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The Nature of the Christian Faith and the New Atheism

by Wolf Kroetke Monday, Jun. 30, 2008 at 9:57 AM

New atheism fights against fundamentalism, human religion, sees all violence as the product of faith, doesn't recognize the positive good in the church and theology and conflates all faith with fundamentalist literalism and reductionism. That Jesus is the way means no mone is alone.


By Wolf Kroetke

[This guest lecture at the University of Leipzig, 4/7/2008 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

I. Atheism is no longer what it was

II. Atheism as a challenge to the church

III. What is “new” in the “new atheism”

IV. Fundamentalism as a problem of grappling with the new atheism

V. Confusion around proofs of God

VI. The religio-critical nature of faith in God

VII. Old and new in the Bible


“Atheism is no longer what it was.” So Eberhard Jungel summarized the “history of atheism” in an article referring to Georges Minois’ book published in the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” on 12/12/2000. [1] With this ironic statement he criticized a historian for compiling massive material on past and present atheistic beliefs while inadequately expressing his own atheistic intentions… In his book “God. A Little History of the Greatest.” [2] Koln catholic psychiatry professor Manfred Lutz – armed with the book by the atheist Minois – insisted atheism cannot prove God’s non-existence. What atheists criticize is human religion…

The “superman” who Friedrich Nietzsche set against the God of love in Christianity is shown to be a lie in Hitler, Stalin and Mao Tse-tung. [5].The developments in modern natural science fit in with “concrete atheism,” the “super maximum credible accident.” [6] The atheistic assertion that the assumption of a God “contradicts natural laws” cannot be sustained. If nature according to quantum theory is not “ruled by deterministic laws,” but “only by statistical probabilities,” then the possibility of the intervention of a God in nature cannot be excluded. [7]

Atheism according to Lutz is the greatest fiasco. It cannot prove that God does not exist. Atheistic theories on the origin of faith in God are absurd. After atheism lost its mass organization through the power of Marxism-Leninism, it relies on “agency.” [8] Organizations of atheists, as even Minois admits, have shriveled “to little sect-like circles.” [9]

The times are past – thanks be to God! – when whole nations of the eastern hemisphere were indoctrinated with the “sole scientific” atheistic philosophy of life through coercion and force. The times are also past when protestant theology listened carefully to atheists like Ernst Bloch, Milan Machovec, Vitescav Gardavski or Roger Garaudy.

The atheists who spoke out after 1989 in more or less scientific discourse do not recognize scientific theology or the church. Franz Buggles’ 1992 pamphlet “because they don’t know what they believe” [10] and Burckhardt Muhler’s 1995 “Final Strike” give no account of the Christian faith in our time. The furious 2000 attacks of the Berlin philosopher Herbert Schnadelbach in the weekly “Die Zeit” against Christianity as the “curse of humanity” were a culminating point in this tendency.


“Atheism” is not only an interest of a few sectarian splinter groups in our society. Because of its massive diffusion among people, atheism has become “the first challenge for Christian churches in Germany. Although connected to all the problems facing our churches, especially in East Germany, in maintaining their services, the question how the Christian testimony of God has to adjust to the atheistic challenge is given astonishingly little attention.

Future studies of the Evangelical church in Germany, regional churches and other analyses of the religious situation of our time speak optimistically that practical atheism is beginning to dissolve in the course of the so-called “return of religion.” In the “synthetic theology” of Gunther Wenz, for example, we read only “rudiments” remain of “conventional atheism.” [12] The atheism that prevails in Germany is more a milieu and resentment than an argumentative force… How should Christians and communities represent themselves in an atheistic confession-less environment so they do not give fresh impetus to that resentment-charged milieu?

In light of these questions, it could be very helpful if atheistic positions were critically and strongly represented in the general public with good arguments.


From my perspective, atheism can call itself “new” in four regards.

