Godrelation Andor Human Work

In recalling the process of secularization worldwide we face another problem which we have to deal with. Where religion is an object of research of sciences which is unrelated to the concrete act of faith, the question of the very founder of religion in general and of the single religion is of little interest. That is to say: The question whether or not God stands behind the different founders of a particular religion or with whose authority a religion comes about, is finally an open question. For quite a while it seemed that in this context the question of God is no longer posed. Today this cannot be simply affirmed.

Posthumously a book of the German sociologist Niclas Luhmann (1927-1998) was published: Die Religion der Gesellschaft (= The Religion of Society).10 Here religion has the function to develop something like confidence in meaning ("Sinnvertrauen"). In every system we come to face the problem that we can observe things and act inside the own system, but that there remains the difference between what can be observed and what not. The observer cannot observe his own act of observing. The eye cannot see its act of seeing. For the system "religion" Luhmann solves the problem by making God the "observer God," that is to say: the one who suspends the difference between observing and being observed, so that he is beyond all distinctions or the transcendence of the tension of difference and unity. We leave aside the task of the theologians who then are confronted with the impossible task to "observe" and to legitimize the observing role of God. It suffices to recognize that making religion a function leads to the point that the question of God, too, is reduced to a function in a system of thought. According to Luhmann God is "securing our orientation in a way that cannot be replaced otherwise"; without him "orientation" becomes a problem.

In one point Luhmann is right. If beyond the inner worldly points of reference to the problem of origin God and his position in religions become a question, God easily turns out to become an object of research. Theologians have to deal with this problem. However, what is to be done if God withdraws himself from a science which wants to objectify him, because the all comprising instance withstands any attempt of objectification?

A secular view of religions admits several responses to the question of origin. Starting from man as subject and creator of culture and all cultural segments, religion is either human work or creation of a higher being which is distinct from human beings. Where the world is considered as creation of God, religio, the "rebinding" to God, is to be counted among the creatures of God. If, however, religion is seen in the world of unbelief and atheism and therefore part of a secularized world, it turns to be a purely human work, as even God becomes a human creature. It suffices to recall the names of thinkers like Ludwig

10 Suhrkamp: Frankfurt 2000; see pp. 147-184; quote: p. 184.

Feuerbach, Karl Marx or Sigmund Freud.11 For all of them God was a human fiction and projection, so that the sentence of Gen 1:26 that God created man in his image and after his likeness had to be reversed into the sentence that man created God to his image and according to his likeness. God becomes a human projection, an ideal image of man, the "super-man" (F. Nietzsche). Accordingly religion becomes a superstructure of society and the social circumstances, and acts, anyway, as a function of the societal reality.

However, whenever the cry of Friedrich Nietzsche "God is dead!" resounds in the marketplaces of the world, man falls back upon himself. In fact, what is a religion without God? Where the Holy of the Holy is empty, there remains place only for new idols. And in our days we begin to talk about those idols: money, youth, consumption, health and others. But even today there exist people who - in the words of Martin Luther who calls a sinner "homo incurvatus in seipsum" (WA 56, p. 356) - are not willing to curve themselves into themselves, like a serpent does - people who instead reach out for what is above and beyond all limits and limitations.

If we do not restrict ourselves to the teaching about the Jewish-Christian God, we have to permit also people who are not Christian to say how they overcome their limitations. Overcoming one's limits means also becoming free - liberation, redemption. Where life is experienced as injury, we use to say being healed - healing and salvation. Where there is hostility, quarrel and war, we look for reconciliation and agreement - peace and harmony. Whatever people in situations like these have in mind, they pursue in their earthly life, and often they also succeed in finding traces of fulfillment. However, the threshold of death does not permit humans to realize their ideals on earth completely.

In view of all final limits humans remain helpless. Here it is important how humans react. They can heroically acquiesce in it. They can try to work out new free space and to dislodge the limits. They also can ask for help from beyond all borderlines in the hope that there exists some infinite "beyond" all finitude. They can be convinced that a word of promise was given from beyond. This "beyond" might be concealed

11 See in more detail H. Waldenfels, Kontextuelle Fundamentaltheologie. Schöningh: Paderborn 4th ed, 2005, pp.48-56. 132-143

behind a veil. Behind the veil we can imagine an infinite openness and emptiness as well. Both could be imagined.12

Nobody can deny that words of promise, the announcement of immortal life - in Christian terms: of resurrection, in Buddhist terms: of deathlessness - also the vision of an abiding community beyond death and a "new city" exist in history. We might judge that these kinds of projections of the future are not realistic, but it is a matter of fact and therefore real that these kinds of projections do exist in human history. When, on the one hand, people are convinced that these projections will become true and, on the other hand, others maintain that they have to be rejected, this has nothing to do with the fact that the words of promise really exist in history; it has only to do with the human reactions to these words.

