A few years back when I began to read Don Cupitt (pronounced “kew'-pitt”) I instantly recognized a kinship. I recall particularly one week long trip to Mexico, to San Carlos, Sonora, and my spending much of the time there reading some of his books, such as After God, The Last Philosophy, and Life, Life.
Cupitt is an Anglican priest and philosopher at Cambridge in England who has over the past several decades or so articulated a "non-realist" view of God. Cupitt no longer administers the sacraments or serves a parish and we shall see why. He is a very controversial figure who some see as an atheist, a term he rejects and dislikes.
Non-realism is a complicated word, but for my purposes I will accept Cupitt's definition: "non-realism" in religion stands for the idea that the Truth is Not Out There, despite the claims of the X-Files.
The idea that the Truth is out there is part of our philosophical and religious heritage from the Greeks and especially Plato who argued that there is a realm of Ideas, Forms, and Reality that is eternal and true and that is available only to philosophers and priests and not to mere mortals. This realm of truth is the Real Deal, meaning that we mortals are just passing through while the Truth is Forever.
This doctrine of Realism leads to the belief in a transcendent realm that is perfect, eternal, impassive, and all powerful, attributes we also assign to God. By contrast, life "here on earth" is imperfect, contingent, and finite, redeemable only by the grace of God.
Cupitt's version of "non-realism" or "anti-realism" is meant to discredit what is called "theism," or the idea of God as a perfect being, remote, impassive, eternal, and omnipotent. A lot of Christian theologians have attacked this idea of God, so Cupitt adds his name to a very long iist.
But Cupitt is frying other fish, in the end. Cupitt aims to have us see how our ideas about life are powerfully deformed and undermined by the doctrine that the Truth (the Perfect, the Good, or a theistic idea of God) is Up There or Out There, while life here on earth is limited, short, and a pale substitute of the Real Thing.
The other day I pulled one of Cupitt's most recent books, The New Religion of Life in Everyday Speech from my bookshelf. I read the book six or seven years ago. I had underlined it on almost every page.
I realize now on re-reading this book that this was one of the most important of Cupitt's works and that it offers a powerful way of strengthening and expanding my own very fragmented sense of "life itself."
What Cupitt has done is show how God and some of the attributes we attribute to God have been transferred to "life" or "life itself" in everyday, ordinary language and speech, especially in England and the U.S.
For example, the creation of the modern welfare state in the post-WWII era is actually one of the fruits of this shift in democracy to democratize and sacralize life, to assure that all of us together have our life world defended and improved in many ways so that all of us as individuals can enjoy life to the fullest.
As people we increasingly devote ourselves to life much as we once devoted ourselves to God. We have "divinized" or sacralized life. Life is something that we are both part of ("How's life treating you?") and something we can't get enough of ("Get a life!").
When people die we tend to celebrate and enjoy how that person lived her life, or secretly sorrow when we think she has missed the chance to do so.
Cupitt argues that our attitude toward life has become a religion. Life is biological and part of the vast ecology of life on earth, continuous from birth to death, and it's also conscious and self-aware, lighted up by the workings of language, and beyond this experience of life, there is nothing else, no beyond or outside. ("That's all she wrote!")
It's not so much that we have taken leave of God, Cupitt argues. Rather it is that we have shifted our ultimate concerns to the life world, to life itself and its wonders and even its griefs.
This briefly is what Cupitt means by the religion of life, religion shifting its gaze from the Eternal and the True to the transient, the in-coming, the welling-up. the lighting up of our experience that is life itself, served up by our language and our attentiveness.
Thus, a very important meaning of life itself is this sacralizing or divinizing of life.
Life is not something that you throw away; it is the pearl of great price but this pearl is not buried in a field; it is spread out before our eyes, if only we can see.