Saturday, September 30, 2006

The World Cup of Modern Systematic Theologians - a Look Back

I've been thinking about writing something about my experience of hosting the World Cup of Modern Systematic Theologians back in June and July. This is not so much an attempt to regain the traffic that found it's way here back then, but maybe to reflect a bit on the question of if it was all worth it.

Because, believe me it was a lot of work. Just to run the games took me an hour or two every day. This was not something I thought about before I started it, the idea just struck me as something that had to be done. Once it got going I realized that it would not do just to pitch the theologians against each other, I would have to give some small presentations of the theologians involved and so on. So it snowballed.

But of course it was great fun as well. And I can't pretend not to have enjoyed the media coverage that happened at the end immensely. My 15 minutes of fame. I am especially proud that Ecumenical News Service decided to quote me on saying that the feminist theology movement will be one of the most important things that happened to theology in the 20th century. That is something I very much stand by.

Of course the daily traffic the tournament brought was not something that could be sustained once the tournament had ended. But there were some interesting long term effects. A lot of people decided to link me - thank you for that - and this still brings in people. And of course a lot of those people that find my blog because of the tournament decided to read other stuff too. Also, my blog has become very popular with Google, and that continues to bring in people daily. Finally, for some to me unknown reason, there is a link to my blog in the Japanese Wikipedia article on Karl Barth. I receive several visitors from that link every day.

If you want to recollect the tournament, here are the brackets once more.

Again in four year's time? Well, we'll see.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Reading Tillich 18: The Law

The law is man's essential being standing against his existence, commanding and judging it. In so far as his essential being is taken into his existence and actualized in it, the law has ceased to be law for him. Where there is New Being, there is no commandment and no judgement. If, therefore, we call Jesus as the Christ the New Being, we can say with Paul that the Christ is the end of the law.
Systematic Theology II, 119.
Tillich is trying to show what salvation is. He is taking law in the Lutheran sense, as moral codes and rules that show us how things ought to be (essential being). Existence in life as it is, not as it should be. In Christ and the person that participates in Christ, "essential being is taken into his existence", that is, there is a modification of the personality taken place so that one becomes what one really should be. The Fathers expresses the same thing by separating between the image and likeness of God. The Image of God we have, the likeness is lost because of sin. By God's grace, we can regain that likeness. This is what Tillich calls New Being.

His point is that moral rules and regulations is part of the existence, that is, a human being that takes part in the New Being has no need for them, because the reality that the rules express is already within that person. (This is another way to express what I tried to say about war here.)

That means that a Christianity that is very much concerned with moral laws and rules, is, well, not very Christian.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Reading Tillich 17: Christ

The paradox of the Christian message is in one personal life essential manhood has appeared under the conditions of existence without being conquered by them.
Systematic Theology II, 94.
The profundity of this quote is probably not apparent unless one has read the rest of the system, but here we have the heart of Tillich's theological project. He once said that his dream was that people one day could talk about religion without embarrassment. To reach this end he went about creating a new religious language, without the negative baggage of history.

Anyway, one could say that the above sentence is the goal of this project, because here Tillich in one sentence formulates the Christian message. The whole preceding discussion, where he analyses the existence and the essence of being human serves to create the possibility to profess this claim, that in Christ, sin, suffering, meaninglessness and evil is overcome, and this in a life that is lived out in exactly the conditions we live in.

Americans love war?

In keeping with the recent war theme on this blog, Joel at Connexions have written a great summary of what seems to be an interesting book: The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced By War, by Andrew J. Bacevich. Check it out.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Reading Tillich 16: Collective Guilt

The citizens of a city are not guilty of the crimes committed in their city; but they are guilty as participants in the destiny of man as a whole and in the destiny of their city in particular; for their acts in which freedom was united with destiny have contributed to the destiny in which they participate. They are guilty, not of committing the crimes of which the group is accused, but of contributing to the destiny in which these crimes happened. In this indirect sense, even the victims of tyranny in a nation are guilty of this tyranny. But so are the subjects of other nations and of mankind as a whole. For the destiny of falling under the power of a tyranny, even a criminal tyranny, is a part of the universal destiny of man to be estranged of what he essentially is.
Systematic Theology II, 59.
(Tillich's understanding of destiny)
Tillich says this in the context of discussing the collective guilt of the Germans after WWII. But he could just as well be talking about citizens of Iraq under Saddam or Citizens of the USA under Bush, or any of us in the context of a world where multinationals destroy the environment and exploit third-world labour to sell cheap t-shirts.

