Is Christianity still relevant today?
Author: Tilmann Haberer
Issue No: 93
The author is an evangelical pastor and provides with his contribution the urgently needed update for Christianity. Abuse cases and pre-rational beliefs make Christianity a discontinued model. But there is another understanding: integral Christianity and the Cosmic Christ. With this we can revive our ancestral European tradition and bring it in line with the insights of postmodernity.
Christianity, with its grand narratives, has a hard time in contemporary culture and in the spiritual scene of the present. With good reason. The churches themselves are to a considerable extent to blame for their bad reputation. They appear backward, ossified and partly reactionary. For some years now, unheard-of stories of abuse have been coming to light, and those responsible, including a former pope, have been unable to admit their own guilt and failures and to ask publicly for forgiveness – and this in an institution that supposedly lives from the message of forgiveness. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Patriarch of Moscow, supports Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine, and not only the supposedly God-given greatness of the Russian nation must be used as a justification. The prince of the church also claims that this Russian nation must defend itself against “Western values,” by which is meant, for example, feminism or the recognition of queer lifestyles. And on both American continents, evangelical Christians are among the most loyal supporters of autocratic populists Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro.
Christianity also does not fare well in the area of spirituality.
Anyone looking for spiritual experience in Western Europe will almost certainly not knock on the door of the guardians of the Christian tradition, the churches.
Remote from the world, alienated from life, the Christian institutions appear to the vast majority of the population. The few exceptions, such as David Steindl-Rast, Willigis Jäger, Cynthia Bourgeault or Richard Rohr, seem to confirm this rule even more. And the Christian teachings, from the creation story to the miracle stories of the Bible to the message of life after death, hardly lure anyone out from behind the stove anymore. Every child today knows that the world was not created in seven days, but developed through the big bang and evolution. And hardly anyone today believes in life after death – and if they do, then in the form of reincarnation and the doctrine of karma.
One could therefore come to the conclusion that Christianity has had its day and belongs on the garbage heap of history, and that there is no shame in it. The churches have taken on too much guilt (we haven’t even mentioned the Crusades, the blessing of weapons, and the burning of witches), and the contents of their beliefs and doctrinal statements seem too unhelpful and untrustworthy.
There’s nothing to be said about that. And yet this is not the whole picture. What is missing from this picture is the possibility that the beliefs and basic statements of the Christian tradition can also be interpreted differently. Just as natural science and medicine are no longer practiced today at the level of medieval alchemy, the statements of the Christian tradition can also be understood in modern, postmodern, or metamodern ways – with possibly surprising results. So let’s leave the deconstruction at this point (although there would be a lot to deconstruct) and try a reconstruction.
Mind you, my point in this article is not to defend the church, nor do I want to bash it any further.
I am concerned with the question of what spiritual and also practical life force the Christian tradition can unfold if it is freed from the traditional, pre-modern corset,
in which, according to the experience of many contemporaries, it is stuck.
But who should undertake such an update of the tradition if not the church – or church people – themselves? The American philosopher Ken Wilber, sometimes called the “Einstein of consciousness research,” is of the opinion that the traditional religions have exactly this task: They themselves must transfer their traditions into postmodern or integral concepts and thought structures, instead of entrenching themselves in a wagon fortress of traditional beliefs in the face of the contemporary world view. Who, if not they, would have the interpretive sovereignty over the respective tradition? Who, if not the church, could bring statements of the Bible into the present, so that they, freed from the dross of ancient and medieval thought and feeling, would have something substantial to say to the present? Thus, I would like to make an attempt here to formulate some of the basic ideas of the Christian faith in 21st century language and thought structures.
About the author: Tilmann Haberer
Tilmann Haberer is an emeritus Protestant pastor, Gestalt counselor and systemic consultant and was most recently active in the ecumenical crisis and life counseling center “Münchner Insel”. He has been working with integral theory for more than 15 years. With Marion and Tiki Küstenmacher he published the book “God 9.0. Where our society will grow spiritually” in 2010. His new book “Von der Anmut der Welt” formulates Christian theology within the framework of the integral worldview.
This article has also been published on the German Website: Von Gott und der Welt