Second Reformed Church

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Review: "Hoping Against Hope: Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim"

John D. Caputo's Hoping Against Hope:  Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim is the first and only book I have read by Caputo -- it is a memoir -- his "confessions" in a self-conscious Augustinian, non-Augustinian way.

Although Caputo tackles what he dubs "the nihilism of grace" in this book, it is entertaining and very accessible.  As Caputo fleshes out his ideas, he dialogues among "Jackie" -- his youthful, Roman Catholic self, "brother Paul" -- his novitiate self, "professor John" -- his latter scholar self, with interaction from existentialist philosophers and Middle Ages mystics and their progeny.

Caputo begins by considering whether there is any hope for humanity, given Lyotard's arguing for the progressive inhumanity (in an essential, non-essential sense) of humanity (10).  Caputo answers "yes," through a reimagining of religion (20).

Caputo discusses what he admires about the mystics, concluding that " a matter of unconditional affirmation)' (39, italics his).  "God insists but dares not exist.  Everything I mean by God and by hope, and by the God of hope, everything I mean when I speak of God flows from this.  God insists without existence" (114, italics his).

In the end, we are to have hope, Caputo argues, because it is suited to the grace in the reception in the gift of the life we have -- whatever it is and whatever it is becoming.  To ask for a reason or purpose is to deny the gift, and to attempt to see the meaning "of" life (there is none), rather than the meaning "in" life (174).

A rose is a rose.  It comes as a gift.  To attempt to find purpose, meaning, and the answer to "why" in it is to despise it.

Caputo's work is engaging and fascinating and wholly unsatisfying.  In the postmodern denial of universals, have we done anything more than raised subjectivism to universalism of the individual?  And if so, if I want the rose that you received as a gift, who's to stop me?

This review appears on my blog and  I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  #HopingAgainstHope


David Vandervelde said...

I love reading your reviews. Thanks for posting them.

Rev. Dr. Peter A. Butler, Jr. said...

Thank you! Glad to know someone is reading them. :)