I still have some time before my flight so I thought I might produce yet one post.
The great risk with pessimism is obviously despair and resignation in face of the inevitable. This is the problem one has to try to solve. This is an area where I believe a religious faith can be immensely helpful.
One can gather this from the fact that throughout the history of the Church periods of decline and crisis have often coincided with very creative periods in the development of theology. For example, Augustine wrote The City of God in response to the decline of the
A more recent example is the blow to our own culture that was the First World War. The period after the war, that effectively broke off the optimism of the 19th century, produced the best theology of the 20th century: Tillich, Bultmann, Brunner, and this other guy, yeah, Barth. ;) All this so called “crisis theology” was a reaction to the feeling that the Church could not go on as it had before.
However, after World War II, with the great increase in welfare and standard of living, this crisis awareness soon levelled and was replaced by increasing optimism. Brilliant theologians like Moltmann and the catholic liberation theology focused on theology as a way to improve people’s life in this world. The underlining thought was that the main problem is injustice, something that can (and will) be solved.
While the world still is very unjust, we now have to face the fact that a just world is probably not something that can be sustained, at least not in the sense that the whole world could be lifted more or less to standard of the western world.
The Church can not give up the demand for global justice, of course. This has to be a constant in any pessimistic theology. But there is a shift from sharing the goods in the world fairly towards solidarity in the suffering that saintly people have already pointed out. This has to become more than gestures.
At the heart of the problem is the fact that it seems that theology too has slipped into believing in what Finnish philosopher Georg Henrik von Wright called “the myth of progress”, the belief that economical and technical progress is something that can be sustained indefinitely, and that it mirrors a progress in humanity in general. The idea in theological terms is that humanity progresses during this era towards something that will only fully be realized in eschaton, but can be seen already here. Is this a scheme that can and should be questioned? Or modified in some way?
Next weak I will look at a few central Christian doctrines and discuss how a context of decline might cause us to reinterpret them.