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by Jurgen Moltmann
Monday, Apr. 17, 2006 at 3:41 AM
Christ's end was his true beginning. If Christian hope is reduced to the deliverance of the soul in a heaven beyond death, then its life-renewing and world-changing power is lost..The hope of Jews and Christians is also hope for the nations and hope for the earth.
THE NEW CREATION OF ALL THINGS
Interview with Jurgen Moltmann
[Is the "Last Judgment" the final divine redemption of human history? The theme of Christian eschatology is the new creation of all things, not "the end". In all personal, historical and cosmic dimensions, eschatology follows this christological pattern: the beginning in the end. The teaching of hope is central to the protestant thinker and theologian Jurgen Moltmann. What is hope for eternal life and how does it relate to God's kingdom, the new heaven and the new earth? This interview originally published in November 1998 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.DiePresse.at.]
Die Presse: Mr. Moltmann, eschatology is regarded as the "doctrine of the last things" or the "end of things"... The ambiguities of history will become unequivocal; the time of transitoriness will pass away. The unanswerable questions of people will end. Time and again the question about the end breaks forth out of the torment of history and the agonies of historical existence.
Moltmann: Eschatology seems to seek the "final solution" of all solvable problems as Sir Isaiah Berlin noted indignantly alluding to the 1942 Wannsee conference on the final "solution of the Jewish question" in the extermination camps. Theological eschatology seems to present the "final game" of the "theo-drama" of world history. In history, eschatology is described pictorially as God's great world judgment over the good and the evil with heaven for one and hell for the other. Is the "Last Judgment" the final divine solution of human history? Others dreamt of the "final battle" in the struggle between Christ and Antichrist or God and the devil on the "day of Armageddon" whether with divine fire or with modern nuclear bombs.
Eschatology always involves the end, the last day, the last word and the last act. God retains the last word. If eschatology were only this, it would be better to dismiss the term. The "last things" ruin the taste of the "penultimate things". The dreamt or desired "end of history" robs one of the freedoms of the many possibilities of history and tolerance amid incompleteness and provisionalities. Whoever always emphasizes the end misses life. If eschatology were nothing but the final religious solution of all questions as the last word, it would actually be a very jarring way of theological dogmatism or even psychological terrorism as practiced by some apocalyptic extortioners among our contemporaries.
Die Presse: What is the goal of Christian eschatology?
Moltmann: Christian eschatology is the remembered hope of the resurrection of the crucified Christ and therefore speaks of new beginnings in the mortal end. "Christ's end was his true beginning", Ernst Bloch once said to me. Christian eschatology follows this christological model in all personal, historical and cosmic dimensions: the beginning in the end! So Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the theologian and resistance fighter sentenced to death in 1945 by the Nazis bid farewell to his fellow prisoner Payne Bast when he was executed in the Flossenburg KZ (concentration camp): "This is the end - for me the beginning of life."
John on Patmos saw the "Last Judgment" of the world not as destruction, conflagration of the worlds or cold death but as the first day of the new creation of all things: "Behold, I make all things new". I do not speak about Christian eschatology in terms of the "last things" or the "end of things" but of God's coming. In God's creative future, the end becomes the beginning. The true creation has still not occurred but is approaching.
Die Presse: Years ago, you explicitly affirmed Karl Barth's statement: "Christianity is altogether eschatology, not only in the appendix. Hope is prospect and orientation forward and therefore awakening and transformation of the present." Do you still emphasize this prospect and forward orientation?
Moltmann: In the last thirty years, I have gone a long theological way with surprises and curves. Little that happened was planned. I thankfully confess a deep influence of contemporary Jewish thinking in Ernst Bloch and Franz Rosenzweig. No one has hope for himself alone. Hope for Christians is always hope for Israel. The hope of Jews and Christians is also hope for the nations. The hope of the peoples is always hope for the earth and all its inhabitants.
