Everyone’s Just Wild About Terry

Beginning with Stanley. If I made a list of the people who have enthused about Terry Eagleton’s pushback against “Ditchkins,” the roster would include such an array of odd bedfellows as would amply populate a madcap smash hit Broadway musical about ivy-draped campus life.
 
I haven’t read the book, I’ve just watched the movies (1, 2, 3, 4, also available for free through Yale’s iTunes University channel). Eagleton presents a witty, pointed, welcome riposte to the latest generation of self-congratulatory cultured despisers of Christian faith. Eagleton doesn’t ascend to the heights of theological sophistication, but he doesn’t claim to — and that’s part of the point, since he can with relatively little effort show that “Ditchkins” hasn’t debunked anything other than a pallid simulacrum of the God to whom the broad, ancient Christian tradition has turned in faith and hope. In the name of intellectual honesty and rationality, “Ditchkins” unstuffs a straw adversary (largely of their own making).
 
I’ll confess to a degree of envy at this upwelling of media attention when Eagleton says stuff that I was trying to get at in my own responses to the tawdry new atheism. The “right answer” for which Chris Lydon was looking on Radio Open Source would have been William James or Ralph Waldo Emerson, not Thomas Aquinas or Augustine, but I was trying to get at the same sorts of point that Eagleton makes in these Terry Lectures. He wins for fluency, cleverness, and the clarity that a solo performance affords.
 
But hey, when Chris Locke and Richard Hays send me links to the same column, that’s an auspicious event. It’s all the more intensely intriguing since I first read both Eagleton’s Literary Theory and Stanley Fish’s Is There A Text In This Class? in Richard’s seminar on literary theory and biblical interpretation at Yale Div back in the early eighties. Ah, the halcyon days of youth, when no one (I think) would have imagined that the trajectories either of Fish’s postmodern Miltonism or of Eagleton’s post-Catholic Marxist criticism would lead to this convergent endorsement of hearty, full-blooded Christian theological reasoning.

4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Read it last Monday, and I keep dipping into it. Selections from the first chapter, particularly his reflections on Jesus and the NT went up on the office door. Much of it is stunning. Not to mention humorous in all the right places.

  2. God knows I’m no Christian, but I am moved to say that the Church has infinitely more under the hood than the mad ravings of Swedenborg and bad 18th-century translations of caste-bound Orientalia that fueled Emerson’s speaking gigs, and the three-wishes parapsychology of William James. I’m not really taking sides in this, though. A pox on all of them. And while I’m at it, Dan Brown can rot in hell.

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