Archives For Karl Barth

If Australia’s Prime Minister is serious about fairness, he’ll preserve the right to a conscientious objection to SSM; the right for people to hold the view, and teach their kids that marriage is between a man and a woman; and that those children have a right to equal access to their biological father and mother.

As I have hopefully made clear in the written contributions I’ve made to this national debate, I see the issues as a matter of social justice. The “no” vote has been about defending truth, liberty, fraternity, science, and even equality, from unbalanced ideological servitude.

The State wants the church to stay out of politics, but the Church is being encroached on by the State. The people want the church to stay out of politics, but it paints their political slogans on church walls, violently interferes with gatherings and misuses the Bible to manipulate or bash Christians into submission. The people want the church to stay out of politics, but they bring politics into the church, demanding a pledge of allegiance to systems that perpetuate hatred and inequality, behind a veil of tolerance, love and equality.

None of this is new, it’s the very same thing that was perpetuated by Nazis and Communists, as French theologian and Marxist scholar, Jacques Ellul noted:

‘But I’ve heard such talk a thousand times, from fascists as well as Stalinists: “You have no right to judge from the outside; first you must join up, sympathize totally with our aims, and then you can talk.” BUT that is just when one can no longer say anything! The experience of those who looked horrified, in hindsight, on Hitler’s or Stalin’s time confirms this: “How could we have taken part in that?” they ask.’
(Ellul, Jesus & Marx 1988:146)[i]

It’s a clear double standard when the LGBTQ and their supporters can freely criticise and push others to refuse service to those who disagree, then turn around and deny those in disagreement, the right to the same free speech and freedom of conscience. That’s not equality.

The line is blurring. Christians who support SSM have confused love of God with love of neighbour, and as such have compromised their neighbour, through a false [Marxist/materialist] claim that says we should place love for neighbour over and above God.

This is what is called horizontal theology. It is grounded in the errors and perversity of natural theology; the implicit claim that by blindly loving  our neighbour we can reach God through our neighbor. This encourages me to treat my neighbor as though that neighbor was a second revelation of God. The kind of ideas that lead to the false worship of Kings, rulers, prophets and objects throughout history. In short, the creature is worshipped in place of the Creator, because the Creator has been confused with His creature.

We are to be Christlike in our treatment of our neighour; have Christ in mind when we go to serve our neighbour, but we are grossly mistaken if we think that Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40 “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me”, means that our neighbor replaces Christ.

This misunderstanding leads is to works-righteousness. It leads us away from the righteousness of God that is graciously placed on us by the dynamic love of God. Grace that is active, free and sufficient, in the work carried out by the obedience of Jesus Christ.

We reject grace, when we reject Christ and put our neigbour in His place. This is because we reject God’s invitation to relationship. It denies God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, “who is the way, the truth and the life”[ii] it denies the fact that life with God, begins with, God with us. Christless Christianity is an oxymoron.

Love is not love, God is love. That “they will know us by our love”[iii] is true, but that love involves the freedom to give both a reasoned “yes” and “no”. The alternative view confuses love with niceness, sloth and indifference.

What this does is turn Christianity into a numb universal ethic of niceness – a lukewarm empty shell; a stoic idol built to reflect and cater to the feelings of men and women.

The ethic of universal niceness is false and incompatible with a thinking faith that commands us to have no god before God; to “test all things, and hold fast to the good[iv]”; to discern and ultimately lean not “on our own understanding, but on God.’’ (Proverbs 3:5-7). To lean not on an abstract or vague idea of God, nor on a god created by human imagination, but on the tangible gracious grip of God, as the One who grasps us and testifies to us about Himself, in space and time, through covenant and in Jesus the Christ.

Faith seeks understanding.

Our response to this is found in prayer and gratitude. Actions; grounded in word, deed and attitude that reciprocates God’s selfless movement towards us, in covenant, manger, cross, empty tomb and beyond.

Being super nice has the veneer of Christian love, but it’s moral therapeutic deism at best, practical atheism (Christian in name only) at worst. This is the kind of thing that fed the blood and soil ideology of Nazism, and the Marxist ‘deification of the poor, over against THE POOR One’ (Ellul, 1988), through the dictatorship of the proletariat. Not that we should ignore the poor, but that we shouldn’t deify them to further the self-interests of those who take it upon themselves to designate who the oppressed and the oppressors are. For all have fallen short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23).

For those who voted “no” in 2017, there will be a need to take time to carefully consider the way forward.

If we are to be true to this “no” and the love behind it, this will involve having to rise and once again say to the world that we refuse to surrender or kneel before anyone but God, and His revelation in Jesus Christ.

To once again say to the world that love of neighbour is not love of God, nor should we confuse the two. For to do so is to make a god of our neighbour, and make love for neighbour, the means of salvation. Love of neighbour is grounded on and in our love of God, without the latter we are not free and therefore, we cannot truly do the former. We will be doomed to serving our own selfish interests.

