Monday 17 May 2010

Why is our Christianity so Immature?

I’ve just sneaked back home under a volcanic ash cloud. The Munich Passport Contoller who said the flight was cancelled was wrong.

I’ve said various things about Kirchentag, but it is remarkable how the Germans do serious theology on a mass scale.

Equally remarkable was the age breakdown of 167,000 people a day doing this:
. 7,68% Unter 12 Jahren
. 13,74% 12 bis 17 Jahre
. 16,45% 18 bis 29 Jahre
. 7,77% 30 bis 39 Jahre
. 19,07% 40 bis 49 Jahre
. 18,12% 50 bis 59 Jahre
. 7,34% 60 bis 65 Jahre
. 9,83% über 65 Jahre

Think about it.
Incidentally, where were the 30-39’s?

Thoughts such as these, Nick Baines’ reaction to the Hans Küng / Jurgen Moltmann evening, struck me again and again —

This evening was remarkable. Thousands arrived early to ensure a place in the auditorium – I got there for 6.30pm thinking it began at 7pm only to find it was scheduled to start at 7.30pm and didn’t in fact get going until 8pm. More people were locked out than could get in. The excluded crowds chanted ‘Wir wollen rein’ (‘We want to come in’) to listen to these two elderly men talk together about church.

Can you imagine that ever happening in Britain? Most of the excluded were young people eager to garner the wisdom of these two theologians. Why? Because their theology is neither dry nor ‘merely academic’, but engages with the real world of economics, politics and culture. They bring to their subject the intellectual rigour that is associated with German philosophical thinking. Yet, they speak with simplicity, clarity and passion – eschewing theological cleverness in order to communicate accessibly with all-comers: they are remarkable men who show no sign of being ego-driven.

This brings to mind a disturbing question posed by Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and spirituality wonk, about why the way we do Christianity in the West is so childish and discombobulated by rushes to judgment:

All spiritual teachers tell us “DO NOT JUDGE.” For those of us raised in a religious setting, this is very difficult. In a strange way, religion gave us all a Ph.D. in judgmentalism. It trained us very early in life to categorize, label, and critique. It told us all about worthiness and unworthiness. This judgmental mind told us what is right and wrong, who is gay or straight, and who is good or bad. This sort of mind never creates great people, because everybody has to fit into our way of thinking. At an early age our grid was complete. We had decided who fit in and who did not fit in. We fashioned our own little world.

Christianity that divides the world in this manner and eliminates all troublesome people and all ideas different from our way of thinking cannot be mature religion. It cannot see the multiple gifts of each moment, nor the dark side that coexists with it. This mind does not lead us to awareness, and above all, this mind will find it impossible to contemplate. To practice awareness means you live in a spirit of communion; your world becomes alive and very spacious, and not divided by mere mental labels.


Lesley said...

That sounds amazing. Wish we were allowed to debate more here in this country. I also can't understand why Spong and Holloway seem to get such heat and Moltmann and Tillich avoid it.. or is that a misconception on my part? I think the church would be a healthier place if we didn't get shot off at the kneecaps every time we questioned anything.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Lesley, for the question. Perhaps we think we can create community or faith out of dogma, where the reality is that dogma is just the deposit of a community of faith, part of the strand that makes its tradition transmittable.

So — take ideas less seriously, and people more seriously?

And, as Jesus said, judge not that ye be not judged.

Rosalind said...

Have you tried Greenbelt? Numbers may not be quite those of the Kirchentage but the age range and spread is similar - as are the queues to hear serious theologians engaging with real questions.
Highly recommended - and there's humour too!

Erika Baker said...

May I suggest one possible contributing factor? To become a priest in Germany you have to have a theology degree (5 years at uni), and you have to be fairly fluent in Latin and Greek. During your studies you also learn Hebrew.
And as a lot of contemporary theology and biblical studies has been written by Germans or influenced by them, it is possibly more accessible to German people who do not have the language barriers British people have.

It means that, on the whole, priests have a good grasp of the various denominations and the different traditions within their own domination, as well as the history of theological thought. The resulting more relaxed and less ideological way of understanding faith is then passed on to the congregations.

ROBERTA said...

and having spent too many years in religious "grid-lock" i know only too well that it can take a very long time to unloose the cords of judgmental thinking as mentioned in Rohr's comment, "at an early age our grid was complete"...but i'm called to continue the dismantling -on a daily basis - with God's help.

brilliant post by the way:)

Adrian said...

Just to second Rosalind's suggestion about trying Greenbelt. GB has some tremendous discussions. The Islamic academic (and R4 Thought for the Day frequenter) Mona Siddiqui spoke a couple of years ago, had not been before, asked a friend what GB was like and was greatly re-assured to be told 'Greenbelt is like Radio 4 with tents'. I'd only add that camping is just one of the options! Indeed it is not as big as what has been happening in Germany but I recommend going along to Cheltenham through August bank holiday weekend and be challenged, stimulated, refreshed, and consoled by the fact that real conversation does happen at least in some places!

June Butler said...

It trained us very early in life to categorize, label, and critique. It told us all about worthiness and unworthiness. This judgmental mind told us what is right and wrong, who is gay or straight, and who is good or bad.

Quite true. I thought I knew it all and had my thinking straight about everyone and all matters of faith in my 20s. However, I'm living testimony that recovery is possible. Thanks be to God!

I can't imagine people breaking down the door to get into a theology lecture here in the US, no matter that our church-going numbers are considerably higher than European numbers.

Revd. Neal Terry said...

I have thought much the same about our national politics lately and its adversarial nature, the cynicism and general unwillingness to let this new arrangement have a go...perhaps this is the same thing.
Hope you have enjoyed Kirchentag. I have been unable to go for a few years now and miss it terribly.

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