The idea is one that is usually found among mystics such as Master Eckhart or - you guessed it - Isaac of Nineveh. Isaac at one point asks the reader why he judges the sinner. "Should you not judge yourself for not having done all that is in you power to prevent the sinner from falling?" The point is essentially that we are all deeply connected to each other in ways that are not always obvious to us. That means that whenever we call another human being enemy, we are in fact attacking ourselves, because we have some responsibility for the circumstances that have made the other person into the person he or she is. We participate in their destiny.

This is, IMO, a infinitely more dynamic way to understand the protestant notion that we are all sinners. Because it is from this situation that we need to be saved.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Reading Tillich 15: Sin

The quality of all acts in which man affirms himself existentially has two sides, the one in which he removes his center from the divine center (unbelief) and the other in which he makes himself the center of himself and his world (hubris). The question naturally arises concerning why man is tempted to become centered in himself. The answer is that it places him in the position of drawing the whole of his world into himself.
Systematic Theology II, 52.
This no doubt to many nonsensical quotation is actually a very concentrated formulation of Tillich's doctrine of sin. Sin is very important in Tillich's theology, and his treatment of it is very attractive.

To understand the quote above one need to know that Man is essentially centred in God. Thus it becomes a temptation to try to center in one-self. It is to turn away from God. The interesting thing is that Tillich connects creation and sin - they are actually the same thing from two considered from two different perspectives. For something to come into existence it has to become separated from God. But this is at the same time the tragedy of the creature, it looses its center, its union with God. This is why we experience sin as estrangement, from God, from nature and from ourselves.

In my post on sin in my Ideas for a theology of decline, I noted that in such a theology creation becomes central to the understanding of sin, but for a different reason. Since God is the creator, the ultimate form of sin must be to destroy His creation, as we are currently doing. Obviously this kind of sin is the ultimate form of estrangement - it is collective suicide and attempted deicide. Man uses his world to make himself center of the world to the point where the world seizes to exist.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Reading Tillich 14: Angels and Demons

The truth of the doctrine of angelic and demonic powers is that there are supra-individual structures of goodness and supra-individual structures if evil. Angels and Demons are mythological names for constructive and destructive powers of being, which are ambiguously interwoven and which fight with each other in the same person, in the same social group, and in the same historical situation. They are not beings but powers of being dependent on the whole structure of existence and involved in the ambiguous life.
Systematic Theology II, 40.
Of all the posts I have written in this blog, none has received more google hits than my post on "Fighting Demons". I wonder what all those people are looking for, and I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel about this interest. I myself like the language of demons, and I use it much the way Tillich describes here: as supra-individual structures of evil. I encounter these all the time - in university administration, in politics at all levels, in the economical systems, sometimes even i social inter-relationships. It is an extremely dynamic way to look at reality, and I can see that pre-enlightenment people found this language useful. As I write in my post about demons, there is no reason to believe that people back then was more superstitious than they are today.

In Tillich's system the angelic powers of being have a curious role. They are kind of semi-independent structures, "dependent on the structure of being" but not bound by it. There is also a shift in his view in this area. In his early German writings the demonic is absolutely central to his thinking - later the concept of estrangement take over much of the role of the demonic.

More on War

Nicholas Morgensen has started a new serie at Pentacostal discussions: War and Peace. The first post discusses pasificm and just war.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Pope, Islam and Anger.

The reaction to the infamous quotation by Pope Benedict XVI in the world is deeply troubling. No, not the reactions in the Muslim World (more on this below) but in the west. Some examples from various blogs and comments to news items:

I say this - the christian religion needs to commit jihad on all Muslims of the world. They need to be exterminated from the planet once and for all. Their heads need to be stuck to the end of a pike. The holy crusades need to be started again to purge the world of this filthy disease called Islam. I'm sick of the nation's religious and political leaders kissing the Islamic leadership's ass.
They can take their stinky birkas, headscarves, suicide bombers, mosques, dirty filthy beards, and shove them all into the depths of hell.

Well, as a (formerly) non-extremist Catholic I can honestly tell you, the over-reaction to the Pope's WORDS, following on from the treatment of that Danish cartoonist, has left me feeling extremely hostile toward Muslims everywhere and hoping that my church rises up to use it's far superior firepower to wipe this ugly blemish of a religion from the face of the planet! Yes, that's right, I, a non-hostile Catholic, has become so angered by these animals that I now hope they DO bring their f***ing Jihad here and get wiped out once and for all by my God-fearing, peaceful church.

