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On Religion, chapter 4: Impossible People

March 28, 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.

Before Caputo can get to his main argument, how to have religion without religion, there is one last problem to be dealt with. To pull analogies from the previous chapter that he does not entertain: before we can become Jedi, we must face Vader.

Vader, the Dark Side, the violent side of religion, it all points to the same thing and was always lying latently between the lines whenever Caputo described the religious as “unhinged.” To explain this dual aspect of religion — the power to love, the power to kill — he heads to the movies again. This time Caputo’s example is The Apostle, and he makes his point eminently. E.F. (Patrick Duvall) is a man who is unhinged, an apostle who comes bringing the sword of absolutes. While absolute love of the impossible is what Caputo sees behind religion, the severity of such absolutes used absolutely is the trouble he has with religion. It’s why he can say:

Religious are the people of the impossible, God love then, and impossible people, God help us.(p.94)

This all somewhat naturally leads to a discussion of the most impossible people of them all, the fundamentalists. What follows is several pages of borderline prophetic condemnation of religious fundamentalists: from health-and-wealth gospel preachers to Islamic extremists and even ultra-orthodox Jews. I truly covet his prose. His passion and exacerbation are palpable in his writing:

Fundamentalism is the passion for God gone mad, a way to turn the name of God into the name of terror…. Fundamentalism is an attempt to shrink the love of God down to a determinate set of beliefs and practices, to make an idol of something woven from the cloth of contingency, to treat with ahistorical validity something made in time, one more case of Aaron and the gold calf, one more confusion of the raft with the ocean. It represents a failure to see that the love of God is uncontainable and can assume uncountable and unaccountably different forms. (p.107)

What else can one say, but “Amen!”? I could speak of a tendentious logic, a lack of clear sociological delineation of those he lumps to together or even of a certain disdain with which these comments are made, but none of this matters one whit in regards to the power or cogency of his argument. Caputo ultimately sees the violence of fundamentalism as an expression of the repression on its part of the knowledge that it has no ultimate knowledge, as a way for it to forget that the secret is that there is no Secret. What one, who is religious, might call a lack of humility.

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