Jesus is the way, tolerance isn’t. Jesus is the way, love is love isn’t. Jesus is the way, means that no man or woman, good work or intention, super niceness, or feeling is or can be. The true path to freedom, the only path to salvation is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. This cannot be reversed. It is decisive. The path is set.  #bewaretheauctioneers

In light of the changes to come, Christians are to do what they are called to do, centre everything in Jesus Christ. To lay every issue before the cross, following Paul’s words in Romans 12, clinging especially to those which encourage us to ‘…rejoice in hope, be patient in trial, be constant in prayer.’

This is bolstered by Karl Barth’s reminder:

‘The Church is either a missionary Church or it is no church at all. Christians are either messengers of God [with or without words] to both Jew and Gentile, or else they are not Christians at all.’ [v]

Far too many churches, ministers and Christian scholars are staying silent, waiting to see who wins what society calls “the culture wars”, so that they can back the winner. That’s a coward’s gamble. It’s an action that they may one day come to regret. Now is the time. Speak life. Speak truth in love. Set your eyes towards Christ, because inhaled grace ignites.

Kyrie Eleison.


References:

[i] Ellul, J. 1988 Jesus & Marx: From Gospel to Ideology Wipf and Stock Publishers

[ii] John 14:6, ESV

[iii] John 13:35 & Matthew 7:16 ESV

[iv] 1 Thess. 5:21, 1 Corinthians 14:29, 1 John 4:1 ESV

[v] Barth, K. Church Dogmatics 3.3, The Divine Preserving (p.64)

(Updated and edited from an article posted in November, 2017, called, To Everything There Is a Season: Deifying Our Neighbour Isn’t One of Them. Also published on The Caldron Pool, 20th November, 2018.

Photo Credit: Hasan Almasi on Unsplash

©Rod Lampard, 2018.

Respected theologian, Pastor and author, Will Willimon, recently wrote an article citing a bishop who  changed his mind about homosexuality.
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Here is the brief response I posted in the comments section:
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Unlike so many who will no doubt applaud this, I won’t. As was pointed out above [in another comment], a lot of the reasoning appears emotionally based. Surrendering to the man-made god of love, is not surrender to the God who is love. The LGBT church can hardly be called a Christian church, any more than the German Christians, who watered down theology and surrendered themselves and their theology to the ideological overlords of their day.
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As Karl Barth noted, we must not confuse love for God, with love for neighbour, for if we do, we end up deifying our neighbour. It neither helps them, loves them, or is an example of walking in the footsteps of Christ. I admit, this is a complex issue, but if beloved family cannot respect, tolerant and be inclusive of a loving “no”, built on convictions drawn from biblical truth, tried and true healthy tradition, and biological science. Then I would question whether appeasement of them; and a happy ignorance of the consequences such as the fatherless and motherless children who will come after them (among other things), was only self-serving, and not truly loving.
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I fear this appeasement is a surrender to Natural Theology, and as such, I am reluctant to applaud those well-respected and esteemed theologians who, not only sign onto it, but take its oath in servitude to it.

Who Are The Real Fascists?

November 13, 2018 — 1 Comment

If the facts cannot be squeezed into a meme the level of attention those facts receive is reduced. Attention to detail is overlooked for what will best attract a view, a like, a follow or a share. Information is seen purely as a commodity.

The problem is that when information is seen purely as a commodity, truth is easily compromised.

We don’t need to look any further than the internet. It’s now common place to log on and find someone accusing someone else of being a Nazi or a racist. This may have reached the status of cliché, and as such is easily dismissed. Nevertheless real concern should be given to it. Especially, when we’re bombarded with celebrity endorsed outrage, and articles written by professionals, (often falsely) equating their opponents with the National Socialists of the 1930’s, without qualification.

For example: in August 2016, a lecturer from Sydney University,  compared fair-minded conservative opposition to same-sex marriage, with the Nazi treatment of homosexuals. In addition, a student was reported to have been disallowed from presenting a case, linking examples of how anti-Israel sentiment, is linked to anti-Semitism. [source]

Historical comparisons made between present and past, should be measured for accuracy. Responsible self-criticism leads us to ask ourselves whether or not our opponent has a point. However, measuring the accuracy of our opponents claim shouldn’t stop with us. For it to be completely fair, the enquiry must also include the consideration of whether or not our opponents, are themselves guilty of doing the very things they’re accusing others of doing.

One good practice, when being likened to the Nazis, is reading material from those who’ve studied the historical context; the history of and the history associated with Nazism. Read those who’ve engaged with the primary sources, and who understand not just what the Nazis did, but how, and why, they did it.

