MSZ July/August 1984
On the Christian Faith
According to officially confirmed rumors, we are living in the atomic age and benefit from a scientific/technological civilization. This is reflected in the fact that it is by no means a disgrace to be a Christian 200 years after a thing called the Enlightenment. On the contrary – faith, which is already quite old, actually has a very special place in the free market of opinions.
On the one hand, the view of the world under the sign of the trinity enjoys special protection by the state. Faith is cultivated in an organized manner, and the Church has its legally guaranteed place in the system of worldly power. Therefore, people are allowed to argue about the historical achievements and the present value of this institution in accordance with all aspects to do with what is fair, as they may argue about everything else the state does. One may condemn the Inquisition and regret that weapons are blessed for wars which were lost. The comments of bishops on good manners in the market economy are also discussable, and the question of money must be treated with doubt in Church affairs.
On the other hand, one is not allowed to be too critical of faith itself or the Lord it is devoted to. For religious people place their entire honor in their faith. A devout Christian demands that people refrain from being blasphemous, on the strange argument that faith is the innermost and deepest interest which he pursues in his thoughts devoted to God. Christians do not allow their belief to be belittled, and when this happens anyway, they are offended. This is how much their self-respect depends on the respect other people have of the good Lord. It is not their worldview that they feel they must defend, but themselves, in the very weighty sense of the word “dignity.”
Thus, an article on the Christian faith will certainly strike them as being blasphemy. For the equal treatment of their religious doctrine as one “edifice of thoughts” among others, the examination of its contents which always involves the “threat” that the offered wisdom be rejected, is itself a lack of respect of the Almighty.
1. God the Father
There is no help for someone who argues with a Christian about whether God really exists, who actually demands proof of his existence and is then indignant about the arguments presented. For he is confusing faith with knowledge, applying the standards of knowledge to a profession of faith so he can celebrate a very cheap triumph by discovering in every indication of God which the Christian presents yet more proof of his “mere” belief. Instead of thinking over what faith consists in, he is content with the rather simple-minded piece of information that the recognition of a highest power has nothing to do with knowledge.
Conversely, when a Christian looks for reasons for the existence of the Almighty, he will always find them by putting his intellect to work for his certain faith. One time he cannot (= does not want to) imagine the “natural order” without one agent to create and preserve it: another time he requires the same agent for a plausible conception of the beginning of history; perhaps he fails to detect any sense or purpose in his and others' daily activities, and because there just has to be one, God is the very thing he needs. A Christian is even able to gather such proof from his own person and deduce God's existence directly from his belief in God. And modern Christians will readily perform this “deduction” functionally: they then put forward what their faith accomplishes – consolation, help, orientation, protection against despair, etc. – as an argument, i.e. they simply announce their need for God because God fulfils it. They are quite close to the truth when they say this, although they arouse the suspicion that their faith is not “pure” but they instead speculate, depending on their general situation, on the Lord's protecting hand.
The joint achievement of people who have a genuine, life-long faith and those “bad Christians” who only think of their Lord now and then, is the mobilization of their imagination solely for the purpose of arriving at an extremely bad judgment of themselves by envisaging a highest maker and judge. Whereas God is omnipotent and all-knowing and determines the course of the world eternally and omni-presently, the Christian makes a considerable decision about himself by choosing to believe in this God and entering a relationship of voluntary servitude to him. He charges himself with his mortality, considers himself powerless and ignorant and accuses himself in all seriousness of only being human. This “only” does not refer to any real defect, any particular gap in his knowledge, and by no means to the actual powerlessness of an individual in view of the very real powers of this world. Instead, this is a quite absolute condemnation of one's own human nature which originates solely in one's relationship to God. Whoever realizes that there is something he does not know or cannot do, becomes self-critical in a rational manner and sets about eliminating the deficiencies which bother him. Whoever attributes his failures to his own inability and is ashamed, runs around with a bad conscience, an inferiority complex or even something worse. But whoever condemns his human nature and considers its striving to be in vain because he only has a raison d'etre as a creature and tool of God, has thought up self-accusation as a sinner as a way of living with his bad conscience. Everything he does, everything which is done with and around him, either dissolves into the vain work of man – and man's efforts are evil from his youth according to Moses 1 3:21 – or has its sense in God's inscrutable ways. Usually both.
