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Terry Eagleton on Religion and Its Critics

Religion has wrought untold misery in human affairs. For the most part, it has been a squalid tale of bigotry, superstition, wishful thinking, and oppressive ideology. I therefore have a good deal of sympathy with its rationalist and humanist critics. But it is also the case, as this book argues, that most such critics buy their rejection of religion on the cheap. When it comes to the New Testament, at least, what they usually write off is a worthless caricature of the real thing, rooted in a degree of ignorance and prejudice to match religion’s own… If the agnostic left cannot afford such intellectual indolence when it comes to the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, it is not only because it belongs to justice and honesty to confront your opponent at his or her most convincing. It is also that radicals might discover there some valuable insights into human emancipation, in an era where the political left stand in dire need of good ideas. I do not invite such readers to believe in these ideas, any more than I myself believe in the archangel Gabriel, the infallibility of the pope, the idea that Jesus walked on water, or the claim that he rose up into heaven before the eyes of his disciples. If I try in this book to “ventriloquize” what I take to be a version of the Christian gospel relevant to radicals and humanists, I do not wish to be mistaken for a dummy. But the Jewish and Christian scriptures have much to say about some vital questions — death, suffering, love, self-dispossession, and the like — on which the left has for the most part maintained an embarrassed silence. It is time for this politically crippling shyness to come to an end.


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