Mysticism After Modernity


by Don Cupitt, Blackwell, 1998
Reviewed in Sea of Faith New Zealand Newsletter 25 by Lloyd Geering

When I first read a book by Don Cupitt (I think it was Christ and the Hiddenness of God, it was published in 1971 but I read it in 1975) I was interested but not wholly absorbed by it. I thought he was moving in the right direction but had not gone far enough. But his Taking Leave of God in 1980 I found very exciting. I thought it was spot on; and it was this one which led me to go and visit him personally. Since then I have read every book of his with great interest though occasionally there were a few bits which I found opaque.

This latest book puzzles me the most, not because I disagree with it but because I am not sure if I have understood it very well. I have the feeling that Don has been moving so fast in his thinking that I need a little time to catch up and that I may appreciate it much more in ten years time, if I am still able to read it then.

This book argues that the great mystics (about whom I know all too little), if properly understood, have much to teach us on how to live in this post-modern age when all the old certainties have gone.

The mystics, particularly within the Christian tradition, were always on the margins of their culture. Don sees them as the forerunners of today's radical theology. (We should remember that "Taking Leave of God" is a quote from the mediaeval mystic Meister Eckhart).

Don thinks it is a mistake to assume that the mystics first had mystical experiences and that afterwards they attempted to put this into words. Rather it was the other way round; it was through their writing that they reached their experience. "A person 'has a religious experience' when she is able through religious imagery or ritual to 'get herself together', and to experience the harmonisation and reconciliation of the various forces bearing upon her and within her".

This not an easy book to read, but there are some brilliant flashes of insight in it. I shall certainly go back to it.

Lloyd Geering