Christianity After-Christendom

Light of Truth

“I seemed to believe… I didn’t know why. Something in me seemed to believe… my consciousness, as you may say; but my reason didn’t,” wrote Mark Twain. In every believer there is an element of belief and also an element of questioning. Man must learn from failures, which are missed insights. The believer must adopt a liberation theology. Failure speaks in its own way … failure remains as provisional as it is serious. One can learn this from Paul: And what “reveals” itself “as folly.” Christian faith lived in catacombs in the nights of the Sun’s rule of light. They were torched in festival of the Caesars. Slowly but surely, the underdogs gained the upper hand holding the right to be present in the light. But that Enlightenment proved to be Christendom. And yet, Constantine’s patronage of Christianity certainly was helpful. If it did, it saved Christianity at a great cost. The life and teaching of Jesus were subsumed in creeds that scarcely mention him. The equality Christ preached was lost in a hierarchy of sometimes dictatorial religious leadership. His simplicity yielded to elaborate vestments and rituals. The attitude of peace Jesus promoted has been lost in wars and hatred supported by imperial “Christians.” It is especially ironic that a movement that started off as a radical challenge to the Pax Romana succeeded in becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. The West remained basically a Christendom, which is basically a worship of the Sun God called Christ. The great irony and tragedy was this: The one who rebelled in every way against a Roman-backed commercial kingdom in Galilee, Jesus the Jewish prophet, was now Christ the Imperial King.

The Christianity of the New Testament simply does not exist. Here there is nothing to reform; what has to be done is to throw light upon a criminal offense against Christianity, prolonged through centuries, perpetrated by millions more or less guiltily, whereby they have cunningly, under the guise of perfecting Christianity, sought little by little to cheat God out of Christianity, and have succeeded in making Christianity exactly the opposite of what it is in the New Testament,” wrote the Danish Christian existentialist Kierkegaard. “An honest rebellion against Christianity can only be made when one honestly admits what Christianity is and how one is related to it.” In December 1854 he spoke against a bishop: “So I cannot keep silent longer, the protest must come, all the more serious for its tardiness, the protest against representing from the pulpit, that is, before God, Bishop Mynster as a witness to the truth; for that is false, and proclaimed in this way it is a falsehood which cries to heaven.” Jan Patočka, the thinker of Prague Spring, claims that “man appears to be most human… where the seemingly fixed form of life is scattered and where everything problematic, unsteady and extreme, which is hidden under the surface of normal living, is recovered”… “Christianity informs about this originally human vocation—the call to being—because Christianity rested its cause on the maturity of the human being.”

The meaning of the ‘after’ of Christianity is in relation to the concept of Post-Europe. The core of Patočka’s Christianity is a unique, unsurpassed contribution to the spiritual movement of humankind. At the same time, this contribution has as yet to be thought through to its end. It is an invitation to study beyond in many ways his reflections on the Christian spiritual heritage. The aim is to develop further an after-thought to his project of rethinking Christianity—a daring after-thought from a philosophical-theological perspective—which leads to the proposal of a Christianity after Christendom. This explains the paradigm shift or the transgression of the fundamental principles of caring for one’s being. The essence of the European spirit has changed, and this paradigm shift has consequences. In this historical upswing mankind was nearly completely absorbed by providing for sustenance. History up to the present day comprises, according to Patočka, of two major periods. The dividing line is the birth of Christianity. Each of the two great periods is defined by an epoch-making upheaval, or “conversion,” a change in humans’ understanding of themselves and the world. To rescue us from today’s nihilistic decline, Patočka suggests nothing less than a new “gigantic conversion” … “an unheard of metanoein.” God is with the people. He is with us in a fundamentally problematic world. God is in history, is the living hope for world reversal.

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