardly anything about sexuality in the New Testament, which is no doubt one reason why the work is not taught in cultural studies courses.

He seems to take the point that compulsively sleeping around betrays an inability to live fully. One might contrast this rather negligent attitude to sex- uality with a recent report in the New York Times about a Father-Daughter Purity Ball in Colorado. Sin, Thomas Aquinas claims, has so distorted our emo- tional natures that we are unable to enjoy sex as we should. Despite being a celibate, then, Aquinas is surely right. Aquinas did not draw a sharp contrast between divine and erotic love: he thought that charity presupposes rather than excludes the erotic.

Such a cold-eyed view of the family can suggest to him only the kidnapping habits of religious cults. He does not see that movements for justice cut across tradi- tional blood ties, as well as across ethnic, social, and national divisions. Justice is thicker than blood. One reason why Christianity has proved intuitively attractive to many people is that it places love at the center of its vision of the world—even if, as we have seen, its version of love is peculiarly unlovely. This strikes a lot of people as fairly plausible, given that their experience suggests that love is the most precious of all values.

That love is the focal point of human history, though everywhere spurned and denied, has a convincing enough ring to it in one sense. For the liberal humanist legacy to which Ditchkins is in- debted, love can really be understood only in personal terms. It is not an item in his political lexicon, and would sound merely embarrassing were it to turn up there.

The concept of political love, one imagines, would make little sense to Ditchkins. Yet something like this is the ethical basis for socialism. Now I would be reluctant to label the account of Christian faith I have just given liberation theology. All authentic theol- ogy is liberation theology. Nor am I necessarily proposing it as true, for the excellent reason that it may very well not be.

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It may be no more plausible than the tooth fairy. Left-wing Christians are in dire need of dating agencies. But though the account may not be true, it is not, in my opinion, stupid, vicious, or absurd. And if it evokes no response from Ditchkins at all, then I think his life is the poorer. But even if the account I have given of it is not literally true, it may still serve as an allegory of our political and historical condition.

Besides, critics of the most enduring form of popular culture in human history have a moral obligation to confront that case at its most persuasive, rather than grabbing themselves a victory on the cheap by savaging it as so much garbage and gobbledygook. The main- stream Christian theology I have outlined here may well be false; but anyone who holds to it is in my view deserving of respect. This is not the case for those who champion impe- rial wars, or who sneer at religion from the Senior Common Room window as yet more evidence of the thick-headedness of the masses.

Ditchkins, by contrast, considers that no re- ligious belief, anywhere or anytime, is worthy of any respect whatsoever. And this, one might note, is the opinion of a man deeply averse to dogmatism. That a great deal of it is indeed repulsive, not to speak of nonsensical, is not a bone of conten- tion between us. But I speak here partly in defense of my own forebears, against the charge that the creed to which they dedicated their lives is worthless and void.

It is in the spirit of democracy to hold that any doctrine to which many millions of men and women have clung over long periods of time is unlikely to have nothing going for it whatsoever. What it has going for it, to be sure, may not be what those who hold the doctrine consider it to be; but there are many possibilities between this and pure garbage.

It ought always to be possible to extract the rational kernel from the mystical shell. I am not foolish enough to imagine for a moment that Ditchkins would be impressed by the theological account I have given, since for one thing it is scarcely the conventional wisdom of North Oxford or Washington, D. The anti-Enlightenment crew are no more plau- sible either, as I shall be arguing later on. Hitchens, Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, and other members of the liberal literati have spoken up with admirable eloquence for the value of free expression, against what they rightly denounce as a bigoted and benighted Islam- ism.

This is to be warmly welcomed. But not unequivocally so. For one thing, Rushdie has recently announced that he is now very far from politics—a curious admission, one might think, at a time when his own people are under more fero- cious attack in the West, and subject to more withering in- sult and contempt, than for a very long time. It is remarkable how passionate some commentators can be in their disinterested search for justice and true judgment, except when it comes to their friends.

What would one say of a trade unionist who was silent on everything but the right to strike, or a feminist who was agitated about abortion but seemed nonchalant about sweated labor? This is not a criticism which applies to Hitchens, who has always been politically engaged across a broad spectrum of issues. But it certainly applies to some other morally indig- nant observers today. One might claim, to be sure, that poets and novelists have no more special privilege to hand down political judgments than nurses or truck drivers—that their vocation grants them no particular entitlement to be heard on such momentous ques- tions.