The angry mob is proving the Pope's point by their actions. If everybody went around causing a ruckus every time something they didn't agree with was said, the world would be in chaos.

There's ton's of this stuff out there. More and more the image is engraved in the minds of westerners that Muslims ("well not all but many") really react at the slightest amount of negative criticism with violence, and idiots even start to suggest that the west should be violent back.

Let's consider the facts. Yes, many Muslim leaders protested. Yes, this was a bit of an over-reaction in this case since it turned out that the pope was quoted out of context. But considering the general context of a rich part of the world constantly trying to rule over a poorer part of the world, often with the use of violence (Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan...) and always by propaganda (television), to hear that the pope have actually said that Muhammed brought nothing into the world except things "evil and inhuman", then a protest is not necessarily that un-called for. Consider that most western media were very light on context in reporting what the pope actually said, and that the Pope's actual point was not that easy to grasp. He was, after all, speaking to an academic audience. In other words, that many Muslim leaders reacted with outrage was no surprise. I did too, even if my normal suspicion of media kicked in rather fast.

But, wait, we are talking violent reactions, right? Well, again, consider the facts. There is talk of a nun being killed. To my knowledge there has been no certain link between this tragic event and the pope's speech. And a few (less than ten) churches have been attacked. Again this is horrible, but one should keep in mind that the Muslim world is a big place, and that the Christian minorities have suffered there for a long time. I suspect this makes up little except a small peak in an ongoing situation. I mean, churches are being burned in the West, too. Certainly there are fanatics that would use this incident as a cause to do what they generally do, but to be perfectly clear, the image of a Muslim World in Outrage and general Chaos because of this speech by the pope exists in the Western media only, who seems to love to show images of angry men in beards.

The thing is, I'm starting to see a pattern where more and more people in both the Muslim and the Western part of the world starting to subscribe to these false representations of the other side. This development will only lead to one thing: war. C'mon, this is serious! I'm no expert on the media in the Muslim world, but considering how bad western media is at presenting the Muslim world, it does not surprise me one bit that these things happen. The only thing that get reported in the West from Muslim countries is violence! It's absurd! People live their lives there, it's not like the whole region is one big battlefield. Yet this is the image we see in the media. I wonder what kind of image they have of us.

Just War?

Rev. Sam wrestles with the idea of war. Please join him in doing so.

He quotes Bonhoeffer:

"The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge."
I would interpret this quote a bit differently than Rev. Sam does (although I do not know the context). Christian ethics moves beyond knowledge about good and evil, that is, to the ethics that is known in the heart. When we discuss ethical choices as he does in his post, what you really do is not so much trying to arrive at an ethical position, but trying to understand the ethical position you already have taken in your heart.

And that's just the thing with war: One just can't accept it unless one does some kind of violence on oneself by introducing arguments about the higher good, by trying to turn ethics into logics. It is fully possible to talk oneself into a position which accepts war, but one does so only by ignoring one's inherent moral position.

So the question is more about if we believe ethics should be the guiding principle in society or not. And we do, right?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Reading Tillich 13: Participating Theology

[The Systematic theologian] must participate in the human predicament, not only actually - as he always does - but also in conscious identification. He must participate in man's finitude, which is also his own, and in its anxiety as though he had never received the revelatory answer of his "eternity". He must participate in man's estrangement, which is also his own, and show the anxiety of guilt as though he had never received the revelatory answer of "forgiveness". The theologian does not rest on the theological answer which he announces. He can give it in a convincing way only if he participates with his whole being in the situation of the question, namely the human predicament. ... In formulating the answer he must struggle for it.
Systematic Theology II, 15.
This, then, should be written above the desk of every theologian. This is the true mark of great theology, theology that have stood the test of time. Theology that coolly reflects on the teaching of the Church and presents it as if it was self-evident truths will never be able to contribute anything really substantial to the history of theology.

This means that theologian should always ask the difficult questions: Do I believe in this? Does this make sense to me? What kind of relevance does this have for my life? Only then can one proceed to speak.

Yes, it is to ask a lot.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Reading Tillich 12: Prayer

The last few pages in ST I is full of quotable stuff. Tillich discusses the different symbols we use to describe God such as love, Father, Lord and it is brilliant stuff all the way. But I will leave that for you to look up on you own. Here's a quote on prayer, another example of how pious Tillich's theology is.

