John D. Caputo. Hoping Against Hope (Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim). Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015. See here to purchase the book.
John D. Caputo is a philosopher, a theologian, and an author. Hope Against Hope
contains some of his musings about religion. Caputo dialogues with
different aspects of himself: Jackie, who was Caputo as a child; Brother
Paul, who was involved in a religious order; and Caputo as an
academic. Caputo also interacts with a variety of thinkers: Meister
Eckhart, Marguerite Porete, Martin Heidegger, Paul Tillich, Jacques
Derrida, and others.
Caputo expresses a number of views that would probably be
controversial among evangelicals. For example, Caputo expresses doubt
about (maybe even disbelief in) eternal torment in hell, and perhaps
even the afterlife, for that matter. This is surprising to me, since I
received a review copy of this book through Cross Focused Reviews,
which strikes me as conservative Christian.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It has a musing quality to it, and I
appreciated that Caputo wove different thinkers into the discussion,
while sharing his own faith journey. Caputo also has a sense of humor,
and I laughed out loud at some of his wry reflections.
I did not find some of his main points to be particularly new. For
example, Caputo essentially says that God has no hands but our hands,
and no feet but our feet. I was not entirely clear if Caputo even
believes that God exists, for, on the one hand, Caputo seems to suggest
that God makes Godself aloof to give us choice and the opportunity to
act, yet, on the other hand, Caputo addresses the question of why we
should even pray when we are unsure if someone is really listening.
Still, for Caputo, we, through our actions, make God present.
While I was not particularly floored by Caputo’s main point, I did
enjoy some of his illustrations: the priest who had doubts about God yet
remained a priest because he was helping people; how Martha may have
been serving because she was spiritually secure and did not need to sit
at Jesus’ feet listening (the text is Luke 10:38-42); how hope is not
allowing past negative experiences to get one down (Caputo said this in
discussing whether artificial intelligence could ever have hope); that
Derrida, an atheist, was a man of prayer; and how the Bible is a book of
suggestions that paints a picture of what life under God’s rule could
Caputo discusses other issues, such as inter-religious dialogue and
the question of whether we have the religion that we have on account of
where we were born. Caputo believes that different cultures may have
received their own revelations, and that we should celebrate
differences. Caputo’s approach is rather post-modern.
Some parts of the book resonated with me, and some parts did not so
much, but I found that being in a critiquing (or heresy-hunting) mode
was not the best way for me to read and appreciate this book. A poet on
a movie that I recently watched told a friend that she should not worry
whether she understands the poetry or not, but should simply let it
wash over her. That was how I approached Caputo’s musings.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book through Cross Focused Reviews, in exchange for an honest review.