The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CCADD.

 

CCADD International Conference, 19-23 September 2008

Cathedral College at the Washington National Cathedral

 

Quo vadis, homo?

František Ábel

 

If we are to talk responsibly about the theology of hope and its strategies within a global struggle for sustainable development, we primarily have to highlight that this kind of theology is to have a universal dimension – it is to be addressed to all people around the world. In this context, without abandoning our own religious tradition as Christians, it is inevitable to have courage not to put emphasis on exclusivity of Christianity as the only true religion. Hope that is coming into the world as a result of God’s action in Jesus Christ is hope for the entire world regardless of any religious tradition. In his discourse presented in Paris, 1977, a well-known French philosopher, Claude Tresmontant (1925-1997), stated that if Christianity wants to offer a powerful testimony even in the 21st century, it has to present itself to people as an understandable teaching and stand for intellectual nourishment, as well. Equally, it is to reflect the ongoing fulfillment of science of creation that forms new humanity on the basis of cooperation between God and people.[1] Especially, these words are addressed to both religious fundamentalism and secularism that pushes aside Christian values and life as something that is not able to offer anything to a man of the present day.

Necessity of a radical change of the way in which people of this age live has also been pointed out by the so-called Club of Rome. It is an international organization that associates important scientists, high civil servants, current and former heads of state from all five continents, economists and businessmen who are convinced that the future of humankind is not determined once and for all and that each human being can contribute to the improvement of our societies. The purpose of this organization is to create a model of both the situation and perspectives of the world. Moreover, it points out consequences of tendencies of the civilizational development and looks for possible alternatives for humankind. As far as this aspect, it tries to outline a program which is to indicate the way of acting that is necessary for a solution of critical situations and for survival of humankind, as well. The Club of Rome produced two reports: one of them by D. H. Meadows and the other by M. D. Mesarovic and E. Pestel.[2] Both reports refer to worldwide technological, demographic and economic trends. Both come to the same conclusion – if there are no radical technological and economic changes, a global catastrophe will occur. The Earth is not able to bear up devastating intervention of people for a long time and will collapse. Nevertheless, there are only a few people who seriously think about this situation and its consequences for the future.

Naturally, we do not want to make people worried or afraid. Yet it is necessary to pay attention to these problems and not to ignore or simplify them, since the situation is serious and requires a radical change of our lives. In other words, it requires “formation of a quite new human being” or at least a fundamental change of a current nature of a man.[3] At the same time, it is necessary to state that people of this age are found in the midst of a radical “clash of cultures,” as a result of continual increase of awareness of own national, cultural and especially religious identity, including their effort to prove and assert own uniqueness by all possible means. This situation is most considerably proved by a relatively new phenomenon – the so-called “global fight against terrorism.” Evidently, current global policy is a reflection of this condition. Accordingly, it is very important to think about future, while asking: “How to go on? How can we reform modern-day Christianity and Christian communities so they are be able to bring something new and progressive? Can we ever speak seriously about the theology of hope and positive perspectives of development within global policy under conditions of this dramatic struggle?” The only honest answer is positive.

History proves that humankind has to face new challenges which it is systematically confronted with. It has to try to find such solutions that are beneficial for life as well as for sustainable development of our civilization as a whole, naturally, without detriment to minorities or individuals. This is a mandate that is part of genetic code of a human being, at least from a theological point of view. First of all, the process itself demands courage to analyze critically a present state of our society from the perspective of Christianity in its holistic context and from the perspective of necessity of setting those common objectives which will make the future development of mankind possible. This all belongs to the realm of the theology of hope and its possible strategies for development of life. Before paying attention to these strategies, however, basic information about the theology of hope itself is to be mentioned. This theological perspective belongs to the so-called “theologies of genitives,” resulting especially from the protestant theology of the 20th century. The theology of hope represents the interpretation of the Word of God and it has its followers mainly in Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy. Its most important representative is a well-known German protestant theologian Jürgen Moltmann (1926). He worked actively as a professor of Systematic Theology at Tübingen University in Germany till 1994. A Catholic branch of the theology of hope is represented mainly by Johann Baptist Metz (1928). A fundamental principle of the theology of hope is eschatology in which God is represented as absolute future. Its hermeneutic principle is derived from the philosophy of hope of pro-Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch. In his central work, known as “Theology of Hope,” Jürgen Moltmann stresses hope for better life even in this world. At the same time, he emphasizes that humankind was mandated to take care of both nature and creation as a whole as well as to live with them in harmony. Humankind is neither to gain control over them nor plunder or destroy them. Moltmann also invites us to examine structures of societal power, since he finds science and politics closely connected.