If a sinner is doing well, he prays to God and thanks him for the undeserved mercy, for the divine reward; if he is doing badly, he knows this is the fair punishment for his human worthlessness and therefore asks to be given a little piece of the giant cake of divine love in spite of everything. In all vicissitudes of life, he interprets what he is going along with, with great self-assurance, from the point of view of the relationship to God he has set up for himself. And this self-assurance, this effect which Christians ascribe so insistently to their faith – consolation, courage and strength instead of despair and anger about one's earthly brothers who give one such a hard time – is the key to the self-righteousness religious people are capable of.
Unlike the self-critical individual who seeks the reasons for his failure in himself and around him; unlike the type who deals with himself psychologically and considers himself to be a washout, a Christian proceeds very thoroughly. He wants to have his self-accusation understood as an attitude all other people ought to adopt as well, and he goes peddling this attitude like a missionary. And every time his appeal falls on deaf ears he can enjoy the satisfaction of at least exclusively admitting the sinning nature that everyone has. He knows how to distinguish himself by his self-abasement, and is familiar with the stories in the New as well as the Old Testament in which the Godless are hit by some adversity or other much harder and more fairly than the Children of God.
Christians, whether in office or as amateurs, thus dispose, as adherents of the proper faith, over the entire repertoire of maliciousness, from pure envy to pleasure in others' misfortune. They need only take the trouble to provide their religious image of God and man with the appropriate translations – and God's justice has struck with good reason. Christians, whether in office or as amateurs, dispose for the same reason over that incredible understanding and sympathy for all maltreated creatures at home and abroad, i.e. over feelings which spare them the annoying question of the reason for misery, poverty and violence. They even suffer along when they are not subjected to any great strokes of fate at the moment.
They would never be so presumptuous as to point out, “all by themselves,” the very worldly economic and political causes of anything they are not pleased with. The faith in their Lord, which does not require any proof and does not allow for any refutation either, replaces for them both the knowledge and the will which are necessary to take the wire-pullers of this world to task. Christians take for granted that they only produce rubbish, being sinners, but can never do anything wrong, being religious sinners, as long as they are not so insolent as to want to change anything about the way the world works. They prefer to add their own sacrifice to those forced upon people, rather than give up their boundless opportunism towards the worldly power, about which they learn the appropriate lesson in Romans 13.l: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained by God.”
And when democratically brought-up Christians appease their consciences in the centers of imperialism by admiring “liberation theology” in far-off countries, this does not alter a thing.
A Christian does not give up his intellect by any means when he decides to believe in God; instead, he gives it the task of serving his religious worldview. And this is why all the old and new attempts to enlighten him are in vain, by people who enumerate to him the contradictions within his faith in order to point out the absurdity of his image of God and man. The intellects of God's children cannot be called upon for the refutation of the Lord God, because they are busy making the “incredible” credible from the start. Whoever comes along and says God didn't exactly provide a fine image of himself in the myriads of sinners he planted on the earth; people are never the way he wants them to be so that the Almighty is never satisfied with them and must punish them and set them straight; people keep on using the reason God gave them for themselves instead of for a life pleasing to God, i.e. abusing their minds as means for sinning, etc., etc. – will be forcing an open door when he talks to a Christian. For faith is concerned with doubts of this caliber from the start, and the religious imagination knows where to find the answers to such questions: in the Holy Book. In the first Book of Moses the business about the “Tree of Knowledge” which man should not eat from, is already made clear. In Moses I: 6.6 “it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.”
The religious treatment of doubts is part of believing from the first day on, since a reasonable person must justify his decision to interpret his situation with non-knowledge.
