Eagleton on Ditchkins

By Laurie Taylor
New Humanist, July/August 2009

Edited by Andy Ross

Reason, Faith and Revolution
By Terry Eagleton

Terry Eagleton has a reputation as a rebel. In his new book, he attacks an antagonist he calls Ditchkins, a composite of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

Eagleton embraced Marxism at Cambridge: "I was challenged head-on by a number of Dominican clergy who would say, 'Okay, so you're joining the International Socialists. Okay, so we quite agree with that revolutionary project. But it's just that Christianity from within its own revolutionary perspective can see that that project has certain limits to it.' For the first time I was not only hearing an intellectually persuasive interpretation of Christianity but also one that made sense politically to me."

Ditchkins swept away the entire philosophical content of religion with a derisory wave of the hand. Eagleton can never overlook their failure to ever engage in intellectual debate with the likes of the Dominicans who changed the course of his own life at Cambridge.

Eagleton seeks to show that the God so readily dismissed by Ditchkins is not a god that many theologians would recognise. Eagleton: "God didn't create the world. He loved it into being. Now what that means, God knows, but that's exactly what Aquinas was saying. The concept of God is what will not let you go."

Eagleton believes in Jesus, or rather in the symbolic power of Jesus the revolutionary who urged his followers to feed the hungry, love their enemies, give away their possessions and visit the sick, and was finally tortured and killed for such advocacy.

Eagleton: "Dawkins deeply believes in the flourishing of the free human spirit, which makes him a liberal humanist rather than a tragic humanist. He believes that if only those terrible guys out there would stop stifling and shackling us, then our creative capacities would flourish. I don't believe that. As a Marxist I reject that simple liberationism. I'm not again humanism. I'm for a humanism which recognises the price of liberation. And that's what I call tragic humanism."

AR I can't help feeling Ditchkins and Marx get the better of this.