Firstly, this atheism is an import. It does not come from Central European secularized regions where atheistic convictions have had a long tradition in the working class and among intellectuals which did not first begin with East Germany (DDR). This atheism comes from an explicitly religious country, the US. The atheistic fanfare in Europe and Germany occurs in the course of intellectual globalization. Michel Onfray’s book “We Don’t Need God” (Wir brauchen keinen Gott) [13] and Michail Schmidt-Salomon’s “Manifesto of Evolutionary Humanism” [15] give us new energy to atheism. The backgrou9nd on which atheism is drawn here is the Anglo-American religious reality. How atheism is presented in Germany and what intellectual/spiritual conflicts it triggered in Europe’s history are secondary in the “new atheism.” That is certainly “new” in Germany.

Secondly, the atheistic literature that reached the bestseller lists in the US and then in Germany arose after September 11, 2001, the Islamic terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York. The religious motive of this attack, the destruction of unbelievers and the promise of Paradise for assassins has given new impetus to the argument that religion is a source of violence against unbelievers and dissenters. In his book “The End of Faith. Religion, Terror and the Light of Reason,” [16] Sam Harris, American neuro-scientist and journalist, draws the conclusion only atheism can preserve the world from violence. Without religion, there would be no hatred for unbelievers and believers of other faiths and therefore no wars.

This argument is not entirely new. The violence which the religions promote always includes an atheistic argument against faith in God. But “new atheism” makes it the pivot of its disputation of faith in God. All religions, Harris says, are “hostile to each other by their nature.” In the “faith canon of Christians, Moslems, Jews and every other religion,” “no genuine foundation for religious tolerance and religious diversity can be found.” [17] Therefore the new atheistic literature is like a collection of stories of violence from all religions, above all Christianity and Islam. “How religion poisons the world” is proven with these stories. Thus the subtitle of the book by journalist Christopher Hitchens, a former Trotskyite, is “The Lord is no Shepherd.” [18]

Thirdly, in a certain way the explanation given by the “new atheists” for religions’ readiness for violence is never compared with traditional European atheism. The reason for this is ignorance. Religious faith invents because people know nothing better than absurd ideas about the world, people and processes in nature, history and individual life woven out of illusions. This happens as long as humanity “is still inadequately developed.” [19] and cannot explain everything scientifically with a certain inevitability. However what is dangerous in religious faith is that it holds its unprovable inventions to be right and cannot correct them. “Coupling folly with arrogance” [20] – is the essence of religion. Therefore religious faith is often joined with hatred and mania of destruction toward other people, with unprovable religious ideas. For this reason, “new atheists” do not accept Jan Assman’s thesis that Peter Skoterdijk has now rehashed [21] that monotheism first brought violence into religion and that polytheism was peaceful. [22]

The tendency to violence is immanent in all religions because they cannot defend their irrational ideas without destroying people with other irrational ideas. In a certain way, religion is in no case wholesome “opium of the people” (Karl Marx).

Fourthly, the language of “new atheism” is not entirely new but falls out of the framework of all scientific, moral and intellectual discussion. In Germany, this language has been multiplied through the massively successful book of the “new atheists.” That is the book “The God Delusion” by Oxford evolution researcher Richard Dawkins. [23] On 575 pages, he blasts a fanfare that should drive out faith from all religions. He declares people who believe in God are mad and suffer under an antiquated, dangerous and murderous insanity from which only atheism can liberate.

To verify this, Hawkins – like the other new atheists – makes formulations that should make faith in God contemptuous. Here the Christian faith stands for the faith of all religions. The Bible is an anthology of disparate writings written and falsified by hundreds of anonymous (!) authors, editors and copyists.” [24] God in the Bible is a “psychotic evildoer,” [25] a “monster” [26] and a “cruel monster.” [27] Jesus is the representative of a Jewish “group morality” hostile toward dissenters that gives “instructions on genocide.” [28] The church is church abuse, “groping in the vestry” and tormenting maidens by “cruel nuns.” [29] and corruption of the spirit of children with “nonsense.” [30] No opportunity for cynicism is missed as when Christians are urged to wear electric chairs instead of crosses around their necks [31] and enjoy a “faster trip to heaven” as on “a vacation to Sicily” [32] even with a bad diagnosis.


The picture of religion drawn by the “new atheists” is marked by fundamentalism. “Religion is persistently presented in the most dreadful way. A picture is parodied that depicts the worst form of religious fundamentalism,” Alister McGrath summarized the book by Dawkins. [39] By “fundamentalism,” we understand religion’s clinging to archaic “identity markers” anchored in texts or customs and behavior patterns over against new experiences with God, the world and humankind.

