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Hans Kessler

God - Why We do (not) Need Him

 

From: Stimmen der Zeit, 3/2009, P. 173-187
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

    HANS KESSLER, professor of systematic theology at the University of Frankfurt inquires about the reasons leading to the conviction of God's existence. In addition to argumentative reasons he also emphasizes the dimension of religious experience.

 

When theologians, asked about the subject of their study or about their profession, reveal themselves to be theologians they often meet with irritated silence or the remark, "Do you really still believe in God?" Not believing in God has become a matter of course. The masses have taken leave of God, or more precisely, of the images of God communicated to them on the level of a bad catechism. Where the social and family environment is no longer tuned in to transcendence, pure immanence is the only horizon of life and death of human beings within which they find their way, and are to be content with the small everyday sense and nonsense.

It was not the Kantian refutation of the proofs of the existence of God that led to this godless situation [getting rid of God]; it was the loss of the religious experience of God's presence. Nietzsche's phrase "God is dead" marks the end of a development, and its beginning is the loss of the experience of God. Also the reference to Revelation does not alter that fact; it cannot be a substitute for experience. A revelation the content of which is not personally accessible to people is ultimately only a report. Then the knowledge of God's presence is only borrowed from tradition and doctrine but no longer based on one's own experience. That is the meaning of the famous phrase of Karl Rahner SJ, "The pious of the future will be a 'mystic', i.e. one who has 'experienced' something, or he will no longer be." {1}

How is it that man gets the conviction of the existence of God? Not by evidence or reasoning chains without experience. Argumentative reasons were never sufficient for establishing a deep conviction of God's presence and a confidence in him. This requires also a foundation that is based on meditation and experience of life. There are not only sensory-objective and non-objective experiences (such as imagination, self-awareness, speculative experience). There are also experiences of transcendency. Ludwig Wittgenstein mentions: amazement at the existence of the world, "the experience of feeling absolutely safe", the experience of an absolute moral imperative and of guilt {2} -, and there is also the religious experience of the presence of the Divine {3}, his beckoning (numen), his call, his trace (in our own life, in the face of others).

But arguments can make us "sit up und take notice" of other people's testimonies of such experiences. They can become the cause for following one's own experience or also for clearing one's consciousness by taking stock of oneself and one's attitudes, by looking for stillness and contemplation,

 


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so that it in its depth can become receptive to the presence of someone else. Both are therefore important: argument and experience.

 

God - a Mere Product of Religious Needs or Their Reason?

Many critics of religion start from the assumption that the belief in God "comes from a need": People "believed in God because with this faith is connected the expectation that a certain wish will be granted them, a particular problem will be solved for them" {4}. On the one hand we have vital natural needs (such as breathing, food, protection) and specific human needs (such as being able to work, enjoying work), needs that must be satisfied; and for that, so the naturalist can say, we do not need God but the gifts of nature and each other. On the other hand we have metaphysical-existential needs (for learning the reasons for the origin of the world, the Good, the meaning of life) and a corresponding desire for the one who transcends everything (Charles S. Peirce: instinct for God, Thomas Aquinas: "desiderium naturale Infiniti"), which can be satisfied by nothing in the world.

Those who, like Richard Dawkins {5} explain religion from infantile needs (for the strong father, for the God who is useful for me and "is to my profit") are making it too easy for themselves. For it is an authentic religious view that you will just miss God if you use him for such needs. Meister Eckhart said for instance, "Some people want to love God ... in the same way as they love a cow", because of the milk, etc.; "those people do not properly love God but they love their self-interest" {6}. Or Huub Oosterhuis writes in our days:

"To have God. To need him for now and later, to have him in reserve ... - that is human. ... To greet him without ulterior motive, ... to require nothing of him, no insight, no feeling, no 'I'... - that is prayer. That's what friendship does." {7}

The God-Seekers of the religions show that God is different from our desired ideals of him. He is not the reflection of our egoistic wishes. The encounter with God is irritating in a double sense: fascinating and deeply distressing.

Unlike Dawkins Burkhard Müller and - more rationalistically - Norbert Hörster {8} take as starting-point the metaphysical needs: for an explanation of the existence of the world, for a guarantor of goodness, and for meaning and salvation in view of transience. They want to show that the assumption "God" as an answer was superfluous or untenable. Now such metaphysical needs are no coincidence. The question is: Why are human beings at all structured in such a way? Why are they not satisfied with the existing world? Why are they - in an (at least in principle) infinite dissatisfaction - wondering, yearning, transcending, projecting beyond everything? Why are they at least able to do this? Man is an amazing being. For he is, despite his finiteness, inspired by an insatiable yearning. He is oriented towards a major and better entity.

 


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As brain research shows he is, because of the highly complex nature of his brain, even able to orient towards a transcendent dimension. Our brain has this ability to ask about a different dimension; sometimes it even has a premonition of it, becomes aware of it. Why is this so?

Are we only misled there by our (brain-) constitution? Is this only our construct? Or has, in the course of evolution, our constitution developed in this way, because it is approaching a deeper dimension of reality? Why does evolution produce such a complex brain that is not only able to perceive through the senses and to think rationally-conceptually but that, what is more, is able by virtue of a trans- (not sub-) rational, meditating, listening reason to open up, like a presentiment, "a third order of reality" (Arthur Koestler) and that gets up to the idea "God"?

Are we perhaps built in such a way, so full of thirst for justice, for a lasting, meaningful life, because there is - at the bottom of everything - a different reality, which has caused us to be oriented towards it (as our true fulfilment), and are we perhaps for that reason constantly searching? Is it perhaps true what Augustine said at the beginning of his "Confessions": "You (God) has created us and oriented us towards you, and our heart is restless until it finds its security in you" (already now, not only in death)? Is it true what Sören Kierkegaard said: "To be in need of God is man's highest perfection"?

I spoke of the ability (which is given by the structure of our brain) to orient beyond oneself and everything towards a transcendent dimension and to be receptive for it. I leave open whether every human being has the latent ability for it, which may be buried by the fact that he - through the loss of certain behaviours - from an early age has never established the respective neuron cords, whereas he constantly strengthened all sorts of other ones; that's why he is ingrained in these others and is always reacting in accordance with them, unless a deep shock throws him of this path. I leave this open. In any case, when the anthropological possibility aforementioned is stimulated the Absolute becomes the deepest goal of man's searching.

Of course, we are not only different because of practised behaviours. We have also different talents. Not everyone has a gift for creating a computer programme or for comforting others, or - for receiving signals of transcendence (Revelation). There we are dependent on others. And it is necessary to distinguish the spirits. This too is a reason why I am to tell what the term 'God' means here.

It is not the God of a decadent scholasticism which (in the way of dualism) makes God an otherworldly object and thus understands him as a limited person and as the world's external cause that does not exist within the world. By the term 'God' the great Christian tradition does not mean a being that is separated from the world and is just sitting in the Beyond. It means the absolute source of being in which everything has its origin and which is co-present to everything, i.e. a totally different dimension that does not only begin where the (four or eleven) dimensions known to us end but which pervades them and everything and is the foundation of everything.

 


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A transverse dimension, so to speak. The words heaven (not sky), eternity, God refer to this all-present dimension and reality that cannot be grasped by us.

Provided you want to take this seriously, you are not allowed simply to say nothing about God (how would you then still know that you are silent on God?). Quite irrespective of whether you are able to tell something else about him, you are rather to point to complementary aspects: God is even greater than the vast cosmos and transcends everything (includes everything); he is 'deeper' within us than the heart of our hearts, and he is immanent in everything (very deeply hidden in everything as the being that gives existence to everything). And if you really want to take seriously that God is the source of the world, i.e. the source of us personal human beings too, then you are at the same time to record the fact that he has in himself also the quality of the persona, of relationship. That's why we are not at all to imagine him as a sub-personal (as a mere force) but rather as super-personal being that is turned intrinsically-dialogically (not dualistically-objectively!) to everything - and wants to live within us human beings.

 

Do we Need God to Explain the Existence of the World and of Mankind?

The sciences explain a finite fact by another one and this again by another one {9}. Critics of religion say that religion introduced God in order to avoid asking endlessly; and this was an arbitrary breaking-off the procedure of giving reasons {10}. Dawkins argues that "religiosity undermines the intellect, the search for truth; one is satisfied with something that explains nothing - although we have explanations!" And Pascal Boyer, anthropologist in the field of religion says, "What is still left when everything is explained? What need is there yet for a concept like 'God'?" {11} Here one confuses without exception two levels that are to be distinguished.

On one hand, the level of sciences: They explain one fact by another one and remain here within the world. This also applies to the theory of Big Bang, because also a big bang presupposes something that was able to explode. All scientific explanations describe the regular functional links between finite causes within the world, and for it they do not need God as Creator.

On the other hand, the (meta-scientific) level of religion and of interpreting the world: The assumption of a God as source of the world does not want to end the scientific questions about causal relations within the world; this can go on unhindered. Those who ask about God do - understood rightly - not ask backwards about the first link in a causal chain but asks about the source or ground of the whole chain, that is, about what is causing and carrying the chain as a whole - to be precise, in each of its states (whether before or after the Big Bang).

 


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Theology clearly differentiates "creatio" and "mutatio". The one who says 'God' does not want to explain changes within the world but wants to refer to the source of the whole; he wants to make understandable 'being' (the leap from nothing to being), the fact of the world itself and its meaning. "It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists," it says in Wittgenstein's Tractatus. Elsewhere he can (with Leibniz, Schelling, Heidegger) formulate the same experience as follows, "'How odd that anything exists at all' or 'How strange that the world exists." And he can conclude, "To believe in a God means that it is not done yet with the facts of the world." And: "We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched." {12} But those who, in the pathos of scientifically explaining everything, dismiss such (scientifically unanswerable) ultimate vital questions as meaningless look through a tunnel at reality.

The belief in God assumes a reality that is distinct (not separated) from the world and that establishes it in its being. This assumption is rooted in the experience of contingency (of not-necessarily-existing), which we realize in the radical facticity of our human life. When we, for instance become surprised aware of the fact that we exist, although there is also the possibility that we might not exist. We experience ourselves as a fact, limited by birth and death, having not the command of beginning and end. This experience can grow into the discovery of the contingency of all things, and finally of the contingency of the whole world. It is this basic experience which in the history of mankind leads with more or less clarity to the intuition of a reality that establishes the world in its existence: be it now (as a still questionable idea) the "highest being", or (in the Rigveda) the "One" that is breathing without breathing", or (in the Bible) the Creator who enables beings to be creative.

When using the term "Creator" the Bible of course induces us to be very careful. It can admittedly transfer words for human creativity ( "make", "shape") to God. But where it speaks very carefully and in a reflective manner, it introduces a new word that nowhere else occurs: "bará" (Gen 1, 1 and following). This fact is hardly ever considered in its entire depth. We can use the words "create, creator, creative" for all sorts of things, whereas the biblical "bará" (which we mostly translate "he created") and the corresponding noun "boré" are only used for God's working. When a Jew says "the Boré", he refers to some elemental, absolutely singular being. That's why bará and boré are actually untranslatable, because there is nothing comparable in the world for them.

Our translations "create, creator" are pretending there was some comparable thing; that means they do no justice to the absolutely fundamental being when we reach the borderline to the Indescribable. Sure, we will continue to translate the actually untranslatable words bará and boré, but on that occasion we should at least stumble or stop short.

 


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The paradoxical expression "creatio ex nihilo" wants to cause this stopping short. The rightly understood notion of Creation means the relation to a source, a relation that is without analogy. It is about an "absolute condition that is not conditional upon something". In this sense one can prove that the "concept of reason in general" and thus the concept of creation is philosophically meaningful and even necessary {13}.

Provided that human reason is radically asking, it is able to reach the border-idea of a last, absolute being, of a being for which it is simply impossible not to exist, of an absolute source that does not need any other source. But mere reason is no longer able clearly to identify this ultimate being. According to Kant it must even leave "open" whether the simply necessary being was "the world or some different thing" {14}. The decision on the question whether the universe has its cause in itself and just "simply exists", as Stephen Hawking once said {15}, or whether the world has a cause that is different from it, i.e. the decision on the question where one locates the "having-the-cause-in-itself" seems therefore to become the matter of an ideological option and of a preliminary decision. Our knowledge does neither compel us to opt for the faith in God nor to opt for atheism.

There are of course arguments speaking for the fact that the world has a source which is different from it. Let me mention just three:

1. Among cosmologists it is controversial and probably never to be settled whether the world or something similar to the world has a beginning before the Big Bang or has been existing "forever". Atheists like assuming the latter because in this way they get rid of the problem of the beginning and the possibility to explain it by means of a Creator. But the idea of a world without beginning does not achieve what it pretends to achieve. Because a world without a time beginning would be infinite only with regard to time but otherwise always imperfect, finite-conditioned, and in need of an unconditioned source.

2. In human beings a part of nature develops to self-reflective self-awareness and responsiveness to the world. Human beings are able inquiringly to face the whole and are also able to ask about its reason. But how is this possible? How is it that "nature" produces a creature that is able to ask about it even beyond it (and beyond the whole of the world)? This surplus that reaches beyond nature (and beyond the totality of the world) must after all come from somewhere. How is it that it comes from nature alone (evolution, world), although it reaches beyond nature? Man can then not be the product of the world alone. Isn't this a strong argument for the assumption of a source founding the world, a great Enabler who has in mind a creature as partner?

