There Is No God and Mary Is His Mother: Rediscovering Religionless Christianity by Thomas Cathcart

[1] Hearkening back to the death of God theologians, Thomas Cathcart writes a provocative book to jar conventional theology. Cathcart—like Thomas J. J. Altizer, William Hamilton, Paul van Buren, and Gabriel Vahanian among others before him—challenges traditional conceptions of a transcendental divine being and the obsolete cosmologies that perpetuate such misunderstandings. With the rapidly increasing number of “Nones” and many who aver they are “spiritual but not religious,” this revisitation is timely.

[2] The death of God was first prophesied by Friedrich Nietzsche and received fascinating impetus from the prison writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who began to imagine the shape of a “religionless Christianity” in a “world come of age.” The occasion for these ponderings was the failure of Christianity to be a force for ethical responsibility against the horrors of two world wars, the second perpetrating the mass killing of Jewish people and other populations targeted by the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer held that “prayer and righteous action” would be at the core of Christianity after Christendom.

[3] The trends Bonhoeffer began to intimate have come to full fruition. Cathcart takes seriously the legitimate reasons many have arrived at disbelief in an omnipotent God. The problem of theodicy (Chapter 5, “God Is Good?”) dashes the convictions of many that a benevolent God rules over this vail of tears.

[4] After opening chapters that set the terms for his discussion, the author retrieves four usable constructs from the Jesus movement and in dialogue with other faith traditions: 1) Jesus’ central metaphor of the imminent kingdom of God, 2) the presence of the Holy Spirit, 3) the character of forgiveness as gift, and 4) the indwelling presence of Christ in me. These themes each appeal to dimensions of human experience. Their usefulness is related to the “matter of adopting a different way of looking, a refocusing of attention” (86).

[5] There remain issues of “ultimate concern” (Paul Tillich). However, these are to be discovered in the world around us and nowhere else. People remain longing for something worth devoting their lives toward. This is to be apprehended in the way of Jesus, bereft of metaphysical superstructure: “If we are to reimagine Christianity, it is essential to remember that it isn’t something we think or something we’re a member of; it’s something we live” (128-129).

[6] This book would be worthwhile for book discussion groups, especially with those questioning the inherited faith. Along the way, Cathcart introduces readers to a fascinating array of thinkers and concepts that give expression to topics often left unaddressed.



Craig L. Nessan

Dr. Craig L. Nessan is Professor of Contextual Theology and Ethics, and the William D. Streng Professor for the Education and Renewal of the Church at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.  He teaches courses in the areas of leadership and theological ethics. He holds degrees from Michigan State University, Wartburg Theological Seminary, and the University of Munich.  His theological interests include diakonia as a paradigm for the future church.