Naturally, no theological school is able to offer absolute solutions for all crisis situations nor is it perfect as far as a point of departure. Yet it is important to appreciate audacity of this theological movement, since it emphasizes a need to apply Christian principles to daily life of society, while following the goal to ever discover the analogy between a symbol of the kingdom of God and the temporary world. In other words, it tries to exercise principles of the kingdom of God in our daily life. Naturally, the basic purpose of this process is to answer a question what exactly we mean by talking about a symbol of hope today. In his lecture, “Future of Christianity,” presented during his visit to Prague in January 2004, Moltmann asked the same question.[4] His answer emerged from developing religious conceptions concerning a symbol of hope within Judaism and Christianity. “Hope as understood within Judaism of the Old Testament was experienced as God’s presence in Israel (shekina). On the other hand, Christianity confesses that God has already entered his creation in his Wisdom and Spirit (cf. J 1:14) and in such a way, he has been leading it towards the goal, “so the common house of all creation could become an eternal God’s house.” According to Moltmann, “the universal mission of the Church is to prepare the route to this future.” At the same time, however, he said: “The humankind’s chance to survive seems to be a serious problem today. Human civilization is not to subordinate the Earth to its system of control. Conversely, it is to be integrated into life system of the Earth.” Moltmann summed up his essential theses in these simple words: “Church is the future of Christianity. Future of the Church is the kingdom of God.”[5]

Jürgen Moltmann presents the theology of hope as a source of continual perspective, since it is based on awareness of permanent need of self-reflexion and reform of religious tradition. This particular aspect is essential and important especially under the conditions of a current “clash of cultures” and a political struggle which is based on enforcing religious uniqueness of the largest monotheistic religions. However, it is important to remind what was said at the beginning. Theology should express hope of deliverance which was promised by God to humankind as a whole. This fact is to be emphasized especially today, since the largest Christian churches tend to return to the theology of uniqueness. According to their belief, hope of salvation is only for those who belong to a particular “chosen“ religious community, which is convinced that it owns the only true treasure of faith. This tendency can be realized while comparing the content of two significant documents that were published by the Roman-Catholic Church at intervals of about 40 years. On one hand, there is a document of the Second Vatican Council - the Encyclical Gaudium et Spes from 1965 (known as “The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”). In this document, hope of salvation is addressed to the whole world without stressing exclusiveness of Christianity or necessity of unquestioning identification with the official church doctrine. On the other hand, there is the Encyclical Spe Salvi of a contemporary pope Benedict XVI. (2007).[6] This Encyclical is spiritually and pastorally addressed to all Roman Catholic insiders, bishops, clergy, deacons and Christian believers. Comparing these documents, we inevitably have to observe a regressive tendency of development of the Christian church.[7] As though the Christian hope was limited only to Christianity and its believers who agree that the official doctrine is the only true treasure of faith. Sadly, this tendency denies hope for the rest of the world.[8] In my opinion, the Encyclical Spe Salvi is a reaction to recent crisis of Christian churches, especially in Europe. Similarly, it is an attempt to change a recent state by stressing exclusiveness of Christianity as well as necessity of identification with the official doctrine, since this alone is the only way of salvation of humankind. This Encyclical gives only a little hope to this world; it did not take into consideration the power and presence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this world. Despite all positive and valuable features it includes, I personally lack a larger extent of the Old Testament prophetic message – a promise of universal salvation and transformation of this world.[9] As though, it was written in fear of dynamics of history, while also shaped by a desire to conceal the treasure of the Gospel to the church doctrine and tradition.

I would say that this problem has also affected Slovak churches. However, if we are to offer the power of the Gospel to our society, we cannot choose a way of stressing exclusiveness of Christianity or identification with the church official doctrine. As all of you know, Slovakia used to be a part of the former Republic of Czechoslovakia, founded in 1918. For about 40 years (1948-1989), it used to be a part the East Communist block and as the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic belonged to satellites of the former Soviet Union. Naturally, activities of the Christian churches in Czechoslovakia were very limited in such a situation. Former governmental policy used massive propaganda in order to convince the former capitalistic part of the world that socialistic political system in Czechoslovakia created all conditions for multilateral development of the churches. Moreover, massive state propaganda included also the proclamation of full support of the churches for governmental policy, mainly in the matters of peace. In this connection, the so-called “peace conferences” titled as “Pacem in Terris” have to be mentioned.[10] Yet reality was the one of forced loyalty and “voluntary” cooperation with the Communist regime in the process of its struggle against worldwide imperialism. Christian theology was necessarily getting to tandem of the state politics following interests such as open condemnation of militarism of the West great powers, worldwide Zionism or Vatican policy, all with proper theological interpretation. The Roman Catholic Church was exposed to the biggest pressure, yet it was not much better for the protestant churches in Slovakia.[11] Interestingly, Slovak churches proclaimed a certain form of the theology of hope during this period. As far as its content, however, this theology was oriented to the struggle for worldwide peace against imperialism of the so-called West capitalistic countries. This period indelibly affected the development of Christian churches in Czechoslovakia. A negative influence of the Communist era is experienced till now. Status quo strongly affected the current form of the constitutional law. Even though the Church enjoys nowadays freedom guaranteed by the State and has all necessary conditions for its activities, it still lacks a different way of thinking. In a sense, we are still bearing the stamp of totalitarian thinking in us. According to my personal opinion, Slovak churches are rather indifferent to politics and political events. They lack both energy and people who would be able to participate actively in society. This is partially caused by subconscious fear that they will fall into disfavor of the government once again. That is why they often voluntarily accept a role of cultural and societal appendix that is here only to prepare its believers for the age to come. This approach, however, tends to forget that the eschaton is already a part of this age.

My objective, naturally, is not to evaluate the past but to describe the perspectives of the theology of hope in the near future. Because of their great impact and influence noticeable even today, it was necessary to outline these events before starting to talk about the perspectives of the theology of hope. Both relevancy and content of this theology, which I find a meaningful alternative for the world, including Slovakia, are directly connected to the message of the above-mentioned Vatican II document. This message can be summarized in a slogan: “human dignity and human rights as well as peace and the development of an international community.”[12] Naturally, optimism is not intrinsic to our era. Events of the 20th century proved the initial enthusiasm and human conviction of an ability to improve oneself in all respects, including a spiritual, moral and ethic respect, as it was characteristic of the Enlightenment, to be delusive. The reason might dwell in the fact that a man quit counting on God and his acting in this world. He relies on his own ability to create “the kingdom of God” in this world and betrays Christ’s Gospel and its message as Paul proclaimed it. Yet a human being as well as the world in which he lives need God and Jesus’ cross, which ceaselessly symbolizes a failure of all human ideals, plans and desires that are based on self-belief alone. Every human plan or action in the world is to be accompanied by awareness of God’s acting in human history in which the past, present and future are included. The words of Revelation, “behold, I make all things new“ (Rev 21:5), are often understood only as a reference to the age to come. Yet their actual meaning (“I am making all things new”) is often forgotten. Unambiguously, these words express the need of preparation for the new things in history. People are to have confidence in God who is making all things new – indeed, he is making new even our ability to receive the Gospel by faith, to perceive it by our intellect and to deliver it to the world.

