Philosophy's Own Religion

by Don Cupitt (SCM Press) reviewed by Alan Goss

In this book Don Cupitt attempts to describe a philosophy and religion of the future. Cupitt writes like an artist, splashing paint all over the canvas at random, a sort of theological Mike Moore.

It's not always easy reading but when teased out (as this review will try to do) his approach is simple and prophetic. He charts a way not the only way for us to go.

Cupitt contends that our traditional way of looking at God and the world has broken down. We can no longer conceive God as an objective heavenly ruler, a sort of general manager or C.E.O. of the world. We can no longer hold that there are two realms, a world above and a world below, one of them sacred and the other profane. We can no longer assume that our lives must be caged by a fixed body of truth taught by the church and contained in the bible. We no longer hear one Voice in the bible, we hear lots of voices. And we can no longer accept that we have been placed in a ready-made world all packaged up and tied up with string. We make the world and the world makes us.

Cupitt's philosophy, his way of looking at the world and trying to make sense of it, is ordinary and democratic. The old, systematic dream and the old dogmatic theology with its Confessions and Creeds as tests of faith, its subtle and sometimes not so subtle displays of power, is crumbling away. The world above and the world below (dualism) have become fused, there is only one world and it is the one we live in. The sacred, the religious, is now scattered like the good seed all over the world so that all of life is religious. Whereas in the past there were Popes and priests and hierarchies to mediate religion, and how oppressive it was everything is now immediate, it happens before our very eyes. Which is surely what Jesus taught and lived.

In this book, as in his other writings, Cupitt is therefore advocating a one-world religious outlook. It is democratic in that it moves away from a God-governed world to a new man-made world. All our ideas, laws, interpretationa1 doctrines, moralities etc. are humanly conceived, including our conceptions of God. The world is like a giant computer, everything is interconnected and all our meanings and values are created by the humming human exchange taking place around us. Cupitt describes the world as a series of language formed events, everything that happens is coded into language, (e.g. the terrorist attack in New York) so that language is crucial to how we should build our lives. This is the concern of religion Translated, commitment to God means saying Yes to life.

For Cupitt, the new emerging global religion will be non-authoritian, that kind of church will no longer be required.

It's place should be taken by informal religious associations like the Society of Friends. Likewise preaching will be non-dogmatic, with preachers more like artists asking their congregations to "look at things from this angle", to "try looking at it from this way". Some parish ministers are already doing this, encouraging people to tell their own stories that explain our present religious situation.

Alan Goss