This long review by Melbourne-based critic James Ley, published in the new (October 2010) issue of Australian Book Review, elegantly skewers Terry Eagleton's book On Evil: "all its bluster," Ley concludes, "merely underscores the extent to which Eagleton’s political radicalism and his theology have deteriorated into a lot of waffling nonsense."
Before reaching that point, Ley takes some time for a gently sardonic exposition of Eagleton's high-theological account of God:
As an example of the kind of wisdom that is revealed when one is properly versed in the work of medieval theologians such as Thomas Aquinas and John Scottus Eriugena, [On Evil] offers the view that God is, among other things, ‘pure vacuity’, ‘without point or purpose’, and ‘pure nothingness. He is not a material entity or an extraterrestrial object. He cannot be located either inside or outside the universe.’
Ley then adds - and who can controvert him? - that such a rarefied deity seems to have no practical importance:
if we accept what Eagleton calls the‘orthodox’ theological view – namely, that God is an inhuman, inexplicable, intangible, unlocatable, unthinkable, pointless, non-creating, uncommunicative nonentity – then God’s relevance to human affairs would appear to be limited. Certainly, anyone who claims to speak on God’s behalf can be safely told to rack off. By definition, such a deity has no implications for questions of morality, value or meaning. It can have no objection to gay marriage, contraception or female priests; nor could it father a son or require any form of worship.
Quite. And indeed, one might wonder in what sense belief in such a non-being is even coherent, and, if it can be made coherent, what it has to do with the more popular forms of Christianity that the much-despised New Atheist authors have focused on in their critiques. Of course, as Ley suggests, a problem arises when theologically-inspired scholars such as Eagleton try to have it both ways: they affirm such "an inhuman, inexplicable, intangible, unlocatable, unthinkable, pointless, non-creating, uncommunicative nonentity" - a God which may, indeed, be a little more user-friendly than (per Richard Dawkins) the "misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully" portrayed in the Old Testament - but then attribute to their eternally uncommunicative non-entity such characteristics as aesthetic preferences and compassion.
It doesn't work, and Ley isn't buying it. Neither am I ... and neither, my friends, should anyone.