Monday, 20 April 2009

Note apropos Eagleton : liberal v tragic


I added this comment to an old post of The Plump's (I'll get to meet him tomorrow in Hull). Just a note here seeing this blog is, among other things, a record of thoughts and impressions.

'The straight proposition, as I understand it, is that rather than thinking in terms of religion or lack of (Islam v Christianity, Islam v Atheism, Christianity v. Atheism) one might consider Islamism, say, as a cultural aspect of a specific religion. Not all Islam has to be Islamist, in other words, but there is a kind of culture in which Islamism can flourish as "a repressed that returns with a vengeance". (I always tend to worry about that particular repressed).

The terms are awkward of course and he [Eagleton] goes by his own definitions, which is, I think, the chief problem. It is fascinating how this kind of reversal, in which you point to a phenomenon and call it A, then becomes the definition of A.

Nevertheless.

What I think he was trying to identify, if I want to be picky about it, were some differences between two kinds of culture: one that works on passion and concentrated group identity, another that works on irony and diffuse individual identity.

Don't you think that such a distinction exists? I watch these two ways of going about life creating havoc in Hungary, and some such distinction seems reasonable to me.

How far civilisation and culture are the best terms I don't know, and may be less important than the phenomena themselves.

The conclusion he draws at the end is, I suppose, a continuation of the spat with Amis, but when he says
-

"The distinction between Hitchens or Dawkins and those like myself comes down in the end to one between liberal humanism and tragic humanism. There are those who hold that if we can only shake off a poisonous legacy of myth and superstition, we can be free. Such a hope in my own view is itself a myth, though a generous-spirited one. "

- I can't help thinking there is something in this. That, if you like, the conflict isn't between the religious sense and the anti-religious sense, but between the liberal and the tragic.

I would like to think the liberal has the last word, but I have a certain apprehension that the tragic usually has its say, and telling people that religion is a lot of rubbish is not going to solve it.'



Just a note, as I say. It's not a point of ideology or dogma, just the registering of a certain feeling.



13 comments:

Mark Granier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Granier said...

"The distinction between Hitchens or Dawkins and those like myself comes down in the end to one between liberal humanism and tragic humanism."

Yes, that makes a kind of sense. I am not so sure about "generous-spirited" though. What Eagleton calls LH can often appear to be complacent and earnest to the point of naivety. I have never bothered to read Hitchens' book 'God Is Not Great', though I found a well-thumbed copy at a friend's home. The title is bad enough for starters, a schoolyard boast.

It was Dawkins who helped promote the extraordinarily arrogant suggestion that atheists should call themselves 'Brights' (there is now, god help us, a Bright Movement). People like this deserve to get a good bollocking from 'bright' Liberal/conservative Catholics like Les Murray.

I feel I have far more in common with the sceptical (and perhaps tragic) humanism of Julian Barnes: "I do not believe in God, but I miss Him."

Poet in Residence said...

Can 'the legacy of myth and superstition' be shaken off? Can we then be free?
The long-term answer appears to be a 'Yes' which means 'No'.
If we eventually manage to 'shake off' current myth and superstition we will have to replace it with neo-'myth and superstition'. If God didn't exist we'd have to invent him (Voltaire) and that's why in Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamasov the 'wrong brother', as it were, kills the father.
In the long run we may be doomed. So let's enjoy ourselves while we can.

George S said...

Yes, I read Daniel Dennett's book where the term 'the Brights' comes up. Whether they are (bright) or not, it's not too bright to call yourself 'the Brights'.

The Hitchens title is OK by me. I mean it does what it says on the tin, and it's provocative so it sells. It is probably catchier than the title 'I am not altogether sure about God but have a certain respect for religion unless it gets too uppity'. But no, I haven't read it. I suspect I know it all already.

People who kill or oppress or bully or try to bully others because they claim God has told them to go ahead for the greater glory of, er, God - their God is definitely not Great.

Their God is welcome to all the bollocking it gets, and if Eagleton got within a hundred miles of defending it I would have no hesitation in ignoring Eagleton.

Life, in any case, has predisposed me to the notion of 'tragic humanism' - I mean to the notion that it exists, that its existence must be acknowledged and respected not dismissed, and that it is, very often, tragic.


Mark Granier said...

"People who kill or oppress or bully or try to bully others because they claim God has told them to go ahead for the greater glory of, er, God - their God is definitely not Great."

I completely agree, but such people sound like components for a 'straw person' argument. I wouldn't think that Les Murray is one of them, despite dedicating every book to 'the greater glory of God'.

George S said...

When did I attack Les Murray?

Has there has been a conspicuous lack of those crying Allah Akhbar walking into places with suicide belts?

Are they straw men?

You think they don't really kill people? You mean the Taleban don't really bully and punish people because of their version of God?

You mean the Christian church has no such record? Clean hands?

Do you mean that all the burnings, tortures, and other murders are straw men? The people they kill and oppress don't matter? That they are only straw after all?

WTF is Les Murray doing here? Do you imagine he would defend such practices? Would he call these murderers 'straw men'? Why is your use of Les Murray not a straw man? Why not invoke St Francis for that matter?

