I just started reading Jack Caputo’s little book On Religion. It has what must be the best opening section of any book I’ve read for quite some time! After saying that “religion” in the singular means nothing, he lets loose:
By religion, therefore, let me stipulate, I mean something simple, open-ended, and old-fashioned, namely, the love of God. But the expression “love of God” needs some work. Of itself it tends to be a little vacuous and even slightly sanctimonious. To put it technically, it lacks teeth. So the question we need to ask ourselves is the one Augustine puts to himself in the Confessions, “what do I love when I love God?,” or “what do I love when I love You, my God?,” as he also put it, or, running these two Augustinian formulations together, “what do I love when I love my God?”.
I love this question in no small part because it assumes that anybody worth their salt loves God. If you do not love God, what good are you? You are too caught up in the meanness of self-love and self-gratification to be worth a tinker’s damn. Your soul soars only with a spike in the Dow-Jones Industrial average; your heart leaps at the prospect of a new tax break. The devil take you. He already has. Religion is for lovers, for men and women of passion, for real people with a passion for something other than taking profits, people who believe in something, who hope like mad in something, who love something with a love that surpasses understanding. Faith, hope, and love, and of these three the bets is love, according to a famous apostle (I Cor. 13:13). But what do they love? What do I love when I love my God? That is their question. That is my question.
The opposite of a religious person is a loveless person. “Whoever does not love does not know God” (I john 4:8). Notice that I am not saying a “secular” person. That is because I am out to waylay the usual distinction between religious and secular in the name of what I shall call the “post-secular” or “religion without religion.” I include a lot of supposedly secular people in religion… even as I think a lot of supposedly religious people should look around for another line of work. A lot of supposedly secular people love something madly, while a lot of supposedly religious people love nothing more than getting their own way and bending others to their own will (“in the name of God”). Some people can be deeply and abidingly “religious” with or without theology, with or without the religions. Religion may be found with or without religious. That is my thesis.
Thus the real opposite of a religious person is a selfish and pusillanimous curmudgeon, a loveless lout who knows no higher pleasure than the contemplation of his own visage, a mediocre fellow who does not have the energy to love anything except his mutual funds. That is what the philosophers call an abusive definition, but I do not feel any great compunction about that, because the people I am abusing deserve it. They do not love God. What is worse than that ? What can you say on their behalf? If you know, you should write your own book and defend them. This book is for those who love God, that is, for people who are worth their salt. The New Testament is peppered with references to salt (Matt. 5:13; Mark 9:50; Col. 4:6). Salt is my criterion of truth, and love is my criterion of salt.
John D. Caputo, On Religion, 1-3.