If they are intent on issuing such pronouncements, however, it is surely preferable that these professional traders in human sympathies should try to look a little beyond their own immediate interests, important though they are. The antagonism between Ditchkins and those like my- self, then, is quite as much political as theological.

Christian faith, as I understand it, is not primarily a matter of signing on for the proposition that there exists a Supreme Being, but the kind of commitment made manifest by a human being at the end of his tether, foundering in darkness, pain, and bewilder- ment, who nevertheless remains faithful to the promise of a transformative love. It is natural, then, that they have no use for such embar- rassingly old-fashioned ideas as depravity and redemption. Even after Auschwitz, there is nothing in their view to be redeemed from. Things are just not that desperate enough. In their opinion, it is just shoddy, self-indulgent leftist hyperbole to imagine that they are.

This is one important reason why God-talk makes no sense to them, though it is by no means the only reason. Plenty of people repudiate God for eminently creditable reasons; but as far as this point goes, Ditchkins rejects him for reasons which are both boring and politically disreputable.

It is hard to imagine informing some hard-bitten political lobbyist in a Washington bar that only through a tragic process of loss, nothingness, and self- dispossession can humanity come into its own. In such civi- lized circles, God-talk is not really any more acceptable than talk about socialism. In God Is Not Great he even suggests that there were some good reasons for the papacy to put this theological movement down as heretical.

It is not often that Christopher Hitchens is to be found defending the pope. But it chimes well enough with his politics. In the so-called Santa Fe document of , the U. The advanced capitalist system is inherently atheistic. It is godless in its actual material practices, and in the values and beliefs implicit in them, whatever some of its apologists might piously aver. As such, it is atheistic in all the wrong ways, whereas Marx and Nietzsche are atheistic in what are by and large the right kinds of ways. One place where so-called spiritual values, driven from the face of a brutally pragmatic capitalism, have taken refuge is New Ageism, which is just the sort of caricature of the spiritual one would expect a materialistic civilization to pro- duce.

Rather as those with hearts of stone tend to weep at schmaltzy music, so those who would not recognize a genuine spiritual value if it fell into their laps tend to see the spiritual as spooky, ethereal, and esoteric. The religion Marx attacks betrays just the kind of senti- mental, disembodied understanding of the spiritual that one would expect from hard-headed materialists. Those who are in every other way worldly, cynical, and hard-boiled Hollywood superstars and the like reveal a truly bottomless gullibility when it comes to spirituality.

Nobody is more otherworldly than the worldly, nobody more soft-centered than the hard- nosed. Spiritual matters must naturally be as remote from their lawyers, minders, agents, and hairstylists as one could imagine, in order to provide some fantasy alternative to them. Money is a great breeder of unreality.

Even their mind- ers and hairstylists can do that. The sigh of the oppressed creature, as opposed to its cry of anger, is merely a pathological symptom of what is awry with us. Like the neurotic symptom for Freud, this kind of religious faith expresses a thwarted desire which it simultaneously displaces.

It does not understand that we could live spiritually in any authentic sense of the word only if we were to change mate- rially. It therefore represents a protest against a spiritual bankruptcy with which it remains thoroughly complicit. Yet such religion is a symptom of discontent even so, however warped and repugnant.

Religious illu- sions stand in for more practical forms of protest. They sign- post a problem to which they themselves are not the solution. Religion here is less the opium of the people than their crack cocaine. Fundamentalism does indeed set out to change the world rather than simply seek refuge from it. If it rejects the values of modernity, it is quite ready to embrace its technology and forms of organization, whether in the form of chemical warfare or media technology.

If this is not to be feared, it is hard to know what is. In the teeth of what it decries as a hedonistic, relativistic culture, Christian fundamentalism seeks to reinstate order, chastity, thrift, hard work, self-discipline, and responsibility, all values that a godless consumerism threatens to rout.

It some ways, its criticisms of the status quo are quite correct, which is what many a good liberal will not allow. Fundamentalism is otherworldly in the sense that its values spring from an earlier epoch of capitalism industrial production , not just because it dreams of pie in the sky. It is less the sigh of the oppressed creature than of the ousted one. Fundamentalists are for the most part those whom cap- italism has left behind.