3. Evolution is from the beginning a tightrope walk full of extreme improbabilities, without which human life would never have become possible: Fine-tuning of natural constants, formation of the substances necessary for life in the interior of stars, sophisticated constellation Sun-Earth-Moon-Jupiter

 


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(the mass of which distracts asteroids from the Earth), daily rotation of the earth (not yearly as with Venus, which unilaterally heats up to 500 ° C), history of the Earth with an ongoing favourable temperature amplitude since billions of years (despite enormous volcanism), etc. - all that are amazing processes in which believers can see an intention and an enabler.

At any rate, the information is unfounded that one needed no God in order to explain the existence of our universe and of man. For atheism has ultimately no explanation for the fact that a world exists at all, and certainly none for a possible beginning of the world. And for the fact that after the Big Bang the natural constants of the universe found their level exactly with those values which made human life possible atheism has either no explanation or only a very speculative one: an infinite number of worlds which can never be proved and among which then our world is supposed to be by chance. By the way, those who believe in God can treat also the idea of many worlds with calmness. Countless universes, including ours, in them many galaxies, including our own, and in it our sun with this blue planet - God's extravagance in our favour would even be more amazing and God infinitely greater.

The faith in God has a good explanation for the existence of the world and also for a beginning of the world. It has also a good explanation for a finely tuned universe in which human life is possible, and for the many other tightrope walks of evolution there. By the way, already Greek Church Fathers were able to think evolutionarily. About 380 Gregory of Nyssa for instance says that God had "not created the individual beings" but had "the development of the universe based on a certain seminal power" from which the individual beings has developed {16}.

 

Do we Need God as a Guarantor of the Good?

Atheists say one needed no God in order to establish ethics and to behave ethically. That is correct and also acknowledged by many of the theologians who represent an autonomous moral. Newer naturalistic ethics can understand man even as a genuinely altruistic being whose needs are changed through the mere presence of another human being. It can thus explain a lot of our actions and intentions.

But there are still problems: It does not take into account the role of anxiety as a frequent motivating force of action. It can neither justify moral action in situations of dilemmas nor explain the origin of moral decisions. And it has trouble with giving objective reasons for the inviolable dignity of disabled people, i.e. to grant every human being fundamental rights which have to be taken into consideration by everyone {17}. Added to it is what for example the naturalist Dieter Birnbacher admits, that the motivational power of naturalistic ethics is too weak to bring about the appropriate action,

 


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in case the action involves renunciation and sacrifices of the person concerned {18} or even a very one-sided giving is required. How is it that some people give without taking, maybe even stand up for other people or other living beings in such a way that they accept on that occasion own damage and heavy losses or even risk their lives, although they are no masochists? Naturalistic explanations fail there.

The deep conviction that I am unconditionally held, wanted and loved by a divine source and that others are just in the same way loved can liberate from inertia, anxious protection of oneself, lack of will to stand up for others. We ourselves cannot give us and nobody else can give us what we need most: To be unconditionally accepted and held. For that we need - God.

This leads to the question of Christian ethics. Atheists like to criticize that it was heteronymous, because it was tied to hope for "reward" and to fear of "punishment" {19}. Admittedly this is found in many religions, in Christianity too. But this is a perverted understanding of Christian ethics, and of Jewish as well (see Ex 20.1 foll. or Lev 25). In the New Testament there are many texts inviting to lead an altruistic life following the example of Jesus. To be precise, firstly, simply because the distressed fellow human being needs it (e.g. the parable of the Good Samaritan or Mt 7, 12), and secondly, because I have previously, without reason, undeservedly received kindness (e.g. Luke 15; Mt 20,1-15; 1 Jn 3 foll.).

This gratuity is the true source of Christian ethics: "Freely you have received, freely give" (Mt 10, 8). The man who knows that he is accepted by God under all circumstances is liberated more to accept himself and others. Those who get involved with the God of Jesus primarily experience a great liberation and secondarily (but inseparable from it) great demands. What is given in advance (grace), the promise of unconditional kindness and acceptance ("I am allowed to") is primary, but not moral ("I am to"). Moral is the consequence or fruit, provided that one does not receive the gift given in advance only for oneself (as the ruthless servant in Mt 18, 23-33) but really accepts it and lets it into one's life as a gift that is directed at everybody.

However, there is often, for example already with Matthew, a questionable shift of Jesus' message to the emphasis on reward and punishment in the Last Judgement. From the perspective of Jesus such a shift can and must be criticized factually. Where Jesus takes up the court motif, it makes the conversion urgent but does by no means motivate it. It is motivated by God's advance, "The kingdom of God (God's kindness) is at hand, (therefore) repent" (Mk 1, 15). "Chäsäd", i.e. loving-kindness is already in many texts of the Old Testament the quintessence of God. Jesus places his hope fully in God's "chäsäd". In practical opposition to injustice he asserts in his parables and exactly by his practice that God is the unconditional loving-kindness to everyone, or as Paul and John then say, he is Agape. This is an assertion tested through practice and marked with 'hope':

 


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God proved to be Agape where people do good, and also in future he will prove to be Agape.

