The Three Tiers of Barthian Scholastics: Online Edition

mountains-768459__180Having been embedded in the online Barthian community for some time now, I’ve come to observe three tiers of online Barthian “scholarship” and engagement:

First there are those who think that they own Barth. The elitist, who knows everything, and anyone who questions their particular position on Barth, are simply “ignorant and intolerant” religious right-wingers and therefore, wrong. The message carried being: “after all, you’re a peasant who couldn’t possibly understand Barth, let alone what I’ve actually written about Barth. Besides, my ivy league credentials, well-established, tenured academic life, and level of social media influence over-rules yours.”

The second tier supports tier one. The Barthian scholarship fanbois. Giving approval, and whipping up support to the labelling, in order to use it to further their own Left-wing preconceptions and prejudices. Most recently seen in the recent rise in anti-trumpism (or to borrow from left-wing phobic labelling lingo, “Trumpophobia”) within the Barthian theoblogosphere.

The general argument, if not spoken loudly, quietly inferred:“Barth was a leftist [he wasn’t]. He would have considered Trump to be like Hitler and anyone who supported him, a Nazi” – any Christian who doesn’t agree with this assessment is a “German christian”, and is to be brought to judgement before the people’s court of tier one.

Those who question the fanbois silence about what Barth would say about Clinton, or the direction, behaviour and politics of the Democrats in general, are likely to find themselves standing alone. Not without a shunning or whip statement thrown at them, of some description, for good measure.

Anyone who seeks to show that the greater parallels, to 1930s Germany, doesn’t primarily [note, I said primarily] exist in the rhetoric of Republicans, but in the growing list of left-wing “social justice causes”, needs to, “get off your high horse.” As was suggested to me when I congenially questioned the responses to Calvinists by Barthians on the very public, Facebook, Karl Barth Discussion Group.

Tier two lays down the unspoken law: don’t question us, provide an alternative perspective or speak about the more concerning, already existing historical parallels. Such as the increasingly one-sidedness of the black lives matter movement, the increasing pseudo-militancy of “social justice” warriors, Islamic terrorism; widespread abortion, gay marriage – and the selective misuse of the bible to justify it, pride flags and its associated ideology being forced on churches, total ideological indoctrination of our youth via control of schools and Universities, the hostile opposition to questions, the imposition of new cultural laws and a lean towards universal antisemitism in the left’s association with anti-Israel movements (

It goes without saying then that anyone who dares to question any reckless misplacement of historical parallels, in regards to what Barth might have said or thought, is either conveniently ignored or ridiculed into some form of submission. Real community involvement is only welcomed if it’s conformist involvement.

The third tier exists of two sub-groups. Those who speak up and those who silently disagree with tiers one and two.{The former consists of those who seek to do theology with Karl Barth, not use it to feed self-interest or police by selectively apply it, such as, conscripting his theology into the service of an ideological position. In part, the first sub-group pushes back against this, putting into praxis one of the consistant themes of Barth’s theological approach, identified by Tim Gorringe, in ‘Barth:Against Hegemony, 1999‘ that ‘all theology worthy of the name is a critique of ideology’ (see pp.71, 99, 115;}* The latter sub-group sees the fallacies and the diversions caused by misplacing historical parallels, yet say nothing about what’s actually going on.

The positive to all this is that third tier Barthian scholars are in the majority. The negative is what can perhaps be considered as the rise of Barthian Gnosticism and the hijacking of Karl Barth.

The relevant caveat:

‘The nature of a thing cannot be changed; whoever tries to “alter” its nature destroys the thing.’
(Voegelin, 1968) [i]

Barthian scholarship, in its online format, is yet to exceed the superiority of its face-to-face counterpart. For Barthian scholarship to survive in its online enclosure, it will need this third tier, with all the prayer, patience, humility and moxie it can muster.

‘Repentance will lead us to watch and not to sleep; it will guide our steps to life and not to death. It follows that silence, which has certainly much to commend it, will not be a mournful silence, but the natural and fruitful self-restraint of those who have privately too much to do to indulge freely in talk. It follows that prayer will not lead us away from political thought and action of a modest but definite kind, but will rather lead us directly into purposeful conflict. It follows that the new public spirit will be not only a goal, not only the subject of all kinds of teaching, pastoral work and discussion, but, above all and at once, a beginning— the spirit of a Christian repudiation of defeat, the spirit of a Christian approach to a new and better resistance, the spirit of Christian hope which is not disposed to leave the field to the demons.’
(Barth, 1940′ [ii]

[i] Voegelin, E. 1968 Science, Politics and Gnosticism:Two Essays Regnery Publishing

[ii] Barth, K. 1940 2nd Letter To the French Protestants in Loconte, J [ed.] 2004 The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler’s Gathering Storm p.179

Image: courtesy of Pixabay

*updated for clarity 2/8/2016


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