Yet if New Ageism is apolitical, Christian fundamental- ism is antipolitical. It may be politically militant, but it is basically a form of culturalism, seeking to replace politics with religion. Much the same is true of Al Qaida. Nothing is more antipolitical than planting bombs in public places, even in the name of a political cause. There are similar tenden- cies in so-called identity politics, some of which belong to the same global disillusionment with the political.

If politics has failed to emancipate you, perhaps religion will fare better. We shall return to this topic at the end of the book. What is distinctive about our age when it comes to religion, then, is not just that it is everywhere on the rise, from Islamist militancy and Russian Orthodoxy to Pentacostalism and Evangelical Protestantism in Latin America.

It is also that this resurgence often seems to take a political form. Modernity, by and large, is the era in which religion retires from the public sphere in the West to be cultivated as a private pursuit, like troilism or marquetry. Postmodernity is the era in which religion goes public and collective once again, but more as a substitute for classical politics than a reassertion of it.

We are witnessing an alarming reenchantment of the late capitalist world—a rekindling of the spiritual aura, so to speak, after an age of mechanical reproduction.

Series: Dwight H. Terry Lectures

This is a religion that is once more prepared to agitate and kill. Perhaps this is also a postnationalist phenom- enon. The idea of postmodern culture rejecting such theology in some conscious way is absurd. It no more dismisses theology than it dismisses Swahili or the Antarctic. Such a social order is posttheological only in the sense that Madonna is post-Darwinian.

There is a thriving postmodern theology, but it is hardly typical of the culture as a whole. Eman- cipation from what, exactly? It is hard to see what role faith could play, other than a sheerly ideological one, in a Western world which some of its inhabitants see as nothing less than the very consumma- tion of human history, lacking nothing but more of the same. How could such a form of life accept that there is something profoundly amiss with our condition—that it simply does not add up, that it is in several respects intolerable, and that one of the chief signs of this incoherence and intolerability is the plight of the poor?

One would certainly not rule the possibility out, not least if, in a world of terrorism, religious faith becomes increasingly identical with a socially dysfunc- tional fundamentalism. Religion is therefore less and less able to legitimate the social order, with its in- nately godless priorities. It therefore ceases even to have much of an ideological function, which pushes it further into irrele- vance. The social order betrays in its everyday practice that it does not and cannot believe in the spiritual values it sup- posedly holds dear, whatever it may solemnly claim on Sun- days or in presidential addresses to the nation.

It is a discrepancy between ideal and reality which also applies to a great deal of religion, as we shall now go on to see. There is nothing fashionable or newfangled about it; indeed, much of it goes back to Aquinas and beyond. In my view, it is a lot more realistic about humanity than the likes of Dawkins. It takes the full measure of human depravity and perversity, in contrast to what we shall see later to be the extraordinarily Pollyannaish view of human progress of The God Delusion.

At the same time, it is a good deal bolder than the liberal humanists and rationalists about the chances of this dire condition being repaired. A nation which can even contemplate replacing the World Trade Center with an even taller building is clearly something of a slow learner, and not just from the viewpoint of home- land security.

Yet it also believes that the very frailty of the human can become a redemptive power. In this, it is at one with socialism, for which the harbingers of a future social order are those who have little to lose in the present. Christianity believes that a great deal of human wicked- ness is historically caused, and can be tackled by political action. Psychoanalysis holds much the same view. There has been no human culture to date in which virtue has been predominant. Some of the reasons for this are alterable, while others are probably not.

Not even the most rose-tinted Trotskyist believes that. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how any polemic against, say, the clerical abuse of children or the religious degradation of women could be too severe or exaggerated. Yet it is scarcely a novel point to claim that for the most part Ditchkins holds forth on religion in truly shocking ignorance of many of its tenets—a situation I have compared elsewhere to the arro- gance of one who regards himself as competent to pronounce on arcane questions of biology on the strength of a passing acquaintance with the British Book of Birds.

These intellectuals claim as Christian doctrine the idea that God is some sort of superentity outside the universe; that he created the world rather as a carpenter might fashion a stool; that faith in this God means above all subscribing to the proposition that he exists; that there is a real me inside me called the soul, which a wrathful God may consign to hell if I am not egregiously well-behaved; that our utter dependency on this deity is what stops us thinking and acting for our- selves; that this God cares deeply about whether we are sinful or not, because if we are then he demands to be placated, and other such secular fantasies.

