I’m reading Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009). The book is based on the 2008 Dwight H. Terry Lectures that Eagleton delivered at Yale University.
A British literary critic and a committed Marxist radical, Eagleton is both stimulating and provocative and, from my vantage point, often seriously wrong. I don’t think he’s a theist; he’s certainly not a mainstream Christian. In particular, he’s not a fan of Mormons or Mormonism. Quite a few years ago, he visited Brigham Young University, leading a smallish faculty seminar for a week or two in which I participated. I recall enjoying it, but I had the distinct impression that he was quite unimpressed with us and even somewhat hostile. And, in fact, he gets in a dig at BYU on page 59 of Reason, Faith, and Revolution.
All of that notwithstanding, I enjoyed the passage that I quote below. While I’m not committed to the notion that Jesus was married, I’m also not . . . umm, wedded to the idea that Jesus was celibate, let alone to the explanation for that putative celibacy that Eagleton (in company with many others) offers. So what did I like about the passage? I found myself thinking, as I read it, not about a permanently celibate professional clergy but about our young missionaries, who forego dating for eighteen months to two years in order to serve, even while the overall ideal for Latter-day Saints eventually is temple marriage and a family:
If self-denial is not an end in itself for Christianity, neither is celibacy. Jesus was probably celibate because he believed that the kingdom of God was about to arrive any moment, which left no time for mortgages, car washes, children, and other such distracting domestic phenomena. This brand of celibacy, however, is not hostile to sexuality as such. On the contrary, it sees giving up sex as a sacrifice, and sacrifice means abandoning something you hold precious. It is no sacrifice to give up drinking bleach. When Saint Paul looks for a sign (or “sacrament”) of the future redeemed world, he offers us the sexual coupling of bodies. It is marriage, not celibacy, which is a sacrament. Fullness of life is what matters; but working for a more abundant life all round sometimes involves suspending or surrendering some of the good things that characterize that existence. Celibacy in this sense is a revolutionary option. Those who fight corrupt regimes in the jungles of Latin America want to go home, enjoy their children, and resume a normal life. The problem is that if this kind of existence is to be available to everyone, the guerrilla fighter has to forego such fulfillments for the moment. He or she becomes what the New Testament calls “a eunuch for the kingdom.” The worst mistake would be to find in this enforced austerity an image of the good life as such. Revolutionaries are rarely the best image of the society they are working to create. (25-26)
I would like to call your attention to the Uplift Study Group, led by Leo Winegar, which seems to me a really praiseworthy attempt to create an online community that will be faith-affirming rather than corrosive of Latter-day Saint religious commitment.
And I do this not merely because the group has just posted a recorded interview with me that some may be able to watch all the way through without serious mental or emotional consequences: