Today, religion is no guarantee for the safety of human culture; it is a place where civilization and its partner, barbarism, are highly visible and fundamentally questionable. In the West such religiosity is dead.
With religion unhappiness, unrest, become mighty in the world. The cross of Constantine was a sign of conquest (in hoc signo vinces). Religion in its Western form is something we can do without and is a relic of the past. The syncretistic religiosity of the Mediterranean world baptized the pagan, thus creating its own religiosity. The religious monstrosity it conceived, threw a protective and political covering around the Gospel. It permitted a Church, which was no longer a communion of faith, hope, and discipline, but a political commonwealth in which the Gospel merely had a place beside other things. The church gradually took the shape of a well-organized, identifiable entity. The patronizing, feudalistic character of Christian institutions and creeds had transformed the freeing majesty of the powerless servanthood of Christ into power structures of sterilizing dependencies.
But the Bible is full of the testimony of the awkwardness and foolishness of God‘s revelation. The faith which sees God coming most closely to man where a man hanging on the cross dies in despair with the loud cry: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This is the real world of biblical faith, which sees God’s work not on the top, but in the depth of mankind. And because faith sees God in Christ, it sees God, the same God of Christ, in man’s own life, in man’s own sin, weakness and death as judgment and as grace.
This is more than religion. This is truth appearing in time and space. Bonhoeffer understood the word Christianity not as a religion but as the negation of all religions. In virtue of its universality, Christianity is able to embrace them all. We have to explore Christianity’s religionless roots. In the process of maturation, nothing will be as difficult as overcoming the monarchical and patriarchal power structures, for coming of age has an element about it that is alarmingly unreassuring.
The God of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with what God, as we imagine Him, could do and ought to do. If we are to learn what God promises, and what He fulfils, we must persevere in quiet meditation on the life, sayings, deeds, sufferings, and death of Jesus. But the truth is that if this earth was good enough for the man Jesus Christ, if such a man as Jesus lived, then, and only then, has life a meaning for us.
In the place of religion there now stands the Church that is in itself biblical, prophetic and mystic, but the world is in some degree made to depend on itself and left to its own devices. God is not to be understood as an abstract God up there. Jesus is the paradigm of religionlessness in that He calls His followers away from a religious relationship to the highest, most powerful, and best Being imaginable that is not authentic transcendence. Our relation to God is a new life in existence for others, through the participation in the being of Jesus. The requirement for participation is simply being there for others. Jesus is there only for others. This experience is transcendence. That is participation in the being of Jesus, in his incarnation, cross and resurrection. The Samaritan tries to be more completely present for another person. He doesn’t stare at Jesus as if he were a mighty superstar who will put everything right. Even less does he look towards God Almighty. But he is going to act like this Jesus. In this sense he is a Christian.
The Samaritans are living and struggling and overcoming their difficulties without any empirically identifiable divine intervention. There is no deus ex machina, which was religion. The world that comes after Christ assumes responsibility. The process of secularization has generally been treated as a calamity, or a serious deviation that ought to be arrested. But the present period of our history without God should be blessed rather than condemned for we are called to fulfil the call of God. Christianity is the only faith system whose open-endedness makes allowance for its theologians to examine the eventually non-religious character of its own religious texts and thereby being fully responsible to God, but by praying to be free from God.