With dreary predictability, Daniel C. He also com- mits 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. The Almighty in his view is a kind of cosmic version of the CIA, keeping us under constant surveillance. When people like this are told that these are crude dis- tortions of Christian belief, they imagine that this means not that they never were orthodox doctrine, but that they have been ditched in the modern age by a clutch of guitar-toting liberal revisionists.

Both parties agree pretty much on what reli- gion consists in; it is just that Ditchkins rejects it while Pat Robertson and his unctuous crew grow fat on it. There are always topics on which otherwise scrupulous minds will cave in to the grossest prejudice with hardly a struggle. For most academic psychologists, it is Jacques Lacan; for Oxbridge phi- losophers it is Heidegger or Sartre; for former citizens of the Soviet bloc it is Marx; for militant atheists it is religion.

Who is likely to launch a time-consuming investigation of what Kabbalists, occultists, or Rosicrucians actually hold, when there is still War and Peace to be read and the children to be put to bed? It is as though when it comes to religion—the single most powerful, pervasive, persistent form of popular culture human history has ever witnessed, as well as in many respects one of the most obnoxious—any old travesty will do. And this view is often shared by those ebulliently on the side of the common people.

In a similar way, when it comes to the political left, no blow is too low, no libel too crass, no slur too scabrous for cer- tain of their antagonists, among whom we are now forced to include the more bibulous half of Ditchkins. In the face of so-called irrationalism, science yields to stridency with hardly a struggle. We learn that the God of the Old Testament never speaks of solidarity and compassion; that Christ has no human nature; and that the doctrine of the resurrection means that he did not die. In a passage of surreally potted history, Hitchens seems to hold the obscure Jewish sect of the second-century BC known as the Maccabees respon- sible not only for the emergence of Christianity but also for the advent of Islam.

It is surprising that he does not pin Stalinism on them as well. For his part, Dawkins seems to believe that Paul was the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, and that to say that Jesus was the son of God means that he was omni- scient. The sagacious advice to know your enemy is cavalierly set aside. The Frank Kermodes of this world are rare indeed. And not just in their intemperate zeal and tedious obsessiveness. This is rather like someone vehemently trying to convince you, with fastidious attention to architectural and zoological detail, that King Kong could not possibly have scaled the Empire State Building because it would have collapsed under his weight.

It is simply to indicate that the relations between these domains and histori- cal fact in Scripture are exceedingly complex, and that on this score as on many another, Hitchens is hair-raisingly ignorant of generations of modern biblical scholarship. For much of the time the liberal ironist yields without a struggle to the heavy-handed positiv- ist.

Like Dawkins, he fails to grasp the nature of a theological claim. Indeed, that simple-minded opposition is itself part of the problem. Yet it is most certainly Christianity itself which is primarily responsible for the intellectual sloppiness of its critics. Apart from the signal instance of Stalinism, it is hard to think of a historical movement that has more squalidly betrayed its own revolutionary origins. Christianity long ago shifted from the side of the poor and dispossessed to that of the rich and aggressive. The liberal Establishment really has little to fear from it and everything to gain.

It laments the death of a fetus, but is apparently undisturbed by the burning to death of children in Iraq or Afghanistan in the name of U. Probably no nation on earth has plucked such a farrago of superstitious nonsense from the New Testa- ment as the United States, with its incurable talent for going over the top. The Christian church has tortured and disemboweled in the name of Jesus, gagging dissent and burning its critics alive.

It has been oily, sanctimonious, brutally oppressive, and vilely bigoted. It supports murderous dictatorships in the name of God, views both criticism and pessimism as unpatriotic, and imagines that being a Christian means maintaining a glazed grin, a substantial bank balance, and a mouthful of pious platitudes. Was this to demonstrate the virtues of both free verse and free expression, or to demoralize the Soviets by unleashing the virus of nihil- ism into their midst?

This brand of faith fails to see that the only cure for terrorism is justice. In the light of all this, the bellicose ravings of Ditchkins are, if anything, too muted. It is hard to avoid the feeling that a God as bright, resourceful, and imaginative as the one that might just possibly exist could not have hit on some more agreeable way of saving the world than religion.