Back to your question: In a time when so many colleagues are only occupied with methodological questions, theological themes, their revision and innovation interest me. There is a personal reason for this interest. I wasn't very deeply socialized in a Christian sense but grew up with poets and philosophers of German idealism. Since I began studying theology - first in 1947 in a prisoner of war camp near Nottingham and then in Gottingen from 1948 - everything theological has been wondrously new. Still today theology is a vast adventure to me, a journey in an unknown land. If I have a theological virtue, it is curiosity or inquisitiveness. Therefore my intellectual style is experimental - an adventure of ideas - and my communication style takes the form of proposal. The sentences that I write are uncertain and risky. Some insist I say too much theologically and more about God than can be known. I feel deep humility before the mystery that we cannot know...
Die Presse: What do you propose with your eschatology?
Moltmann: An integration of the often divergent perspectives of so-called individual eschatology and universal eschatology, the eschatology of history and the eschatology of nature. Traditional medieval, protestant and modern eschatologies concentrated on individual hope with which questions of personal life and death were answered: What will happen to me in death, the Last Judgment and afterwards? Where is there a supporting certainty in life and death? The salvation of individual persons and the salvation of the soul in the individual person were so much in the center that the salvation of the body, human community and the cosmos were marginalized or no longer noticed. However if Christian hope is reduced to the deliverance of the soul in a heaven beyond death, then its life-renewing and world changing power is lost and smolders into a Gnostic longing for redemption in the vale of tears of this world.
Die Presse: Is there a "resurrection in death"?
Moltmann: Modern theologians have developed their own interesting "intellectual experiment" in this regard. They start from the idea that the true life of a person lived in body and soul with all the senses is reconciled, redeemed and transfigured by God, not the unlived life of the soul. God is not interested in the unlived life of the soul but in the lived life of the whole person. During his life, a person grows out of the world and the world grows in him.
Salvation doesn't separate what God joins together in this life. Therefore visions of hope for salvation must be world embracing. Salvation is understood in an integrated sense as "resurrection of the dead", not "blessedness of souls". The resurrection of the dead belongs to God's "new earth" in which death will be no more. Universal eschatology cannot be reduced to individual eschatology but includes individual eschatology.
Die Presse: When does this holistic resurrection of the dead occur?
Moltmann: Life after death is something like the resurrection of the new body. This resurrection body is not the same as the molecules and atoms that perish in the earth.
Die Presse: How can a "resurrection in death" be imagined?
Moltmann: One must start out eschatologically. The "Last Judgment" is not simply the last chronological day on the calendar but is eschatologically the "day of the Lord", the day of all days. If this is the day of the resurrection of the dead, then it appears to all the dead whenever they died temporally diachronically "in a simultaneous instant". If that is right, all individual death hours of this age lead immediately to this eternal "day of the Lord". If the earthly time in human succession doesn't exist with God, then all people at whatever time they died meet God at the same time, in God's time, the presence of eternity. With this "intellectual experiment", the difference between the immortality of the soul on one side and the resurrection of the body on the other side is overcome. Many things in our life remain unfinished. We attempted a life project. We failed; the project came to nothing. Only mourning is left!
Die Presse: How can life here be "perfected" and completed?
Moltmann: We die with the unanswered question that we were all life long. Whatever we imagine under "eternal life", it cannot be the "perpetuation" of our beginnings in life and the experienced or intentional ruptures of life. Can "resurrection" in the life of the future world really happen in death as Luther and contemporary catholic theologians (Karl Rahner, Ladislaus Boros, Gerhard Lohfink) believe? Then it would appear as though this earthly fragmentary life were broken off with death and a different divine life accepted. Still we have not yet coped with this life. With "hell", "heaven" and "the future world", final states are meant which have no future any more but are eternally present and therefore don't offer any history any longer.
A Place without Distress
The spirit of eternal life is firstly a vast living space in which broken, disabled and destroyed life can develop freely. Already in this life before death, we experience the spirit of life as the enormous space where there is no distress any more. This will be true far more after death.
Die Presse: Isn't there a cosmic eschatology?
