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On Religion, chapter 1: The Love of God

March 22, 2007

On ReligionThis is part of a series of posts detailing my thoughts on On Religion by John Caputo, a book read in preparation for the Emergent Village Theological Philosophical Conversation.

John Caputo’s On Religion is a postmodern confession of religiosity without religion organized around an interaction with Augustine’s Confessions. He begins his discussion on “religion” by defining it simply as “the love of God.” By this he means to define religion as the unconditional commitment to God. However, at the same time “God is love,” and as such Caputo sees a slippage. If religion is to love a God who is love, then what does it mean to love God? Or as Augustine would say, “What do I love when I love my God?” The answer is tied up in the concept of “the impossible.”

The impossible is that domain of terra incognita that stand beyond the foreseeable future, it is the “absolute future”about which none of us knows. By this it can only be assumed that Caputo is referring to what an older generation of scholars would call the “existential question” of the fact that we all will die. Religion is the place where the impossible occurs. It is a pact with the uncertainty of our own transitory nature. Caputo explains:

The religious sense of life has to do with exposing oneself to the radical uncertainty and the open-endedness of life with what we are calling the absolute future, which is meaning-giving, salt-giving, risk-taking. The absolute future is risky business, which is why faith, hope, and love have to kick in. (p.14)

To believe, to sign on to religion is to become unhinged. It is to hold to the hope of the impossible over the certainty of the number crunchers. It is a prophetic, messianic hope in the impossible, over against a pragmatic forecasting.

However, though this gives us an orientation, it does not give us an answer to the question of “what do I love when I love my God?”. If God is love, is religion just a disposition of radical hope based on a tenacious unhinged belief in the impossible? The problem for Caputo is that this question is predicated on knowledge that we cannot posses. There is no knowledge of the Secret or The Way to guide us. There is no absolute truth to fall back on (except from the truth of the “absolute future” one wonders?). However, Caputo is quick to avoid the freshman philosophy student’s turn into epistemological oblivion:

I do not recommend ignorance and I am not saying that there is no truth, but I am arguing that the best way to think about truth is to call it the best interpretation that anybody has come up with yet while conceding that no one knows what is coming next. (p.21)

What this epistemological ambiguity allows is for Caputo to move in Western Christian theological traditions without being beholden to them. It allows him a basis for discussion in this book without impeding him into conforming to a constrictive confessional paradigm. It ultimately allows him to be religious without religion.

In the religious sense of life we passionately love something that resists any Final Explanation, that refuses to be boiled down to some determinate form. Contrary to the way his orthodox readers like to read the Confessions, I think that Augustine’s story shows us that religion kicks in, not necessarily when we sign on the dotted line of some confessional faith or other, but when we confess our love for something besides ourselves… (p.31)

This is, of course, something that Augustine would affirm. In an Augustinian paradigm, sin is incurvatus in se, the turning in on ourselves.

The question that remains, however, is whether one can reorient one’s self away from one’s self. Can one focus on others without something (someone!) doing the reorienting?

  1. March 22, 2007 5:21 pm

    Can one focus on others without something (someone!) doing the reorienting?

    My answer would be No.

  2. April 11, 2007 5:36 pm

    hi nice site.

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