It’s here that Thomas Doherty’s insightful and well researched 2013 book, ‘Hollywood & Hitler‘ shines:

Page 9, citing a PCA[i] report on the prohibition of the movie ‘All Quiet on The Western Front‘, Dec, 18, 1930:
“There is no doubt that this wave of intense national prejudice, which is for now going on, will continue and that any pictures, particularly foreign pictures, which offend the sensibilities of the National Socialists will be a signal for riots and demonstrations.’ [i]
Page 21: ‘Even before Goebbels laid down the law, the Nazi rhetoric on race was being implemented by pumped-up S.A. thugs and zealous party bureaucrats. From Berlin radiating outward, the iron grip tightened over all aspects of film-related culture – artists and technicians, film content and style, trade periodicals and reviewer bylines, theatre ownership and ticket buyers.’ [ii]
Page 97: ‘The Nazis, said Prince Hubertus Lowenstein [an early critic of Nazism], had annihilated all that was good in German culture.”Everything that had made for the glory of Germany has been destroyed in the past three years. The best actors and artists have been expelled. Approximately 1100 scholars and scientists have had to leave, only because they believed in freedom of art, of thought, and of religion.” Jews were forbidden to buy milk for their children, and Catholics were jailed for keeping the faith. The jackboot crushing Jews and Catholics, he predicted, was but a preview of oppressions to come. All those speaking that night urged a united front against Hitler. “We must organise to fight the Nazi invasion before Americans lose their constitutional liberties”‘[iii]

Doherty helps to shine a light on where, and if, Nazism or fascists are active today. When matched against current events descriptions such as, “intense prejudice, the iron grip, that which offends the sensibilities is a signal for riots and demonstrations; rhetoric on race by pumped-up thugs and zealous party bureaucrats”, all show that those pointing their finger and crying wolf about Nazism and fascism, reflect it the most.

The radical Left is already becomes suspect when its adherents use its political platforms to denounce all opposition as Nazism, without any real qualification. It’s already suspect when those same adherents ignore questions, make false claims and turn all fair criticism into “hate speech”. It’s already suspect when this very same ideology backs policies that undermine the humanity of the unborn, democratic debate, diversity of thought, reasoned opinion, expression and faith.

It’s already suspect when some of its most fervent adherents remain silent about the current events in Turkey, or Islamism in general, and yet continue to promote the BDS academic boycott movement against Israel. [source] The radical Left is more than worthy of our suspicions when we only hear the sound of crickets chirping to the tune of double standards, hypocrisy, selective outrage, suppression of faith and reason, political evasion, and propaganda.

As Theodore Kupfer asked, ‘Where are the Academic Boycotts of Turkey?’ It’s tragically ironic that anti-Israel protesters are loud and proud, yet they remain silent about Turkey:

“The response of Western academia has thus far been limited to expressions of grave concern for the fate of individual academics who have been subject to the purge [in Turkey].
No organised boycott effort has surfaced on any level. Mere proclamations of solidarity are supposed to suffice in the case of Turkey, while the same organisations agitate for nothing short of a blanket institutional boycott in the case of Israel.
Mind you, academic conditions in Israel are far superior to those in Turkey. Even attempts to portray Israel as hostile to academic freedom are evidence for this.” [iv]

The irony feeds suspicion of the radical Left. All that’s missing from the trajectory of this ideological radicalism is a figure-head with the power to influence enough people to fanatically fall in line behind them. With what’s happened in opposition to Donald Trump’s election in the United States, such suspicions should be weighed carefully.

Whether we like it or not, we’re being forced into categories by those who want to define us, determine what we think, and turn our freedoms into a carrot on a stick. The agenda isn’t about equality, it’s about dominance. The agenda isn’t about rights, it’s about power. The agenda isn’t about progress, it’s about pride.

It’s ironic that a people’s court stands ready to condemn those who don’t align, agree or pledge allegiance to the Left. The oppressor presents themselves as the oppressed, and no one is allowed to have an opposing view. It’s at this point that we’re not far from Gene Edward Veith, in his underrated 1993, book ‘Modern Fascism’, rightly suggested that there is a link between Heidegger’s revisionist/deconstructionism and fascism.

For example:

“What is the deconstructive basis for condemning Nazism? Would it not be in keeping with the in keeping with the logic of deconstruction, the deconstructive basis for condemning Nazism, reverses a claim like “the Nazis oppressed the Jews,” showing instead that the Jew cooked in a Nazi oven was really the Nazis’ oppressor.
The real-world endpoint of Heideggerian (and now Derridean and de Manian) deconstructionism [and its elimination of] the logocentric (Judeo-Christian) tradition is Auschwitz […]” [v]

This is why theology is important. As Timothy Gorringe states, ‘[Judeo-Christian] theology stands as a critique of ideology,’ [vi] but if it’s to remain authentic theology, it will have to navigate society’s obsession with the Left/Right metaphor. This is partly why I’m not big on the Right/Left metaphor in regards to describing factions within the State or the Church. Throughout history, the meaning has shifted. The metaphor is inadequate. We cannot rely on it entirely.

Another reason for why theology is important is because faith seeks understanding. To confess that Jesus Christ is Lord necessarily means to admit that Jesus Christ is no human pawn. Whether they be, deconstructionists, modernists, futuristic, archaic, primitive, progressive, communist, fascist, conservative, material or spiritual; Any Christian theology worthy of its name-sake, is and always will stand as a critique of all human centered strongholds that claim godlikeness; a challenge to all towers of Bable.

Genuine Christianity is, as Karl Barth duly noted, ‘the protest against all the high places which human beings build for themselves’ (Karl Barth C.D IV/II p.524).

