G’mornin’, inklings. I’m back today with another munchable morsel from Atheism for Lent 2023. Today’s reflection comes to us from John Caputo, American philosopher, Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion Emeritus at Syracuse University, and David R. Cook Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Villanova University. He focuses on phenomenology (the study of the world as interpreted by and through consciousness), hermeneutics (interpretation of Biblical or literary texts), deconstruction, and radical theology (the study of our inability to conceptualize or even speak of God in a meaningful way). Caputo is also the founder of a movement called “weak theology,” which rejects God as a metaphysical, “omni-” being and, instead, focuses on human responsibility in the here and now.
In his book On Religion (Thinking in Action), Caputo offers an approach to Christianity that transcends belief. In his flowing, conversational writing style, he tries to “get something on the table” concerning the human love for God and laments that we rarely echo Thomas Aquinas’s question “what do I love when I love my God?” The lack of this question leads to a love that is “vacuous…even slightly sanctimonious”:
“Religion is for lovers, for men and women of passion, for real people with a passion for something other than taking profits, people who believe in something, who hope like mad in something, who love–John D. Caputo,
something with a love that surpasses understanding.”
If religion is for lovers and, as we read in 1. John, “whoever does not love does not know God,” then the opposite of a religious person is a loveless person. Therefore, Caputo insists (and I agree with him), we can find plenty of religious (i.e. loving) people in the secular world and plenty of nonreligious (i.e. non-loving) people within religious institutions. “Religion may be found with or without religion.” Practicing religion in this way means to give unreservedly of self, to love unconditionally. “There is no merit in loving moderately.” Love is neither investment nor bargain but a no-holds-barred commitment pursued to passionate excess.
So, what about loving God? Caputo rightly points out that “God is love” slides easily over into “love is God.” If “one who loves is born of God and knows God (1. John), then those people who love others also love and know God, while the people who do not love God — because they aren’t loving others — are “loveless louts.”
All of this resonates deeply within me. It brings up bad memories of Christians I’ve encountered who vehemently insist that just because “God is love,” that doesn’t mean “love is God.” I think they’re wrong. Caputo says the two statements, taken together as truth, open up “a kind of endless substitutability and translatability between ‘love’ and ‘God.’” I’ve heard Peter Rollins talk about how “God” can be understood as a deep event we experience in the moments of loving other people. I am connecting this to Boothby’s understanding of “love your neighbor as yourself” and “love your enemy”: true love means opening ourselves to and embracing the Unnamable Incomprehensible Unknown in the Other…and when we love in this way, we are experiencing God — whether we believe in God or not.
“Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Where two or three are together in the name of love, opening themselves to and embracing “das Ding” in each other, that is where God is located. I don’t think it gets any clearer than that.