God's directing creativity is the answer to the question of the meaning of prayer, especially prayers of supplication and prayers of intercession. Neither type of prayer can mean that God is expected to acquiesce in interfering with existential conditions. Both mean that God is asked to direct the given situation toward fulfilment. The prayers are an element in this situation, a most powerful factor if they are true prayers. As an element in the situation a prayer is a condition of God's directing creativity, but the form of this creativity may be the complete rejection of the manifest content of the prayer. Nevertheless, the prayer may have been heard according to its hidden content which is the surrender of a fragment of existence to God. ... Every serious prayer contains power, not because of the intensity of desire expressed in it, but because of the faith the person has in God's directing activity - a faith which transforms the existential situation.
Systematic Theology I, 267.

You may want to read this quote a second time. Tillich's language is quite complex here. The context is a discussion on providence - God's directing creativity.

This quote includes in my opinion a very profound teaching on prayer, but I leave it to you to explore these concepts. Instead I'd like to share my opinion on how one should really read Tillich, and this quote is a great example of this. Tillich's goal is not to create a perfect philosophical system, or really to reinterpret the Christian tradition. The reason he creates this new language is to be able to say things like this, and remain honest. What Tillich does is essentially to create a language where there is room for the religious experience, since our everyday language no longer has that room. This is what Tillich means with apologetics - not to argue for the validity of Christianity with nifty philosophical arguments. That is also why his theology feels so important - it is built on a very honest understanding of the problem of religion in our time.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Reading Tillich 11: Human Creativity

This is the background of what is called "human creativity". If creativity means "to bring the new into being", man is creative in every direction - with respect to himself and his world, with respect to being and with respect to meaning. However if creativity means "to bring into being that which had no being", then divine and human being differ sharply.
Systematic Theology I, 256.
A while back I wrote a couple of posts (I, II) on creativity, the latter based on Tillich but not on this quote. My point then, and this is what Tillich writes in this text too, is that the form of creation that involves "bringing into being that which had no being" is a very special form of creation and not the most important one for theology. The kind of creation Tillich describes as bringing the "new" into being is much more important, and here man and God is deeply related. In creativity both God and man finds identity, being and meaning. This is another important way to understand our existence.

The Limited Ministry of the Ordained

Chris at "Even the Devils Believe" has a good quote by Gene Robinson about ministry.

Here's the part that struck me:

I think in some sense becoming a priest actually limits your ministry. What I mean is that the real ministry is to the world, but as a priest and as a bishop, you limit yourself to be minister to the ministers.

I think this is what we see a lot in practice: Priest feeling that their job is to minister to the people in the pews. But unless we see this perspective, that the priest have this limited task, and that the proper ministry is to the world, the Church tends to become turned in on itself.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Reading Tillich 10: Being Created

Nevertheless, the term ex nihilo says something fundamentally important about the creature, namely, that it must take over what might be called the "heritage of nonbeing". Creatureliness implies nonbeing, but creatureliness is more than nonbeing. It carries in itself the power of being, and this power of being is its participation in being-itself, in the creative ground of being. Being a creature includes bot the heritage of nonbeing (anxiety) and the heritage of being (courage).
Systematic Theology I, 253.
It is interesting how Tillich kind of hides his intent in this text, by putting the key to the quote in parenthesis. I'm not sure if this interpretation of the ex nihilo-formula holds the scrutiny of historical methods, but that is hardly Tillich's point. He connects a central human experience, the tension between anxiety and courage, to the Christian doctrine of creation. To be created is to on the one hand carry within oneself a spark of divine might, but also the tendency to neglect this spark. This is what it is to be human. What Tillich is discussing in this passage is not primarily the philosophy of being but human ethics at a very fundamental level.

The Mini MEme

Byron tagged me, so here goes.

A Piece of Art that you Love
Im not a art expert, byt I used to have this Kandinsky painting on my wall for a few years.
A Line in a Song or Line of Poetry that Reaches Your Core
Oh, that's a difficult one, many to choose from. Radiohead got many mantra-like lines that I tend to find very meaningful, maybe: "It's the devild way now, It's no way out. You can scream and you can shout. Because you have not been paying attention".

An Experience in Nature that was Really Special and/or Spiritual
I remember traveling through Finland by bus during a night many years ago. I was sleeping and the kind of half-awoke. It was a dawn of spectacular beauty, and every one else was sleeping. It was like it was a moment there just for me.

The Movie that Changed the Way you saw the World.
That's a tricky one. My strongest film-experiences tend to be about recognition rather than change. The Matrix, I guess, really made me into more or a rebel than I was before. Weird that.

