Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Don Cupitt: Bitterbittersweet

Two of
Don Cupitt's most recent books are on my coffee table, The Meaning of the West and
Jesus & Philosophy. In The Meaning of the West he argues that Christianity has dissolved itself into Western Culture.

"God" has become secular. It is a positive story for both Christianity and the West. Cupitt argues that what our ancestors considered to be God, we now consider to be human beings. We are the big It. Life is It. Life is what you make It.

In religion and philosophy there is a perennial dispute between two parties. There are those who think that our greatest need in life is to gain security and blessedness by attaching ourselves permanently and securely to something very much greater, stabler and more perfect than ourselves, something that transcends the passing show of existence. I'll call these people the party of metaphysics. They are philosophical realists, for whom our salvation depends upon our relation to something Big out there. The other party includes all those who think that our chief need is to be cured of the errors and discontents that rob us of our ability to enjoy life and live it to the full. I'll call these people pragmatists, or even nihilists. They say that we don't need to attach ourselves to some great big saving Fact out there; we just need deliverance from our own anxieties, our illusions and our self-concern. We just need pure freedom and life-skills. p. 31.
Cupitt parties with the second crowd. I tend to as well. I think the first party has a hard time understanding the second party. The second group must be "missing something" I often hear. We need a big Fact--a big God--for It all to matter. But It doesn't matter, not in a big, external, sense. It doesn't have to either.
As the decades have gone by my insistent doubts have gradually made me more sceptical, until I began to reformulate my project. I now wanted to write a fully truthful book about religion, the first ever. I wanted to shed all illusions and self-deception. Before I die, I wanted to look the truth about the human condition full in the face, coolly and without being terrified by it, and having done that I wanted to be able to say Yes to life, living it to the full and making the best of what remains of it for as long as I have it. If I can do this, I will have come to terms with transcience. I will have become more than just a passive victim of our common fate, which means that as over the years I have come somewhat closer to Schopenhauer's view of the human condition, I have come to see my task as one, not of sharing, but of overcoming his pessimism. I don't see our life as governed by 'dark unloving forces', in Freud's phrase, but I do see it as 'baseless, brief, pointless and utterly contingent, and yet in its very nihility beautiful, ethically-demanding, solemn and final'. That was written in 1989; more recently I have coined the word 'bitterbittersweet'. p. 2
I like Don Cupitt. I resonate with him. I like the fact that he keeps at it. He is continually redefining and reforming. I admire his quest to be brutally honest about life and saying Yes anyway. I don't find that to be an easy position. But I do find it liberating even as it can be lonely. With Cupitt, I'll take my truth bitterbittersweet.


  1. Cupitt is such a gift. I've read Meaning of the West but need to get Jesus & Philosophy. A recent book of his that I keep coming back to is Above Us Only Sky. It's a nice summary of this thought and really very upbeat. For me, reading Cupitt is always stimulating and rewarding. Wish there were more like him.

  2. Above Us Only Sky is awesome. I started to get him when I read Life, Life. Agreed we need more like him!

  3. One small concern. Cupitt says:

    "They say that we don't need to attach ourselves to some great big saving Fact out there; we just need deliverance from our own anxieties, our illusions and our self-concern. We just need pure freedom and life-skills."

    Maybe I am over cautious but there are folks, both religious and non religious who are very scary (and sometimes sociopathic) who's ideas of being delivered from their self concerns and pure freedom mean that others have to die. Some of these have become heads of state and gotten their killing done on a big scale.

    I'm not suggesting anything about Cupitt himself or about his search. I do suggest we need to be a bit cautious. We all should have learned that from the 20th Century, to say nothing about the history of the Christian Church.

  4. Osama bin Laden.

    There is a guy who thinks there is a "big saving Fact out there" that motivates him to kill on a large scale.

    I'm not suggesting anything about you yourself or about your search. I do suggest we need to be a bit cautious.

  5. Thank you John. That was at least part of my point. Such behavior can come from both believers and non believers.