Postmodern Religiosity

Godefroi dans son château roulant à l'assaut de Jérusalem

A mighty host of my coreligionists, ever on guard against looming criticisms threats to their faith, have for many years taken arms against academia’s latest culture-deteriorating enemies of truth: the postmodernists and deconstructionists.  To their chagrin, I have not heeded their warnings, at least not since I began reading postmodernism’s deleterious prophets.  I expected to find poison against which I would quickly become immune and a respectable purifier.  Instead, I discovered drinks that have done wonders for my intellectual digestive track, and I gleefully pass a bottle at every appropriate occasion.

I came pretty quickly to forsake my old realist religious faith in favor of a distinctly postmodern apophatic faith.  John Caputo, who’s to blame as much as anyone for my having gone astray, explains the kind of religious faith I’ve embraced:

The religious heart or frame of mind is not “realist,” because it is not satisfied with the reality that is all around it.  Nor is it anti-realist, because it is not trying to substitute fabrications for reality; rather, it is what I would call “hyper-realist,” in search of the real beyond the real, the hyper, the über or au-déla, the beyond, in search of the event that stirs within things that will exceed our present horizons.  In this sense, religion is, in the best and deepest sense, so much “hype.”

In having a religious faith that is not realist, but hyper-realist, I am a wayfarer uncertain of where I am, what direction I’m headed, and where exactly I intend to arrive.  I’m a little lost, on a journey in the dark, seeking in my less lazy moments to find and follow the way.  Those seemingly certain of the right path and where it leads would, perhaps, call me a poor pilgrim, and they would be right.  I’m terribly poor at this religion thing.  I fail to recognize God in the places I’m told the almighty resides.  I’m faced with thousands of years of spiritual traditions, and yet I insist that I cannot know what I love when I love my God.  I cannot be sure that a divine voice will not one day command me to depart because I have not made myself known to God.

Mine is not a comforting faith.

It is a faith of fear and trembling, which I suppose means it’s more biblical than the certainty-enriched fundamentalisms that claim, torches in hand, to have all the answers to all the really important questions and promise hellfire to people like me who desire to walk in darkness even though we may have seen a great light.  For me, being religious has little to do with certainty about God or the moral life or reality or anything else.  It’s about radical hospitality to the “wholly other,” to what may visit us from beyond the worlds we fashion, define, and cautiously defend.  It’s about self-giving and forgiveness and the impossible demands of justice.  It’s about transcending our idols and deconstructing the roads we pave for the journey.  Most of all, it’s about the unconditional love of God, neighbor, and stranger, three words that are, in a sense, interchangeable.

Giotto. St. Francis Giving His Cloak to a Poor Man.

Religion’s celebrations, services, liturgies and rituals mean next to nothing if they do not prepare one to love–to seek the good of others with one’s full being.  If religion’s creeds, doctrines, and sacred texts to not call for love, then they are worth less than the breath wasted to speak them or the ink spilled to write them.  The truth which religion ought to disclose is the truth of love, which is a truth one pursues and does, not a truth one possesses and imposes.

What I call postmodern religiosity can be summarized in the words of Teilhard de Chardin:  “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a freelance writer who blogs about culture, philosophy, politics, postmodernism, and religion. He is a contributor to the group Catholic blog Vox Nova. Kyle lives with his wife, son, and daughter in North Texas. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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8 Responses

  1. Alex Knapp says:


    But I get no props for getting you to read Armstrong?

  2. J.L. Wall says:

    I’ve repeatedly rebuffed a friend’s suggestion that the appropriate label for my religious beliefs is “postmodern orthodox.” Perhaps I’ve been wrong in doing this. This should have been obvious from the moment I realized Levinas was the most powerful influence on my religious thinking.

    Anyway: this distillation, given how close it is to where I stand, is actually tremendously helpful. And it’s a decent reminder of to what extent I fail at doing what I claim to believe.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      I understand the hesitation. The term “postmodern” seems on the surface to be much too broad to be useful, but there are some more precise meanings associated with it.

  3. Rodak says:

    Kyle — Is your philosophical bent toward postmodernism to be thanked for the generally cheerful verbal delivery you manage at all times, when so many of your co-religionists seem to be perpetually on the defensive, hostile, dismissive of the Other, and very quick to feel themselves attacked? Is this because they feel constrained to defend things which they feel silly having to defend, while you are able to apophatically sidestep putting any skin on the line in those particular conflicts? That would be my take on it, but I could be reading the situation wrong.

  4. Jaybird says:

    I sometimes make reference to “atheist god” in my personal life.

    I find that atheist god is very close to the deity I’ve always needed (if not the one I’ve always wanted).

  5. Rodak says:

    Mr. Cupp.

    Mr. Cupp votes “present.”