To say that history is being repeated is not overstating the current zeitgeist. History is not, however, being repeated in the same way that the Left often sells it. Based on what is presented by Doherty, Kupfer, Vieth and Hirsch above, it’s those who recklessly cry wolf about Fascists, and subsequently point to the Right, who have more in common with the Nazis, than they do the victims of Nazism.

May we continue to be free, and well informed enough to differentiate between the real and the wrongly labelled.


References:

[i]  Doherty,T. 2013 Hollywood & Hitler: 1933-1939 Columbia University Press

[ii] ibid, 2013

[iii] ibid, 2013

[iv] Kupfer, T. 2016 Where Are the Academic Boycotts of Turkey? sourced 24th August 2016 from nationalreview.com

[v] Hirsch, D. 1991. The Deconstruction of Literature: Criticism after Auschwitz (p.87) Cited by Gene E. Veith, Modern Fascism, 1993. Concordia Publishing House.

[vi] Gorringe, T.J 1999 Karl Barth: Against Hegemony Christian theology in context Oxford University Press New York

[Updated and edited from an article posted in August, 2016, called, The Usurping of Things To Come?’ Also published at The Caldron Pool, 13th November, 2018 under the heading, ‘Who are the real fascists?’]

Photo credit:  Taton Moïse on Unsplash

©Rod Lampard, 2018.

For those who believe in absolute freedom, any “no” spoken to humanity from outside humanity, is repressive, and unfairly restrictive.

In the shadow of this logic, even a lighthouse or global positioning navigation is offensive. Both the lighthouse and GPS direct humanity. They protect freedom, because in their very confrontation with us, they invite true freedom.

They remind us of individual responsibility. Their existence shows us the necessity and power of decision. They direct us to make responsible choices.

The existence of the lighthouse warns us that danger awaits. To act in absolute freedom and ignore this warning, is to deny freedom. The light which shines forth from its lantern encourages us to not see freedom as being without the necessary choice guided by self-limitation and external direction.

The presence of a lighthouse warns us about the consequences of living out the false doctrine of the nihilist.

In the shadow of this false doctrine, the lighthouse is viewed as anachronistic.

The lighthouse is viewed as an oppressive social construct from a by-gone era. So violence is done to it. Alongside well positioned propaganda, walks the advocate with placards demanding that the lighthouse be torn down. Through ridicule and raw emotion, the lighthouse is mocked, sentenced to the museum and ignored.

The ruling is that the lighthouse should be denied its right to speak; its right to signal danger and direct a pathway to safety. The lighthouse is viewed as something to be denied its right to confront us with it’s “no, not that way”.

In the case of the nihilist Captain and his ship, the lighthouse is ignored.This is until the unmovable brunt of a reef tragically rips apart the hull of his ship, and the shadow of absolute freedom is exposed for what it is: a denial of freedom. The reef is hit and lives are lost. Freedom is sacrificed to the abyss.

The ability and permission to say “no”, is as much a part of freedom, and love, as is the ability and permission to say “yes”. If someone is without the ability and permission to say “no” to themselves or to others, it cannot be said that this person is truly free. This is because direction and self-limitation are ultimate necessities for survival and healthy progress. Direction and self-limitation are necessary for freedom to remain freedom. In other words: No self-control, no freedom. Know self-control, know freedom.

The responsible parent will say “no” to an infant wanting to play with a loaded gun, sharp knife, and hot stove or in the middle of a freeway. The loving limitation of the infant’s freedom protects the freedom of the infant.  The loving parental “no” directs the infant towards true freedom. Absolute freedom denies this[1].  It denies that freedom exists in limitation[2].

This is because freedom-in-limitation is counter to the flawed logic of advocates who believe in absolute freedom (such as the nihilist). The denial of self-limitation, and rejection of direction, both form the cornerstone of a false doctrine which preaches that freedom can exist without limitation; without direction.

Advocates who believe in absolute freedom have no time for discussion about issues such as self-control, perseverance, and commitment. Their “Yes” is always spoken; permission always given, and their “No”, if spoken at all, is a quiet, uncertain “no”.

Under the nihilist doctrine of absolute freedom, the only one who is free to say “No” is the nihilist himself. In this way advocates of absolute freedom assert themselves as lords over others.

We saw this in Australia, when the State Government in Queensland, with the support of a broad list of representatives from different parties, passed a bill that would legalise abortion up to 22 weeks. The bill also allows for a mother to abort her unborn child right up to birth. This latter option is, however, conditional. The mother must have the signatures of two doctors. (Even if she does obtain two approvals, the doctor isn’t even required to view her file or meet with her.)

No amount of arguments in favour of abortion changes the fact that abortion is the deliberate violent interruption of pregnancy[3]. It’s where women (and some men on behalf of women) demand the absolute freedom for pregnant women to”miscarry on demand”.

