… religious thought is also and equally out of place in faculties of theology. Theology faculties have for the last century or two been dedicated to the pursuit of technically proficient literary scholarship and the critical-historical method. In them people write bookish books about theology, but not books of theology. Scholarly detachment and rigour demand that one must distance oneself from any serious personal engagement with the subject, and indeed many highly academic theologians are nowadays conspicuously non-religious types. Real religious thought is visceral, troubled and often disruptive, and academics regard it with great distaste. There may be a few persons of that type of the syllabus (Pascal and Kierkegaard, Unamuno and Simone Weil), but there certainly should not be any persons of that type on the faculty. … Dead and existing only in writing, some of them are fine; but alive, they are a nuisance.
There is a further complication: the ideas about religious thought that I am trying to present will as usual be regarded as highly offensive and deserving of contempt, by many senior figures. The reason is that the authorities of any great institution invariably regard themselves and the orthodoxy that they defend as the perfection of rationality and wisdom. This was amusingly demonstrated when at the end of the year 2004, a number of senior figures in the Vatican issued statements denouncing Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code. One cardinal was even appointed to refute it. This popular work was enjoying extraordinary worldwide sales at the time, even though the fanciful theory it put forward, about a lineage of descendents of the union of Jesus with Mary of Magdala, was only a rehash of a similar book that had appeared twenty years earlier, called The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. One might have thought that the main thesis was too silly to deserve comment, but the Cardinals’ statement expressed something like outrage. How could it be that for millions of people the absurdities of Dan Brown’s conspiracy theory were more interesting and attractive than the faith of the Church? And one saw that the Church authorities were utterly sure of the immensely superior rationality and intellectual weight of their own position.
Suddenly, the Cardinals were funny. They really had no idea that as an interpretation of the available evidence in the New Testament and in early Christian history, orthodox Roman Catholic doctrine — with St. Peter as, of course, ‘the first Pope’ — is if anything rather less rational than Dan Brown’s theory. ‘Less rational’, because Dan Brown is at least in a broad sense naturalistic; and ‘less rational’, of course, by strict and independent philosophical and critical-historical standards. Theoretically speaking, Dan Brown’s theory, though silly, could be true; whereas the Roman Catholic faith cannot be true, because it is supernaturalist, and there is no supernatural world. What was funny was that Dan Brown’s comically bad book almost inadvertently exposed the gulf between a great institution’s solid conviction of its own intellectual weight and of the justice of its claims, and their actual hollowness and absurdity. So vast is the great institution’s self-belief that it has been quite unable to digest anything of the critical theological scholarship of the last two hundred years. [pp. 61-62]
And remember folks, you heard it here first. Don Cupitt is, if the word means anything at all, a theologian, or, at least, a religious thinker.
I’m going to put this response to a comment up here, because what I said above is too terse, and doesn’t explain what I mean, and why I think Cupitt may be important. Of course, you may disagree, but here is what I was thinking when I quoted this passage from Cupitt, and ended with my very short comment. This is an answer to Gordon Willis’s question (comment #3 below), and I guess, if it comes to that, a response to Egbert’s concerns about the credibility of secularism:
Be fair, Eric. Cupitt was a theologian. It’s been a long time since he stopped being a believer, but like a lot of people he can’t just discard all that meant so much. It happens. Life’s like that.
Yes, Gordon, that’s true. And, I guess, that’s what I was trying to say in a terse way (unusually terse for me). It’s supposed to be, in a measure, but only partly, ironical. For if Cupitt is a theologian, or a religious writer — and he does make a stab at a kind of non-theistic “Buddhism” — see his Emptiness and Brightness — then, in a sense, anyone can be a believer.