I am talking, then, about the distinction between what seems to me a scriptural and an ideological kind of Christian faith—a distinction which can never simply be assumed but must be interminably argued. It is not a project which at present holds out much promise of success. Yet it is from the standpoint of values which spring among other places from the Judeo-Christian legacy itself that we identify these failings in the churches—just as liberal civiliza- tion is, so to speak, its own immanent critique, as a culture which allows us to castigate its shortcomings by reference to its own commendably high standards.

Even so, it might well be objected that the account of Christian faith I have sketched here is the product of an intel- lectual elite loftily remote from actually existing religion. This is what one might call the populist argument from the Person in the Pew. It is of course true that there is a gap between a sophisticated theological understanding of the Christian Gos- pel, and the faith of millions of men and women who have neither the leisure nor the education for such scholarly in- quiries.

Much the same gap yawns between Dawkins and your average believer in evolution, or between Islamic theology and those deluded Islamic radicals who are profoundly ignorant of their own faith. But perhaps I have overlooked some vital antishaving verse in Luke or Matthew here.

Similarly, those on the political left who regard socialism as more than just a matter of labor camps and mass murder are not simply a cerebral coterie who happen to be familiar with the intricacies of the Grundrisse. In any case, you do not settle the ques- tion of whether, say, the New Testament is on the side of the rich and powerful by appealing to what most people hap- pen to believe, any more than you verify the Second Law of Thermodynamics by popular acclaim.

You simply have to argue the question on the evidence as best you can. But not all of them do. Or at least most of them are not. What of the middle-class liberal or Enlightenment lineages which Ditch- kins so zealously champions?

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What of the violent suborning of freedom and democracy abroad, the misery wreaked by racism and sexism, the sordid history of colonialism and imperialism, the generation of pov- erty and famine, the warfare and genocide of sublime propor- tions, the arming and championing of one odious tyrant after another? What human carnage terrorism has so far murder- ously wreaked in the West is minor indeed compared to the long history of slaughter and oppression of the West itself.

But it would take even the most resolute of terrorists a very long time indeed to rival the barbarous record of Western warfare and imperialism. It is quite as probable that we in the more prosperous sector of the world will be done in by our own internecine quarrels as that we shall be done away with by the new narrative of terrorism. Most of those Western commentators who have greeted the crimes of Islamic terror- ism with panic and hysteria have not shouted quite so loudly about the long catalogue of atrocities of their own supposedly enlightened civilization.

There is nothing wrong with protesting against bloodthirsty bigots who seek to deprive you of your limbs, as long as you have the elementary sense of justice to point out that one major reason for this criminal intent is the shameful way the West has treated others in the past. A Band of Brothers ethic, so one news magazine put it, could not take root in a female-obsessed Sex and the City culture. The U. But in they were sent anyway, and the media response was to make Sir Galahads of them all.

One demented U. The fact that they died partly because their radios were not working was swept decorously under the carpet. All this was seen less as kinkiness or hysteria than as a welcome return to sexual normality. The presence of women helping at Ground Zero was coolly ig- nored. A non-victim called Jessica Lynch was non-saved by U. Terrorism and domesticity were closely twined: the point of killing Iraqis was to protect your kids. Everywhere you looked, people were try- ing to scramble their way back into the womb.

A neurotic desire for security gripped a nation newly conscious of its mortality. Women who had ranked their careers over marriage were said bitterly to regret their blunder. The cozy and con- nubial were in vogue once again. Who, after all, was going to hold your hand when the next blast came? On the contrary, it was business as usual, only a good deal more so. Ditchkins and his ilk support, by and large, the political status quo, with varying degrees of reformist dissent. All of these, one suspects, would be as distasteful to his brisk, bloodless rationality as the Virgin Birth. Jesus is an extremist, as Ditchkins is not.

There is no such animal in any case. It is a kind of early health-and-welfare requirement. There is nothing wrong with that. It simply means that he is not in much of a position on this score to call the religious kettle black. It is just that neither he nor Daw- kins shows the same capacity to think both sides of the ques- tion simultaneously which is not at all the same thing as being impeccably even-handed when it comes to religion. It is here that the liberal rationalism which motivates their aver- sion to religion suddenly deserts them.