With abortion, absolute freedom claims the higher moral ground. The battle cry is that absolute choice, and gender equality, must be won, no matter what the cost. Freedom of choice reigns over against any forms of, or reasons for, moral restraint. Like the lighthouse,  the warnings from those who fight for, and seek the protection of life, are pushed aside as irrelevant. The value of human life is shattered on the reef. Abortion is made into a commodity, where human life is bought and sold, at the command of doctor, parent or state.

Like the nihilist Captain who ignores the lighthouse, the reality of man and woman’s new dilemma is brutal. They are unaware of what they’re entertaining and what they’ve bought into.Absolute freedom negates freedom.

Industrial abortion is another manifestation of lebensunwertes leben (The Nazi ideology of life [deemed] unworthy of life). That’s good reason for why it should be rejected, not embraced. It’s certainly not to be celebrated as liberation, and abortion clinics should not be paraded as liberators – where all who are opposed to abortion are painted as anti-freedom or oppressors.

The false doctrine of the nihilist should be fervently rejected. In its theological form, this false doctrine spawns the false interpretation of grace as freedom to sin, as opposed to grace being freedom from sin; freedom to be for God and for others[4].

Consequently, under the shadow of nihilism, the light of God’s “no” spoken to humanity from outside itself is rejected. The power and sovereignty of God over life, is subsumed into the hands of men and women; patients, the government, family and professionals.

Man takes up the power of life and death, and (as he has done from the beginning of his choice against God, in order to be God), man puts himself in the place of God.

As summed up by anti-Nazi theologian Karl Barth:

‘he who destroys germinating life kills a man and thus ventures the monstrous thing of decreeing concerning the life and death of a fellow-man whose life is given by God and therefore, like his own, belongs to Him. He desires to discharge a divine office, or, even if not, he accepts responsibility for such discharge, by daring to have the last word on at least the temporal form of the life of his fellow-man. Those directly or indirectly involved cannot escape this responsibility.’ (CD.3:4:416)

God is thought to be dethroned or an unconcerned spectator. His absolute power is now viewed as a weapon in the hands of the nihilist. Power handed to them by man and woman’s selfish and self-destructive quest for what they have accepted, without question, as being true freedom.

Absolute freedom negates freedom. We cannot afford to ignore the lighthouse. For what we face without it is an age of darkness.

To be so convinced that true freedom is existence without the One who birthed that existence, is to give in to an arrogance which rejects grace, and chains humanity to the Dark agenda of total extinction and self-annihilation.

‘Blessed is the one who hears instruction and responds wisely to it’ – (Proverbs 8:33-34)


References:

Barth, K. Respect For Life, Church Dogmatics 3:4 Hendrickson Publishers

[1] My conclusions here rest on those of Albert Camus. To paraphrase, ‘absolute freedom is ultimately a lie.’ (The Rebel)

[2] Karl Barth

[3] Ibid, CD.3:4:416

[4] Karl Barth

©Rod Lampard, 2018

Photo by Sleep Music on Unsplash

Karl Barth is viewed by many as being one of the 20th Century’s most important theologians.The chief reason for this is the renewed focus on Jesus Christ that he brought back into all aspects of theology. Barth’s approach to Jesus Christ and the Bible, involved letting Jesus Christ and the Bible approach him. He “let the Bible speak for itself.”

I see a great deal of humility and joy in that approach. Not only do I aim to savour every bit of time I set aside to read Barth, I aim to let Barth’s approach to theology be an example, which I can borrow from in my own journey towards an ever maturing theological education.

So it’s with some reluctance that I outline and seek to explain my three core criticisms of Karl Barth. From the outset it’s important to point out that these criticisms are not in regards to persevered contradictions in his theological conclusions. The goal here is to work from the ground up, covering aspects of his work which provide certain difficulties for his students today.

My first criticism of Karl Barth is his extramarital affair with his secretary and primary researcher, Charlotte Von Kirschbaum.  Second is his reluctance to criticise the brutal nature of Communism and third is the question about whether Barth did enough to avoid his work descending into a closed community; a kind of pious and esoteric, Barthian social club.

My first criticism is straight forward. Barth found himself between two loving women, but he crossed lines. This was something his family was silent about, until recently, when they opened up access to correspondence between Karl, Nelly (Karl Barth’s wife and mother to his five children) and Charlotte (his secretary/fellow researcher and theologian in her own right). Up until this time, Barth’s extramarital affair had been quietly mentioned by biographers, but was always footnoted as conjecture.

The positive take away from their letters is that they show Nelly Barth, hurt, but still shining the light of Christ through her reactions and responses. Nelly presents an example of resilience, determination and faith in difficult and trying circumstances.

In addition, Karl Barth wrestled with his situation and choices. He never publicly boasted about his relationship with Charlotte. The extramarital relationship reminds us that Karl Barth was just a man. He was susceptible to the same issues as every other man, no matter how great they are. As others have pointed out, his own theology speaks it’s own criticism of his decisions. He wrestled within himself and with his own theology. Any accusation Barth used his theology to justify his spousal abuse is inconsistent with what is encountered in Barth’s words and work. What we encounter is a man who was constantly confronted by the contradiction between his own theology and the consequences that stemmed from the decisions he made. None of this, however, removes Karl Barth from being accountable for engaging in a relationship that he would have known was a betrayal of his wife, Nelly.