That the source and the primal force of the cosmos is Agape, i.e. an entity that unconditionally says 'yes' to everybody, that does not say 'no' to our being but establishes and promotes it, that therefore is at work in the positive dynamics (in the motive power for doing good) - this is an assumption that cannot be derived from the nature of the world, which is too contradictory and often enough to make you weep; in it the small individual does not count. Christians above all believe in what that Galilean Jesus said: The source is Agape, an Agape that embraces all people. Everyone is precious and called by his/her name. They believe him because he lives it to the last extreme, where he becomes completely transparent for this Agape, which is directed at all people, even at his murderers. Christians believe Jesus because his message resonates within them, it even converges with the primal feeling and deepest longings of mankind, with the peak-experiences and deepest insights of wise men of all cultures.

Christians see God through Jesus, who is for them completely transparent to God and opens them a liberating relationship with God, and thus with themselves, with others, and with everything. Because the God of Jesus makes us experience that unconditional affirmation and appreciation which human beings need in order to be able to say 'yes' to themselves and to others, an affirmation and security that is unconditionally given, that applies under all circumstances (including illness, defeat, lack of confirmation by others, in guilt and death). Christianity means to say 'yes' to oneself and others as to people to whom is said an unconditional 'yes' by God.

Christians are not better than other people. But those who try to orient toward God and Jesus' practice act certainly better than without doing so. Perhaps they will then be infected by an attitude that is not primarily interested in feelings, in usefulness, in increasing one's own self but in justice: that is, in the preferential option for the hungry, ignored, marginalized - a community where nobody is excluded and humiliated. The Christian of the future is a mystic, someone who has experienced something (Rahner said). Yes, (Metz adds), but a mystic whose eyes are wide open, who puts himself in the position of those who suffer, even more, one who is sensitive to what could hurt others, who even finds in the face of others the trace of the One who is totally different.

But if now, as Christianity presupposes, God is the unconditional loving-kindness for all people and if he does not want evil, then a major difficulty arises: Why is there so indescribable much and severe suffering {20}? What is more, the suffering caused by human beings is by no means the most difficult problem. If need be, it can be explained by pointing to the freedom of will. The agonies belonging to nature are more serious. Why are there not only plants and herbivores (after all, the utopian model of Gen 1, 29-31)? But no, one of today's atheist says, the animated world with the food chain of eating and being eaten is "a hellish marvel," and he asks, "Is this God's world?" Shouldn't you, "instead looking for a meaning in it", "simply regard it as nonsense" {21}?

 


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These are serious doubts, which - at the latest since the Book of Job - are also unavoidable for believers and plunge them into deep doubts about God and his creation. They - not the other objections - call the faith in God seriously into question. "Why am I suffering? This is the rock of atheism", Georg Büchner laid down {22}. The enormous suffering in creation seems to be an irreconcilable contradiction to the belief in an omnipotent and good God.

The theoretical theodicy tried to solve this contradiction by means of rational explanations. They remain unreliable, because by harmonizing the existing injustice with God they even justify it. The existential theodicy question proceeds differently. It is a question before God and to God, which is expressed by doubt, lament, accusation, protest and by the cry "Why?" It pushes all the unresolved distress over to God. Those who stand by the biblical God cannot eliminate the evils' opposition against God and God's opposition against the evils but must endure this contradiction: by appealing to God, by taking compassion on the suffering, and if possible by giving some help. That does not mean to abandon thought! We need at least a fragmentary understanding. In what direction might it go?

Provided that God releases world and man into their inherent dynamism, he gives them a finite power of their own. He fully respects that power (i.e. he does not revoke it in cases of conflict). At the level of finite forces he therefore refrains from arbitrarily interfering with their interplay. In this respect God restricts himself in showing his power and binds himself to the actions of the creatures, the results of which are nowhere near corresponding always to his good will. He must accept that nature and the beings go also paths that are not God-willed.

God does not force the beings into a certain direction, but invites, entices and lures: Everything in the world, beginning with the Big Bang, happens in a continuous interaction between God and creatures, in a more or less successful and often unsuccessful "dialogue". Such a "dialogic" relationship God - World is not only to be assumed at the level of man but - in an analogous and graduated way - already in the precedent development stages and in the cosmic process from the beginning.

