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« A.C. Grayling on Bertrand Russell's Theory of Descriptions | Main | Tzvetan Todorov on the Enlightenment Today »

December 24, 2009



Jesus as a liberal secular humanist...? Surely this is wishful thinking on Don Cupitt's part - society always recreates Jesus in its own image, after all.

John Winter

Cupitt's reconstruction of Jesus is novel but self-justifying and mirror-gazing, replacing the historical Jesus with a trendy left-wing Marxist-humanist. The only problem he faces is that his historical revisionism reflects what he wants to see, not what is and his right to determine the more reliable sayings of Jesus are consistent with an exercise in special pleading. Far better to heed the words of J. Leslie Houlden, Emeritus Professor of Theology at King’s College, who argues that "the historian’s assessment has to steer a careful course: between seeing Jesus as so distinctive that he makes no sense in the context of his times and seeing him as so ordinary, so thoroughly part of his background, that the massive and speedy effects of his life become incomprehensible". Houlden postulates that "two extremes are unlikely: on the one hand, that our accounts of Jesus are wholly shaped by faith and that in reality he was nothing very remarkable; and on the other hand, that the accounts owe nothing to faith and that all happened and was said exactly as told. What is hard is to know at what point between the extremes truth lies. (JESUS: A QUESTION OF IDENTITY. By J. L. Houlden. London/New York: Continuum, 2006. Pp 53–4. I for one have no objection to judgements being made but let them be made based on solid and responsible historical investigation not wild and novel speculation.


Even if he is mirror-gazing doesn't mean he's not right. As for society recreating Jesus in its own different, perhaps but I also a vast difference in the Jesus recreated as an implicant of repression and control or as a teacher of self knowledge.

James Foster

What little is written of Jesus is unreliable, as it's generally agreed the authors of the gospels were not eyewitnesses and perhaps did not even live in the same lifetime. From what little is written about him, though, it is obvious that his views were radical, humanist, and dealt almost exclusively with ethics. Even taking the fantastic claims of the gospels with a grain of salt, it's likely, due to historical context, that he dealt with religion in his teaching. But, regardless of whether or not we agree with Don Cupitt’s view, considering it can allow for a philosophical analysis of Jesus’ claims about ethics, without having it entangled in metaphysics, mysticism, or fantastic supernatural claims. Don Cupitt is definitely not the first person to suggest this. Thomas Jefferson seems to have been of a similar mind, and created the Jefferson Bible to suit his similar view of a secular Jesus.


@MattM: Apparently you're not familiar with Cuppit's work. He fully acknowledges that society recreates God in it's own image, and he embraces that. In fact, he thinks that society not only REcreates God, but actually CREATES God. Check out his philosophy bite on non-realism about God.

Peter Hardy

Clearly Cupitt overstates his case, but fundamentally, as he isn't claiming that Jesus is God it isn't the truth of his view of Jesus that we should be evaluating, but rather the moral philosophy he is espousing in his name.


@SisyphusRedeemed: Thanks for your post. Unfortunately in it you have replaced the name "Jesus" (a real historical figure) with the word "God", which wasn't what Cupitt was talking about in the podcast.

I happen to believe that God is something we construct - and I also agree with Cupitt (I have a few of his books) that we are free, indeed obliged to construct God however we want, or discard the concept altogether. What I can't swallow is the amazing coincidence that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, once again has turned out to be exactly the person that his followers want to him be. If Cupitt was talking about the "Christ of Faith" that would be different, but he wasn't, he meant the real historical figure (unless I badly misunderstood the podcast).

Robert Nesta Morley

Read the gospel of Thomas,the book the was banned from the bible if you don't think of him as a secular humanist. I'm not recreating him in a modern fashion either.I am simply reading the words that are attributed to him with out starting out before hand,by thinking of him as the "son of god".

Go ahead do it once ....if you can.

Or are you too afraid that jesus will frown on you for actually thinking for a moment instead of obeying some priest.

Peter Hardy

Bob, the 'gospel' of 'Thomas' isn't banned by churches, they freely publish and read it. The problem is that it was clearly written long after the gospels that are in the bible and by Manicheans rather than Jews.

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