Philosophy’s Own Religion
by Don Cupitt, SCM Press, 2000
Reviewed by Lloyd Geering
As with all of Don Cupitt's books this is not one for popular consumption. This is partly because he is forging a new path and, to appreciate it fully, one needs to have a critical understanding of the path by which we have reached the present. But neither is the book difficult to read. He avoids the traditional philosophical and theological jargon (in which too many people still feel at home) and invites us to think critically along with him as he analyses where we are and pioneers an uncharted path.
Don sets out to describe the philosophy and religion of the future. He begins by making some very timely and interesting observations about the philosophy of religion hitherto. It is now changing rapidly because the way the world appears to us has been changing. This means that the days of dogmatic theology are over; it began to reach its end at the beginning of the nineteenth century, even though it lingered on in this century with people like Karl Barth and Tom Torrance.
This fact, along with the phenomenon of the globalization of all cultures, has freed up the philosophical enterprise to carry on with its proper function which is to pursue such questions as 'How are we to live, and what can we hope for?' In Part Two, 'We and the World', Don discusses just where the philosophy of religion is in the radical-humanist world of today. There is much to learn here of how we are to understand the human 'self'. 'To be somebody you have to have a life-history, you have to be in language and you must be part of a We'.
In Part Three Don discusses the beliefless religion of the future. It may still owe much to historic Christianity but it will no longer manifest itself in exclusive claims or distinctive labels. As he says, 'Global religion is at last truly catholic or universal'. We shall no longer have or look for any great scheme of doctrine, for it will take the form of a universal religious humanism.
Neither will there be any authoritative church; the latter's role will be replaced by informal religious associations like that of the Society of Friends and even the Sea of Faith Network (as Don noted at our recent Conference). Don sketches a religion of life in which we learn to say yes to transience, to practice expressive living (or what Don has previously called 'solar' living), follow humanitarian ethics.
This is not an easy book to summarize for though it is written to the above plan, its value is chiefly to be found in the many insights and observations that the author offers along the way. It lends itself to very profitable group discussion.