2. God the Son: The Revelation
A religious person's intellect must achieve more than that of a heathen. On the one hand, it is required just the same for taking care of earthly matters as that of anyone else who must work and budget, marry and vote, sometimes go to war; on the other hand, it must master the additional task of interpreting all the lousy experiences of earthly existence as being the work and will of God. And even though the efforts of his earthly journey keep a Christian’s demand for an absolute spirit alive, under which he is safe in spite of everything, they also fill him with doubts as to the certainty of his faith. Some days go by when a little sinner, instead of confessing, thinks of asking whether God has not forgotten him; or even worse, he is tempted to blaspheme in view of all the injustice done to a righteous person like him. Thank Goodness the predecessors of the modern Christian had the same problem and its solution as well: God answers the agonizing questions of the doubting creatures by keeping the promise that he will reveal himself when the time is ripe. Faith is given considerable support by the doubting intellect, which develops the logic of God the Lord and man the servant to dispel all doubts as to the existence and work of God in view of the historical Revelation as guaranteed several times in the New Testament. Thus, God sent us his native son …
The life and teaching of Jesus are a marvelous thing for stabilizing certainty of faith, but they have a deficiency which cannot be overlooked: you have to believe in the works of the Son of God, who displays Christian abstinence and its success in human form! Although it is most pleasant for a Christian spirit to add a figure with a detailed biography, whom he can visualize, to the “abstract God” whom he cannot imagine and of whom he is not allowed to make any plaster casts, the additional efforts required by the faithful for the birth, teach-ins, miracles and passion of Christ are undeniable. The gospels are worked out most logically and therefore provide a Christian's intellect with many a stumbling block:
- as the Redeemer of man, who shows him how evil human nature can be conquered by voluntarily adopting the servant role, God's son is a human being. Only as such can he assume that suffering which can serve as an example for self-denial which no one else can manage that well
- first of all, this has consequences for the idea that the faithful are supposed to have of the birth of Christ: Jesus’ earthly existence starts right off with a miracle which theologians consider one of their finest secrets
- the next consequence is just as hard a test for the intellect as an instrument for faith; that Jesus is not a usual person, but equipped with the omnipotence of God – this must also be testified to. After all, he does his bit for the Kingdom of God as it is dawning, to conquer sin and redeem man of it. Thus, Jesus performs a miracle now and then to prove God's omnipotence
- and is promptly misunderstood by the doubter in the believer. For he likes to consider the miracles a good reason for believing – but this is not the way they are intended at all. Miracles put the laws of nature out of force, and therefore criticize the human mind which imagines that it knows a bit about the way the world works and can benefit from this knowledge. It is really outrageous when people are keen on miracles as proof that Jesus is credible, i.e. when they want to be convinced. This has to be put right by the Lord: “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe” (John 4.48) – this is how he rebuked those who are only faithful – conditionally, the rationalists among the Children of God.
- in his passion he shows the other humans most humanly how to deal properly with their mortality: self-denial is the way to redemption; so the subdual of the flesh is a matter for the mind! Of course, God's son thereby gives the faithful, as reasonable people, the next shock: instead of a victory over mortality, they first see a defeat, God's son is dead – and this cannot be. So the thing is continued, there is a resurrection: “Death, where is thy sting, Hell, where is thy victory!”
- so one must also believe in the resurrection if one wants to partake of divine love, which leads those calculating creatures for whom Jesus goes through all this, to think up all kinds of mistaken ideas about life after death. They keep on forgetting that – whether the flesh is resurrected or not – the faithful spirit is taken care of and heaven is not a recreation center with free admission. Christians, inexperienced in the logic of the salvation, keep on following their materialistic imagination and imagining eternal life as a collection of all earthly pleasures minus the trouble that goes along with them down here …
In any case the gospels, as testimony to the Revelation, are right in reporting not only on what deeds and suffering of Christ should be believed in, but also in expertly clarifying the mistakes – always remembering the recalcitrance of the human mind – which can be made in the struggle between faith and doubt. Many a temptation must be withstood, the insistence on evidence by those weak in faith must be dealt with, etc. – in short, Christ's passion must be believed as demonstrated self-abandonment without any trace of calculation, and only the faithful sheep of God is able to come up with a correct interpretation of the world's doings and his position in them, i.e. to lead a Christian life. This takes place above all in the
3. Spirit of the Congregation
The Lord's spirit appears to the faithful, and only to them. “Where two or three are gathered in my name...” the Lord is present. This is not a miracle, for a change, but most tautological. Those who take it upon themselves to preserve the faith in the name of the Revelation answer for the presence and the teaching of God the Father and the Son, and are therefore filled with the Holy Ghost. Its arrival, the sign of the report of execution, is again bound to the precondition that one has faith, but who cares? The existence of the faithful witnesses proves the faith and hands down the proof of God in the world and for it. This was clear from the start: that faith proves itself and its adherents solemnly declare that the human mind cannot grasp the business anyway.
