Thursday, December 12, 2013

Religion: The Love of God

John D. Caputo's Book: On Religion

The Final paper that was due for the World Religion class I just finished at HACC. It seems a shame to put so many hours into a paper, then only the professor gets to read I decided to post them on my blog. This assignment was based on the book by John D. Caputo: On Religion. Although my professor enjoyed the book, I found it very difficult to follow. To much rambling in my opinion.

Philosophy 200
December 9, 2013
Religion: The Love of God
In his book, “On Religion,” John D. Caputo poetically and redundantly expounds on the notion of the religious; those he distinguishes as being passionate people who love God. According to Caputo, to be religious, or unhinged, means living a life of love and hope and faith; a life more passionate and more worth living. Religion, he explains, is a covenant with the impossible and anticipates the hope and expectation of the uncertain future which God holds in his hand. Caputo’s query stems from Augustine of Hippo’s question from centuries earlier, “What do I love when I love my God?” Conversely, Caputo proposes that “religion may be found with or without religion.”
Saint Augustine, an early Christian theologian whose writings were influential in the development of Western Christianity and philosophy, believed that humans are driven by a deep desire to worship God, even if one does not realize it. He believed that lust and greed are behaviors performed as substitutes for a heartfelt need to know God. Likewise, Caputo asserts that all human beings have a religious nature, whether they acknowledge it or not. Some devote themselves to a religion, or God, or simply themselves. The selfish person who only contemplates his own visage, Caputo condemns as loveless, as incapable of loving others, and heartless. Therefore, his opinion is that those irreligious people whose only pleasure is to devote themselves to selfishness and self-interest, are essentially worthless, or “not worth their salt.”
Caputo defines religion as “something simple, open-ended, and old-fashioned, namely, the love of God.” He reflects deeply on Augustine’s question, “What do I love when I love my God?” and struggles even more with the concept of what “the love of God’ really means. Since love is the name or nature of God, Caputo reasons that humans cannot love unless God abides in them. Love is unconditional, it gives freely, endures, believes, and hopes; therefore, to love God, one must be born of God in order to be able to show love, or ‘do’ love. Those who love are “people who exceed their duty, who look around for ways to do more than is required of them.” To Caputo, that is the behavior of one who truly loves, whether it be toward a spouse, a child, a friend, or one’s God. Loving at all should be shown by doing-unconditionally, excessively, and with fire and passion.
Considering how ardently Caputo believes that those who are unhinged passionately love God, it is surprising that he suggests most of the religious do not know who they are or what their purpose for being created is. He further states that religious people do not know what they believe, in a cognitively or epistemologically way – we are religious by means of our faith alone, and evidenced by our love for others, since love is from God. Caputo emphatically believes that the religious should be prepared to give up their own desires, to die to selfish ambition and gain, to answer God with a resounding yes, no matter what the call on their life might be. Simply put, if you love God, you submit, step forward, volunteer, and obey; and be prepared to believe and experience amazing and impossible things, since with God all things are possible.
Caputo differentiates True Religion from Religious Truth as a truth without knowledge; “For a religion without religion requires a full charge of ‘religious truth’ where that is to be sharply distinguished from ‘true religion’ in the sense of ‘the one true religion’ (by which we always mean, invariably, mine-not-yours).”  Caputo goes on to say, much like John Hick’s belief, that the many unique religions are different paths to loving the same God, therefore; no particular “brand of religion can claim that theirs is the exclusive truth.” Furthermore, Caputo presses all religious people to completely drop the idea that there even is a ‘one true religion,’ since he defines religious truth as ‘being truly religious, truly loving God, loving God in spirit and in truth.
“We need to spare ourselves from the extremism and madness that are involved when the faithful get it into their heads that ‘we’ –Jews or Christians, Hindus or Muslims, whoever- have been granted a privileged access to God in a way that’s been denied to others, or that we are loved by God in a special way that God just cannot bring ‘Himself’ to feel for others, or that we have been given certain advantages that God just has not granted others.” He states that ‘we’ tend to believe that ‘our’ religion is the only one who has a special relationship with him, that has been granted certain advantages over others, and are loved in a privileged way. Even Augustine claimed that Scriptures have many true meanings, and conveys that to mean that many religions are also many sources of truth.
Largely, Caputo declares that God is too big for anyone to understand or claim that they have a special divine revelation in knowing him. His final declaration is simply that God is love, so if one abides in love, then God abides in him or her. Therefore, we see God in action when we ‘do love’ or ‘do truth;’ when we do something, we make truth happen. He summarizes Religious Truth as a truth without knowledge; a deed, not a thought.

