‘We will no more be able to shield our eyes from class struggle, which began in the previous century within the nation and now has gripped all continents, gripped them indeed as a deadly conflict between the privileged and those who have been exploited for centuries. What disguises itself as the free market system and which promises to enrich all, is in reality the continuation of imperialism and colonialism by means of a capitalistic system. It survives by the third world delivering raw materials and taking back our finished goods, among which – and this is especially abominable – are weapons of every sort. Thus the slums grow, which are the underside of our prosperity, and for three quarters of humanity our earth becomes a hell, in which hunger, murder, and prostitution reign and everyone struggles with the other for survival’.
– Ernst Käsemann, 1988
[Image: Andrew Cullen]
Yep. And as if that weren’t true, shameful, and horrific enough, add to it the scandal of the church’s complicity in bad news to the poor:
“In a certain sense Christians have become protagonists of the capitalist economy dominant in white society. They not only defend their little house and account at the bank but also their religious, ideological, and moral property. They so energetically affirm the resurrection because above all else the bourgeois want to live on and thus they must outlive even the grave.”
— Ernst Käsemann, 2005
Protagonists indeed. Even in the 1988 article, Käsemann is keen to stress the church’s complicity with the powers, noting particularly those ‘attendant bureaucracies concerned only with preserving resistance to rebellious ideas’. He recalls how during the time between the various European revolutions of 1848 until the end of WWI, ‘middle class Christians were not able to join in solidarity with rebels holding unpatriotic and atheistic ideas, so that even today socialism appears suspect in many areas’. He continues: ‘Christians mistrusted everything that might have been able to disrupt conservative tradition. During this time, freedom and unity were not attained even though a nation came into being, economic expansion was transformed into colonialism, and economic-cultural Liberalism threw bridges across to lands to the west. Military might secured external stability; an idealistic humanism supported by the legacy from the past and a modern classical period sufficed intellectually. However, this humanism seldom saw beyond bourgeois society, much less as far as world politics. Devoted to inwardness and self-reflection, its vision rarely reached beyond the borders of its own people; its national longing was directed toward a return to the splendor of the old empire’. Little wonder that Käsemann argued to vehemently that ‘apocalyptic was the mother of all Christian theology’.
True words. But what then can we do? Should we/ can we share all things *fairly*? Can we ever make that work – without massive oppressive overthrow of the rich by the poor, who then become rich (Animal Farm and all that)
Sorry if this sounds depressing. Maybe when God’s kingdom comes and His will is done we will work it out
Hey Jean. “But what can we do?” Käsemann again:
“The Sermon on the Mount has enormous political significance, and every Christian life has its political dimension. Of course, the gospel is not a set of traffic regulations for everyone’s public life. Still, the either-or of God and the idols must force Jesus’ disciples to take a position in the political, economic, and cultural areas, by doing which they can and will come into conflict with so-called inherent constraints, with parties, lobbies, and regulations. In any case, as free children of God, they will represent the rights of the weak; where able, they will resist the dance around the golden calf, the Lordship of Mammon in the so-called free-market economy, as well as in state capitalism; and they will oppose the ruination of the creation. On the other hand, they will be intent ion reconciliation between classes, races, and power groups because their Lord will have peace, and it is precisely on earth that they are open for the earth and in public service. They cannot commit themselves for any length of time because they are always and entirely bound by their Lord. In today’s world, ruled by the white race, they will normally belong with the rebels, with the result that their passive or active resistance will often seem arbitrary, will not even exclude revolution, and will rather include martyrdom as a last recourse. On earth, God’s royal rule as discipleship of the Nazarene and love for humankind and its dignity is always a political matter to which the powers of the world will variously react. In theory, in its practical shape, it is most often a scandal Christians must put up with. But we may not leave the earth th to the forces and powers ruling it.”
(From “The Sermon on the Mount — a Private Affair” )
In the same essay Käsemann, preparing the ground for his nod to “revolution”, declares that “Nothing at all should be said of nonviolence” because “Such is always ideology, since there never or nowhere is or has been a place free of violence.” I think the last quotation contains both a sweeping generalisation and a non-sequitur, and in the margin of my copy of On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene (in which the essay is found) I see that I wrote “Needs to read some Yoder!” (Still, Käsemann is right that “Violence in the singular is an abstraction and only through circumstances become concrete”, and he argues strongly for discernment.) With these caveats in mind I call Käsemann’s case truthful and helpful speech.
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