In other words, we should not be under the illusion that we alone are able to create the kingdom of God in the world. Similarly, we should not cherish an illusion that there can exist a world without boundaries and power system, which serves as stabilization of the world’s peace. I suppose that this all has always been a part of the life in this world. However, it does not mean that Christians – as individuals or communities – have nothing to offer to this world. All catastrophes and cataclysms that occurred in history, especially in the 20th century, proved that we have to fight for this world. Yet there remains a question how to do that. Human freedom of decision-making and acting, though bounded and restricted, means that we should not neglect the fact that there are activities which lead the creation to destruction and undoing. I take into consideration two possible ways or strategies by which current theology can bring hope to modern societies. The first of them is purposeful participation of all Christians (including visible churches) in social life and both domestic and foreign affairs.

Let me share one example: at present, in the countries of Mid-Europe region, particularly in the Czech Republic and Poland, the question of emplacement and installation of radiolocation and antiballistic missile defense system of American armed forces became of utmost importance. This question divides people of the mentioned countries into two groups; those who agree with and those who are radically against this military plan. The former argue mainly by realistic perspective on worldwide political development, including interests of the world superpowers. They also argue by potential advantages, which are to follow for them. The latter express their radical hostility to any military activity of the superpowers in Mid-Europe region, including safety risk, since they fear of potential danger of increase of the diversity of the terrorist groups operating also in their countries. There is not a Christian church which would sufficiently reflect on this situation, since from a perspective of the Christian doctrine, the Church can’t agree with military operations. Because of their expectation of immediate coming of the kingdom of God, Christian churches are under the illusion that political affairs are not their business. At the same time, however, the Church is a part of this world as well as its structures, in which good and evil are interconnected. It is necessary for Christian churches around the world to be of benefit to the world in all respects. They are to warn that any policy based entirely on bullying people is unacceptable. Similarly, they are to warn against a strategy of an indifferent attitude to world politics as well as against supporting false ideals of creating the kingdom of God in this world. Naturally, it requires a very responsible approach as well as strong Christian personalities who will be able to evaluate this situation also from a political perspective, in which a question of preservation of peace and law in the countries of the mentioned region is of high importance. Under very specific conditions a right choice might seem as acceptance of “lesser evil,” so to speak. Naturally, it is a complicated issue; yet its complex solution calls also for participation of Christian churches in the mentioned process.

The second example of an effective strategy is an informal inter-religious dialogue that is to be lead very seriously. Its results, no matter how insignificant and trivial they seem to be, are to be implemented into the life of society. This dialogue takes place in many countries of the world, including Europe. Yet it is almost entirely absent in Slovakia. Therefore, I consider a solution of this very problem as acute and activities in this field as most important for next decade. As far as both mentioned strategies, I find the source of my inspiration in the theology of hope as Professor Moltmann introduced it. Therefore, let me share some key thoughts from Professor Moltmann’s lecture that took place during his second visit in Prague (2004):[13]

“Today the modern legal state is threatened from two sides: first of all, by misuse of state power and terror from above (the state is protected against these by the right of citizens to resist); secondly, by privatized terror from outside (the state is protected by the monopoly of state power). If the state is not able to enforce its monopoly of power and violence, privatized violence that can oppress many nations occurs. From a political perspective, a fight against privatized violence of terror is an interior task of police. If this terror assumes international proportions, it is necessary to organize international police sanctions, and this happens within the UN. In this unredeemed world, we need the state monopoly of power because of abidance of peace, within its connection with law and righteousness. Yet we also need complementary strengths that would be able to “fill peace with life“ as well as to try to make the enemies our friends or at least our good neighbors. In Christian tradition, there exists an anti-image to St. George, the one slaying a dragon: it is a legend about Saint Martha. Martha, her sister Mary and brother Lazarus arrived to South France where Martha had a mission to do in Rhone valley. In Tarascon a bloodthirsty dragon was shown to her. Every year a young girl had to be sacrificed to this dragon. St. Martha sprinkled the dragon with holy water, wrapped its neck by her belt, and sent it back to the sea (the dragon lost its way and ended up in the river Rhone. Since it felt lost, it became evil). There are two references to the power of redemption from destructive violence in the New Testament. First of all, it is Jesus’ acceptance of suffering: by his own death on the cross, he put hostility to death (Eph 2:16). Secondly, it is Jesus’ appeal and invitation to love enemies as a way in which we can prevent rotation of a deadly spiral of violence that is in accordance with the law of retaliation. The first step of this way is not to let an enemy to impose hostility on you; the second step is rooted in knowing the others (and thus in finding out how similar they are to us); the third step should lead to reasons of enmity. Rationally loving our enemies, we will strive for them not to sink deeper and deeper to their hostility. Professor Moltmann articulates it in the following way: to defend myself against aggression as well as to offer peace and common life. After all, I don’t love my enemies because they are enemies but because God created them and wants their life. He does not want them to live their self-destruction through their hostility.“[14]

