Eagleton suggested three ways we engage with the tragic dimension: “social transformation” which passes through disillusionment; “psychoanalysis” which engages with the person at depth – not the therapeutic fallacy of believing that what matters is what makes you feel good; and Christianity – not the “being nice” variety but the one that brings a sword rather than peace, divides truth from falsehood and puts Christ on the cross. They all have failure in common, said Eagleton, and they are all deeply suspicious of success.

The tragic humanist is saying that when we struggle with oppressive powers, or penetrate to the body of human fragility, or confront the darkness of the human soul, we need more than optimism and a few good books on evolution to see us through. This “twice-born” view of life arises out of brokenness and disillusionment. And you have to surrender your old dreams – your ideals or image of yourself or others – to be reborn into something new. Christ could not have said: “OK, I’ll just suffer the agony on the cross and in three days I’ll be up again.” We have to enter the abyss with no expectation, no promise of anything better. This is a very different form of hope to the liberal humanist’s belief in our ongoing moral progress.

And so Eagleton, from his Marxist starting point, enters the terrain of Christian faith.