The new atheist destruction of Christianity is manifest in reducing all religion to fundamentalism. The influential American Christian fundamentalism serves as the model. There are accordingly three characteristics for the Christian religion:

1) the literal understanding of the whole Bible as God’s word, 2) the rejection of natural science theories of the world’s genesis and evolution of life, 3) an ethic that transfers moral ideas of the Bible on state and society, marriage and family directly into our time and sees homosexuality as sin. Dawkins and his accomplices obviously know there is another Christianity opened up for modern civilization and its foundations. But this is not a sign for them “that faith has developed further.” Rather a “moderate” Christianity is “the result of many hammer blows of the modern age” on certain “themes of faith.” [43] Questioning these “themes of faith” contradicts “the basic nature of faith.” [44]

Everything critical from the ranks of the church and theology on fundamentalism or said about faith under the conditions of our age’s understanding of reality is pushed aside, ignored or declared unreliable. Dawkins encourages not considering the historical-critical research of the Bible. [45] He urges theological-scientific discourse without conflict. Nevertheless the fixation of new atheistic arguments on fundamentalism creates a problem for the church. This fixation necessitates an inner church confrontation with its positions.

Under the shelter of our church, there are undoubtedly groups that can be classified more or less as fundamentalism. Advocacy of creationism and appeal to the verbal inspiration of scripture are fairly widespread in German evangelical churches. These convictions are most frequent where communities grow. Therefore the confrontation with the atheism fixated on fundamentalism is necessarily a confrontation within the church. This confrontation cannot avoid the arguments of new atheism. At least, two clarifications are vital regarding fundamentalist tendencies in the church: one concern the relation of faith and natural science and the other the understanding of scripture.


Immanuel Kant’s old argument against the cosmological proof of God sought to prove the God of metaphysics through causality inferences as the first cause of the world. This argument asks about God’s origin. In this question, Kant had in view the God of metaphysics opened up with reason. Dawkins reduces the assumption of a divine creator of the world and humanity to illusionism which seduces beings gifted with consciousness and produced by evolution.

Dawkins’ theory of the genesis of the religion that believes in a Creator of the world is that it involves a “malfunction” of a useful genetic inclination of our species. As the moth falls in the candlelight in a false and suicidal way because of its orientation in moonlight, [52] the inclination to trust our parents and make decisions “intentionally” [53] in anticipation of the assumed consequences of an act in faith in a “supernatural world” regulating all things. Through so-called “meme” (memory units), this misguided faith is transmitted like a virus. In Dawkins’ opinion, this “malfunctioning” of evolution is due to the efforts around “intelligent design” committed to creationism which drive “its filthy stake” into science “with filthy methods.” [54]

Given this construction of the nature and function of belief in God, it is important to emphasize that Christian faith be identified with a quasi-scientific theory consisting of archaic worldviews. Such identification thoroughly misses the foundation and nature of the Christian faith. Admittedly, the theology of the past led to this offense. The isolated focus on the Christian theologia naturalis, proving God’s existence with arguments of reason has been so misunderstood in the discussion around the metaphysical understanding of God as though God could be objectified with postulates of reason. However all the so-called “proofs of God,” for example Thomas Aquinas’ proof, presuppose faith in God and do not substantiate that faith. God as the ground and goal of the world is already known in other ways than these postulates because of God’s revelation in history. Dawkins and his atheistic henchmen wrongly understand faith in God with arguments of reason as though faith in God could be proven and substantiated.

The occasion for such misguided understanding of faith in God today is when faith in God is presented in church and theology like a quasi-scientific hypothesis toward natural science research. This happens in creationism and also when philosophers of religion like Richard Swinburne offer to show there is more than 50% probability for the existence of a divine author of the world. [55]

Faith on the basis of such probability rates is nothing on which people can base their life. A God whom we could prove like a fact in nature or like a flying “teapot” would certainly not be God but – when God is interpreted as a creating spirit – a part of the world. One cannot make God into an object of Juri Gagarin attempted when he kept a lookout for God in outer space as an oversized teapot. The first clarification necessary over against the atheistic negation of God’s existence with natural science arguments is that faith in God does not consist in a vague hypothetical acceptance of God’s existence and the act of creation. For atheists, faith amounts to faith in Santa Claus, fairies and Rumpelstilskin.