Moltmann: Yes, eschatology must be expanded into cosmic eschatology. Otherwise it becomes a Gnostic doctrine of redemption and no longer teaches the redemption of the world but redemption from the world, not redemption of the body but the redemption of the soul from the body. Cosmic eschatology is not some kind of "universalism" but is necessary for God's sake. There aren't two gods, a Creator God and a Redeemer God but the one God. For his sake, the unity of creation and redemption must be emphasized. The program of a cosmic eschatology encounters considerable problems in the scientific-technical civilization since the cosmos as a whole and in all its parts has become the subject of the natural sciences. As far as these sciences proceed agnostically in their methods, they allow no theological statements in their provinces, neither about the beginning of the cosmos nor its end.
THE NEW AUTHORITY OF THE SUFFERING
Perspectives for the Church of Tomorrow
Interview with Johann Baptist Metz
[This interview originally published in: Die Furche, 1996 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://druckarchiv.kleine-zeitung.at. Johann Baptist Metz is a catholic theologian in Mnster and one of the founders of modern political theology. He is the author of numerous publications emphasizing the theodicy question and the theme God after Auschwitz.]
die Furche: How do you judge the present church crisis?
Johann Baptist Metz: The church crisis is an expression of a God-crisis. The church isn't ready to accept the God-crisis. In other words, the church proclamation and the church office always seen to presuppose the God-thematic. All the people with whom they interact are brave-pious people who imagine "God" similarly. The epochal change today is that proclamation of God is not clear any more. Secondly, this crisis doesn't only concern the churches or Christianity. It is a fundamental crisis of our social, moral and cultural life. It is the question whether we deal rightly with our message of God.
die Furche: Occasionally the church is criticized for being overly occupied with its own structures. How can it find its way out of this narcissist captivity?
Metz: It must take seriously God's benevolence. It is not benevolent enough when it makes a civil or middle class religion out of Christianity in which one can live agreeably with modernity. Philanthropy must be valid for all people in the world. God must be a God of the poor and miserable. This means that the proclamation of God's philanthropy is not a legitimation for the desires of the central European middle class. Rather it is a fearsome questioning of whether we do enough so that this God is the God of all.
die Furche: Do Catholics with their church problems stand in the way of the proclamation of Christ's message? Do they have false anxieties or apprehensions?
Metz: In my opinion, the declaration "Jesus-yes, church-no" is not true. What stands in our way isn't the church. An authentic church reform cannot aim at a Christianity free of churches.
Jesus and the gospel stand in our way. The gospel isn't only a program for friendly living but is a very provocative program. Every Christian who accepts reform must ask himself whether the lifelessness of Christianity can only be blamed on church authority or whether or not Jesus is responsible with his radical call to discipleship.
die Furche: The large churches are losing attractiveness. Many people fashion their religion themselves. What does this mean for the traditional churches and what have they done wrong?
Metz: The impression that one can build religion oneself has nothing to do with religion in the substantive sense. Religion with its proclaimed hopes always arose out of a coalition of the living and the dead, that is out of a great history. Substantial religion has always been above accepting negativity and forlorn anguish. In my eyes, self-assembled religion is a form of self-immunization against suffering, a self-deception.
die Furche: What is God's role in the new religious reservoir?
Metz: God actually doesn't have a role. We live in a kind of godlessness friendly to religion. This is a religiosity without God, if one understands God as the God of the biblical traditions, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Jesus.
die Furche: Has the church forgotten God?
Metz: In my view, church proclamation in modern times has been vague about the God of our faith and our traditions... In truth, speaking about God's love is discredited through the experiences of people. A gloomy picture of God occurs...
The God whom we proclaim allows us not only to rejoice but also to cry and ultimately grow silent. For me, seeking God's traces in the language of prayer - which is not identical with a hymnal liturgical language - is one of our most important tasks.
die Furche: Compared to other religions, Christianity often lacks affirmation of itself. It enjoys doubt and the identity crisis more than proclamation.