Think for a second, Mark. What do you think my post has been about? What have I been arguing?

Poet in Residence said...

Say everybody woke up tomorrow enlightened in the sense that they knew that the world's confusion of gods prophets and religions is nothing but a chaotic jamboree of money-making power-seeking control-freak tricksters; an ideal world for those with bloodstained hands and in/convenient memories. And say the whole said enough is enough. Even that wouldn't be enough. Somebody would see a vacancy to fill, a business opportunity...and so we'd be back where we started when stone age man spray painted his hand on the cave roof, just where the echo is loudest, using a straw and some beetle juice.
George, the whole bloody mess, is hopeless. We must all have our personal gods. It's the only way. 6,000,000,000 different religions. That's the answer!

George S said...

Don't really go for 'nothing but' arguments. There's always something.

What's that line in Larkin. Someone has already quoted it here before, probably Mark: "...someone will forever be surprising / A hunger in himself to be more serious"

It's not just about cash of course, nor indeed power. How do I know?

My personal God says so. Demonstrably better than 67% of all other Gods.

Go with me and Pascal. You know it makes sense.

But then there is something in me too forever surprising a hunger in himself. We're pretty well acquainted after close on forty years of inner proximity. It's just that it continues to exercise a rather fierce irony about itself.

I trust it rather more that way.

Mark Granier said...

"When did I attack Les Murray?"

Whoa George, I never said you did. It was just that your use of that phrase "glory of god" happens to echo the dedication on his books. I'm not hurling accusations at anyone, least of all yourself.

"Has there has been a conspicuous lack of those crying Allah Akhbar walking into places with suicide belts? Are they straw men?"

No on both counts. As I said, I completely agree with you.

"You think they don't really kill people? You mean the Taleban don't really bully and punish people because of their version of God?"

No, I certainly don't mean that. The fact that the Taliban kill people and are murderously intolerant all round does not disqualify them as components of a straw-person argument. My point was that you seem to be talking about extremes of behaviour. Why? Which person here is likely to be intransigent enough to defend the Taliban (or Hamas/suicide bombers for that matter)? Do such people even glance into these corners of the net?

"You mean the Christian church has no such record? Clean hands?"

No, once again, absolutely not. I didn't mean that. But you're on a roll now. Go for it.

"Do you mean that all the burnings, tortures, and other murders are straw men? The people they kill and oppress don't matter? That they are only straw after all?"

Ah yes, that's precisely what I mean (*sigh*).

"WTF is Les Murray doing here?"

Now, here I must apologise. I brought him in as an afterthought, simply adding another corner to that debate (tragic vs. liberal humanism). I certainly didn't mean to upset the apple-cart THIS much. My comment was an aside really (I know, asides don't look like asides on comment-streams. Again, my apologies).

"Do you imagine he would defend such practices? Would he call these murderers 'straw men'? Why is your use of Les Murray not a straw man? Why not invoke St Francis for that matter?"

Franny boy, are you listening now?

"Think for a second, Mark. What do you think my post has been about? What have I been arguing?"

Well George, I am thinking for longer than a second now, whole minutes at a time. Let me put it this way. In future I will think twice (make that a trinity!) before taking the time to worry just one strand of your central/core argument. Are we okay now? Or are you still pissed off at me?

Background Artist said...

There's that great scene in Catch 22 when one charachter is claiming to another to be an atheist, and the other one turns out to be a more virulent atheist and starts on a no God trip, agreeing with the first guy and being free and loose insulting the concept of a Creator to such a degree the first character starts disagreeing with him saying:

No, you're wrong, the God I don't believe in is a warm and kind God."

George S said...

"My point was that you seem to be talking about extremes of behaviour. Why?"

Because there's a lot of it about right now. And I was being quite specific about that.

What I said was: "People who kill or oppress or bully or try to bully others because they claim God has told them to go ahead for the greater glory of, er, God - their God is definitely not Great." and you reply: Yeh, yeh, sure, but it's a straw man.

It would be a straw man had it not been precisely such people, such Gods I had been talking about. In effect I take you to be accusing me of proposing a false argument. That is what 'straw man' means, after all.

I entirely reject the notion of the authority of man passing itself off as any supreme other authority. What's straw about that?

Just because there are, and always have been, some nice religious people, supremely gifted lovely religious people, absolute geniuses, doesn't absolve the notion of supernatural authority from having a decidedly vicious aspect.

Just because the religious sense is something I recognise as valid, powerful and productive in the human psyche (thereby disagreeing with, say, Hichens, whose own line is in fact more sophisticated than that) doesn't mean I have to desist from mentioning that which is potentially loathsome.

And one could do the same with atheism of course. There's a history of sorts there too. The world has no clean hands. And I was in the process

No, I don't get pissed off. But I will defend an argument when it seems a sound one.

Mark Granier said...

George, my point wasn't that your arguments were unsound. But who cares? Let's forget, if we can, the straw man, or at least put him back in his haystack. I wholeheartedly agree with all of what you're stating here. Let's leave it at that.

George S said...

Pax then, Mark.