 

Naturally, this is primarily a matter of introducing a theoretical concept that remains mere hypothesis, if there are no concrete examples of application. In his lecture, Moltmann outlined a few ways in which to oppose to violence in this world. Particularly two of them, I suppose, are inspiratory and relevant – “to defend ourselves against aggression as well as to offer peace and common life.“ This strategy seems to be applicable and thus might happen to be a basis of future success, even in Slovakia, where Christian churches engage neither in dealing with worldwide social and political problems nor in creating conditions for an effective inter-religious dialogue. Though it seems to be paradoxical, this is one of the possible strategies.

Moreover, it would be useful to energize ecclesiastical and theological educational institutions in the so-called projects of long-life education which are to address the civil society as a whole. Continual increase of a moral, ethical and spiritual dimension in the life of an individual as well as exercising fundamental Christian principles in society are to be a goal of the whole process in order to increase awareness of personal and collective responsibility for both the future development of society and the life of people in the world. Naturally, it is a difficult task which requires courage. Surely, it will meet with opposition from outside and inside (especially within Christian churches). The Evangelical Lutheran Seminary in Bratislava tries to participate in this very process by establishing the Institute of the Inter-religious Dialogue as well as by various projects which attempt to increase attractiveness of theological education, especially among young generation. These projects are in a preparatory phase, almost ready to be implemented. Our effort dwells in finding out opinions and attitudes of society as far as a need of the inter-religious dialogue, especially among Christian believers and pastors, since it might happen very quickly that even Slovakia will be confronted with a radical increase of different religious traditions, especially Islam. This is the reason why we perceive prevention as one of the most efficient ways for establishing an efficient inter-religious dialogue and why we try to create platforms for future cooperation with the Jewish religious community and later on also the Muslim religious community, both of which live in Slovakia. This project involves a theological research which is to demonstrate legitimacy of this dialogue for modern multicultural society.

The so-called project of long-life education is of great importance as well. It tries to provide the so-called second career education. Making religious and theological studies more attractive and being more open to society, we want to start with a process of life-long education, especially of those who work in civil service or economic sphere. In this very way, we would like to help people of this generation live out Christian principles in their personal as well as political life. This effort is relevant especially in this midst of increasing secularism and loss of traditional values as well as ideals, as we can clearly see it in the countries of the European Union.

These projects can be successful only if both courage to give up religious exclusiveness and self-reflection of Christian churches is present. Courage is probably the most important aspect in this process. Yet courage alone does not suffice. Success of the mentioned projects requires humility and an honest effort objectively to analyze and evaluate the last two millennia, including Church history. We cannot be sure right now if the offered strategies will be successful. Yet there is present a desire to offer something radically new to the life of society, something with its basis in the message of Jesus Christ given about two thousands years ago, though still offering hope for humankind and the whole creation. This very hope is deeply rooted in trust to God who “is making all things new.“ Lacking this hope, all human activities, plans, efforts and strategies would be futile and would represent an empty gesture.