Metz: A questioning, critical and skeptical relation to one's own message is a sign of greatness. The present alleged self-abandonment to other forms of so-called religiosity or to other forms of great religions is a sign of powerlessness. For example, what is sold to us as Buddhism has practically nothing to do with Buddhism. This is an ingenious and helpless takeover attempt. In the present uncertainty over identity, there is also the danger that people will shape post-modern identities with notions of transmigrations of souls, reincarnation dreams et cetera to be finished with the turbulence and inscrutability in which they live. These are attempts on one hand to escape and on the other hand to supposedly rescue an identity. Basically these are resigned identities.
die Furche: How can Christianity regain its credibility?
Metz: We must face up to the proclamation of God. The primary criterion of Christianity is not humanity but God. In the modern world, people know that moral standards cannot be established merely out of morals but that something is needed which is called love.
If it doesn't want to remain mere friendliness without seriousness, love cannot manage without religious traditions and without promises of faith. That we bring another perspective in the present world situation seems crucial: unconditional respect for the authority of suffering persons as Jesus suggests to us. The unsentimental remembrance of foreign suffering that doesn't easily survive becomes a theme, which we can discuss with other cultures and religions.
die Furche: A way from I to you?
Metz: Focusing only on one's own suffering would make Christianity into a privatistic religion that cannot interfere in the discourse of the contemporary world. With a different category, it could meddle unconditionally. If there is an authority recognized across all religions, it is the authority of the suffering of others. Admittedly this is not accomplished anywhere. Still we have the criterion.
ALL HUMANITY IS THE ELECT PEOPLE OF GOD
Interview with Edward Schillebeeckx
[This interview from May 1997 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.DiePresse.at. Edward Schillebeeckx is a Dominican theologian from Holland who has written seminal books and essays on systematic theology.]
Die Presse: Your theology avoids confrontation with secular culture and shares in the human search.
Edward Schillebeeckx: To me what is central is a theology that develops a living sensitivity for the integrity of the human in all its anthropological dimensions, in the social and cultural areas, in theory and praxis and in the utopian and religious horizons. What holds together the culture of the modern world is the striving for whole integrated humanity and life worth living. Why has God become a problem for western people! Firstly, there are outward factors. Sociologists of religion speak today of social credibility structures of faith in God in a secularized world. In such a society, personal convictions no longer have a social confirmation. The inwardness of the person is no longer strengthened or encouraged by the concrete society but rather is alarmed and unsettled. Since modern times, every western citizen speaks of the inner side of the person and the more superficial side of human existence, namely its conditioning by social and economic situations. The individual ego appears in dominant western philosophies of subjectivity and most forms of modern sociology as something outside society while society on the other hand lives in an inner space, sometimes hostile and outside individuals: as two independent greatnesses which have contact with each other.
The critical question is whether one is burdened with a distorted view of the person. The picture of the autonomous "complete individual" glorifying himself is found most clearly with Immanuel Kant. Kant didn't regard the person as capable of advancing from his interior to a person independent of reality. This modern subjectivity is presented as constant human nature. For Christians, this was often a dogma of faith. In reality, this picture reflects a new time created by western people. a human interpretation, which is facing more and more resistance.
Life is pluralized
Whatever the problems of faith in God in the pre-modern age, people live, marry and die differently today. What was experienced as socially inevitable was interpreted as necessary. In contrast, modern life is pluralized. This multiform nature appears in a great variety of institutions. The modern person encounters a world with many elective possibilities and is thrown back more than ever on his own inwardness. How long can one maintain a protected milieu in a pluralist society without falling into a ghetto? For every person sharing and really participating in a modern society, the other possibility is a fragment of his own personality structure: an undisturbed security of remaining in truth while others err. This doesn't exist any more. That modern persons including believers spontaneously reject the theory that "salvation is found only in the church" points to a spontaneous opinion and a particular personality structure. Modern people think pluralistically and know that no one owns the truth. Indifferentism - everyone has his own truth - threatens.
Die Presse: Modern persons live in a world of uncertainty, which only occasionally is interrupted by a new philosophical construction or by new religious movements. They emphasize the contemporary "world context" of faith in God very vehemently. Can you explain that?
