Creative Faith, Religion as a Way of World Making
Don Cupitt in his recent book, Creative Faith, Religion as a Way of World Making, attempts to assess the state of belief in God, allegiance to religion, the world view of the religious enterprise, and present an alternative approach suited to our times. Whether or not you think he has succeeded will depend on your affinity for his views to start with. If you think like him you will cheer, and if you do not you will give him a complete thumbs down.
I am somewhat like him in that I have left the views of the 1950’s church that educated me, including the likelihood of resurrection, well behind, but I have remained connected to and in love with the tradition and hopeful about it as he has not. So in honor of our present differences on a five point scale, one being very poor and five being very good I would give him a one. But judging him as one of his mind would judge him I would give him a five. So I score him three.
I advise buying this book either way, what follows will simply predict your response. I argued with him (and in his absence won) all the way through and yet feel in the process I was forced to think more deeply than I had thought before and this I value highly. The possibility that I will be blindsided by the truth of his position becomes less likely even as its validity becomes more reasonable.
So what does the man have to say?
God is now dead. He is absent even in the hearts of those who preach him. The churches are empty of true believers. Most people profess no belief, and of those who profess belief most are cultural Christians, loving the traditions which centered on a belief in God without the belief itself. Cupitt is living and writing in England where the situation for the faith is darker than in the United States but soften the negativity a little bit and you have where the more visible American church is or is trending in my opinion. That is what the observer is most likely to see.
Where we separate is “Is there hope for the old church or not?” Cuppitt reads this as it is all over, and it is time to create anew, a blank slate so to speak. (Cuppitt is a very black and white kind of guy. But then, so am I.) I would say that there are great gasping breaths of life emitting from the corpse, researchers studying old texts, writers exploring new meaning, preachers testing new ideas, people in live wire groups swearing that they are now being touched by a power beyond them. So why smother the old lady? Why dump her traditions? Why not see how it may grow anew, in new directions? Because I think it already is. As God was once purported to say: “Look at what I am about to do. I am doing it now!”
Again, where we separate, he offers as the new starting point the ethical tradition of Jesus without the supernatural. What does he mean by supernatural? He means: the trinity, the incarnation, the assumption of the Virgin Mary, and all that jazz. What I mean by the supernatural is the sensing of a profound force greater than us pushing and guiding us down a discernable path. It is from that that the tradition of Jesus arose, and I think the force is still there. (Yes, I recognize that this sounds like Star Wars or to give history its due, Star Wars sounds like this.) Without it or a similar force an ethical tradition is unlikely. Ethics, at least the ethics of love, is not something you think up. Loving defies logic.
Cupitt does not address this force. I think him dead to it. He has not noticed it.
(Usually, and I think Cupitt is just another example, it is not the actual sayings or acts of Jesus that are relied on when describing a Jesus ethic, but a sweeter version preferred by the teller. Jesus’s anger is well documented, but few Christians preach it, or atheists for that matter. Or his, “do what you have to” approach to economics as in the parable of the talents is not held up as a Jesus-like path.)
Towards the close of the book, Cupitt says something that I think indicative of the vacuum at the core of his approach. “More generally, is there not almost everywhere an underlying agreement that most of us privately find the human condition bleak?” While I am appreciative of his sticking his neck out so bravely and gratuitously I think he is grievously wrong and feel sorrow for any human whose life and philosophy has led him or her to this or better perhaps whose this has led to that life and philosophy.
Perhaps this abhorrence of life is also the reason that he counsels the development of a “solar” love, one like the sun that shines on others whatever their constitution and I am content with a human awareness that responds to the goodness of others with love. I expect to find this goodness nearly everywhere, (only seven percent of humanity are sociopaths).
Cupitt says that the newly developed ethical only religion will be the religion of the ordinary people. That is a wise decision. I am an ordinary person living among ordinary people and despite the crosses I find us ordinarily happy.
May I say, that I know some quite happy atheists. They look at the great unknown and say, “There is nothing there.” I look at the great unknown and say, “There is something there, I cannot describe it, yet I can worship it .” And my happy atheist friend says, “There is nothing there, but I can accept that and all that goes with that.”
Does the difference between happiness and bleakness boil down to a willingness to genuflect?