Hildegard of Bingen, a German Benedictine nun, has painted her many visions in the way of mandalas in different colors and shapes. A copy of her best known mandala is hanging over the main altar of the church where the saint is buried, in Eibingen, not far from her abbey. This mandala, too, is dominated by colored circles but they do not exhaust themselves in emptiness, they give room for a figure which comes from the back to the front: it is the figure of a man, evidently the person of Christ. We can compare the picture with presentations of radical emptiness in Zen Buddhism, e.g. with the eighth station of the famous oxen path: an empty circle, not more, and yet, beaming like the sun.13

12 J. Sobrino, Christ the Liberator. Orbis: Maryknoll, N.Y. 2001, pp.71ff, speaks explicitly about unveiling experiences, experiences in which "reality, so to speak, takes the initiative and unveils itself," and "some dimension of finality is unveiled." "This unveiling of reality is accepted with a triple gratitude. First, because what is unveiled sets us in the truth of the situation, the true principle and basis for building up what is human. Second, because much of what is unveiled is good and positive... Third, because the fact of reality being unveiled is perceived as a gift." (p. 71). According to Sobrino, in the final analysis, experiences such as these "directly reveal their anthropological dimension, but it is not difficult to describe them from their transcendental correlative, their theological dimension" (p. 72).

13 We shall deal in Chapter 5 with the 10th of the famous oxen path which serves as a description of the various stations leading to enlightenment. Although enlightenment is attained in the 8th station, there follow two more

Mandala hanging over the tomb of St. Hildegard of Bingen in the parish church of Eibingen, Germany

(From Hildegard von Bingen, Wisse die Wege — Scivias. O. Muller: Salzburg 1954)

A more intensive study of the present religions would prove that practicing believers escape the purely human projections and dreams by sharpening their senses, especially eyes and ears, so that beyond their outer perceptions in the world they reach to inner perceptions, and they understand that these perceptions are given to them as a gift; in biblical and theological terms we have to speak about grace.

Here something else should be added. Though humans receive something only by grace, they can express it afterwards only in hu-

Mandala hanging over the tomb of St. Hildegard of Bingen in the parish church of Eibingen, Germany

(From Hildegard von Bingen, Wisse die Wege — Scivias. O. Muller: Salzburg 1954)

A more intensive study of the present religions would prove that practicing believers escape the purely human projections and dreams by sharpening their senses, especially eyes and ears, so that beyond their outer perceptions in the world they reach to inner perceptions, and they understand that these perceptions are given to them as a gift; in biblical and theological terms we have to speak about grace.

Here something else should be added. Though humans receive something only by grace, they can express it afterwards only in hu-

stations which describe the new relationship to nature and to other people. See there note 5.

man speech and gestures. Speech and gestures are instruments which generally are not adequate to express the true reality fully. In some way also what we perceive as religious is human work, at least expressed in human way. However, we are not to understand that religion exhausts itself in finite human ways. It is part of the discoveries we make in these days, not only in Christianity, but also in other religions, that we meet with traces of the infinite reality which communicates itself to human persons. Therefore we talk about "re-velation," the removal of the veil, about God's self-revelation and self-communication which creates its own language and expression.

Vatican II explicitly maintains that the Catholic Church "rejects nothing of what is true and holy in the religions," because "they often reflect a ray of that truth, which enlightens all men." Therefore, Christians should "acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture" (Nostra aetate nr. 2).

If this is the case, it is one of the highest tasks of the Church in our days to seek the rays of truth and the spiritual and moral goods and values in other religions. It cannot be the first duty to search for real or alleged deficiencies and errors, and to do this mainly from one's own perspective. Just as Christians wish that justice be done to them, even though often enough human failures have been committed in Christian history, so we have to do justice to everybody else. With this attitude in mind we ask again, first, how Christians understand themselves, then, how we see the others, finally, what the consequences are as soon as we acknowledge the traces of truth and holy in other religions.

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