The Religion of Being
The Religion of Being, by Don Cupitt, SCM Press, 1998.
Reviewed by Lloyd Geering in SOFN Newletter #27
This is not a book for the faint-hearted for it is not easily read. Yet it could prove to be the most profound book Don has yet written. His jumping off point is Martin Heidegger, the German existentialist philosopher, whose book Being and Time is itself notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to understand. Nevertheless Rudolf Bultmann drew from this work by his academic colleague for his now well-known programme for demythologizing the Christian Gospel.
Don says his book is "not an academic study of Heidegger but an experiment in religious thought". He agrees that Heidegger is an obscure writer but says we need to demythologize him. It is perhaps because Don attempts to do this in the opening chapters that I found them heavy-going, though in looking back I find I have marked many passages.
Only when I had got nearly half way through did I really start to be excited. For example he makes a parable out of comparing Hans Christian Andersen's story of the Emperor without Clothes with H.G. Wells story of The Invisible Man. In the first there is a body but no visible clothes; in the second there is no visible body and the clothes need to be visible to show where the body is. Ordinary people, he said are Andersenites, or realists, while non-realists (or anti-realists) are Wellsians. The latter understand that there is no world to be seen except through language.
Later he writes, "Everyone builds and inhabits a little world of her own, with her own values, beliefs and angle upon the common world. But the larger common world of our language itself...is a very large and massively-strong social construction, built by accumulation over a very long period". I found myself on his wave length here for that was one of the chief themes of Tomorrow's God, whose sub-title was "How we create our worlds".
Don then goes on to show that the new global technological culture, which promises to bring the power of heaven down to earth, remains a thinly veiled form of the old theological culture. He proceeds to make a powerful critique of today's technological culture, in which there is no place for religious and poetical thinking and where we are content to hand over our rational thinking to machines which do it better than we do.
In a very Nietzschean mode he declares, "We are already at the end of thinking. 'Man' has already died. Consciousness is redundant, and is vanishing. Nobody is complaining; people are happy to collaborate with the market research that improves the efficiency with which they are induced to play their assigned part in economic life. We help the system to exploit us, and so connive at our own elimination".
In the last chapter Don surveys his journey of thought in five stages over the last thirty years. He has warned us elsewhere that this may be his last book. Let's hope not! But if it so proved to be, this book makes an appropriate conclusion to his creative work even though, as he says, there can be no conclusion and no final stage. "We living, changing, temporal beings are bound to be rest-less....We are all of us, every one of us, world-builders, agents of creation, makers of meaning".