Criticism of God’s “scientistic misunderstanding,” as Thomas Rentsch called it, [57] means positively: there is only one way to God for us earthlings which is faith, according to the experience of the Christian faith occurring because of personal encounter with God in our existence and our history. Faith is trust in a reality beyond our control. Faith can only be understood in the framework of existential and historical experiences to which faith owes its existence. In the case of the Christian faith, these are the experiences made by people with Jesus Christ and with Israel. These experiences produce a certain trust in God as Creator. This faith is the way to God and to certainty that God is and exists – in a very different way than us. “God and faith belong together,” as Martin Luther proclaimed concisely in his “Large Catechism.” [58]

In the light of this faith, we can judge and interpret what natural science obliged only to natural laws and to that extent methodically atheistic tells us about the genesis of the universe and life. This cannot be explained in detail here. [59] However it occurs under essential affirmation of free natural science research since the Creator known in faith ahs freely given us his wondrous, breath-taking sublime work for our understanding. Still the natural sciences are not competent for faith and the way of people to God or the question whether God exists or not…Without the experience of God, our experience of reality succumbs to colossal impoverishment if it becomes reduced to the perception of what is objectifiable.

Concerning our ability to trust a ground and mystery of our being eluding us, the anthropological question whether consciousness of our groundedness in transcendence is part of our self-awareness is proclaimed in evangelical theology by Friedrich Schleiermacher and others. Now theists do not consider this question or its whole philosophical and theological tradition. For new atheists, faith in God is identical with the illusory assumption of an unprovable higher or lower world. Illusions doubtlessly exist in the fields of religion, history of religion and naïve Christianity. But this faith in God as produced by Christ and Israel transcend and relativize religious or worldly conceptions is untenable in view of the history of the churches and theology up to today.

In the pre-modern time, the doctrine of the fourfold meaning of scripture, the importance of negative theology for the understanding of God and the change of the picture of God and the world in the history of Christianity which did not first begin with the Enlightenment were emphasized. In its origins, Christian faith was an eminently religio-critical faith and is still religio-critical where it is faithful to its origins in the testimonies of the Bible. Atheism is not necessary for criticizing God’s mix-up or mistaken identity with all too human ideas of God and time-conditioned views of the world and humankind. Faith can criticize better than the atheism that only criticizes faith in God by destroying its nature.


We face a comparable distortion of faith in God when new atheists declare a necessary connection of all religion with the use of force. This distortion does not consist in decrying the broad evidence of use of force in the name of religion. Religion and the faith in God encountered in the religions of the world have motivated force and motivate force today. The history of monotheistic religions is marked by religiously motivated violence. The sin register of Christianity in this regard is long. We don’t have time to list them. There is nothing to whitewash or gloss over and excuse here. Religion and Christianity really have this frightening side. They can spoil faith in the one God.

Nevertheless the claim that faith in the one God leads necessarily to the use of force toward persons with different beliefs cannot be accepted. In all religions, we find a great will for peace and tolerance that is either suppressed or put in the twilight by the new atheists as in their presentation of Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King. While so-called classical atheism in Europe still spoke of Jesus with a certain high esteem, new atheism pelts him with dirt. Christendom may and must resist by living Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s sentence that life is only worth living because the earth was worthy of the person Jesus. [61]

It is a grave misunderstanding of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross when it is assumed tribute was paid to a severe deity in the pagan custom of human sacrifice. With this claim, the way to the insight of faith is blocked that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross sparked the confession of young Christendom to the God of love (1 Joh 4,16). In this death, God identifies with the victims of religious and political violence. God sides with all abused and tortured persons and never with haters and human butchers. No one who does violence to another person can appeal to God. Violence must be opposed resolutely in the name of Jesus Christ and the prophecy of the Old Testament whenever this happens in the history of Christendom. Unfortunately this violence happens today.

