A controversial and Radical theologian looks at the traditional roots of religion and proposes a basis for a belief that will reflect the post modern world in which we live. Traditional religious beliefs have reflected and grown out of the structures of the societies that produced them. Cuppit both explores this theory of the history of religious faith and meaning and suggests a future for religious belief, proposing that instead of retaining traditional forms and increasingly isolating itself from the wider world, it is ...
A controversial and Radical theologian looks at the traditional roots of religion and proposes a basis for a belief that will reflect the post modern world in which we live. Traditional religious beliefs have reflected and grown out of the structures of the societies that produced them. Cuppit both explores this theory of the history of religious faith and meaning and suggests a future for religious belief, proposing that instead of retaining traditional forms and increasingly isolating itself from the wider world, it is crucial that religion must change, moving away from traditional concepts, in particular that of a God or Gods, but equally that our societies desparately need Religious faiths as a basis for social stability and morality.
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Phoenix (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd ), London
In 1906, the American composer Charles Ives wrote a short orchestral piece called "The Unanswered Question". He described the music as a "cosmic drama." The piece is indeed a musical picture of the human search for meaning and religion and a world full of skepticism about both. (Ives himself was a believer of a rather traditional sort.)
I thought of Ives, and his "Unanswered Question" in reading Don Cupitt's short study "After God". Cupitt is a fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge and his written widely on religious subjects. He is the founder of the "Sea of Faith" movement, which is an attempt to provide meaning for religion in a non-theistic, non-traditional sense.
The book is modernistic in tone. It is addressed to the many people who attempt to find a form of religion in their lives separate from theism. In setting out his topic Cupitt states: "Religious life is an expressive, world-building activity through which we can get ourselves together and find a kind of posthumous, or retrospective, happiness". (page xiv)
The book is in three parts. In the first part, "The Coming of the Gods", Cupitt tries to give a historical, genetic account of the origins of theistic belief, based on the development of cities and ruling hierarchies from more primitive hunting or agrarian societies. He finds both religion and early philosophy derivative of this change in human social organization.
In the second section, "The Departure of the Gods" Cupitt explores the difficulties in the concept of a transcendent God separate from the imminent world of the everyday. He talks insightfully, if too briefly, of the development of philosophy from the objective realism of Plato (both the chief hero and the chief villain of the book) through Kant's internalization of the sources of human knowledge, through Nietzsche and modern philosophy of language. His position straddles, I think, postmodern thought, which denies the possibility of any absolute truth separate from the observer, and a more traditional philosophical naturalism (denial of supernaturalism) where I think it is ultimately more comfortable.
The third part of the book "Religion after the Gods" offers a new version of religion stripped of its theological trappings. Cupitt adopts a three-fold religious practice from the wisdom of the past, consisting of 1. attempting to see one's life through the eye of eternity 2. meditation on emptiness and 3. "solar living" -- a radiant, outgoing way of life based on emotion and human need, receptive to change and to the moment, and concerned with immanences here and now rather than fixed absolutes. Cupitt sees religion as ultimately global in character, breaking down the tendency of believers to separate themselves and their creed from other parts of humanity. Strangely enough, he closes the book with advice that people remain in their current religious traditions, but follow them in a manner consistent with the teachings of his book.
Cupitt writes eloquently and well. I am in sympathy with much of his programme, but he moves too quickly at times. There is a sense in his book of the mystery and enigma that Ives presents so well in "the unanswered question"; although, paradoxically, Cupitt seems too eager to dissolve the mystery by creating a dogma of his own.
Those wanting to hear more of Cupitt might be interested in looking up his interview with Steven Bachelor in the Fall, 2003,issue of "Tricycle, the Buddhist Review."
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