Larval Subject’s complaint about Stanley Fish’s review of Eagleton’s new book is hard to shake (note that these are three different links). The thing that keeps me from being completely swayed by LS’s insistence on how Christianity remains the signifier for so much screwed up stuff is the thought that Eagleton’s point is a kind of reverse reductio ad absurdum: if we start out with (argue for) the premise that the Christian tradition is full of all these worthwhile political and ethical commitments, we cannot but reveal the obscenity of what is often called Christianity.
This is, of course, immanent critique, as one commenter points out (in an exchange that riled up LS for reasons I can’t see, unless it involves a deleted comment). The part of LS’s complaint that’s hard to shake is that Eagleton’s position is the absurd, abnormal position as far as Christianity goes. Though I don’t think that means it’s an unreasonable starting point for this sort of engagement, I can empathize with the sense that this indirect engagement with concrete social phenomena somehow makes us miss the trees for the forest, if not the mountain in the background.
In this sense, LS’s complaint is not that unlike Zizek’s complaints against liberals who frame racism as a problem of tolerance rather than economic justice. LS might say that Eagleton treats a problem that could be called “What Would Jesus Not Do?” as one of atheism and its discontents rather than the exceedingly more salient issue of religious fundamentalism and the “opium of the masses.” Of course, the twist would be that these are different names for the same symptom, not unlike how I connect the hyper-rich and the hyper-poor in a recent post. The question Eagleton should have to answer is that if simply getting rid of or otherwise directly engaging “bad Christianity” is not what is to be done or even desired, then what is the problem? I have a feeling that part of the answer can be found in Timothy Morton’s engagement with an ecology without Nature.