Archive for May 4th, 2009

Progress—the new superstition

May 4, 2009



“A society of packaged fulfillment, administered desire, managerialized politics and consumerist economics is unlikely to cut to the depth where theological questions can ever be properly raised.” so writes literary critic, Britain’s Terry Eagleton in his latest book, Reason, Faith and Revolution. A pretty good description of our contemporary society. 

This by itself is not knew. Many brilliant secularists who never ‘touched’ religion have described the contemporary world under advanced capitalism in similar words. Off the top there was Aldous Huxley in his brilliant Brave New World (1946), the Marxist Erich Fromm in book after book did the same as did Herbert Marcuse when he had his moment in the 60s. In a less ideological way, the witty John Kenneth Galbraith lampooned capitalism in similar terms. Brilliant theologians, schooled in Marxist analysis also had trenchant critiques of the overdeveloped West.Here one could mention Juan Luis Segundo, Rubem Alves and Gustavo Guttierez in Latin America and Johann Baptist Metz in Europe and our own Gregory Baum in Canada.

According to Stanley Fish in the NY Times,Eagleton, not known as as a theologian but one of Britain’s great literary critics,wades in these waters in his new book.

“The coming kingdom of God, a condition of justice, fellowship, and self-fulfillment far beyond anything that might normally be considered possible or even desirable in the more well-heeled quarters of Oxford and Washington.” Such a condition writes Fish, would not be desirable in Oxford and Washington because, according to Eagleton, the inhabitants of those places are complacently in bondage to the false idols of wealth, power and progress. That is, they feel little of the tragedy and pain of the human condition, but instead “adopt some bright-eyed superstition such as the dream of untrammeled human progress” and put their baseless “trust in the efficacy of a spot of social engineering here and a dose of liberal enlightenment there.”

Then as he has in the past, Eaglteon goes on to skewer the shockingly superficial work of Ditchkins—Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins- and their sophomoric takes on religion. It is their embrace of “progress” which really gets to Eagleton. Progress to the author is simply another superstition. He says:

“The language of enlightenment has been hijacked in the name of corporate greed, the police state, a politically compromised science, and a permanent war economy,” all in the service, Eagleton contends, of an empty suburbanism that produces ever more things without any care as to whether or not the things produced have true value.

 Not bad!