This also means we have to distance ourselves from the stories of violence that the new atheists stylize into the canon of faith in God. The holy war against unbelievers, executing a ban on them, the eradication of Midianites and other tribes described in the Bible in connection with Israel’s occupation are not the essential text of Christian faith in God. Moses’ massacre of the worshippers of the “golden calf” and the butchering of the Baal-priests on Carmel are not models for the relation of faith in Israel’s God of the covenant to other religions. The stoning of the freezing wood gatherers on the Sabbath, adulterers and “sorcerers” oppose Jesus’ proclamation, confession to Jesus Christ and God’s promise in the Old Testament…

In the Old Testament, only what could be a promise for Israel and the whole human world had a future in the past of Israel’s experience of God: God’s covenant with Israel and with the human world. Coldness, cruelty tormenting people, vengeance, murderous lust and phantasies of practiced violence cannot become promises for humanity or predicates of God in Israel’s prophesy of peace, in Jesus’ proclamation and in faith in him. “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing,” God says according to Isa 43,18-19. “What advances Christ” is canonical in the Reformation understanding of the whole Bible and authoritative for faith in god, not what gives the lie to God’s promise and Christ.

In a certain way, the new atheists who don’t have the faintest idea of Jewish and Christian understanding of scripture cannot be blamed for reading those violent texts in the Bible as directives for the use of force in God’s name. They understand the Bible like the fundamentalists against which they turn. They should meet a Christendom that understands the Bible and enlightens them about the right use of the Bible with the standard of the gospel. Such enlightenment should be practiced constantly in all Christian churches and in dialogue with other religions – above all with Islam. This is urgent!

The treasure of the “oven full of love,” as Martin Buber called God, is infinitely more important for humanity than everything human religion has done. This brings a vastly clearer orientation and inspiration for our life than what the new atheists conjure. One pleads for a kind of Buddhism light (Sam Harris) and another (Christopher Hitchens) protests against that. A third develops with Peter Singer a kind of utility ethic where one doesn’t know where a viable understanding of human dignity can be anchored (Richard Dawkins). A fourth concocts a potpourri called “humanism” out of religious and non-religious sources. All this may lead to respectable drafts of life. A concentrated spiritual power for the blessing of humanity and its future is not at work from what can be hard from the new atheism when its representatives pass from negations to positions. If one puts aside its nasty appearance and its missteps, the best that this atheism achieves is the protest against the misuse of religion and faith in God by irrationality and violence. The church and theology should be far ahead of this.


By Wolf Kroetke

[This essay is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

The Greek word “Eros” meets us in today’s German language almost only in sexual contexts. When anyone hears “eroticism,” he thinks of sex. This means he does not think unconditionally of love. But the Greek word “Eros” means love. It means much more than sexual lust and announces something different than our German word “Liebe.” In antiquity, it meant the striving for perfection. This orientation understands every individual person only as a deficient incomplete example of the human species. Eros drives us to participate and appropriate the perfection that encounters us outside ourselves.

Other persons attract us by their beauty so we can become more perfect throu9gh them. They waken in us the desire to unite with them and possess them pleasurably. Sexuality is also understood in this sense. Sexuality gives us a delight in existence that we cannot win alone. Therefore art is also greatly treasured. Art imparts delight in our ideals. However Plato understood “Eros” almost as a “demon” in the person. It drives us to make the knowledge of all things more perfect. It drives us to the knowledge of God who created us for the enjoyment of union with the higher perfection and beauty.

In the sense of the Bible, this has nothing to do with real love. Strikingly the word “Eros” does not occur in the Greek New Testament or in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. When it speaks of love, the Bible uses the word “agape.” Paul explains its meaning in the “Song of Songs” in 1 Corinthians 13. Love “does not seek its own or count on its own way” (verse 5). Love is selfless, not selfish. It is intent only on affirming the other person and doing good. Love appreciates the other for his or her own sake. The other is nothing but endearing.

Therefore one can speak of a deep profound opposition of Eros and agape. Eros makes persons things and even God into mere objects of desire. For agape, the worth and freedom of the beloved are central. Eros is sin. Agape alone is humane. Still the construction of such an opposition does not do justice to the phenomenon of love.