To the question "Why does God create the world?" Duns Scotus made the bold, but quite biblical answer, "Because he wants others as fellow lovers" {23}. If that is true, if God has in mind the realization of love, then he suffers from the beginning with his creation, as it were, birth pangs so that Agape, not its opposite, gets more room. He is worried about the way in which the creatures take shape; he is anxious about whether we go paths that are salvific for us and for others. And he is suffering where the event slips down into agonizing destruction. He does not only suffer in the Crucified, he most deeply suffers together with, yes, in all those who are tormented (and in those who torment others), and he plans to heal their wounds (or to thaw the ice of their hardened hearts).

 


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He also works in people who are open for him and communicates through them: He recruits people who do good, heal, stand up for justice; he gives stimuli and strength, makes offers, opens up new possibilities and alternatives.

Faith hopes that there is no situation in which God's possibilities were over: not even there, where we are finished (in death, irreparable wrong). Faith believes God capable of making good the injustice done in this world - through its end and transformation - in his radically different dimension. Faith hopes that there is - for the sake of the victims - a court, and justice. But when the God of Jesus is the judge his judging means to give fresh heart to those who are bowed down with grief (liberating for them). And faith hopes that he does not tie the perpetrators down to their unforgivable guilt but regenerates them by the passion of his love (not without their pain of conversion), and that so, because the perpetrators have changed, the victims are able to give them their hand for reconciliation. That is only possible if a real change took place in the perpetrator. That means that all people are able and ready for reconciliation. Faith in the God of Jesus is not satisfied with less.

Admittedly, these are bold hopes. They are based on the no less bold conviction that God's 'yes' includes everyone and that the entire adventure of the world aims at the realization of goodness and justice. In that case also those who dare to believe can occasionally become doubtful. Conversely, the atheists too should become doubtful. "Provided that God does not exist, where then does goodness come from?" Boethius asked in the year 524 in prison before his execution {24}. Does not every active pity live on a source which it has, unnoticed, to presuppose?

Those who always resolutely take a stand against injustice and for justice ultimately place their hope - whether they know it or not - in the faith that a good source exists and that goodness is the aim of the whole. For it would be pointless to rebel against evil and suffering, if everything had been formed just by chance, by blind laws of nature. The outrage at evil speaks for a final good, which is to be absolute. It really becomes the "rock of theisms" (against Georg Büchner). If there were no good source, then the orientation towards an absolute good would break down, moral reason lose its legitimacy; what remained was the pure will to power.

With the story of Jesus and many other things, faith has signs based on experience that there is something else: a deep longing in every human being for goodness, and a good source. But the existing world is made in such a way that in it this good source does to a great extent not yet appear ["vorkommen"=zum Vorschein kommen]. Much of what happens in the world is incompatible with the belief in this God and would reprove it, if it had the last word. Something of God's loving-kindness already appears where people live in the spirit of the Galilean Jesus.

 


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Is Radical Hope for Meaning and for Salvation in Death Well-founded?

The atheistic critic Burkhard Müller writes:

"The strongest need out of which the idea of God was born", was the desire for a "bulwark against the nihilism of time" annihilating all life. Just here "God became involved as the great cistern of history. ... It would be wonderful if this was correct .... It would also be nice for those who die of thirst, if their thirst would force the oasis to come over. But whether it exists or not is unfortunately quite independent of thirst. The most that thirst is able automatically to produce is the Fata Morgana; as such, as delusion God stands on the horizon of human history." {25}

This conclusion is not convincing. Because: My current concrete thirst does admittedly certainly not mean that also some drink must be at hand. But what Müller overlooks is that there is thirst at all, and that this definitely means that water must somewhere exist, otherwise beings with thirst had not come into existence. Now there is also a metaphysical thirst! With respect to that, man's thirst for an ultimate, comprehensive meaning becomes a strong indication of the actual existence of such a meaning.

Now atheist critics think that no signs of a life after death whatsoever exist. Are here some reasons to believe that death is not the end? There are some indications for it. Let me mention just three phenomena that, if you think them over with regard to the conditions of their possibility, will lead up to the point where hope beyond death - is certainly not proven, but - proves to be deeply justified and loses all unreasonableness:

1. Man is able to ask beyond the end of his life {26}. He knows that his body will decay and turn into other organic processes. What is material of us will not dissolve into nothingness. But - and this makes you think - there was still something else: just a human being with longing, love, responsibility, perhaps even with meanness and many other vices. By what right, that's how Karl Rahner asked, does one actually maintain that all those things had moved over into pure nothingness? With the body that what existed is not simply evaporated - but what there was as well, the person, should it simply no longer exist at all? For what reason should it actually "be over"? Because we are no longer aware of this here on earth? A weak argument! Actually, it only follows from it that the dead person is no longer there for us, the bereaved. Does it have to be there for us in order to exist at all {27}?