The political left, too, has scarcely been a stranger to the discrepancy between noble ideals and their unsavory incarna- tion, a fact which somewhat blunts the edge of its protest against religion. Perhaps antireligiousness begins at home. Marxism be- gan among other things as a response to a Christian move- ment which had betrayed its origins, and ended up in a whole sector of the globe doing much the same.

It is just that for the deepest understanding of how and why this happened, and how it might be prevented from happening again, one has to go to certain mainstream currents of Marxism itself. In a similar way, the disgusting betrayals of the Christian churches stand, as we have suggested, under the judgment of the Gos- pel itself. Even so, the story of liberal Enlightenment is one of an exhilarating emancipation which constitutes a legacy beyond price. No thinker was more tenaciously of this opinion than Karl Marx. In fact, Hannah Arendt, who was not exactly a socialist, once remarked that her chief complaint against Marx was his admiration for cap- italism.

The Enlightenment was deeply shaped by values which stemmed from the Christian tradition. It goes without saying that we owe to the Enlighten- ment freedom of thought, feminism, socialism, humanitari- anism, many of our civil liberties, and much of our republican and democratic heritage. At the same time, this enlightened liberal humanism served as the legitimating ideology of a capitalist culture more steeped in blood than any other episode in human history. This, one may note, is what Ditchkins unaccountably for- gets to say. Only Marxism recounts the story of how these two contrasting narratives are secretly one.

It reminds us of the mighty achievements of Francis Bacon, but also of the fact that he believed in torture. It insists that modernity means both contraception and Hiroshima, liberation move- ments and biological warfare. Some people think it Euro- centric to point out that Europe was the historical home of modernity, forgetful that this also means that it was also the home of the Holocaust.

The radical answer to the question of whether modernity is a positive or negative phenomenon is an emphatic yes and no. It is thus that Marxists are able to speak out of both sides of their mouth at the same time. At the same time, Marxists cast a cold eye on the kind of progressivist euphoria, of which Dawkins a spiritual child of H. Wells and C. Snow is so resplendent an example, for which, apart from the odd, stubbornly lingering spot of barbarism here and there, history as a whole is still steadily on the up.

Today, it sits cheek by jowl with the cynicism, skepticism, or nihilism into which much of that honorable lineage has degenerated. As Dan Hind argues, the chief threat to enlightened values today springs not from feng shui, faith healing, post- modern relativism, or religious fundamentalism. The language of Enlightenment has been hijacked in the name of corporate greed, the police state, a politically compromised science, and a permanent war economy.

The economic individualism of the early, enlightened middle classes has now spawned into vast corporations which trample over group and individual rights, shaping our destinies without the slightest popular accountability. The liberal state, founded among other things to protect individual freedom, has burgeoned in our time into the surveillance state. An enlightened trust in dispassionate reason has declined to the hiring of scholars and experts to disseminate state and corpo- rate propaganda.

It also brings with it colonial- ism and imperialism, which scarcely sit easily with enlightened values. Political individualism, intended to safeguard us from the insolence of power, results in a drastic atrophying of social solidarities. In asserting our free spirits, we have reduced our own bodies to pieces of mechanism. The doctrine of universality, which in its heyday meant that everyone had a right to be heard whoever they were, means for some that the West itself is the sole bearer of uni- versal values.

The brave vision of internationalism has been largely ousted by the concept of globalization, meaning the right of capital to exercise its sovereign power wherever and over whomever it chooses. A bracing critique of myth and superstition degenerates into a bloodless scientism for which nothing that cannot be poked and prodded in the laboratory need be taken seriously. There is another sense, too, in which the values of En- lightenment have ended up at odds with themselves. In order that Islam- ist terror should not undermine American civil liberties, the United States has thrown its weight behind the crushing of such liberties in Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and a range of other malodorous regimes.

It also seems intent on driving such liberties out of its own homeland. The surest safeguard for freedom in this Orwellian world would seem the training of death squads and the arming of dictators. The United States has a long-standing policy of supporting theo- cratic monarchies in the name of life, liberty, and the pur- suit of happiness. The forces of the Christian right, far from constituting a minor swamp of irrationalism awaiting its mo- ment to be mopped up by the irresistible advance of Reason, have become integral to the workings of the U.