And one should not make too much fuss about this contradiction, either, for it is in fact people who perform their service for God by summoning up their intellects. It is true that the Church is not a place for arguments and convincing people by correct thoughts about the world, but where the faithful attitude is celebrated and sung to because everyone is glad that he has faith. But it even requires some intellectual contortions to participate in the communal enjoyment of faith, in the Trinity, the self-righteous demonstration that one is in the proper club. Christians must even watch out, when celebrating the insight that their human nature is not worth much, that their avowal does not contrast too greatly with what they do outside the service, and above all exhibit the sinner attitude without the obvious wish to distinguish themselves in all their humbleness (Jesus himself already commented on this expertly!). When they think of it, they can have themselves humbled like crazy during the prayers, scolded in the sermon and consoled and uplifted by the singing. When the sacraments are executed they then swell up into their highest form. They partake of God's grace – and must again watch out like the dickens that they don't imagine they could procure themselves anything by participating in the hocus-pocus. When they imagine that they are not imagining any such thing, there is a merry christening of babies, but not of innocent children, for the “heritage” which they have taken over cannot be rejected. The relationship between the sexes becomes a service to God, and this is the only way a Christian advocates this embarrassing affair of the flesh. When confessing, Christians attain the peak of their hypocrisy, by undoing their evil deeds in an inner way by the irrepentance and atonement, which is of course only Christ's achievement. Otherwise one would not be capable of participating in the mystic union at the Last Supper, during which one allows the Lord's spirit to enter one in a very natural manner.
Thus, faithful Christians are busy all year round with the repetition of Christ's life and teaching, and talk themselves into despising everything material, worldly and natural, following his example, enough to make one sick. Of course, a Christian cannot get rid of the world and what he does in it, either. But his mind suffices to let him abstract from his perfectly ordinary life, regard it as a mere transition and test of faith and look at everything from a slightly different point of view.
4. The Christian and the world
Distancing oneself from the Church, condemning its work, joking about priests and nuns – this is all worthless unless one criticizes faith. Christians who are terribly committed to improving their worldly faith bureaus are quite familiar with such accusations. Why should they think the professional administration of their faithful opportunism – which is the “work of man,” after all – is good in every respect? It cannot remain a secret to them that their ideals of a co-existence pleasing to God, charity and peaceful, non-violent politics remain ideals. So it is not at all surprising that they occasionally become critical in order to save their faithful consciences once and for all. They want to retain in any case the meaning imagined in their construction of faith, that imaginary reward for going along with everything.
Unfortunately, we must charge them with an error with respect to this aspect of their good will. The error is to assume that the organization of a “private” attitude of humility could ever be anything else but its use. There is never more produced than officially propagated appeals to adopt the very attitude which Christians consider so very important anyway. And the cynical opportunism of the Church with respect to all kinds of worldly power is merely the consistent representation of the submissive claims to a meaningful life in the spirit of Jesus. There is not the slightest conflict between the policy of the Church and “faith itself” – the official morality amounts to nothing but putting through the view of man which the faithful degrade themselves to. Those who do not want to go without any sacrifices otherwise should not get excited about the sacrifices this morality involves. The price of morality need not frighten anyone who possesses morality.
It is one thing to strive for co-existence in one's family, one's work and one's state in accordance with one's faith. But it is a very different matter that this ideal is not realized due to massive readiness for harmony-producing humility. Christian politicians do their very best.
It will continue to be allowed and welcomed when people add their own sacrifices to those demanded by the worldly powers, by practicing Christian charity. It is very doubtful – if only in view of the sequence of events – whether this will prevent any sacrifice – in the “Third World” or anywhere else.
And people who think “man” has no right to kill – especially on such a large scale – certainly do not need to make any ugly noises about the missiles which the responsible politicians have set up. It is not “man” who orders the killing equipment, so that he still has time to pray for peace.