A Piece of Music That Makes You Cry
Oh, many of the hymns sung at a special day in the liturgical year. There is a hosanna sung in Swedish speaking Churches on Advent, and one that (translated) says "the day has arrived, love is triumphant" sung on Christmas morning. Gets me every time. But I cry a lot in church.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

On Tillich, Theology and Change

Steve has some interesting thoughts on the relevance of professional theology for parish theology, asking for example if TIllich has made an impact on the religious life of "ordinary" believers.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Reading Tillich 9: God and Existence

It would be a great victory for Christian apologetics if the words "God" and "existence" were very definitely separated except in the paradox of God becoming manifest under the conditions of existence, that is, in the Christological paradox. God does not exist. He is being-itself beyond essence and existence. Therefore, to argue that God exists is to deny him.
Systematic Theology I, 205.
The last part of this famous quote is often used to discredit Tillich and make him out to be some kind of radical ultra liberal blasphemer. What Tillich is actually trying to do here is to describe God in a way that later will make the talk of Incarnation understandable. To appreciate the mystery of the Incarnation one has to understand in what way God is fundamentally different from creation. In Tillich's terms this difference consists of the fact that God is beyond essence and existence, that is things as the "should" be and things as they are. When he says that God does not exist, his point is that we cannot reach God by adding things to the finite. That way we will only end up with Idols. as he says later on: concerning God all superlatives are diminutives.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Reading Tillich 8: Destiny and Meaning

To lose one's destiny is to lose the meaning of one's being. Destiny is not a meaningless fate. It is necessity united with meaning. The threat of possible meaninglessness is a social as well as an individual reality. There are periods in social life, as well as in personal life, during which this threat is especially acute. Our present situation is characterized by a profound and desperate feeling of meaninglessness. Individuals and groups have lost any faith they may have had in the destiny as well as any love of it.
Systematic Theology I, 201.
Meaning of life, for the individual as well as society, is found in context. As Tillich wrote in yesterday's quote, destiny is "the indefinitely broad basis of our centered selfhood". Life loses meaning when one is separated from one's environment, from one's "world". Meaning is found in communion. As I suggested in the beginning of this series, the meaninglessness is maybe not as acutely felt today as a few decades ago, but this is only because we have numbed ourselves with entertainment to a much deeper degree. At the same time the estrangement has just increased.

What does Tillich mean by "to love one's destiny"? It is to be united with one's personality, to be at home an responsible for oneself. There is a desperate need in our world for activities that help people to find such a love.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Reading Tillich 7: Destiny and Freedom

Our destiny is that out of which our decisions arise; it is the indefinitely broad basis of our centered selfhood; it is the concreteness of our being which makes all our decisions our decisions. When I make a decision, it is the concrete totality of everything that constitutes my being which decides, not an epistemological subject. This refers to body structure, psychic strivings, spiritual character. It includes the communities to which I belong, the past unremembered and remembered, the environment which has shaped me, the world which has made an impact on me. It refers to all my former decisions. Destiny is not a strange power which determines what shall happen to me. It is myself as given, formed by nature, history and myself. My destiny is the basis of my freedom; my freedom participates in shaping my destiny.
Systematic theology I, 185.
The problem of human freedom has caused much confusion throughout the ages and continues to do so today. Those that deny freedom today refer more to biology and "neuroscience" than strange forces, but there still seems to be a very poor understanding of what man's freedom actually means. A Finnish philosopher, Hannes Nykänen, has written that trying to prove the freedom of the will is a bit like trying to sneak a peak of oneself in a mirror. The fact is that we experience ourselves as free, and when one is denying our freedom on the basis of "science" one is simply addressing a different matter. Much confusion, yes.

The genius of Tillich's polarity of freedom and destiny is that it explains and acknowledges the limits of our freedom. This idea returns later in the system when Tillich treats Original Sin.

Based on this description of the structure of being, it seems reasonable to try to use the limited freedom one has to increase one's freedom. Obviously one can not escape one's destiny, but the choices we make "participate" in the forming of this destiny. This is valid on a cultural level too. What we are doing when we change the climate and use up the earth's resources is reducing our freedom.

Br. Roger and the Catholic Church

Controversy has arisen over the supposed "conversion" of Brother Roger of Taizé to the Catholic Church. On September 6th, Le Monde published an article suggesting that Brother Roger secretly converted to the Catholic Church, thus implying that his ecumenical stance was built on fraud. Today the Taizé community has responded by publishing four articles on their website, explaining the relation between Brother Roger and Rome and his own ecumenical position.