The degradation of a person to a means for the end of my pleasure is inhumane. However love does not demand the sacrifice of our own life. The craving to unite with another person and increase self-esteem in this union always belongs to love. The need to be loved and confirmed by another person is also part of love. If agape were without this Eros-component, it would make us poorer. Persons who “sacrifice” themselves completely for their partner lose their own face. Therefore the “erotic” interest in our self-realization has its right in the end in the relation of man and woman, in friendship, in the social praxis of charity and in relation to God.

In the love defined by agape, this right to my own life is surpassed by the desire to be there for another person. A theologian Eberhard Juengel defines love as “greater selflessness amid great self-reference.” We could also say, as more agape in the midst of great Eros. This essence and happiness of love can become the most impressive event. Here people champion the freedom of their partner so both can prosper. But the sketched cooperation of eros and agape also makes all other forms of love into an event of happiness. The love of God is also owed to the experience of being loved.


By Wolf Kroetke

[This essay is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

Religion in the evangelical sense is a praxis of freedom. “A Christian is a free lord over all things and subject to no one,” began Martin Luther’s famous treatise “On the Freedom of a Christian.” This means relation to God makes people free from all dependencies in the world. But Luther added a second sentence: “A Christian is a useful servant of all things and subject to everyone.” This means: A Christian uses his freedom by serving his fellow humans. Their free dignified life is as important to him as his own.

In a long and frequently interrupted process, this evangelical perspective rang in the farewell to the Middle Ages for Europe. The freedom of the “Christian” allowed all authorities that regiment human life to be put in question. It inspired the vision of a society in which people act more humanely out of their own free will than under the thumb of threats and punishments of church and worldly authorities. What this meant politically and culturally for Europe’s future should be thematicized. What the evangelical understanding of freedom means for the relation of faith in God to science interests us now.

When we orient ourselves historically, evangelical freedom clearly included freedom to unrestricted research of nature. In 1543 the Lutheran theologian published Copernicus’ main work that led to the collapse of the Middle Ages world view. In Luther’s Wittenberg, the Copernican system could be taught unhindered. We owe the real breakthrough to modern astronomy to Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a Lutheran theologian and astronomer.

Another factor promoted the flourishing of natural sciences in a world marked by Christianity. God is understood as Creator of the world in the Jewish and Christian tradition. This means, God calls into being an independent world with its own laws. This world is not God’s appendix or emanation or a playground of “divine” forces as the religions assumed in the pre-modern age. It is nothing but the world. The Creator freely gives this world for our perceiving and discovering. His creatures can and should use this freedom.

Paradoxically Christian creation faith has become a field of conflict between the Christian churches and the natural sciences. The evangelical church bears a shocking measure of responsibility for this. In the post-Reformation time, the evangelical church has compared the biblical myths of the creation of the world and humankind with natural science findings. The discovery of the natural law of the development of the universe and the human species was regarded as denial of faith in the Creator. The so-called “creationism” in some American churches and elsewhere represents this opinion up to today.

However the historical-critical research of the Bible makes clear the biblical ideas of creation are not truths that fell from the sky. They are owed to time-conditioned observations. Many influences from other religions of the ancient orient influence them. One cannot possibly understand them as divine revelations about the objective construction of the world.

Rather the truth of these myths for us lies on another plane than objectifying scientific research. These myths express the human experience that the earth and humankind are rooted in a ground called God that eludes them. In Christianity, certainty comes through the encounter of people with Jesus Christ. This encounter produces the trust that God establishes, supports and affirms the earth and humanity. The question whether this trust is justified brings academic theology in dialogue with philosophy today.

The research of natural laws can neither establish nor refute whether trust in a Creator God is justified. This research has no access to the Creator spirit encountered historically that sparks this trust. For this research, all the stages of evolution of the universe and life are natural law stages, not divine acts. The Christian faith welcomes this. Everything science reveals to us is a great enrichment of our sense of reality on this earth.

The claim of a deep chasm between faith and science should be laid to rest. This assertion is based on misunderstandings. Concerning faith, evangelical theology is challenged to cooperate so no archaic fundamentalism spreads in the Christian churches and other religions. Fundamentalism does not help us advance to a dignified life on our earth which the sciences and the technical possibilities opened up and have already contributed so much.

