Most storms are not produced by pressure, but more by de-pressure, a vacuum that draws and pumps masses of air. It’s not always the pushing force that produces a shift and motion, but sometimes also the lack or deficit. Some think, we live in times, were religion is more and more marginalized, up to a point of insignificance. Empty churches, forgotten tradition, lost hope and an absent God. Believers of various religions try to answer this situation: driven by a –howsoever-natured – missional emphasis, they tend to fill those holes. They use much effort, force and pressure to satisfy the vacuum.
In his book “Culture and the Death of God” Terry Eagleton tries to look at these holes and also at the way we fill them. He takes the reader on a journey though the past 400 years with a focus on the relationship of society and their idea of God. Starting with the enlightenment, the intellectual battlefields of Europe, Lessing, Kant, Hamann, Herder and the rest of the 18th century, Eagleton illustrates their ambition to substitute reason for God. He looks at the Romantics and eventually Nitzsche, who famously defined the hole, by proclaimed the death of God to end with modernity and finally post-modernity – an era of extreme relativism. Eagleton portraits one western intellectual movement after the other, who are all unified by denying the existence of God and pursuing to search for the divine somewhere else.
The substitutes to fill the god-shaped holes they used: philosophy, reason, religion, art culture, materialism and consumerism.
Eagleton defines our current era of post-modernity as the realization of Nietzsches “God is dead”- concept. He refers to materialism, individualism, aversion to moral absolutes and dismissal of strongly-held convictions. And in the midst of this atheistic and materialist society, which tends to fill the gaps with individual truth and consumerism, some try to fill the gaps differently. In some parts of the world, religion is becoming more important. Fanatic forms, Christian, Islamic or other are growing. Looking beyond one’s own nose and leaving a the western perspective, especially rapidly emerging radical Islamic movements come to mind.
Are they growing out of a pressure and force or out of a vaccum? Eagleton states, that atomizing, individualistic Western capitalism has inevitably thrown up a mighty counter-force. In this group a variety of individuals and entire societies are united, which see a godless world of endless choice as a threat. Those fundamental forces seem aggressive, but Eagleton insists, that they are rooted in a deep cultural anxiety. It seems that this forceful and aggressive appearing movement is not driven by pressure, but moved by a lack and vacuum (produced by the West). Ultimately, Eagleton seems pessimistic about the human chances to find a satisfying alternative to fill the hole. He remains sympathetic to religion as a basically decent expression of core human dilemmas and values, corrupted as religion, the churches or other religious institutions may be.
Enlightenment – bringing on the light
Eagleton’s journey through time introduces to different pseudo-religious methods of filling the god-shaped hole and also to different “materials” to use. My question is not so much about the method or the material, but more about the craftsmen (and –women, of course). Who are the new alternative gap-fillers, the “enlighters with the light of the world” and “aufklärer with a missional drive” of the new enlightenment? After post-enlightenment and post-modernity and post-post-modernity.
Religion has gone viral. Things are fluid and moving.
Who are the people, who are smart to use the currents?
Who are the people, to wisely use pressure and vacuum?
Who are those who separate from fanatic religious groups but also from skepticism, secularism and consumerism?
Who are those, who debunk pseudo religions and crooked God-substitutes with decent alternatives?