In his recent book This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom, the literary critic and philosopher Martin Hägglund offers a utopian vision of democratic socialism in which citizens will have not only material comfort but the time to enjoy it. In his review, James Chappel notes that Hägglund “does not do the work to show how [such a vision] might plausibly be on the horizon, or ask how it might be possible in a globalized economy.” But he objects more strenuously to the book’s main argument: that until people abandon religion—which takes focus away from humanity in this world and toward the supernal—democracy cannot reach perfection. Chappel writes:
The most obvious objection to Hägglund’s thesis is simply that religious people care about the world, and other people, all of the time. . . . His response is that when they do so, they are not in fact acting religiously but are, despite their own self-perception, honoring the secular faith that is at the heart of the human condition. . . .
Religious believers claim, [however], that their care for the finite world is enlivened and awakened by their sense that the world is not dead matter, but rather emanates from the divine. Hägglund considers this to be impossible, but he does not directly explain why. . . He believes that you can either love the world in its finitude, or you can love the eternal creator, but you cannot possibly do both, and one could not possibly enrich the other. . . .
The problem is that, for a book so concerned with theology, Hägglund does not really have a theory of religion. He does not, in other words, have a theory to explain why so many people, today and historically, have devoted themselves to (what he sees as) transparently false understandings of the universe.