Book Review – Hoping Against Hope
Hoping Against Hope is a book that I really enjoyed reading despite disagreeing with the author’s conclusions. Caputo is a wonderful writer and has a deep understanding of the history of philosophy which he uses to masterfully craft short vignettes as he interacts with himself and the great western philosophers.It is this interaction with his younger self and philosophers which I particularly enjoyed. In fact, at times I found myself not wanting to allow myself to think about where he was going but couldn’t help but read on due to the pure delight I experienced in his interaction with philosophy. It was not unlike watching a horror movie in which you have become deeply involved with the plot and yet experience a sense of dread as you realize exactly where it is leading.
The basic premise of Hoping Against Hope is that it doesn’t matter so much if God exists… we ought to live as if he does. Not because we are duty bound to honor him as God, but simply because the themes of the kingdom (mercy, forgiveness, etc) are worthy pursuits of which no one can bring a charge against. Consider the following,
if the unconditional does not exist, and if the name of God is the name of something unconditional, then God does not exist — just in virtue of the unconditional purity of the gift, of forgiveness, of everything unconditional . . .
This is what Caputo refers to as the “nihilism of grace” and is a central theme in Hoping Against Hope. To live this way . . . to live a life of compassion, mercy and forgiveness is only rightfully lived (according to Caputo) without why. To live without why is to live a virtuous life divorced from the virtue’s relation to God. An act of compassion is only truly compassionate if it is done simply for the sake of compassion and not under the auspice of God’s favor or displeasure.
I understand what Caputo is getting at and in part agree with him. Mercy is only merciful when it is enacted for the sake of another and not when motivated by fear of God or an alternative motive of gaining favor with God. This is certainly true. But I think Caputo is too quick to dismiss that we often times do the right thing not to find favor with God, but simply because we desire to please him as a child desires to please his mother or father. In other words, our good works are acts of worship (not merit) that we do out of gratitude toward God. Furthermore, Caputo seems to dismiss (or at least neglects to address) the idea that the only possible way that sinful man can possess true virtue is by the grace of God. Our compassion, our forgiveness, and our mercy all have their origin in God. They are foreign and not naturally born properties within the heart of man.
Overall I really enjoyed Hoping against Hope. I found Caputo easy to read and sincere. However, as a theology, it fails to answer the deeper questions of why we do what we do. Simply doing them without why sounds good enough, but upon reflection, is inadequate to tame the sinful heart of man. Hoping Against Hope is a book that I would recommend for those who have the theological discernment to “chew on the meat and spit out the bones” and who also have an interest in postmodern philosophy.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Fortress Press in exchange for an online review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
About the Author
John D. Caputo is the David R. Cook Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Religion at Villanova University and the Thomas J. Watson Professor Emeritus of Religion at Syracuse University, a hybrid philosopher/theologian working in the area of radical theology, and the author of The Weakness of God (2006), an AAR Book Award winner, and What Would Jesus Deconstruct? (2007).
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