My second criticism is not so straight forward. Barth was an outspoken anti-Nazi theologian. So much so that he was deported from Germany for refusing to take the Hitler oath, unless changes were made, whereby the ideology and its leader were not deified. Unfortunately, when it came to Communism, Barth refused to show the same fierce consistency. He is silent about Marxist killing fields in Asia, and about its oppressive totalitarian rule in Eastern Europe.

Two possible reasons exist for this. Reason number one was Barth’s age and circumstances. He wasn’t in the position he was in when living in Nazi Germany; being a lot older he probably considered the fight against Communist terror to be well covered and didn’t want to lend support to an ever-increasing hysteria or phobia of the Russian people. If that protest is well established and achieving its goals, why add your voice to the “howling of wolves”? To do so would have been more about self-promotion, than promoting awareness about the suffering of others.

Reason number two is the possibility that Barth figured his theological statements and work, would stand for itself as a restrained critique of Marxism. In view of Church Dogmatics 3:2, it’s probable that Barth saw his theology, particularly his “Nein” to natural theology, as being also an inherent nein to Marxism. Barth’s anthropological theology in 3:2 contains a subtle rejection of Marxism’s deification of class war, social division, the state, subjugation of theology (into the service of an ideology), the reign of terror and potential global reign of terror attached to it.

One example of many is this statement which is contra to Marxist historical materialism/determinism:

‘Man & woman’s historical determination is that God wills to be with them and they with God.’
(Karl Barth, CD. 3:2:427)

It’s naïve to suggest that Barth was simply ignorant of the oppression and violence faced by those living under Marxist rule. Just as naïve would be the assumption that Barth did know, but simply brushed it off as a “capitalist conspiracy.” While it’s possible that Barth took the same approach as the French Communists in their denial of Gulags, purges and the fear of the Cheka, it’s unlikely that Barth was so deliberately dismissive.

Equally unlikely is the implication which stems from this, that suggests Barth was dedicated to protecting a political party and its toxic ideological platform. Although Barth refusing to ”howl with the wolves”, was him simply refusing to add to the hysteria of the mob, his absence from genuine criticisms of the crimes of communism is inconsistent with his stand against Nazism.

My third criticism is split between Barth and his students. On Barth’s side, there’s an effort to detach himself from becoming an idol, but did he do enough to avoid people reading his work before the Bible? On the student’s side there’s a tendency to idolise Barth and turn his theology into a rigid systematic method; or support a rigid oppressive system[1], rather than view Barth’s theology as a helpful travelling companion[2].

Trying to grasp Barth’s theology is like to trying to hold water in cupped hands. The water can’t be easily grasped, and is even harder to hold. This lends itself to explain the problem when people try to build their own systems around Barth’s theology. The biggest example of this is found in what I would call a pompous, Barthian Gnosticism.

Whilst this definition is not definitive, it’s the best description I can find for the closed community, which has built up a dam like castle from which ordinary people are prevented access. Barth is only reachable for an elect few. Everyone else is doomed to hearing Barth through their lens, or the lens of their choosing. Consequently, we hear more from theological journalists, than we hear from Barth.

Whether intended or not, there are ‘towers of Babel’ built up around Barth[3]. Like the not so easy to grasp Church Dogmatics, it’s difficult to contribute or participate in a Barthian realm. The tower is defended by those who often proudly identify ideologically as “Leftists or progressives”.Some of whom are are “privileged”, Ivy League scholars, who tend to blurr the line between Karl Barth and Karl Marx; as they take to the perch of Marxism to preach a kind of Barthian social gospel[4]. Anyone with a different view is viewed as a threat, and the offender is subsequently dealt with.

Hence the pompous Gnostic nature of the closed community, they only let in those who choose to conform to the agreed upon special knowledge they might claim to have found in Barthian theology, or become subservient to the prevailing ideology that is built up around it. For this elect few, knowledge of Karl Barth is special, and only available to those deemed worthy of being able to hold it. Therefore it’s perceived to be a given that a conservative cannot be a Barthian, but a Barthian must be a progressive or a socialist[5].

The Socialist hold on Karl Barth comes from the fact that he was a member of the Social Democrats. Another part of this socialist hold on Karl Barth is that he was called the “Red Pastor” during his ten-year tenure as Pastor in Safenwil. However, he wasn’t a sold out fan. He distanced himself from the rhetoric and movement[6]; and “Red Pastor” was fed partly by suspicion, partly by frustration, but is mostly sarcasm. This is to be taken more cum grano salis, than as a literal description of Karl Barth’s political and ideological allegiances. The title “Red Pastor”, to my knowledge, was a title that Barth never wore with pride, let alone promoted or wanted promoted.