None of this is to suggest that Enlightenment has had its day. Far from it. That the system has preserved so many of these precious goods, tattered but still intact, is testimony to its resourceful- ness and goodwill. That it has protected them from a series of ferocious onslaughts from outside, all the way from fascism to terrorism, is equally to its credit. It is the enemy within which is proving rather more of a problem.

Liberal-capitalist cultures inevitably give birth to ills which undermine their own values. This vital contradiction cannot be grasped as long as irrationalism is always seen as a feature of the Other. Dividing the world between the reasonable and unreasonable, which tends nowadays to coincide rather conveniently with the axis of West and East, overlooks the fact that capitalism breeds irrationalism as predictably as extraterrestrial aliens turn out to be grotesque but easily recognizable versions of ourselves.

It is not simply, as Ditchkins seems comfortingly to imagine, that there are still pockets of benightedness within an enlight- ened world. Benightedness is far closer to the bone than that. The choice between West and East is sometimes one between which particular squalid bunch of murderous fanatics one prefers to back. The Whiggish Ditchkins assigns religion to an early, infantile stage of humanity, one which has disastrously outstayed its welcome. There is something striving to move forward, and something intent on holding it back; and while the former is unequivocally good, the second is unre- servedly abhorrent.

His cul- tural supremacism extends backward to Democritus as well as sideways to Islam. One trusts that he does not include Aeschylus in this supercilious dismissal. Saint Paul, speaking of the revolutionary transition from the regime of Law childlike to the order of grace adult , regards faith in Christ as a mature abandoning of infantile idols and superstitions. But his literary works betray surprisingly little hint of it.

It is one of the plentiful myths or superstitions of Enlightenment. For one thing, Taylor points out, the new, mechanistic science of the seventeenth century was not by and large viewed as a threat to God. In early modern times, scien- tists were frequently defenders of religious orthodoxy. Deism was one strategy for allowing science and religion to coexist. Faith and Enlightenment were never simple opposites.

In the nineteenth century, one of the most unlovely strains of re- ligious belief, Evangelical Christianity, was hottest in the pur- suit of the emancipation of slaves. There was no royal road, then, from the natural sciences to godlessness. The emergent interest in Nature was not a step outside a religious outlook, but a mutation within it. There is a sense in which science stripped the world of its enchanted aura only to adopt it for itself. What happened was not that science gradually exposed the fallacies of myth and religion.

To think so is in any case to write history purely at the level of ideas. It is not that myth gave way to fact, but that one moral outlook yielded to another. It was sustained by its own ontological and symbolic framework, not just by a hard-headed rejec- tion of such things. Those postmodernists who cast doubt on the value of science will presumably not be expect- ing a surgical operation when their hearts start to pack up, or do anything quite as dodgy as setting foot on an aircraft.

If what we might risk call- ing postmodern science challenges this stale Cartesian dual- ism, it does so in ways that hark back to the premodern. Thomas Aquinas, for example, sees the encounter between subject and object not as a confrontation but as a collabora- tion, in which the mind actively participates in reality and, by raising the inherent intelligibility of objects to light, brings both them and its own powers to fruitful self-realization.

Contrary to all subjective idealism, the emphasis in this reciprocity lies for Aquinas on the side of the object, as it does for Theodor Adorno. He would have had no truck with the modern or postmodern conception of a human sub- ject projecting its arbitrary meanings on to an intrinsically meaningless world. The world for Aquinas is not our possession, to be molded and manipu- lated how we please, but a gift which incarnates an unknow- able otherness, one whose material density and autonomy must be respected. This respect, at least, is one feature that theologians share in common with scientists.

In the act of knowing, subject and object are at one. There is thus no space through which skepticism might enter. Because Aquinas, like the Heidegger who so griev- ously misunderstood him, views the self as corporeal—as an active project of engagement with the world, rather than a detached, contemplative window onto it—there can be no question of postmodern skepticism. Knowledge is simply one moment or aspect of our bodily collusion in reality, a moment which modernity falsely abstracts and enshrines.

Doing, Aquinas remarks in Contra Gentiles, is the ulti- mate perfection of each thing. Being for Aquinas is an act rather than an entity. Even God is more of a verb for him than a noun. And who is operating him? For Aquinas, as for Heidegger and Wittgenstein, our experience of the world is a function of our bodily engage- ment in it. If this experience takes a discursive rather than intuitive form, it is because the kind of material creatures we are forbids any unmediated presence to ourselves. Logocen- trism is for the angels.

