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By and About Cupitt

The Way to Happiness, Polebridge Press, 2005, by Don Cupitt
New Directions in Philosophical Theology Gavin Hyman (Ed.), Ashgate, 2004.

One could hardly imagine that two books could be so closely connected as these and yet be so different.

The first is Don Cupitt’s most recent book, sub-titled ‘A Theory of Religion’.

As he explains, he is not talking about a scholar’s theory of what religion is but a way of looking at religion which makes it a live option for highly-secularized people.

In some respects it is a sequel to his three little books about the way in which our common daily expressions betray the unconscious changes taking place in our religious thinking.

He says, ‘We should now see religion, not as a way for preparing for a better world, but as a symbolic language with which we voice our joy in and love for the world, life and each other’.

Some eighty pages of reflections, set out in unheaded paragraphs rather than chapters, lead us to reflect on our own life today. They are more like disconnected jottings than a sustained argument leading to a final conclusion. Yet the insights all contribute in one way or another to the theme quoted above. They cannot be readily summarized but are all worth thinking through in the light of one’s own experience.

At a time when (as he says) ‘the old faiths are crumbling fast’, what we need is ‘simple, clear and honest religious thinking in the everyday vocabulary of ordinary people’.

That is exactly what we do not find in the second book, one intended to be a festschrift to honour Don Cupitt on his 70th birthday. In gratitude to Don for having, according to the editor, revitalised the study of theology, eleven scholars discuss his work.

Their essays are all very academic and, with the exception of that by Linda Woodhead, they are so dense that (speaking for myself) I find life too short to persevere with them. In this respect the contributors do not appear to have been paying attention to what Don has been saying.

The day of traditional metaphysics and philosophical theology is over. Don himself may not always have been as lucid in the past as one would like, but he has always been worth persevering with. Linda Woodhead acknowledges that theology is in deep trouble and it is doubtful if the other contributors have recognised this yet. She does, however, raise some good points as to why Cupitt has not reached a wider readership than he has; these are points that the SoF movement should consider, for they may apply to it as well.

Lloyd Geering