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Book Corner April  2006

Holy Terror

by Terry Eagleton
Oxford University Press, 2005.  Pp. 148

Reviewed By Dr. Susan K. Hedahl

            Since the topic is much on everyone's mind, Eagleton - a British literary critic - offers a look at terrorism, which covers ancient traditions through twentieth-first century versions of terror expressed in politics, religion and personal choice.  Eagleton writes with impeccable credentials.  His encyclopedic mind observes terrorism from such vantage points as sublimity, freedom, saints, suicides, scapegoats and what he terms the living dead.  Along the way he provides the occasional acerbic political comment, which only a well-spoken Brit can level against the current state of affairs in American politics.

             The strength and fascination of this work is Eagleton's ability to take the history and issues of reality, philosophy, religion and daily reality and find means to look at terror/ism's roots in the human psyche.  What he uncovers is unnerving.

             The theology in this work ranges over a large area, including Aquinas and Augustine. Eagleton's discussion of the relationship between love and law vis--vis St. Paul and Jesus is worth the price of the book.  The work contains one of the best descriptions of the love/law relationship and the meaning of the Atonement, which this author has ever read.

Following Eagleton's arguments through quoting him is too extensive to realistically chart in a small review, but here is a taste of some words from his richly wrought arguments.

            "For St. Paul, it is not that love liquidates the law, but that it replaces an ideological misreading of it with an authentic one.  No doubt this is what Jesus has in mind when he remarks that he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  He has come to disclose the true nature of the law--to reveal it as death-dealing not in the sense of driving us gleefully to our graves, but in the sense that holding out for the justice which it demands is likely to lead to political execution." ( 34)

            In his chapter on "Fear and Freedom" Eagleton examines the way modern thought regards or even remakes God.  "For the modern epoch, it is now not God but humanity which is the eternal author of itself, conjuring itself up out of its own unsearchable depths without means of support.  The modern conception of freedom as pure self-determination is among other things a secularized version of the Almighty, who has descended to earth as an anarchist....God has simply been replaced by an alternative supreme entity known as Man.  Panic-stricken at the loss of its absolute grounds, humanity has plugged the gap with the nearest thing to hand, namely itself." (70)

            In the concluding chapter, Eagleton notes, "Tragedy at its most searching is a reminder that those forms of life which fear the monstrous lack of being at their own heart will tend to discover an image of this frightful Real in some hideous, misshapen creature who must be banished from their gates.  In our own world, on consequence of that disavowal is known as terrorism."

            Giving this work an honest read reveals who is being banished from the gates and who is doing the work of banishment.