Schillebeeckx: Yes. As recognized at conferences of Third World theologians, believing and exploited people in the Third World face the secularized and exploiting West. Both problems are connected and cannot be separated. The existence of the "non-person" of the poor and the oppressed in a subcontinent like Latin America or in countries, which for centuries have been under the rule of Christians, is a scandal for all faith in God. This scandal makes faith in God incredible for many people. Therefore we in the West can no longer speak of God without relating our ideas of God with the massive anonymous suffering of people among us and elsewhere. Western believers have often joined this pressing problem with an appeal to the coming and different better world and with the so-called mantel of love which doesn't dare take sides but through a false concept of reconciliation sides in reality with the oppressive system which is at best disqualified by words, not by deeds.
Die Presse: Edward Schillebeeckx, you recently explained in a lecture at the Catholic Academy in Bavaria: "We must seek clarity with the history of encounters between religions or religious persons, with a history that is full of disgraceful violence for the sake of an `ideal' cause, a proclaimed truth." Is violence in the name of religion inhuman and evil from a Christian perspective?
Schillebeeckx: I think so. I know that this answer involves a critical questioning of our traditional interpretation of Christianity's so-called claim to absoluteness with terms like election and covenant in Judaism and Christianity. However I also know that the idea of election by God includes mediation and universality without any partiality threatening humanity. This means that the election and creation intention of God who seeks the salvation of all people are subordinated.
All historical forms of religious election must stand in a serving function to the universal election of all humankind. If not, threat, danger and violence toward people of a different faith are inherent to the self-understanding of being elected of individuals, peoples and communities of faith. Christian-religious imperialism should be radically condemned for humane reasons. The argument that accepting a certain religion is the first civil duty because the God of the confession is an immediate guarantee for the well-being of human society leads to religious violence. In the 4th century, after the fall of the Roman Empire, when Christianity was a state religion, the Roman term "religio" was applied to the Christian relation to the absolute.
For centuries, the God of Christians in the West was the preserver of the socially established state order with all the consequences resulting for those regarded as heretics or schismatics. The adoption of the ancient Roman term "religio" later made the crusades possible. Thus my thesis is that the claim of an immediate connection between an established reason for the state and the religious relation to the absolute mystery should be rejected for human-ethical reasons. Christian churches should ignore the claim of being the one true religion as ideology and bid farewell to the Roman term "religio" with which they operated for centuries up to Vatican II.
Die Presse: Is the election of Jesus on the line of Israel's election?
Schillebeeckx: Israel's election and Jesus' election serve the universal salvation that God intends for humankind. Compared with other religions, every religion is unique. `There is no second one like this!" is true for the confessing member of every religion. As a result, it is meaningful to speak of absolute singularity or uniqueness. Then one falls back into the old categories of religious imperialism in claims of absoluteness.
Die Presse: Does the gift of the Holy Spirit subordinate all election to the universal alliance of creation?
Schillebeeckx: Thanks to the sending of the Spirit, there is salvation for all people apart from personal, Jewish or Christian election. During my whole theological life, I have fought inwardly against the Christian term "salvific significance of Jesus' death". I reject the interpretation that Jesus' death represents universal salvation. Jesus' message and conduct must be included in his life. Within the context of a violent evil world, Jesus' death was in fact the supreme consequence of his life, message and praxis, his charity and service in his sending by God.
The assertion of faith that Jesus is the universal Redeemer implies that Christian actually produce the "fruits of God's reign" in our history through their praxis. Otherwise the so-called objective redemption is a speculative slogan or cliché. We must go Jesus' way of life ourselves if our proclamation is to be credible for others. Jesus' way of life is marked by two characteristics which must be found in his disciples to make his message and praxis concretely universal. The first is that Jesus resolutely refused the way of life proposed to him in three temptations as a form of triumphalist messianism and chose the way of vulnerable solidarity with threatened people. As a second characteristic, Jesus' way of life includes the cross and is a way of the cross. "The cross" is not cherished in itself. On account of his solidarity with violently threatened persons, Jesus was expelled by the world powers and accepted by God as a permanent presence on account of his solidarity with rejected persons. Such a way of life has God's blessing.
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