A Humanist’s Response to “Those Ignorant Atheists”
By Sheldon F. Gottlieb
In his book Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate, author Terry Eagleton (according to reviewer Andrew O'Hehir) argues that atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens (“Ditchkins” )et al. are ill-informed about the Christian faith. They “fail to understand Christian faith (or any other kind) except in its stupidest and most literal-minded form....There is a long Judeo-Christian theological tradition that bears no resemblance to [their] caricature of religious faith,” and they “tend to take the most degraded and superstitious forms of religion as representative.” They “are displaying a shocking ignorance of their supposed subject.”
The presumed ignorance of “Ditchkins,” et al., if any, stems from what Christians themselves, including the papacy and clergy, have been saying about Christianity for centuries. Eagleton admits that although the resulting caricatures are portrayals of what Christians believe and practice, they are false. He believes that everyone is ignorant of true Christianity except for himself. He argues that the theoretical aspects of true Christian faith can only be understood through the study of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Marxist liberation theology. He demonstrates a profound “arrochutz” (arrogant chutzpah). How is anyone to know what is authentic Christianity?
Eagleton seems to want only his insights to be recognized. He denigrates dissenters and claims that critics of the common perception of Christianity “have a moral obligation to confront that case at its most persuasive, rather than grabbing themselves a victory on the cheap by savaging it as so much garbage and gobbledygook.” O’Hehir writes: “Eagleton hopes to save Christianity from the Christians and Marxism from the Marxists.” Saving Christianity from the Christians means saving Christianity from the view people hold of Christianity based on the teachings, practices, and behavior of clergy and laity through the ages. O'Hehir’s description suggests that Eagleton is engaging in sophistry and nonsense. Eagleton seems to refuse to recognize that religion is what the majority of a given religion’s adherents, including the clergy, say and do in the name of that religion at any given period of time. In the case of Christianity, there are centuries of behavior from which to draw conclusions.
Eagleton tends to dismiss the fact that liberation theology and Marxism are of very recent vintage and really do not reflect what and how Christianity was portrayed to ordinary people through the ages. The papacy was not receptive to the liberation theology practiced in South America. Other than through his leftist political ideology, how does Eagleton come to claim that liberation theology represents authentic Christianity?
Eagleton favors Augustine’s concepts that the Church is the spiritual city of God, and Aquinas’s concept of god’s love. (Aquinass’ concepts are religious gobbledygook that says nothing about the nature of god.) However, Eagleton takes no cognizance of hate as one of the central aspects of Christianity. One only has to quote the anti-Semitic rantings of St. Chrysostom or St. Augustine--including his infamous charge of deicide and the war of the popes against the Jews--to demonstrate that Christianity was not the religion of love but the religion of hate. Love is the rarity; hate is the reality. For decades, in addition to discussions with clergy, I listened to what ordinary Christians and clerics on radio and television told me and millions of others about what Christianity is and who and what God is. I have lectured in Christian churches and before secular groups on the differences between Christianity and Judaism.
Ditchkins, I, and millions of others, have it right as to what Christianity is. Otherwise, why would Eagleton need to save Christianity from Christians? There is nothing to save. Religion, in any form is an insult to the minds and hearts of human beings.
Sheldon F. Gottlieb, PhD, is the author of The Naked Mind. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.