John Schad profiles the literary critic Terry Eagleton, noting the way his Catholic upbringing mingles with his radical politics:
There was a time, mainly in the 1980s, when Catholicism was all but invisible in Eagleton’s writing. For some time now, it has been very evident; nevertheless, to date, Christianity has seemed to be primarily a language for Eagleton’s Marxism, or communism, with the crucifixion being a way of unearthing what Eagleton seemed to think of as a tragic vision otherwise buried within communism. However, what I am hearing now, as he speaks, is not so much communism-via-Christianity but rather communism-and-Christianity, a genuinely double act.
Is Eagleton, then, back where he was 50 years ago when he would often refer to himself as a Christian? I am tempted to ask this rather dumb, card-carrying question but resist. I do, though, summon the stupidity to ask the “afterlife” question, the heaven question. Given that he makes so much of the crucifixion, what, I ask, should we make of the biblical account of resurrection? What, if anything, is its significance and does that in any sense include an afterlife? “No,” he says, “the after-life is not a Judaeo-Christian belief. As Wittgenstein says somewhere, ‘How strange that people believe that when you die eternity starts.’ The Christian belief is in an eternity that is here and now.” “But,” I ask, “is eternity limited to here and now?” To which he replies that “eternity does not mean we will live on and on – that would be hell”.
The itinerant and crucified Jesus, not his Dad, is the apotheosis of Eagleton’s political theology. To the curer of leprosy and blindness, pain and disease are “unacceptable”; misery and despair are not “enviable opportunities to flex one’s moral muscles.” Jesus mends without compensation or moral inquiry; he never tells the afflicted to learn the edifying lessons the Almighty is teaching them, however inscrutably. If there must be suffering, it comes as the price of personal and collective transfiguration; our condition is so awry that the only way out is through a turbulent journey of self-dispossession. As Eagleton explains, the Christian life as portrayed in the Gospels is not that of the pious, hard-working, familial accumulator dear to the conceits of suburban believers. It is rather “homeless, propertyless, peripatetic, celibate, socially marginal, disdainful of kinsfolk, averse to material possessions … a thorn in the side of the Establishment and a scourge of the rich and powerful.” In the life and death of Jesus—resurrection goes unmentioned—Eagleton discovers the most stringent and fundamental rebuke to capitalism, as well as the point of departure for any future revolutionary politics. It is in that crucible of downward mobility that “a new configuration of faith, culture, and politics might be born.” This is unvarnished liberation theology, and here Eagleton returns to the prophetic Marxism that animated his earlier career.