Like Pandora’s Box is John D Caputo’s book, On Religion. Although heartfelt and sincere, his rambling musings and contemplations of what religion is and what the love of God might be are not clearly answered. Admittedly, I’m not a theologian or a philosopher; I do not enjoy endless hours of contemplative thinking and rethinking on the same questions. In my mind, it is too redundant and doesn’t allow for real and necessary work to be accomplished. The type of work that keeps households running, kids fed, and workloads done. I am the first to admit I do not understand the ways of a philosopher.
Nevertheless, I press on. From Caputo’s perspective, orthodox religions work hard to swing open the doors for believers, but keep them shut to infidels, sounding as if the sinful or unbelieving are not welcome to places of religious worship, or to the knowledge of God’s Truth, with a big T, as in absolute truth. Additionally, Caputo tells us that religious or faithful people need to remember that others in different times and places do not know God in the same way that westerners do. He suggests that all individuals should begin to delineate religion as a sort of virtue that is defined as loving others and promoting goodwill.
I have begun to perceive from where Caputo may have started his inquiry. I suspect he is coming from a traditional catholic background and has witnessed the abuses and sinfulness of people who call themselves lovers of God and followers of Christ, yet they don’t measure up to the Biblical picture of a devoted disciple. This contradiction of living one’s faith happens in all denominations of the Christian church. People sin, are selfish, and ‘fall short of the glory of God.’ (Romans 3:23). Caputo has also witnessed loving and kind people of other faiths, far removed and alien to Christianity, and is not convinced that what his Bible says, stands true for other cultures, especially if the God of the Bible is not known to them. Perhaps he should scrutinize the following verses; “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile,” (Romans 1:16) and “For this is what the Lord has commanded us: " 'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth." (Acts 13:47) These scriptures clearly instruct believers, religious people of faith that their mission and purpose is to convey God’s truth and plan of redemption to all nations.
It seems to me that Caputo is removed from intimately knowing his God through Christ, even though his writings are layered with New Testament scripture, mostly scripture used in defining love. Caputo muses that “There is no way to know The Way, no way that I know, anyway.” He confesses his belief that there is no truth, and even Scriptural truth is subject to hermeneutics and interpretation.  He seems to be focused on having “to do” or “to love” as being something one must do within their own power (with God in them). Caputo quotes many verses from New Testament scripture, but only as that scripture fits what he wants it to say, and how he applies it. Others basic Christian truths which Jesus taught, he simply does not acknowledge. He concludes that God is too big and infinite to be understood by our mortal minds.
However, this is why God gave us his Word. As Rick Warren of Saddleback church says, God gave us the Bible to transform us, not simply inform us. It should give us a bigger heart, not a bigger head. In the Book of James, we're told, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22) Maybe that is similar to what Caputo is implying when he tells us that the religious should ‘do love.’ However, the application needs to be taken further, beyond just doing love to obeying and living according to God’s commands – all of them, not just those that appeal to us. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) The Bible is essential to our lives because it gives us life. In fact, the Bible also talks about Jesus as the Word of God. “So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father.” (John 1:14) God gave humanity the Living Word -- Jesus -- to be the author and finisher of our faith; He gave believers the Written Word to prepare them to live out their faith. The purpose of the Bible is more than just showing us what is wrong in our lives or how we should live; God gave us His Word to radically transform our lives. Doing love and good deeds, as Caputo suggests the religious do, is only one facet of loving God.
Although Caputo profusely thanks Jesus, especially in chapter five, he doesn’t take the opportunity to share his faith’s primary doctrine with those who succeeded in reading his book through the bitter end. He neglected this truth; “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10) and “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)
Finally, I leave you with this thought. I don’t state that ‘my religion’ is the only absolute truth; God’s way is absolute truth. Believers in God should seek His plan however that might look. Whether Catholic or protestant, Methodist or Baptist, Pentecostal or non-denominational. Those people who claim to be religious should seek truth according to the creator of the world, who gave us His Word in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Believers should read it and allow His spirit of truth to transform our hearts, souls, minds, and lives.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)

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