Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Is there really no outside?

After I finished writing my last post about the Anglican/Hindu priest, the thought occurred to me that there might be more such multi-faithists. A google search came up with the unfamiliar name of Don Cupitt, a Buddhist/Atheist/Anglican priest.

Cupitt is an interesting thinker: he takes some of the trends existing within liberal modernism to their logical conclusion. For instance, he is a non-realist: he believes that ideas are created by language systems rather than representing anything really existing.

Therefore, for Cupitt, there is no really existing truth but only socially constructed "truths".

On the website of Sea of Faith, an organisation based on Cupitt's philosophy, we find some of the implications of this non-realism clearly laid out:

Truths are made within human culture and language. Ideas, beliefs, faiths: we made them up ... So SoF proclaims its mission: "To explore and promote religious faith as a human creation." In this sense, Sea of Faith is humanist."

Its members ... know their religious practices and "truths," like everyone else's, are socially constructed, made by human communities ... So, since faith systems were man-made ... we know we can remake them for our needs, our times, our place. We can ordain gays, or abolish the priesthood ... make God female - or re-fashion him/her as the symbol or imagined incarnation of wholly human values ...

One sympathiser distills the Cupitt lesson this way:

Religion ... becomes like art. Christians are artists, creators of truths. We give up the notion of a divinely ordained hierarchical universe that we just slot into. We have always created ethics.

So there is nothing out there, no "outside" (Cupitt actually uses the term "outsideless" to describe the human condition). This, for Cupitt, is nothing to regret, as it fits in well with another trend within liberal modernism: the belief in autonomy as the highest of human values.

Cupitt values the idea of autonomy, and the freedom he associates it with, so highly, that he thinks that it, rather than the real existence of God, is the true basis of religion.

And since the real existence of God would impede such autonomy, he thinks it anti-religious to suppose the real existence of God. This at least is how the following reviewer summarises his views:

He believes that for genuine moral choices to be made by humans God cannot be understood as one who 'stands over' humanity imposing moral choices onto us..

How can such a hetronomous faith ever be the means whereby I become autonomous and fully-liberated spirit? It is impossible. This appears to be a conclusive religious argument against the objective existence of God. An objective God cannot save ... The more God is absolutised, the more we are presented with the possibility of living under the dominion of a cosmic tyrant....

The absence of objective truth, or even access to an objective reality, is taken to be the ultimate in a liberation from any constraints. We can do and be anything according to our own will because there is no truth for us to live by. As it's explained in one article on Cupitt:

as our language is not a corrupted version of a 'pure' form residing beyond language, we cannot say that words have any meaning beyond their cultural and social 'norms'. The meaning of word is only agreed by the human community and does not reside 'outside' a text. Because of this, 'nothing is entrenched or necessarily absolute' ...

Realism is now understood by Cupitt as, 'spiritual slavery', nothing more than an imposition and restriction onto the world of free-choice and free-values. Morality is synonymous with freedom; the freedom to grow into an autonomous person. There is no longer any fixed truth by which one must align and judge oneself. We are free (and must be freed) to be who we want to be.

I won't attempt a rebuttal of the non-realist view right now, but in my next post I'll quote some interesting views of James Schall on the issue.

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