Terry EAGLETON. Culture and the Death of God. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014. pp. x + 234. $26.00 hb. Reviewed by Francis X. KLOSE, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA 19141
The growing atmosphere in American culture seems to be an overwhelming rejection of religion. The world is supposedly a secular world, where there is little to no place for religion. Where there is religion, it is radical and fundamentalist. What is one to do? Is there room for religion in this atmosphere? When I picked up Culture and the Death of God, I was expecting to find a book bemoaning or chronicling the decline. Instead, Terry Eagleton shows just how people have found the experience of the transcendent in other ways.
The Enlightenment is the clear starting point for a discussion of secularism and the presumed "death" of God. With a push toward reason and reason alone, the movement tended to look to strike down institutional structures, instead of the divine. Further, when philosophers tried to construct systems of ethical discernment on reason alone, they tended to point back to a Christian construct. Ultimately, Eagleton concludes, the Enlightenment was a "political rather than a theological affair".
Thus, continued contradiction got people nowhere. Idealism did not succeed to replace orthodox Christianity with a secularized Christianity, and Romanticism is "divided against itself...largely because it is both a product of middle-class society and a protest against it." It became a battle of trying to "spurn" the world and transform it at the same time. As cultures begin to build and they move into a postmodern world, the ideology of religion was no longer needed; but conflict continues with terrorism, even creating an authentic atheism for some.
Eagleton writes, "If religious faith were to be released from the burden of furnishing social orders with a set of rationales for their existence, it might be free to rediscover its true purpose as a critique of all such politics. In this sense, its superfluity might prove its salvation". Religion is not exiting the world, but simply being reborn and redefined.
Culture and the Death of God is a great piece for an experienced honors student at the undergraduate level or a graduate -level course in the philosophy of religion. It would help the reader to have a working knowledge of the big names in Philosophy that one would expect in a philosophy curriculum, particularly an understanding of the philosophy of the human person and the philosophy of religion. But I would not stop with philosophy or religious studies. I would recommend Culture and the Death of God to all working in all fields of the humanities as it frames the worldviews that one would encounter in philosophy, literature, art, music, history, and most certainly religion.