Do read them, its my conviction that Brother Roger's way is the only way forward for the ecumenical movement. Ecumenism has to happen in persons, not between institutions.

The Taizé Community states:
Interview with Brother Alois:
Bishop Gérard Daucourt:
The French Protestant Federation:

Monday, September 11, 2006

Reading Tillich 6:Religious nationalism

The Old Testament certainly is full of Jewish nationalism, but it appears over and over as that against which the Old Testament fights. Religious nationalism is the mark of false prophets. The true prophets threaten Israel in the name of the God of justice who is able to reject his nation because of its injustice ... As the god of justice he is universal, and, if justice is violated, he rejects any claim on the basis of a special relation to his nation. The term "elected nation" is by no means an expression of national arrogance. To be elected includes the permanent threat of rejection and destruction and the demand to accept destruction in order to save the covenant of election. ... Empirically speaking there is no happy ending for the elected nation - or for the elected one of final revelation. But "empirically speaking" is not the prophetic form of speaking.
Systematic Theology I, 143.
On this day, I think I will let this stand without a comment.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Chrisendom: An Audience with the Küng

Is there anything you always wanted to ask Hans Küng? Now's your chance, thanks to Chris Tilling. Go to Chrisendom to find out more.

No, I can't think of anything, really.

Reading Tillich 5: Symbolical Language

A long one today:

The knowledge of revelation, directly or indirectly, is knowledge of God, and therefore analogous or symbolic. The nature of this kind of knowing is dependent on the nature of the relation between God and the world and can be discussed only in the context of the doctrine of God. But two possible misunderstandings must be mentioned and removed. If the knowledge of revelation is called "analogous," this certainly refers to the classical doctrine of the analogia entis between the finite and the infinite. Without such an analogy nothing could be said about God. But the analogia entis is in no way able to create a natural theology. It is not a method of discovering truth about God; it is the form in which every knowledge of revelation must be expressed. In this sense analogia entis, like "religous symbol", points to the necessity od using material taken from finite reality in order to give content to the cognitive function of revelation. ... The phrase "only a symbol" should be avoided, because nonanalogous or nonsymbolic knowledge of God has less truth than analogous of symbolic knowledge. The use of finite materials in their ordinary sense for the knowledge of revelation destroys the meaning of revelation and deprives God of his divinity.
Systematic Theology I, 131.

This immensily important realisation, that talk about God must be symbolical in order to protect the truth about God, in one stroke makes fundamentalist and traditionalist theology impossible. This is why theology, to be theology, must change. I cannot remain the same, it cannot use the same formulas and concepts as before because human language is constantly in flux. In that situation, to hold on to traditional formulas in theology, without trying to explain them with current language will lead to lying about God.

Of course, it is this realisation that leads Tilich to develop theology with the "method of correlation", as an attempt to find new form to the eternal truth contained in the Christian gospel.

I have had great use of this method not only in my few and far between sermons, but espeically in my reading of Christian litterature, especially in my case the fathers. To always keep the "existential question" they are trying to answer in the back of my head while reading has helped me, I think, to appreciate an aspect about the fathers that go beyond theological polemics, the main trap of any reader of patristic literature.

Clearly this is not an uncomplicated matter, for it leads over to the very tricky question of what remains the same and what changes in the human condition over the ages.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Reading Tillich 4: Sainthood

The term "saint" has been misunderstood and distorted; saintliness has been identified with religious or moral perfection. Protestantism, for these reasons, has finally removed the concept of sainthood from religion. But sainthood is not personal perfection. Saints are persons who are transparent for the ground of being which is revealed thorough them and who are able to enter a revelatory constellation as mediums. Their being can become a sign-event for others. This is the truth behind the Catholic practice of demanding miracles from every saint.
Systematic Theology I, 121.
I have often wondered what a person belonging to a tradition where saints play a central role feels about this definition. It strikes me as very accurate. I have met a few person in my life and read the works of several others that I would consider saints. What Tillich points to is exactly it: the encounter which such a person become a revelation of the divine that grabs me and transforms me. It has little to do with moral perfection, although to be transparent for the ground of being, that is to be truly genuine and at ease with one's identity, tends to lead to a certain moral solidity I would think.

I one's had a long discussion with one of the brothers in Taizé about saints in today's world. We were both of the opinion that people look for something different in holy people today that a hundred years ago. Whereas earlier people looked for something removed from the human situation in a saint (i.e. moral perfection) today we look for deep honesty in holy people. An honest that involves the realisation that moral perfection is impossible in this world. This realisation becomes a point of connection between us and the saint, which lets us appreciate the honesty, the "transparency
for the ground of being".

