In Defense of Religious Moderationby William Egginton
In his latest book, William Egginton laments the current debate over religion in America, in which religious fundamentalists have set the tone of political discourse—no one can get elected without advertising a personal relation to God, for example—and prominent atheists treat religious belief as the root of all evil. Neither of these positions, Egginton argues, adequately represents the attitudes of a majority of Americans who, while identifying as Christians, Jews, and Muslims, do not find fault with those who support different faiths and philosophies.
In fact, Egginton goes so far as to question whether fundamentalists and atheists truly oppose each other, united as they are in their commitment to a "code of codes." In his view, being a religious fundamentalist does not require adhering to a particular religious creed. Fundamentalists—and stringent atheists—unconsciously believe that the methods we use to understand the world are all versions of an underlying master code. This code of codes represents an ultimate truth, explaining everything. Surprisingly, perhaps the most effective weapon against such thinking is religious moderation, a way of believing that questions the very possibility of a code of codes as the source of all human knowledge. The moderately religious, with their inherent skepticism toward a master code, are best suited to protect science, politics, and other diverse strains of knowledge from fundamentalist attack, and to promote a worldview based on the compatibility between religious faith and scientific method.
Egginton's book is a very useful resource for survey or elective undergraduate courses. Highly recommended.
A literary rally to restore sanity in religion.
From the Crusades to the terrorist attacks of recent decades, the stories of religious beliefs gone awry that populate the history books are proof enough to "new atheist" authors like Christopher Hitchens that religion is the root of all evil. Egginton (The Theater of Truth, 2010, etc.), on the other hand, argues that fundamentalism, not religion, is to blame for acts of violence and political unrest, putting atheists and religious zealots on the opposite sides of the same extreme coin. The author deftly weaves history's greatest dialogues, like Plato's "Allegory of the Cave," with examples from contemporary popular culture, like Dan Brown'sThe Da Vinci Code,to show how fundamentalism is a threat to world peace. He argues that once people accept that there is a "code of codes," or an underlying truth that negates opposing beliefs, they lose the heart of science, politics and even religion, which is skepticism.Digging deeper, Egginton citesthe works ofChristian philosophers like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine to suggest thatscientific method and faith are not mutually exclusive. Citing statistics that prove just how many modern-day Christians believe in the Second Coming of Christ without condemning other religions and the vast numbers of Muslims who read the Koran without resorting to violence, the author brings to light a very different America than the one seen on television. He calls on saints and scientists alike to fight dogma—whether religious or scientific—with reason.
Scholarly readers who thought Hitchens'God Is Not Great (2007) went too far will appreciate this temperate and thoughtfully researched look at religion.
- Columbia University Press
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Meet the Author
William Egginton is Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and director of the Alexander Grass Humanities Center at the Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of The Man Who Invented Fiction: How Cervantes Ushered In the Modern World (2016); The Theater of Truth: The Ideology of (Neo)Baroque Aesthetics (2009); A Wrinkle in History (2007); The Philosopher's Desire: Psychoanalysis, Interpretation, and Truth (2007); Perversity and Ethics (2005); and How the World Became a Stage (2002).
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