Herein rests the crux of my criticism. If this socialist cementing of Karl Barth as a Marxist hero goes unanswered, he will become more unreachable for the average lay person. The closed community that surrounds Barth is under lock and key. Like the hysterical hounding[7] which surrounded Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, access to Barth would be denied to the “working class”.  Metaxas, a conservative, entered a modern liberal world, and invited the masses to hear about an important historical figure. It was more Metaxas’ conservatism than the content of his book, which led largely left leaning academics to reject it. It seems that only those with permission from Leftist academics, and who can prove that they have the “correct” political leanings, can comment on or write about subjects that Leftist academics think they own, or have been granted a kind of divine special knowledge about.

There are a few exceptions to the rule, but this similar lens is applied to Barth. His works and words are encapsulated in a kind of sacred Leftist packaging. Everything which differs from the political narrative built up and forced onto Barth is downplayed, mocked or rejected.The perpetual Marxist war between an “us & them” ejects conciliation, as it propels the elect few into rejecting-without-just-cause all opposing viewpoints from anyone outside the socialist paradigm. Without examination, opposing viewpoints are met with suspicion written off as tainted, ignorant or worse. The exceptions to this include some more of balanced aspects of Princeton’s Centre for Barth Studies, authors such as John Webster, Daniel Migliore, Ebherhard Busch, Frank Jehle, and the Social Media site Karl Barth for Dummies.

The impression I received when trying to engage in the Barth community is that the elect few read Barth, and cheer others on, as long as the material justifies their own ideological positions. They take ownership of Barth and become guardians of a mythos[8] that the closed community has built around him and his theology. This is something Barth refused to cede to the conservative evangelicals of his day. I believe he would be of the same mind, with regards to socialists and progressives today.

In conclusion, it was with some reluctance that I set out to explain three core criticisms of Karl Barth. These criticisms are core concerns that function as a guide post on how to navigate a community closed to foreigners[9] and theological orphans. These three criticisms include the disconnection between parts of Barth’s theology and his life choices. The sole example of this was Barth’s extramarital relationship with Charlotte Von Kirschbaum. Secondly, I made a point of criticism about his silence when it came to the crimes of communism and the suffering of those who live under its regimes. The third criticism is that Barth didn’t intend to create a Barthian school, and discouraged others from creating one, but unfortunately, his silence about communism seems to have worked against this goal. He might have refused to be owned by any faction[10], but a faction has risen in his name all the same. This shows that Barth was either too trusting or didn’t adequately anticipate the cult like movement that would use him, and his theology, to promote a utopian ideology responsible for the oppression, death and suffering of millions.


Notes & References:

[1] Examples include: moralism and Marxism (which is, in praxis, a form of moralism in and of itself)

[2] (Think of the jovial Friar Tuck, flawed Father Mulcahy and the gracious, but assertive paternal voice of Gandalf.)

[3] This is a tiresome subject and is wrought with holes. Nothing is clear cut, because there are overlaps. This said, for anyone looking to engage in the community of theologians who read Barth, they will come up against a closed community; one that resembles a pious and esoteric social club.

[4] I will agree that Barth uses a lot of the similar language of Marx. I would not agree that a person needs to be an expert on Marx, to properly understand Barth. Barth was a product of his age. This doesn’t mean his theology itself is written through the lens of Marxism – “us & them” – there is a clear difference. For Barth it’s “God & us” and the unbridgeable divide between proletariat and bourgeoisie in Marx, is for Barth the qualitative distinction “God is God and we are not”. Although other examples exist, the distinction made here between Marx and Barth could not be any clearer.

[5] I consider myself neither a conservative nor a progressive. I would only own the statement that I currently share in the concerns that conservatives have about the direction of Western society and everything in between.

[6] As in Barth refused to be a poster boy, much to the dismay and frustration of many who were Social Democrats.

[7] It’s interesting to note that this was before Trump was elected, but has the same ungracious “resistance” and hate attached to it.

[8] A set of assumptions and beliefs.

[9] Those who hold an opposing view or are seen as different and unacceptable because of their ideological/political leanings.

[10] Placing his profile, as some have done, on a red background next to the Bolshevik leader Lenin, and the like, can be nothing other than a brutal betrayal of Barth.

* ‘Bureaucracy is the encounter of the blind with those whom they treat as blind…It is not the man who works in the bureau, for to some extent we all have to do this, but the bureaucrat who is always inhuman.’ (CD. 3:2:252)

** ‘Those who try to fight the Gospel always make caricatures, and they are often forced to fight these caricatures. Nietzsche’s own (and not all that original), was to equate Christianity with Socialist teaching.’ (CD 3:2:242)

*** ‘Marxism with its exclusively economic view of human affairs and all the theoretical and practical consequences, is a violation of history which in its way is no less bad than [the social Darwinism] which Haeckel and his associates imposed on human nature.’ (CD:3:2:386-389)

**** ‘The New Testament does not look for an amelioration of present conditions or for an ideal state, but for the coming of the Lord – Maranatha.’ (CD.3:2:486-487)

**** ‘Man can owe no creature what he owes to God – himself in his totality. Nothing [created] can claim from humanity, servitude. When a created thing imposes this demand on man, and when man recognises the demand, we have nothing but the invalid claim of false gods. No created thing can substantiate the Creator’s right over [what and who He created].’ (CD.3:2:414)

Header image credit: Zulmaury Saavedra on Unsplash

©Rod Lampard, 2018

Dismantling Babel…

September 5, 2018 — 2 Comments

…in light of the Bible.

