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Don Cupitt writes on Affirming Life :

CRISIS OF RELIGIOUS BELIEFS

In Greek, crisis means judgement and a critic is a judge.

Critical thinking has a background in the law courts, and in the penitent's systematic self-examination; but from about 1610, in the work of Galileo and Descartes, it reached out into critical philosophy and scientific method. In science the new method was quickly seen to be by far the most powerful way to truth that humans have ever invented.

So what about religious beliefs? How good is the evidence for them, and can they be verified? By about 1700, it was clear to many leading thinkers that "the evidences of Christianity" are weak. By 1850 or so the educated middle classes knew that God, the whole supernatural world, and the Bible as "the Word of God" had fallen, and they experienced a crisis of faith. By 2010 religious leaders had quietly parked the whole of Christian doctrine on the back burner,and today their utterances are confined to ethics.

My "non-realism" tried to relieve this uncomfortable position. It said, "Of course none of it is literally true. But we can treat it all as a body of myths and iconography that can fire the imagination and help us to live better."

RECENT THINKING

More recently, my thinking has come to be dominated by another and bigger problem. About 1790, in the French Revolution, Christianity as the religion of absolute monarchy and agricultural civilisation came to an end, becoming instead the faith and experience of individual believers in a progressive, science-based, industrial civilisation, with God dispersed into people. Politics and religion are both democratised, and the notion of "religious experience" has become very important to many.

This protestant, rather Quakerish, outlook flourished in the nineteenth century. But today a big dark cloud looms.

The development of our science and technology has accelerated to a frenzied pace, and it now seems more likely than not that it will crash in 25-50 years' time.

The symptoms include popular discontent and ungovernability; the failure of many states because we can no longer form a morally-coherent society; the mass extinction of species as both soil and sea become exhausted and polluted; mass starvation and migration; climate change and the flooding of coastal cities; and the increasing risk of a reduction of the human population to a very small fraction of our present numbers.

We cannot guess how long it may be before the surviving remnant of humanity will be able to revive settled life and farming, and begin to build a new civilisation.

Against this background I have tried to develop a new "Kingdom Theology", a new philosophy and a new ethical theory. I have been trying to think at the end of the world, and make a fresh, and better, start. We can make the new start at any time and in any circumstances: its time is always Now.

A NEW PHILOSOPHY

This new philosophy is a democratic philosophy of human life. The old Western Philosophy was written for a tiny elite of the highly gifted, but I have to produce something that can be generally intelligible.

Secondly, the new outlook is plural. There is no ready-made reality, or truth, or meaning, or value out there. Hence my term anthropomonism. We are in the void and we make the lot. The world is our own somewhat botched work of art, and it is inevitably plural. We must each find and project out our own truth in our own vocabulary.

Thirdly, the old centred, powerful God is fading out and being replaced by an array of totalising words which represent to us the whole of which we are part, and which we are "up against". They include Life, the Fountain, Being, It All, the Fire, It and Fate.

Fourthly, our outlook is close to nihilism because it is formed at the end of the world, where everything we used to lean on has passed away. There is only a continuous outpouring and passing-away of Empty, formless contingency. It's like what you see when your eyes are tightly shut.

Fifthly, you yourself are a microcosm of the whole, a miniature Fountain - but of signs. Your life pours out and projects language over the world, rather as we project the constellations over the night sky, or see pictures in the flames of a fire.

Sixthly, the lighting up of the world by language (Lichtung) I call Brightness, or "The Transient Glory of the Real". It is our life's chief consolation. It exists momentarily along the surface where language meets non-language. Then it flits away.

The world-view thus briefly sketched is one that we can draw up if we are living at the End of the World. Its best poets include the painter Claude Monet, and the poets Gerard Manley Hopkins and Emily Dickinson. I sometimes call it Empty Radical Humanism, or just "The Mysticism of Secondariness". To it corresponds my Solar Ethics, an emotivist ethic of pure love, without any resentment or negative feeling of any kind. It happens to have been taught - or so it seems - by the early Jesus, whom I define as the source of the oldest stratum of the sayings-traditions preserved in the Sermon on the Mount.

The Whole is a great Fountain of be-ing: the self is a little Fountain of signs. Our self-expression completes the world. It is our fleeting Glory, our Brightness.

Thus historic Christianity is surrounded by, and fulfilled in, a much greater religious vision that was briefly glimpsed at its beginning, and is now coming into view again at its end.

(Don Cupitt, January 2018)


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