I used to cling to a quasi-fundamentalist view of the cosmos. Now, I don't.
I've come to enjoy a deliciously exciting sensation of feeling rigidly settled ways of looking at the world transform into a more naturally fluid vision of reality.
"Naturally," because if there's one thing we can be sure of, it's that we can't be sure we know everything about anything. So I love someone who comes along with a Paradigm Shaker which busts up worldviews that are widely accepted without good reason.
Don Cupitt, for example. I read his book "After God" a few years ago. I liked it then. Taking another look at it the past few days, I like it even more now.
It's tough to encapsulate Cupitt's take on religion and God briefly. He was a minister in the Church of England who lost faith in a "realist" view of God. (Non-realism basically says, "our understanding of the world helps produce the way it is." You can listen to Cupitt discussing this in an interview.)
This Library Journal review of his book that I found on Amazon does a pretty good job of summing it up.
Cupitt (philosophy, Emmanuel Coll., Cambridge) redefines what it means to believe in God while accepting that God does not exist. He argues that there is indeed an unseen intelligible, or spirit world, among us. But this world is made up of words and symbols. The world of religion is a mythical representation of the world of language.
Cupitt's is a postmodern religion that sees God not as a transcendent reality but as a reflection of human selfhood. According to Cupitt, this conception of religion frees one from the belief in absolutes, which, he says, spells the death of religion. Human beings themselves are the only source of meaning and value. Belief in God, Cupitt holds, is a valuable and interesting form of consciousness. While Cupitt's analysis will not be accepted by many, his book offers a well-wrought argument.
Below is part of his argument: a wonderful description of how most people, overtly religious or not, perceive reality. Largely, it's taken for granted as being the way things really are.
But when it comes to reality, taking things for granted isn't justified.
When you read the following excerpt from "After God," consider how easily someone -- perhaps you -- could agree with these propositions. And also how easily they could be refuted.
As I read each of the twenty-two brief assumptions, I experienced a increasingly pleasant sensation of vertigo, of falling from a belief-perch that previously seemed solid, but used to, and in some ways still was, preventing me from floating freely in the warm waters of reality.
Cupitt says that he came up with this schema after a senior Fellow in his college died. His successor said, "Well, he knows now, doesn't he?"
Those words are a window. I thought about them for a few days, analyzing them backward, and came up with this:
1. Truth is not manufactured by us; it is discovered by us, or dis-covers (the Latin vela, "veil," gives us the word re-veals or un-veils) itself to us.
2. The answers to all properly framed questions, both questions of fact and questions of value, preexist out there, objectively.
3. There is a great and final Answer to the mystery of our existence, out there, awaiting us.
4. All these truths and answers (2, 3) are, so to say, tailored to our faculties and our requirements. They are in principle accessible and intelligible to us, so that we may reasonably hope and expect to discover them, or have them reveal themselves to us.
5. There is then something quite dazzling, namely a preestablished harmony between thought and being, language and reality; between the questions we want to ask and the Answer that the nature of things is waiting to give us. (Notice that this most astonishing doctrine is also the one most profoundly taken for granted.)
6. The final Answer will be revealed to us in or through death.
7. Our life is a pilgrimage toward death, the moment of truth, the moment of absolute knowledge.
8. Our life is a journey, then, from
(a) the relative to the absolute; from
(b) time to eternity; from
(c) the changing, sensuous world of becoming to the realm of pure timeless intelligible Being; from
(d) the particular to the universal; and from
(e) the mediated, discursive, through-a-glass-darkly sort of knowledge, to pure face-to-face unmistakable vision.
9. Each person's life is a story scripted beforehand, and there is a great Story of Everything whose plot has been revealed to us in a Book.
The Binary Contrasts
10. The binary contrasts (in #8 a-e), and a number of other related contrasts, are all analogously asymmetrical.
11. In each of the cases cited, the second of the pair:
(a) is prior;
(b) is superior (that is, greater in both value and reality, and therefore standard-setting); and
(c) in some way governs or produces or brings about the first.
12. Thus the spiritual world above is in every way better and greater than this material world below.
Being and Value
13. There are degrees of reality, and of value.
14. The scale of degrees of being is also a scale of degrees of value, or goodness, or perfection.
15. The Most Real is therefore the Most Good, and vice versa: for the Highest Good is -- has to be -- the Supreme Reality.
16. To gain the highest knowledge, we must purify our souls and perfect ourselves; and one should, in particular, prepare for death.
17. Ex nihilo nihil fit ("Out of nothing, nothing comes to be").
18. Every change has a cause; or, every thing that is has a cause of its being.
19. The cause is prior to the effect; the cause is responsible for, or accounts for, the effect.
20. The cause is superior in reality to the effect.
21. The qualities that are found in the effect preexist in a higher degree in the cause.
22. Our last end is the absolute knowledge of what is greatest, most real, and most perfect; a knowledge in which we shall enjoy perfect happiness.
This is brilliant stuff. Cupitt nailed me!
He managed to set down the core principles that used to prop up my worldview. And still does, in some respects, or I wouldn't have felt the previously-mentioned vertigo as I realized, "I've been holding tightly on to assumptions that are best grasped lightly."
But enough about me. How about you?
I bet most people who visit this blog, even many of the devoutly churchless, would still agree with a large share of the propositions Cupitt lists above.
Even more than agree, in this sense: these propositions tend to be unexamined and taken for granted, being part of a worldview that is so obviously true, few people stop to ponder how questionably true it is.
in my next post I'll talk about what Cupitt advises for an "After God" way of living happily and meaningfully.