Wednesday 12 May 2004

Eagleton on tragedy

I've started reading literary critic, Terry Eagleton's book, 'Sweet Violence: the idea of the tragic'. I enjoy reading Eagleton a lot, but he can be hard to take seriously at times. In the Introduction, he berates leftist intellectuals who dismiss discussion of tragedy without even reading it, claiming it is too drenched in theology and metaphysics to say anything meaningful to the postmetaphysical, political world. This blinkered, unthinking rejection of a caricature of the subject one is opposed to is unacceptable, Eagleton writes. However, a few pages later, while saying the Left ought to spend more time writing about religion, Eagleton offers this:

"In one sense, this [not writing about religion] is entirely understandable. Religion, and perhaps Christianity in particular, has wreaked untold havoc in human affairs. Bigotry, false consolation, brutal authoritarianism, sexual oppression: these are only a handful of the characteristics for which it stand condemned at the tribunal of history...In many of its aspects, religion today represents one of the most odious forms of political reaction on the planet, a blight on human freedom and a buttress of the rich and powerful."

Excuse me! I detect a caricature. I could write a list of positive effects of religion, and perhaps Christianity in particular, twice as long in an instant: Racial acceptance, true consolation, merciful government, sexual happiness, rights for women, correction of social injustices, care for the sick, charitable responsibility, education for all, justice for poor and rich alike...

Give the Left a chance to see the whole picture, Terry!
He says he will explore the value of theological thinking for political ends. I hope he does as I move past the introdcution, with his blinkers off.

Feel free to email me in response to anything in this blog.


Craig Schwarze said...

Well, I think he is more guilty of generalisation than of caricature. It is certainly true that people holding religious belief have committed all of the travesties he lists - and sometimes in the name of their religion.

If that is all he is saying, then I don't think you can argue with it. If, however, he is saying that religious belief *necessarily* involves the immorality he describes, well then you have grounds to take issue.

Greg Clarke said...

Thanks, Craig. I was pointing out that Eagleton seems to see only the downside of religion, and that some of the values and virtues he champions actually derive from the religions he denounces.