It is true that Aquinas can avoid skepti- cism by invoking the Almighty, who is the ground of both being and knowing and thus the guarantee of their harmo- nious correspondence.

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Indeed, this preestablished harmony is also for Aquinas the occasion for an aesthetics. Yet whatever the theological basis of such a theory of knowledge, or the quaintness of supposing that a hair dryer becomes more of a hair dryer the more I know it, it is surely a richer, more dynamic, more up-to-date and generally more captivating theory than the old-fashioned rationalist model which Ditch- kins seems to take for granted.

It is certainly closer to Karl Marx than it is to John Locke. It was not simply a matter of religious obscurantism fading before the unsullied light of Reason. Reason for Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas is indissociable from certain ethical, ontological, metaphysical, and even aesthetic commitments which simply fall out of the modernist world picture. It is equally inseparable from a cer- tain legacy of sapientia or wisdom.

What if the point of psychoanalysis in this respect were to transform the paradigm itself? Radical changes in representations, so Taylor insists, can make sense only against such a cultural background. We had now landed ourselves with a world of social practices in which transcendence made increasingly little sense. This, perhaps, is akin to what Marx had in mind when he inquired how epic poetry could still be produced in the age of steam power. In such conditions, cer- tain deep questions could no longer be posed, while some groundbreaking new ones soon emerged.

Agency, control, and autonomy are admirable virtues, but they are also attempts to master a world now felt to be threat- eningly alien. Sovereignty proves to be inseparable from soli- tude. What is the point of extracting from the world with one hand values which the other hand has just put in? What is it for the human subject to stand on a foundation which is itself? Transcendence, however, did not simply go away. In one sense, this is precisely what Ditchkins is complaining about; but the matter is more complex than that.

The less plausibly religion seemed to answer to the human desire for a realm beyond science, material welfare, democratic politics, and economic utility, the more robustly literature, the arts, cul- ture, the humanities, psychoanalysis, and the most recent candidate ecology have sought to install themselves in that vacant spot. This, I imagine, is one reason why Christopher Hitch- ens is not only a crusading atheist but a professor of literature at an American university. For him and some of his friends, literature represents one of the last sanctuaries of the human spirit in a naughty world.

It is a name for how even the most pious of rationalists does not live by reason alone, but by an abiding faith in a certain unfathomable creativity. This is not necessarily because we should look to religion instead. It is because, from Matthew Arnold and F. Leavis to I. Richards, new criticism, Northrop Frye, and George Steiner, the campaign to convert literature into a pseudo- religion has ended up doing it considerable damage.

Litera- ture is both more and less important than that. One need hardly add that Taylor is not opposed to these ideals, as long as they are suitably lowercased. Everyone is for progress, reason, freedom, and decency, just as everyone ad- mires Nelson Mandela. It is just Progress, Reason, Freedom, and Decency for which there are fewer takers these days.

The idea of progress needs to be rescued alike from the complacency of Ditchkins and the modish skepticism of the postmodernists. Some might consider such horrors to be a touch milder than the military violence for which Hitchens himself seems to have such a relish. Rather than being dragged back to the reeking altars, we should perhaps be dragged forward to bio- logical warfare and ecological disaster. Dawkins has an equally Panglossian vision of progress.

On this reading of history, Dawkins himself will look pretty troglodytic a century or so from now. These advances are greatly to be prized. But it is the grossest prejudice to list them without dwelling upon the Holocaust and two world wars. Dawkins does in fact mention the Second World War, but only to point out that the casualty rate was higher than that of the U. So Hitler, too, is a symptom of moral progress.

Even Goebbels might have found himself hard put to swallow that. One had not been aware that Hitler was a particular devotee of the rosary and the Immaculate Conception. It is true, Dawkins magnanimously concedes, that Hitler slaughtered more people than Genghis did; but—so he com- ments as if by way of partial extenuation—he had twentieth- century technology at his disposal. Otherwise, we are invited to believe that the twentieth century, by far the bloodiest century on record, was a beacon of moral progress because one heard less racist chitchat in bars, or at least in the kind of bars Dawkins is likely to frequent.

We are all getting nicer and nicer all the time.



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