Barth Credo God makes his way to us

 


References:

Image: RL2013; tagged “Stormy Sunset”

Quote: Cited by Sawyer, M. James (Kindle Ed. 2012). Neoorthodoxy: an Introductory Survey

Originally published 14th Nov. 2013

Rembrandt_1633 Christ in the storm on the sea of GalileeAlthough I’ve browsed through ‘City of God’ and ‘On Christian Doctrine’, my main interaction with Augustine’s work centres on his ‘Confessions’.  (A phenomenal read if you ever get the chance to dig into it.)

I like many of the things Augustine says and wrestle with some of his more introspective reflections.

One of those is his statement:

‘The appearance of what we do is often different from the intention with which we do it, and the circumstances at the time may not be clear’[i]

Augustine seems to be saying that what we intend is not always what we do. Circumstances pending, what we do is sometimes only for the sake of what we want others to see and therefore say about us.

Avarice overrides responsible action as pride corrupts intention. Thus leading us onto a path where we turn ‘the loss of confessing self in order to be for others, into an all consuming self, an expressivist exhibition’[ii]

The divide between appearances and intentions, then, forms the basis of his point. This existential division creates an ethical-theological tension perpetuated by the sometimes fog of circumstances.

This is identified by Jean Bethke Elshtain in ‘Augustine and the limits of politics’:

 ‘Augustine lays the miseries of human life at the doorstep of sin, our division (within selves and between self and others), our enthrallment to cupiditas[iii] and our all-too-frequent abandonment of caritas[iv]. We are, in other words, ignorant but it is ignorance of a particular kind, not innocent naiveté but prideful cognitive amputation.[v]

What Elshtain means by ‘prideful cognitive amputation’ is ‘philosophical solipsism’ (extreme subjective idealism)[vi]; thoughtlessness (not to be confused with mindlessness), but understood as ‘the banality of evil.(Hannah Arendt’s controversial assessment of Adolf Eichmann) [vii]

Elshtain, a feminist, presents her analysis of Augustine as an attempt at rescue. Saving Augustine from the ritualistic frown passed on to our forebears by the hubris and suspicion of post 60’s modernity.

For her, Augustine is relevant and worthy of a second look:

‘He confesses what he knows and what he does not know. He does know that the world isn’t boundlessly subjectivist; it does not revolve around the “me, myself and I”[viii]

Augustine himself thunders the point home:

‘I flattered my pride to think that I incurred no guilt and, when I did wrong, not to confess it so that you might bring healing to a soul that had sinned against you. I preferred to excuse myself and blame this unknown thing which was in me but was not part of me. The truth, of course, was all my own self, and my own impiety had divided me against myself. My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner’[ix]

Elshtain brilliantly adds, ‘when we start to regard ourselves in our own light, our light dims’[x]

Reading this in the emerging light of advent we might be called back to Karl Barth’s assertion

‘To thank means to accept with confession,… to acknowledge the gift, the goodness and the kindness of the Giver’[xi]

God makes himself known in Jesus Christ, ‘the sign of all signs[xii]

In Augustine’s sigh we hear that the heart has ears. Before the beauty of Christmas this can only mean an awakening to an awareness of our own need for grace; an acknowledgement that we are carried, firmly, lovingly held above the abyss.

Confronted by such a grace we learn that God is God and we are not. Yet, by Divine decision; a fierce and free decree. In Jesus Christ, we are spoken to, spoken for and therefore not given up on.

In His example we see in part, the point of Christmas. That the ‘principle of charity requires nothing less than to make one’s best effort.’[xiii]

Jesus is Victor!


Source

[i] Augustine, St. Confessions Penguin Classics III/XIX 1961:67

[ii] Elshtain, J.B. 1995 ‘Augustine & The Limits of Politics’ p.6

[iii] Latin for desire, eagerness, enthusiasm; passion; lust; avarice; greed; ambition; partisanship (Source: Collins Latin Dictionary App)

[iv] Latin for charity, grace, dearness, high price; esteem, affection (Source: Collins Latin Dictionary App)

[v] Elshtain, J.B. 1995 ‘Augustine & The Limits of Politics’ p.37

[vi] Ibid, p.59

[vii] Ibid,

[viii] Ibid, p.5

[ix] Augustine, St. 1961 Confessions Penguin Classics V/X p.103

[x] Elshtain, ibid pp.11, 66 &62

[xi] Barth, K. 1940 The Limits of  the Knowledge of God C.D II/I Hendrickson Publishers p.198

[xii] Ibid, p.199

[xiii] Elshtain, ibid p.55

*I’ve borrowed the second part of the title to this blog post from Elshtain, who uses it on page xiii in her introduction.

Image: Rembrandt, 1633 ‘Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee’

Originally published 14th December 2014