Don Cupitt

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Don Cupitt is an English theologian and philosopher, best known for his advocacy of death of God theology through the Sea of Faith movement. He presented a BBC documentary titled The Sea of Faith, named after the lines from Matthew Arnold's famous Dover Beach where Arnold states that faith has been relegated to a "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar" leaving only the "naked shingles of the world". Cupitt is a Life Fellow at Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge.

How society now is

Cupitt describes in his numerous works a sense that religion must change to fit into the modern world: in the opening section of After God he catalogs some of the changes in the twentieth century which religion needs to cope with, "Freud, Sartre, Russell, and Ayer" produced an intellectual challenge to religion but this didn't challenge religion as much as social changes: "cheap mass travel", "mass economic migraton", the death of colonialism, the rise of multiculturalism (and, by extension, multi-faith societies), the rise of "a mass consumer society led by the media and the mysterious business of fashion", "celebrity as the new sainthood", "scientific advances and new technologies" leading to "a single global technological civilization".[1]

In the introduction to Sea of Faith, a similar case is made: he compares the contemporary situation with that of the "rapid religious change" under the Romans: "What the Roman Empire then did for the lands around the Mediterranean, mass travel and modern communications have now done on a global scale, creating a ferment of ideas and a great deal of religious experimentation". For religion, this is an opportunity that shows up as a threat: "people everywhere are today experiencing the disruptive effect of modern knowledge upon traditional religious world-views and values".[2] Contrary to the claim in After God, in The Sea of Faith Cupitt seems to think that what he describes as the "new ethic of knowledge" is more important to understanding the religious change: scientific method and knowledge undermines traditional religion - "When people first experience a scientific education they learn about a new method of arriving at truth whose procedure is the very opposite of that traditionally taught in religious communities" - but so does the "critical spirit" in "history and other arts subjects".[3]

Cupitt describes how Christianity has begun to adapt to this world by an increasing focus on "social ethics, the defence of individual human rights, and the protection of the human person in his (and her) full moral and religious dignity against the pervasive dehumanizing tendencies in the modern state and modern technology". Or rather:

The old supernaturalism has been tacitly abandoned at the ethical level, as where the energies and the rhetoric that were once deployed in the battle against demons are now directed against dehumanizing forces in modern society, or where the old doctrine of a supernatural redemption is translated into a practical struggle to create a society which realizes the full moral and religious potential of each one of its members.[4]

In support of this assertion he points to Pope John Paul II's pre-papal publication The Acting Person. But what of denominations that are less worried than Catholicism (or rather, post-Vatican II Catholicism) about social ethics and more focused on doctrine? Liberalization of Christian ethics is relatively easy compared to modernizing Christian doctrine.


  1. Don Cupitt, After God: The Future of Religion, p. x)
  2. Don Cupitt, The Sea of Faith, p. 5
  3. Don Cupitt, The Sea of Faith, p. 6
  4. Don Cupitt, The Sea of Faith, p. 10.