 

 

August 2008

 

CCADD-2008 Conference, 19-23 September 2008,

Cathedral College at the Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC, USA  

 


 

[1] TRESMONTANT C. Dějiny vesmíru a smysl stvoření. Translated from the French original L’histoire de l’Univers et le sens de la Création, published by O.E.I.L., Paris 1985, translated by Josef Mlejnek. Praha: Academia, 1993, p. 34 – 49.

[2] In FROMM E. Mít, nebo být? Translated from the English original To Have Or To Be?, published by “The continuum Publishing Company,” New York, 1997 by Jan Lusk. Praha: Aurora, 2001, p. 21-22.

[3] Ibid.

[4] In January 2004, Moltmann visited The Protestant Theological Faculty of Charles University in Prague, where he gave two lectures: “Future of Christianity“and “To Create a Peace and Defeat the Dragon: Power and Violence in Christianity.” Summary of both is known as “Professor Jürgen Moltmann in Prague“and was made by Vladimir Roskovec (23. 4. 2004). This part was written according to the mentioned summary. Available online: http://www.portal.cz/scripts/modules/issues/artlist.php?issueid=426.

[5] Quoted by: Vladimir Roskovec. „Professor Jürgen Moltmann in Prague.“ (23. 4. 2004). Available online: http://www.portal.cz/scripts/modules/issues/artlist.php?issueid=426

[6] In his article from May 30, 2008, Moltmann pays attention to this fact and critically evaluates the content of this Encyclical. In MOLTMANN J. „Horizons of hope: A critique of Spe salvi.“ Available online: http://cruciality.wordpress.com/category/jurgen-moltmann/.

[7] Moltmann argues: „The Vatican II document addresses and responds to the concerns of today’s world: human dignity and human rights as well as peace and the development of an international community. None of these concerns is discussed in Benedict’s encyclical, which begins neither with the solidarity of Christians with all people nor with the universal “God of hope.” Rather, it subjectively and ecclesially begins with “us”: “in hope we are saved.” We and not the others; the church and not the world. This is a stark distinction indeed between the believing and the unbelieving or otherwise-believing: we have hope - the others have no hope.“ In MOLTMANN J. „Horizons of hope: A critique of Spe Salvi.“ Available online: http://cruciality.wordpress.com/category/jurgen-moltmann/.

[8] Moltmann argues: „It limits Christian hope to the faithful and separates them from those in the world “who have no hope.” In MOLTMANN J. „Horizons of hope: A critique of Spe Salvi.“ Available online: http://cruciality.wordpress.com/category/jurgen-moltmann/.

[9] So Moltmann in MOLTMANN J. „Horizons of hope: A critique of Spe Salvi.“ Available online: http://cruciality.wordpress.com/category/jurgen-moltmann/.

[10] This association of the Roman Catholic clergy can be characterized as the last phase of cooperation between the Communist government and clergy loyal to the regime. It took place during the so-called normalization (1970-1989). Detailed analysis can be found in: HAĽKO J. Komunizmus a cirkev. Available online: http://www.uski.sk/frames_files/ran/2005/cl050102.htm.

[11] More about the situation of the Protestant Churches in Slovakia during the so-called normalization in: PEŠEK J. Protestantské cirkvi na Slovensku v rokoch 1969 – 1989. Historical magazine. 51.3, 2003, p. 447 – 470.

[12] See in: MOLTMANN J. „Horizons of hope: A critique of Spe Salvi.“ (May 30th 2008)  http://cruciality.wordpress.com/category/jurgen-moltmann/.

 

[13] A lecture: “To create a peace and to overcome a dragon: power and violence in the Christianity.” Resume from this lecture titled “Professor Jürgen Moltmann in Prague” made in Czech language by Vladimir Roskovec (23. 04. 2004). The citation is from this resume and translated into English by the author. Available in Czech language online: http://www.portal.cz/scripts/modules/issues/artlist.php?issueid=426.

 

[14] Cited from the resume titled “Professor Jürgen Moltmann in Prague” made in Czech language by Vladimir Roskovec (23. 04. 2004). The citation is from this resume and translated into English by the author. Available in Czech language online: http://www.portal.cz/scripts/modules/issues/artlist.php?issueid=426.