Monday, May 4, 2009

God Talk: Common sense from a Berkeley professor?

Believe it or else, there's a writer at the Noo Yawk Times I've added to my bookmarks. Technically speaking he's not a staff writer, just a blogger for the NYT, but what he writes actually makes good ol' common sense, which is quite uncommon today and always has been.

He's Stanley Fish and he's a liberal arts professor in Miami who has also taught at Berkeley and Duke, so he's gotta be just another leftwingnut, right? Well apparently not, based on his current column, which he titles God Talk, his review of a book by a British author.

In the opening sentence of the last chapter of his new book, “Reason, Faith and Revolution,” the British critic Terry Eagleton asks, “Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God?” His answer, elaborated in prose that is alternately witty, scabrous and angry, is that the other candidates for guidance — science, reason, liberalism, capitalism — just don’t deliver what is ultimately needed. “What other symbolic form,” he queries, “has managed to forge such direct links between the most universal and absolute of truths and the everyday practices of countless millions of men and women?”

Eagleton acknowledges that the links forged are not always benign — many terrible things have been done in religion’s name — but at least religion is trying for something more than local satisfactions, for its “subject is nothing less than the nature and destiny of humanity itself, in relation to what it takes to be its transcendent source of life.” And it is only that great subject, and the aspirations it generates, that can lead, Eagleton insists, to “a radical transformation of what we say and do.”

Fish quotes Eagleton's delightful turn of phrase, "Ditchkins", for the atheist/liberal side of the God argument, referring to writers Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.

And as for the vaunted triumph of liberalism, what about “the misery wreaked by racism and sexism, the sordid history of colonialism and imperialism, the generation of poverty and famine”? Only by ignoring all this and much more can the claim of human progress at the end of history be maintained: “If ever there was a pious myth and a piece of credulous superstition, it is the liberal-rationalist belief that, a few hiccups apart, we are all steadily en route to a finer world.”

That kind of belief will have little use for a creed that has at its center “one who spoke up for love and justice and was done to death for his pains.” No wonder “Ditchkins” — Eagleton’s contemptuous amalgam of Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, perhaps with a sidelong glance at Luke 6:39, “Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?” — seems incapable of responding to “the kind of commitment made manifest by a human being at the end of his tether, foundering in darkness, pain, and bewilderment, who nevertheless remains faithful to the promise of a transformative love.”

If you've got time for a reasoned argument about God, read God Talk. You may be enlightened.

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