Terry Eagleton is my favorite Marxist. Why? Because he is honest. I also think he would just be a great guy to sit down and have a beer with.
Here he notes the rather shallow arguments of those who praise the “secular.” My only gripe is his treatment of postmodernism in only its secular guise. He is correct that the secular postmodernism first to come out of France was of the type to call all meta-narratives into question, even the modern meta-narrative, which of course is what bothers Eagleton. But, one could argue that such was the logical outcome of the “modern” anyway as it destroyed any objective basis for “Truth” in the first place. Once that “acid” as Dennett called it begins to eat away at meta-narratives (I’m sure he was only thinking of religious meta-narratives) it is only a matter of time before it eats yours too (and why Dennett’s idea is so self-defeating). Clearly though there are other types of postmodernism and ones I think Eagleton himself would agree with.
Another interesting point he makes is that the very usage of terms such as “good” “evil” and “moral” in the West are invested with and refer to the Judeo-Christian narrative as to their meaning and once that narrative is “smoked” out and we are rid of it, it turns out we empty our moral vocabulary of any meaning or significance. I would say that “Moral” then becomes marks on a paper or a sound one makes with his mouth when voicing the word, but nothing more—there is nothing behind it—we might as well say or write “boo.” Secularists thought the words alone would do—like magic incantations. They forget the words only make sense when invested with and tied to a powerful and moving narrative people actually believe to be true. A word like “evil” must have a referent more powerful than, “I really don’t have a good feeling about this, but I can’t tell you why. Oh, wait a minute—I feel differently now—never mind.”
He ends his piece with the same thought I have had many times and have posted here, and that is how both the religious fundamentalist and the secular fundamentalist are simply the two sides to the same coin. If only that coin could roll into a drainage pipe, wash out to sea, and be lost forever in the greater ocean of moderation and rational thought.
Kitcher asks himself why people should need to be united by a belief in some “transcendental entity” (his use of both terms is inaccurate) rather than by their mutual sympathies. “What exactly,” he enquires, “does the invocation of some supernatural being add?” A Christian might reply that it adds the obligations to give up everything one has, including one’s life, if necessary, for the sake of others. And this, to say the least, is highly inconvenient. Anyone, even a mildly intelligent badger, can entertain “mutual sympathies”. The Christian paradigm of love, by contrast, is the love of strangers and enemies, not of those we find agreeable. Civilised notions such as mutual sympathy, more’s the pity, won’t deliver us the world we need.
Secularisation is a lot harder than people tend to imagine. The history of modernity is, among other things, the history of substitutes for God. Art, culture, nation, Geist, humanity, society: all these, along with a clutch of other hopeful aspirants, have been tried from time to time. The most successful candidate currently on offer is sport, which, short of providing funeral rites for its spectators, fulfils almost every religious function in the book.
If Friedrich Nietzsche was the first sincere atheist, it is because he saw that the Almighty is exceedingly good at disguising Himself as something else, and that much so-called secularisation is accordingly bogus. Secular thinking, too, had to be demythified. “God had in fact gone into hiding,” Robbins observes, “and now had to be smoked out of various secular terms, from morals and nature and history to man and even grammar.” Even Nietzsche’s will to power has a suspiciously metaphysical ring to it.