The sciences should help these advances. This is a burning interest of the Christian faith. Human freedom should benefit humankind. Science can fall under the rule of misanthropic interests. We have experienced this enough in our age and experience it today. Ideologies bring about the opposite of freedom. The evangelical church is not hostile to science. Rather science needs a horizon of values to be a human science. Christian faith in its affirmation of science is a dependable advocate of such values.


By Wolf Kroetke

[This essay is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

“Our God comes, he does not keep silence” (Psalm 50,3). That is a core sentence of the Bible. God can only be God for us because God is not silent. A speechless God is not God in the sense of the Bible. Atheists of today confirm this in their way. By no longer hearing him, God does not exist any more for them.

However God’s silence is not entirely harmless. Whoever does not hear God is not simply free of God. Even atheists react irritated when called “godless.” “Godless” sounds so contemptuous. When I say to one who does not believe in God “you godless soul,” that sounds like a condemnation in his ears. “You nothing dubious person,” he hears, “your life lacks any good reason.” No one likes to hear this.

That “godless” has this sound for real blasphemers is strange. Our language presumably transports something owed to a biblical experience. The God who by nature is not silent is silent! When this happens, people are spit out, left without any goodness, hopelessly alone and miserable. “O God, do not keep silence; do not hold thy peace or be still,” implores another biblical praying person (Psalm 83,2). When God is silent, the power supply of his spirit and life is missing from our life. Other voices and other powers then fill the empty spaces of God’s silence.

All people do not regard this as terrible. The godless type is repeatedly encountered in the psalms as a careless person who likes God’s silence. “Nothing is lacking to me,” exclaims the confessionless of today who shuts the door on visitors from the community. Since he never hears God speak, he does not notice when God is silent. Isn’t he better than those tormented by God’s silence since they have good experiences of God speaking?

We must take this question seriously in a time when God means nothing for so many people. Whoever would open ears and hearts for God’s speaking tells them the reason for deaf ears and closed hearts. God is silent. All who believe have this experience. In faith in Jesus, it is engraved with the cry of the dying Jesus. “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?,” a person complains desperately through whom God’s love spoke like no other. With the words of Psalm 22, he joined in all the complaints of people about God’s silence. He anticipated something that could not be ignored. To many after him, that was the ultimate question in their life.

God is silent – that is the experience of persons open for God in the discipleship of Jesus. We may not misunderstand this as insensitiveness for God to which people become accustomed in voluntarily chosen distance from God. In such distance from God, people can be concrete walls for God. The Christian community with its testimony of God’s speaking can and should shake these walls. But if God is really silent though people long for his presence, that is shattering. This can put in question faith and trust in God. Doubt and despair begin to settle in our soul.

God’s silence hurts. It sets in like a mysterious wall before us and in us when God’s speaking is necessary. Hope and vigor are taken from persons handed over to the hatred and rage of others. Victims of the elements refuse answers. Gratitude that they are alive is driven out of persons tormented by sickness. Here there isn’t atheist or Christian, religious or not religious. Everyone knows the experience “when we are in extreme distress” and God is silent. Can persons still speak of God in such situations?

When God is silent, God is uncommunicative or closed for us. This can only result in our growing silent. Whoever is struck with suffering or tries to help other sufferers experiences this directly. The word “God” becomes like lead in our mouths. We have the feeling of assaulting God and humankind when we begin explaining his silence. “Be quiet at last,” we’d like to shout to someone who promotes himself when God is silent. There are times when we can only be silent with God. Communities that rediscover the old practice of Easter night have this experience.

On this night, something else comes into play than the mysterious abyss of God’s silence. In the experience of the Easter light, we notice something like God’s own deep affliction from the pain of Jesus Christ and from the suffering of his creatures. Far away from Golgotha, it is nearly impossible to understand God’s silence as enduring pains that make us speechless. The chasm between God and us is too great. Then the Bible speaks of God’s anger and God’s punishment for our misdeeds. We cannot cross out all this. When God is silent, we always discover what cannot be pleasing to him in our life.

Good Friday teaches us God is with us even in his silence. As he touches us with his silence, he bears the heavy experiences we make when he is silent. In all their gravity, they could stop being ultimate experiences that imprison people in distance to God. They do not prevent hearing the words of his love in God’s silence.

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