2. If death is the end of the person, then what do we live for: Only for the drudgery and the little bit of fun and entertainment, for the little sense and nonsense of everyday life {28}, in order to pass away then into the large matrix nature? Or only to make possible via reproduction the surviving of the species man? "Life goes on", but without any ultimate meaning? With Goethe's Mephisto, "What use is this eternal creation! Creating, to achieve annihilation!"

 


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The reference to after-effects does not satisfy: How many people take e.g. important insights and experiences away with them into the grave, and there is nothing that continues to have an influence! If death was the end of the person, then life would, when all is said and done, be only vain and pointless.

But then you could not even explain why we ask about the meaning of life, why human life is obviously intended for having a meaning. Why are we so made that we ask about the meaning - and that we cannot, instead of it, "simply understand the world as nonsense"? That must really have a reason - beyond all functionality.

3. Norbert Hoerster, Bernulf Kanitscheider {29} and others say you were able to lead a life worth living, a meaningful life also without God. This may apply to some people who are privileged and blessed by fate; they may be satisfied with themselves and their life. But that life could also have meaning if no God existed, this assertion is radically refuted by the following hard fact {30}: Far too many have to die after a brief, painful struggle, without ever having lived. If their life irrevocably ends with death, then their desire for meaning would remain unfulfilled, to be precise, definitely.

What about the many people who - without their own fault - had no chance to develop their potential? What about the injustice done innocent maltreated and murdered people, which nobody ever puts right? Those who forget them and their suffering in order not to dampen their little luck cannot really be humane. But those who refuses to forget them, those who keep on calling for justice for them, must, strictly speaking, sink into resignation and inconsolable grief, or the inevitable question arises for them about a rescuing reality.

If atheism was right, then one could not explain why human beings are asking beyond everything, beyond nature, world, death, and why they are insatiably longing for justice and meaning. If there was no God, then nature had awoken in human beings an (absurd) desire that cannot be redeemed by anything or anybody. But if that instance exists that we call "God", then the hope is legitimate that life does not end in death; on the contrary, a full life here on earth, a life that is open for others is a stage on the way to an eternal happiness, whereas a wrecked life here on earth is a still unfulfilled promise that calls for redemption and will also get it. That has nothing to do with prevarication.

Provided that one asks the questions which have been raised and which are ultimately imperative, and that one does not suppress but stand up to them, then a wider, deeper world view becomes plausible, which reckons with a completely different dimension. Death is then not the end but a transition, the entering into an entirely different dimension, into the dimension of eternity, and it is a transformation (cf. Mk 12, 24 foll.; 1 Cor 15, 51 foll.; Phil 3, 21; 2 Cor 3, 18).

 


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Burkhard Müller spoke of the nihilism of time destroying all life. Time is experienced quite differently, if one reckons with the God who becomes transparent in Jesus. In that case rather applies what the French Jew Simone Weil said, "Time (i.e. the time that is now still given to us) is the patience of God who is waiting for our love." {31} There the perspective suddenly turns round and it is God who needs us, not because he would otherwise not be God, but because he loves us and does not want to be without us. Those who place their hopes in this God are no longer worried about what will happen with them in death; they are able to leave themselves to his care and to devote themselves to the people and tasks of the day.

Blaise Pascal has no longer found indications of God in the endless spaces of the universe, and in nature he found only ambiguous signs {32}. Plagued by doubts, he stayed at night in a Paris church for two hours in a state of contemplation, and there his key experience is granted to him. On the note that was discovered after his death sewn into his jacked is written about it:

"About half past ten at night until about half past midnight, FIRE. GOD of Abraham, ... not ... of the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace. GOD of Jesus Christ. ... Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except GOD. ... Let me not be separated from him forever."

Pascal kept this "Memorial" to himself. This key experience is not mentioned in his notes meant for publication, there he argues (e.g. by using the bet as allegory). And one wonders whether that is all what Pascal can give as the reason for his faith. But there are as well indications that there is a deeper reason: the experience of God's presence. It does not open to the "esprit de géometrie" (which covers at most half of reality), but to the "esprit de finesse", which is tuned in to finer frequencies where man opens from the inside and then sometimes can be touched by that different reality. "It is the heart (i.e. the innermost) which experiences God, and not the reason. ... The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know." {33} Reasons that exist in a depth dimension of human experience.

 

NOTES

{1} K. Rahner, Frömmigkeit früher u. heute, in: the same, Schriften zur Theologie, volume 7 (Einsiedeln 1966) 22.

