British Marxist Talks Religion at Harvard Club
Terry Eagleton interviewed by JTS’s Arnie Eisen
Pairing a pugnacious British intellectual with an American Jewish religious leader for a public conversation on faith must be a lot of people’s idea of fun, because it’s happened in Manhattan two years in a row. The first time around was a bit more raucous: 2,000 people turned out to see Christopher Hitchens and Conservative rabbi David Wolpe storm around the bima of Temple Emanu-El debating the existence of God last November. Last night’s event, on the other hand, was a civilized conversation at the Harvard Club between Jewish Theological Seminary chancellor Arnie Eisen and his interview subject, the British Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton, sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation. Though the two are not necessarily aligned on questions of faith, they bonded over a disdain for Hitchens and his fellow “new atheist” Richard Dawkins, whose contempt for religion is the topic of Eagleton’s new book, Reason, Faith, and Revolution. Eagleton, who called Dawkins a “bitter, old-fashioned positivist” and said he’d known his other intellectual target at Oxford—“when he was a mere ‘Chris’ Hitchens, we were members of the same Trotskyist society,” he said—posited that these thinkers are motivated by a combination of the stubborn belief that reason is the only valid structure of thought, and, more perniciously, the need for a justification of Islamophobia. They elide radical Islamism and the teachings of Islam, he argued, and while they’re bashing the Muslim faith, are trying to tear the whole edifice of religious thought down with it. It’s “a new and ugly trend,” Eagleton said.
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180
WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.
I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.
We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.