The saint also seem to be a person that has been able to create a unified narrative of his or her life. The saint has been able to reconcile the negative experiences with the positive and seen a sense, a meaning in it all.

Which leads me to think that what the world needs today more than anything else is more saintly people.

Ben Myers on Being Human

Ben's Theology for Beginners series has reached its 12th installement, and it discusses what it is to be human.

I'm not 100% sure about the "priests of creation" symbol today, the notion of priests carries so many connotations, some of which are not really that useful, but I think what Ben is aiming at is very sound. Do check it out!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Reading Tillich 3: Mystery

"Mystery" in this proper sense, is derived from muein, "closing the eyes" or "closing the mouth". In gaining ordinary knowledge it is necessary to open one's eyes in order to grasp the object and to open one's mouth in order to communicate with other persons and have one's insights tested. A genuine mystery, however, is experienced in an attitude which contradicts the attitude of ordinary cognition. ... Mystery characterizes a dimension which "precedes" the subject-object relationship. The same dimension is indicated in the "closing of the mouth". It is impossible to express the experience of mystery in ordinary language, because this language has grown out of, and is bound to, the subject-object scheme. I mystery is expressed in ordinary language, it necessarily is misunderstood, reduced to another dimension, desecrated. This is the reason why betrayal of the content of the mystery cults was a blasphemy which had to be expiated by death.
Systematic Theology I, 108-109.
The main reason I love Tillich's theology so much is because it is so intensely spiritual. While many more traditional theologians shy away from talk about the divine in our life, Tillich says extremely bold things about things like miracles, prophecy, ecstasy and, as here, mystery. Again, his isn't a theology of cool reflection, it is all the time a theology in the face of despair, a theology that struggles to make life meaningful.

The etymological background to the word mystery is well-known, but it is seldom taken to this breathtaking conclusion. Tillich is secretly very polemical, only he very seldom bothers to name those he argues against. Here I think he is at the same time addressing fellow theologians, as well as preachers in the churches. He is attacking the tendency to say things about that which cannot be said. And in what way! "If you would have been members of an ancient mystery cult and talked about the divine the way you do, they would have killed you!"

I think this may be the reason that I, as student of the church fathers, feel so at home in Tillich's theology. They too knew where the line should be drawn for what could be said, and they never tried to go beyond that. And we all know what happens when humans try to formulate that which cannot be formulated: this is when churches split, people are anathematized and religious wars are fought.

Tillich's warning is still very much needed.

10 000 visitors

I had my visitor number 10 000 to this blog today. From Thailand, it seems. So now you know.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Reading Tillich 2: New Theonomy

Autonomy and heteronomy are rooted in theonomy, and each goes astray when their theonomous unity is broken. Theonomy does not mean the acceptance of a divine law imposed on reason by a highest authority; it means autonomous reason united with its own depth.
Systematic theology I, 85
Ok, today's quote is a bit cryptic if one isn't familiar with Tillich's language. Tillich is talking about reason, and how the way we think can vary. Autonomous reason is thinking that strives to be independent, not influenced by outside forces. It strives to be faithful to its own inner structure. Its opposite is heteronomous reason. That is when an outside authority conditions the way we think, be it in the form of a tradition, an institution or a person.

What Tillich is trying to do is to point out the shallowness of the collectivism-individualism discussion. In a rather amusing one-paragraph history of the world, Tillich shows how heteronomy and autonomy has battled each other through-out the ages, with brief periods when a theonomy has been created.

What does Tillich mean with theonomy? Theonomy is reason that is united with the "ground of its being", that is has realized that the identity of the individual is rooted in God. This is not a state that can be reached in this life fully.

Today, of course autonomous thinking reigns supreme. Tillich's analysis of the situation is still valid:

Under the guidance of technical reason autonomy conquered all reactions but completely lost the dimension of depth. It became shallow, empty, without ultimate meaning and produce conscious or unconscious despair. In this situation powerful heternomies of quasi-political character entered the vacuum created by an autonomy that lacked the dimension of depth. The double fight against an empty autonomy and a destructive heteronomy makes the quest for a new theonomy as urgent today as it was at the end of the ancient world.
The way forward from a situation where individualism has reached its full course is not to turn to a "safe" orthodoxy or to put one trust in formal authority (like all those that think democracy isn't really that important today.) What we need is a cultural climate that connects our sense of who we are with a way to be in communion. For this we need a new theonomy. We cannot recreate an old one.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Global Dimming. You need to know about this.