{2} L. Wittgenstein, Vortrag über Ethik u. andere kleine Schriften (Frankfurt 1991) 14 foll.

{3} See about it the recently published astonishing book of the political scientist W. Leidhold, Gegenwart Gottes. Zur Logik der religiösen Erfahrung (Darmstadt 2008).

{4} So B. Müller, Das Konzept Gott - warum wir es nicht brauchen, in: Merkur 61 (2007) H. 2,93-102,93; See H. Kessler, "Das Konzept Gott - warum wir es nicht brauchen" (Burkhard Müller)? Auseinandersetzung mit einem respektablen Atheismus, in: Gott denken u. bezeugen (FS Kardinal Walter Kasper, Freiburg 2008) 512-541.

 


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{5} R. Dawkins, Der Gotteswahn (Berlin 2007); See R. von Bredow and J. Grollekurz, Ein Gott der Angst. Der britische Evolutionsbiologe Richard Dawkins. Interview, in: Der Spiegel, 10.9.2007.

{6} Meister Eckhart, Deutsche Predigten u. Traktate (Zürich 1979) 227 (Sermon 16 about Sir 50,10).

{7} H. Oosterhuis, Weiter sehen als wir sind (Wien 1973) 24.

{8} N. Hoerster, Die Frage nach Gott (München 2005).

{9} For the following see also H. Kessler, Den verborgenen Gott suchen. Gottesglaube in einer von Naturwissenschaften u. Religionskonflikten geprägten Welt (Paderborn 2006).

{10} So H. Albert, Traktat über kritische Vernunft (Tübingen 51991) 15f.; also Müller (note 4) 95.

{11} So R. Dawkins in: von Bredow and Grollekurz (note 5) resp. U. Schnabel, Der sanfte Atheist. Pascal Boyer erklärt die Religion als Nebeneffekt der biologischen Selektion, in: Die Zeit, 14.8.2008,38.

{12} The four quotations from Wittgenstein in turn from: Tractatus logico-philosophicus (Frankfurt 1966) 6.44; Vortrag über Ethik (note 2), 14; Schriften I (Frankfurt 1960) 166f.; Tractatus 6.52.

{13} R. Schnepf, Die Frage nach der Ursache. Systematische u. problemgeschichtliche Untersuchungen zum Kausalitäts- u. zum Schöpfungsbegriff (Göttingen 2006) 502 and 505.

{14} I. Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, B 484.

{15} He has revised his opinion in his Cambridge Lecture 2004 "Gödel and the End of Physics".

{16} Gregor von Nyssa, Hexaemeron (PG 44,77).

{17} See D. Hofstadter, Ich bin eine seltsame Schleife (Stuttgart 2008).

{18} D. Birnbacher, Verantwortung für zukünftige Generationen (Stuttgart 1988) 187 and 200.

{19} So e.g. Müller (note 4) 97 and 101, or Hoerster (note 8) 51-65.

{20} For the following see H. Kessler, Gott u. das Leid seiner Schöpfung. Nachdenkliches zur Theodizeefrage (Würzburg 2000); ext. new edition: Das Leid in der Welt - ein Schrei nach Gott (Kevelaer 2007).

{21} Müller (note 4) 98 f.

{22} G. Büchner, Dantons Tod: 3. Akt, 1. Szene.

{23} J. Duns Scotus, Opus Oxoniense III 32,1,6.

{24} Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae 1,4.- The experience in a concentration-camp is moving: I. Kertesz, Kaddisch für ein nicht geborenes Kind (Reinbek 1996) 55-60, and his conclusion: Not evil, it is goodness that is inexplicable!

{25} The following quotations from Müller (note 4) 99-101.

{26} See Auferstehung der Toten. Ein Hoffnungsentwurf im Blick heutiger Wissenschaften, edited by H. Kessler (Darmstadt 2004).

{27} K. Rahner, Ostererfahrung, in: the same, Schriften zur Theologie, volume 7 (Einsiedeln 1966) 157-165, 157 foll.

{28} Hoerster (note 8) 78, speaks of the meaning "for an hour or two", while playing piano or chess.

{29} B. Kanitscheider, Entzauberte Welt. Über den Sinn des Lebens in sich selbst. Eine Streitschrift (Stuttgart 2008).

{30} About it A. Kreiner, Das wahre Antlitz Gottes - oder was wir meinen, wenn wir Gott sagen (Freiburg 2007) 500-505.

{31} S. Weil, La connaissance surnaturelle (Paris 1950) 91 (verbatim: "the one who is begging for our love").

{32} B. Pascal, Pensees (Über die Religion): Fragmente 72 and 229.

{33} In the same place, Fragment 277 foll.

 

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