Saturday, November 14, 2020

"To be Christian, is to be Truly Human" Karl Rahner's Thoughts on a Darker Christian Realism

 I was reading a classic essay by Karl Rahner titled "What is a Christian?" And I couldn't help but find a great love for the expression of Christianity as one who is fully human.  To be a Christian, a follower of Jesus who has been birthed secondarily, is simply to be fully human. Though "his depths are divine" according to Rahner.  So being a Christian is tantamount to being fully human, a human who is properly connected to God.  This makes a lot of sense to me.  

Often times in the drudge of modern society, or dare I say, post-modern society, people can seem like mere shadows, ones who live in perpetual states of fear and irrationality, and devotion to two dimensional constructs like money or sensuality, which one can tell are not fully pleasing to them.  So those living out that secular modernist dream are actually living less human lives than those who have been connected to the Designer. 

We are so used to the "normal" of what our society tells us we are, that Christian seems like the outlier, the different. But to be Christian is to actually be more real than the brokenness of this world.

 Rahner continues, "The life of a Christian is characterized by a "pessimistic" realism and by the renunciation of any kind of ideology in the name of Christianity." 

We've renounced every worldly ideology, whether a patriotic conservatism or a protesting progressivism. He speaks of a "pessimistic" realism, though I don't know that I fully agree. I would call it a hopeful realism, or a raw realism, a realism that looks hopefully to the future without being utopian, but also raw and grounded by the sometimes grizzly nature of everyday life on Earth.

But Rahner places the idea of pessimism in that the Christian acknowledges that all things including himself must pass through the veil of death.  As much as idealistic evangelicals try to claim that this creation is being renewed, this is incorrect, in fact this creation is destined for a fire, and a new creation will come (2 Peter 3:7).  Though you and I will be renewed, and have been; the creation will be replaced. Call us escapist if you like, or utopian, it's all in the book.

 This statement I find astonishing by Rahner, when he says, "A Christian is a person who believes that in the very brief course of his existence he really makes an ultimate and radical and irreversible decision in a matter which really concerns his ultimate and radical happiness, or his permanent and eternal loss." 

Free will, yes, the choice we all make.  Will I choose to receive Christ or will I reject Christ? Will I focus on this world, or will I live for another world I have yet to see? The height of the decision is massive. The wisps of light in this world and the overpowering narrative around us tend to make us to think it's such a small thing, and so far away, but it is nearby and huge.  The decision is so huge, it's monumental, but we play and pretend that's its only something far away.  But it's not so far, and we've got to cut through the lies and see the horror of eternal destruction and the bliss eternal paradise.  They are quite real. 

Rahner reflects on the passage of time for the Christian as a constant living out of the death of Jesus on the cross.

 Rahner writes, "...we do not die at the end, but we die throughout the whole of life, and as Seneca knew, our death begins at our birth-and it is only when we live out this pessimistic realism and renounce every ideology which absolutizes a particular sector of human existence and makes it an idol, it is only then that it is possible for us to allow God to give us hope which really makes us free."

A Catholic sentiment if I've ever heard one, 'our death begins at our birth', how morose! Forgive me my prejudices.He is right, once we accept the reality of joining in the death of Christ in this life by serving others, we are increasingly joined with the concept of freedom from all earthly ties. And hope for the future.

Karl Rahner is considered one of the seminole priests and leaders of the modernist era of Christianity in the 19th century. And he certainly diagnoses Christianity in that era well. The danger was in absolutizing ideologies that would then become idols in our hearts.  

That same danger has become all the more extreme in the post modern era of Christianity. Political ideologies threaten to tear the world apart, particularly in the west. It's become not simply a debate that arises during political seasons, but it's become a part of each of our identities. We identify ourselves with these core political beliefs.  And they've become idols in our hearts, as much as we try to explain it away.  They've become identity, and identity is reserved for Christ.   

Rahner concludes his essay in this way, "...He (God) willed this so that precisely by going through this pluralism man would have an intimation that all of this is encompassed by the eternal mystery. A Christian, then, is distinguished from someone who really is not a Christian either reflexively or anonymously by the fact that he does not turn his existence into a system, but rather allows himself without hesitation to be led through the multiplicity of reality, a reality which is also dark and obscure and incomprehensible."

The idea is that a Christian accepts the reality of the pluralism of the world, not terrified of it, nor embracing it, nor succumbed to it, but living amongst it and witnessing to it.  And all of it culminates as an incredibly expansive mystery that we live in awe of.  That's what I get from it anyway. Life in all it's expressions, from strange creatures in the forests to sewer systems to dreams at night to marriage and love, to medicine and the moon, it all culminates into a great divine mystery that is accepted as part of God's mystery.  And we as true Christians are not necessarily those who have systematized our beliefs or reality, though I find no wrong in this idea of developing a comprehensive Christian worldview and exploring how it all connects together, such is a great thing to do, but beyond that to the nitty-gritty of daily life, a true Christian is one who is led through it by God, through a dark night, that seems obscure at times, random at times, beautiful at times, severe at times, and incomprehensibly wicked at times, through the vale of death, experiencing death, with hope, and moving forward into a new world.