Late to this party, I know, but I finished reading Don Cupitt’s Sea of Faith, his argument for a non-realism in religion. I found it rather underwhelming, I have to say. The introduction was excellent, and the last chapter was also cogent, but most of it was actually a riff on the history of thought, rather than a impassioned argument for the validity of his position. It was almost as if his argument was “look we’ve been loosing our faith in a literal God for a while, let’s give in to the inevitable”. Which is fine and dandy, but rather intellectually dull, I thought.
Still, I think the fundamental thesis is right. God is a human construction.
I was irked when Don shows his hand as a postmodernist at the end. In a particular kind of pomo non-realism. He concludes that God is not objectively real, because nothing is. God is as real as anything, because everything is a construction of human conception and language. Of course this is complete bollocks. And rather undermines his argument. Why bother going on about God for a whole book then, when what you basically want to say is everything is imaginary? I’ve no time for that kind of pomo.
But that may be just a paragraph’s woolly thinking. My biggest problem with the book is that, if God were really a personally constructed myth, that each of us is free to construct or reconstruct according to our personal religious needs, why on earth would one want to construct a God-concept at all? The notion of a private God myth is hardly very useful.
Mythology is a group activity. God is useful to the extent that the mythology is shared, because it gives rise to patterns of behavior. And so it seems to me that the effect of taking on board Don’s ideas is to fall into the trap of de-mythologising the doctrines yet remaining loyal to Christianity (or some other particular religion of one’s context). Which in turn is to miss out on anything useful that the reforming can do for you (since you reformed what you destroyed back to its original shape). To understand that there isn’t an objective creator of the universe who will damn you for disobedience, and then to knowingly recite that very same being in myth form is surely somewhat perverse in its futility?
And that in turn means that The Sea of Faith basically reads as nothing more than a way of saying “you lost your faith? Never mind, its okay, keep doing what you were doing”. Fine and dandy, but rather dull.
Am I missing something really profound here… Or is it because I start from an atheist perspective I don’t have the existing emotional investment in these doctrines? The only reason I’d want to go anywhere near believing or acting as if I believed in a large chunk of Christian doctrine is if they were actually true. Voluntarily adopting them as myth seems simply insane to me.