You can watch this excellent but extremely scary BBC documentary free (legal) online. Follow this link, chose "get this film". You do not need to register, just chose to "view the sample movie HERE".

Global warming may be much worse than we thought.

Reading Tillich 1

It is not an exaggeration to say that today man experiences his present situation in terms of disruption, conflict, self-destruction, meaninglessness, and despair in all realms of life. This experience is expressed in the arts and in literature, conceptualized in existential philosophy, actualized in political cleavages of all kinds, and analyzed in the psychology of the unconscious. It has given theology a new understanding of the demonic-tragic structures of individual and social life. The question arising out of this experience is not, as in the Reformation, the question of a merciful God and the forgiveness of sins; nor is it, as in the early Greek church, the question of finitude, of death and error; nor is it the question of personal religious life or of the Christianization of culture and society. It is the question of a reality in which the self-estrangement of our existence is overcome, a reality of reconciliation and reunion, of creativity, meaning and hope.
Systematic Theology 1, 49.
Tillich was even back in the fifties criticized because of this description of the experience of modern man. Many Americans asked were he got this gloomy outlook from, and it was suggested that he was describing the experience of living in Germany in the 20's rather than living in America in the 50's. Maybe it was an exaggeration to claim that this was what "man" experience, rather than just artists, philosophers and psychologists, as Tillich actually says.

55 years on, in what way do we need to modify this description? First of all, unlike in the fifties I think it is completely impossible to suggest that there is one experience that could be claimed to be even to a small degree universal. Our world has become much more fragmentized. We do not experience together any more, rather we experience as individuals.

Secondly, a major change compared to the world Tillich was addressing is that today the vast majority of people, in the western world anyway, actually very seldom encounters "reality" in the way Tillich seems to suggest. We are entertained into oblivion, and generally prefer to be fooled into believing that everything is OK.

What kind of question arises out of this situation? Well, I think Tillich's suggestion still holds up pretty well, there is still a deep self-estrangement at the core of our lives, but most of the time we do not experience it - we have found an antidote: television. Today theology needs to start with the question of responsibility, I think. The lack of responsibility over one's own life, the fear of taking charge of one's identity.

Monday, September 04, 2006

New series: Reading Tillich

After finishing my Ideas for a Theology of Decline, I will have to think of something else to fill this space with. I go to work by bus every day and today I started to re-read Tillich's system. It's been a few years since last time, but I still think that the introduction is one of the greatest theological texts written.

So I will share some of my thoughts while reading trough this system in the coming weeks. Here are some preliminary remarks.

First of all, If one wants to take Tillich seriously, one has to recognize that the system is now over 50 years old. This means that the "situation" has change quite a bit. This should mean, if Tillichs approach is correct - and I think it is - that large parts of the system is outdated. Our generation need to again formulate the Christian message for our time, just like he did. It won't look the same. This will be one of my guiding principles when reading and commenting on passages from the system.

A second principle will be that I will look for stuff in the system that I feel still speaks to us in our situation - that is the culture in decline. So I will keep up the general theme of this blog in this new series also.

As an introduction to this series I will post my text on why I love Tillich that I wrote for Ben Myer's "For the love of God" series back in May.

Why I love Paul Tillich

My first encounter with Paul Tillich was within the first weeks of my theological studies. Obviously this was not a course I was supposed to take, but I had bluffed my way in. One of the texts we worked with was the final chapter of Tillich’s The Courage to Be. This is not an easy text, especially taken out of its context like that. But something made me read it again and again. A few years later I read the whole book and I decided to write my Master’s thesis (or pro gradu as we call it in Finland) on Tillich and the Systematic Theology.

Many people find Tillich’s language difficult. All this talk of “being,” “ultimate concern,” “self-alienation.” But for me, then completely fed up with conventional religious language, this was enlightenment. It was like I had been given back my faith.

Reading the system was an overwhelming experience. It was as though Tillich put into words every vague notion I had ever had. Suddenly everything made sense. The genius of Tillich’s method is that it creates meaning. Everything becomes relevant. The system is based on experience. It is not the product of cool reflection; it is about getting involved in the world and in the revelation.

I think this was what made me “fall in love” with Tillich: he completely rejected the notion that being Christian meant existing on some higher plane than the rest of the world. He showed that culture and religions are two sides of the same coin: only a false religion separates them.

Tillich’s reinterpretation of the Christina doctrine enabled me to see that theology is a way of life, not a body of information. There are no limits whatsoever to what theology can be or what can be theology.