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“On Religion” by John D. Caputo: Summary and Interpretation

Summary

Love, particularly love for God, is the fundamental theme in the book. Caputo starts On Religion by establishing a dichotomy between a loveless person and a person of passion, the category for whom religion is the right choice. The author expresses his admiration for men and women of passion, able to dedicate themselves to God. Without this initial quality, according to Caputo, a person risks being trapped in the routine of everyday life. Consequently, the notion of irreligion is developed: it concentrates on post-industrial culture’s mundaneness and narcissism. Irreligion is distinguished from another essential for the text notion – “religion without religion.” The concept can be described as a “religious edge to experience, that notion of life at the limit of the possible, on the verge of the impossible” (Caputo, 2001, p. 11). “Religion without religion” does not require bishops, rabbis, or institutional headquarters in Nashville, but only love for God and religious truth.

The text provides an overview of the development of theology from the middle ages until modernity. Caputo begins with the Sacred Age, showing how once deeply religious western civilization became secularized. In this section, the author pays enhanced attention to the role that Kierkegaard’s and Nietzsche’s philosophies, in simplified terms viewing the world as absurd and chaotic, played in the process. The author criticizes the philosophers in-depth, partially blaming them for the current state of religiosity. Caputo finishes the segment with desecularization, relying largely on contemporary philosophers who reject the idea of unified truth.

Throughout the book, Caputo poses several questions regarding the essence of faith. Among these questions is St. Augustine’s “What do I love when I love my God? ” which serves as the book’s refrain (Caputo, 2001, p. 93). The text suggests that the insistence in asking the question and impossibility to answer it is what creates genuine religiosity. By posing St. Augustine’s question, a believer is not supposed to search for the ultimate truth but create the truth that they realize by religious commitment. Furthermore, Caputo uses the question to accentuate the book’s central and overarching idea – “religion without religion.” The author clarifies that being religious is possible without orthodoxy or belonging to any specific creed at all. For the author, genuine religiosity consists of loving God without knowing what it is one loves.

While reflecting on the nature of religiosity, Caputo considers the history of Western civilization and its current state. The author takes a particular interest in the technological development in post-modernity and its pop culture. Thus, Caputo suggests that modern-day spirituality is expressed in society’s fascination with the Internet and virtual reality. The duality of body and soul common to numerous religious practices extends to and crystallizes in the form of cyberspaces. Additionally, Caputo resorts to pop culture to demonstrate the expressions of contemporary spirituality in it. For instance, the author states that the plot of Star Wars embodies the universal religious narrative. An array of the movie’s plot points align with many cultures’ mythological and religious views. Caputo also uses another film to elaborate on his ideas: he employs The Apostle to denounce religious fundamentalism. Overall, the book concludes with a prolonged reflection on love for God.

Interpretation

Religion is a controversial topic that frequently divides people into two principal categories – believers and non-believers. In his book On Religion, John D. Caputo strives to overcome the traditional division, considering ideas beyond the standard Christian theology. The author explores the most fundamental questions in religious worldview, posing various thought-provoking questions regarding the place of spirituality in the modern world, the meaning of love to God, and whether religion necessitates institutional structure. The book represents an attempt to reconcile a religious mindset with the realities of the postmodern world. On Religion balances light-heartedness with solemnity required by the book’s substance, providing readers with an opportunity to reconsider their stance on spirituality.

Caputo’s approach to religious thinking seems to be, to no small extent, rooted in the postmodern perception of the world. In this way, the existence of absolute spiritual truth is doubted. The author questions the necessity of organized religion and its right to the epistemological truth. The author’s postmodern approach is expressed in the denial of the existence of one true religion, texts, and practices that are more truthful and superior to those of other faiths. Caputo states the necessity to abandon the dichotomy between a “true” and “false” religion, even though he seems deeply Christian based on the text. Moreover, the book is unique in the sense that it is intertwined with the postmodern condition in which a significant number of societies live and which inevitably impacts religions.

On Religion’ can serve as a basis for the phenomenon that became increasingly widespread relatively recently. By denying the existence of “one true religion,” Caputo’s work potentially prepares the ground for religious outcasts and misfits who refuse to be bound by the norms and practices of one distinct religion. Additionally, it appears that the popularity of spirituality that mixes mainly oriental religious beliefs and practices with occidental worldview can be supported by the text. On Religion reflects the strive towards spirituality but not religiousness, at least not organized and institutionalized religion, the influence of which the book seemingly aims to depopularize further.

Nevertheless, this Caputo’s work not only delineates the history of theology but also allows for a deeper understanding of the state of faith and religiosity in the present times. In some parts, it seems that the author harshly critiques modernity for the shallowness and egocentrism that it propels. In the very beginning, the circumstances of post-industrial society are equalized to the Devil’s temptation. The author states, “your soul soars only with a spike in the Dow-Jones Industrial average; your heart leaps only at the prospect of a new tax break. The devil take you” (Caputo, 2001, p. 2). In this manner, Caputo also outlines the consequences of post-modernity for the human condition and accentuates the book’s central idea – the overwhelming power of intense love for God.

In conclusion, On Religion provides insight into the history, state, and significance of religion in postmodern occidental societies. More precisely, Caputo undertakes such poignant questions as the nature of love for God, the need for organized religion, and the expressions of spirituality in the post-industrial world. The book is written in a light style without overly academic language, which allows it to be consumed effortlessly. Although the author gives only a general idea on several subjects without further elaboration and lumps together different religions, On Religion appears to be an indispensable text for those wanting to understand religions’ role presently.

Reference

Caputo, J. D. (2001). On religion. Routledge.

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ApeGrade. (2022, April 10). “On Religion” by John D. Caputo: Summary and Interpretation. Retrieved from https://apegrade.com/on-religion-by-john-d-caputo-summary-and-interpretation/

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"“On Religion” by John D. Caputo: Summary and Interpretation." ApeGrade, 10 Apr. 2022, apegrade.com/on-religion-by-john-d-caputo-summary-and-interpretation/.

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ApeGrade. "“On Religion” by John D. Caputo: Summary and Interpretation." April 10, 2022. https://apegrade.com/on-religion-by-john-d-caputo-summary-and-interpretation/.

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ApeGrade. 2022. "“On Religion” by John D. Caputo: Summary and Interpretation." April 10, 2022. https://apegrade.com/on-religion-by-john-d-caputo-summary-and-interpretation/.

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ApeGrade. (2022) '“On Religion” by John D. Caputo: Summary and Interpretation'. 10 April.

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