Saturday, 30 January 2010

'Impossible loves', by Don Cupitt

This is a slim, rich volume by the influential religious writer and philosopher, Don Cupitt. ‘Theologian’ would be the wrong word, since he does not believe in ‘God’. He is a lapsed Christian, yet remains obsessed with many of the traditional Christian concerns, as he himself ruefully admits. This book is mainly about the ‘impossible loves’ which dominate our human lives, such as love for the Dead and love for a God we no longer believe in. He is very harsh on himself and brutally frank with us, pointing out how illogical and pointless are many of these loves, but he shows himself and us that they are necessary and fundamental to our make up.

He sets himself a big target: “attempting a re-invention of religious thought as such”. He makes some startling declarations, such as “It has become obvious that not one of the major religious traditions can survive in its present form”. This is the voice of a Cambridge academic, and is hardly a statement that would win any agreement from a US Evangelical or a Saudi Wahhabist cleric!

Cupitt’s brutal honesty, if one can agree with it, leaves life stripped down to a very stark and almost nihilistic world view. He makes one face the illogicalities and contradictions in many of our moral and ethical views in a world without God. He points out how we retreat into an ‘entertainment culture’ fostered by TV and other modern media, which is the true opium of the modern masses. This makes one realise how easy it is to be sucked into the entertainments of modern life that fill in our empty lives, filling up time and distracting us from the difficult religious and social problems that crowd around us.

But Cupitt completely fails to build any alternative system. He strips away our illusions, and only in the last few pages attempts to build an alternative. I wondered what this could be, given the few pages left in the book. In the end, I think he just gives up. I would expect several hundred pages of his finest writing and thoughts, building up a system of a ‘religion’ that is “a way of seeking to become reconciled to, and at ease with, life in general and one’s own life in particular”. Instead we are left with a few notes and doodles, encapsulated into simple and simplistic precepts.

I think the book proves that ‘religion’ without a ‘God’ is a nonsense.

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