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.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.
Systematic Theology 1, 49.
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.