Holy Terror: “not even the SAS can stand up to Satan”

March 13, 2007

Small ImageI have just finished reading a fairly vigorous set of criticisms of Dave Pollard’s blog Nobody but Yourself. Dave is reading Dawkins diatribe at the moment and his blog thus addresses religion along with other issues. One of the critical comments referenced Terry Eagleton’s review of The God Delusion of which more later. By coincidence I knew Terry back in the 70’s when he was an editor of SLANT along with one of my intellectual mentor/hero’s Hubert McCabe (read his Faith within Reason if you get a chance). Terry has written one of the best books on understanding terrorism I know in Holy Terror from the OUP. This outstanding book traces terrorism from the cult of Dionysus to the modern day. It represents the sort of intelligent research, deep knowledge and considered reflection that is the antithesis of the cheap polemic and partial reporting of history which characterises the The God Delusion, and the primitive stereotyping of terrorism that is all too often found in politics. One quote from Holy Terror makes my point:

Genuinely believing that your enemy is irrational, as opposed to pretending to do so for propaganda purposes, will almost certainly ensure that you cannot defeat him. You can only defeat an antagonist whose ways of seeing things you can make sense of. Some of the British People may have believed that the IRA had no goals other than to maim and slaughter, but British Intelligence took a different view. There is nothing irrational, as opposed to morally repulsive, about killing people to achieve your political ends. It is not on the same level as believing that you are Marie Antoinette. If one’s enemy really is metaphysically evil, then the chances of defeating him look rather small. Not even the SAS can stand up to Satan.

Its not an easy book to read, either intellectually (it is demanding) or morally (it is disturbing) but it represents the sort of honesty and scholarship that we need in understanding the flow of ideas in human systems. His chapter on scapegoats should be mandatory reading for Blair and Bush.

Now Eagleton’s criticism of Dawkins shows the same critical capacity. he says:

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster.

Now that is much better written than most of my posts on the subject. The comment which put me on to this quote was a bit silly. The author is suprised that a “lefty” such as Eagleton should have some knowledge of religion. He should really read Liberation Theology and a whole host of publications from the SCM Press (of which I was briefly a Director in the 70s) to realise that he should not be surprised if it was not the case. Back copies of SLANT might also make the same point.

Now I should say, by way of wrapping up, that I felt really sorry for Dave Pollard last night. He had told me he was about to blog on Dawkins. He had observed my dislike of the said polemicist on the Thinking Meat blog , and also in response to Euan’s anti-calvinist inspired support of said demagogue : OK I confess, I really dislike Dawkins, memes and militant atheism alike. Either way he wrote the blog before he had read Dawkins, but made a fairly wide ranging attack on religion in general. I’ll pick out one phrase to give you a sense of the tone of his post, but I recommend reading the whole thing:

I don’t disrespect religions and other subcultures. I empathize with their members, as I empathize with inmates of jails and hospitals and institutions and personal hells, confined as they are in a hollow figment of a real life, never free just to be themselves. We are all in the same boat.

Now on the two previously referenced blogs as I was the sole voice for tolerance in response to attacks on religion that were worthy of the Cecil’s dislike of Catholics during the Tudor period (multiple layers of meaning there). However before I got time to write a comment on Dave’s his own readers got stuck into him big time. just read the comments! Now I think most of these comments are good and Dave’s blog (but not Dave himself as he is one of the deepest and most interesting thinkers around in the blogosphere) kinda of deserved all it got. I don’t buy the spiral dynamics recommendation of one comment by the way. That idea started it as a moderately interesting expansion of some psychological insights from the last century, but has regrettably started to degenerate into a cult of recent years. What I find interesting about the comments, other than their thoughtful content, which matches Dave’s own, is their obvious respect and affection for Dave and his thinking. I think they were surprised at the strength of this comments and misinterpreted many of them.

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