A modern theology


The time has arrived for the systematic investigation of our existential situation: only then can we consciously intervene in our future. The call is, frankly, for a modern theology to throw some light on the confusion of contending value frames. We ought to introduce a semblance of method into our Sisyphean labour. Generations of stone-rollers must learn to pool their experience, secure the rocks a little higher and gain some slight irreversibility. It is a tall order but it is time to take theology seriously once again, to recall the pains of past generations, to engage our best progress dynamos, to mobilize faith, hope and love.

A different mode of truth-seeking

Powered by the exponential growth in knowledge, mankind is hesitantly entering a new supercoalition which is capable of creative self-control down to the genetic base. As in the beginning of life, we are on the threshold of a new hypercycle. Once again on our planet it is a question of all or nothing. Faith should be freed from its superficial trappings and be recognized as an axiomatics which creates the scope for play in a specific plus-sum game.

Brilliant ideas and assiduous studies are easily wasted in the quest for immediate, total and final knowledge – futile attempts to close the game. Every mental model that restricts and impoverishes our play as measured against historical reality must be false. On the contrary, authentic insight into the hierarchy of games should enhance human emancipation by unmasking muddled thinking and fraudulent Utopias.

Superordinate global values must be kept within a narrow, pragmatic frame but nothing prevents us from positioning ourselves in relation to the existential questions which affect all mankind. Anthroposophy, Bahá’i and Christian Science are nineteenth century expressions of this striving. I am calling for a different mode of truth-seeking, a modern theology with no strings attached. Its task would be to integrate our essential knowledge and experience in the light of divergent concepts of faith.

Navigating the value universe

There are no experts on points of faith; each of us is his own high-priest. The challenge is to control the hubris of hyper-rationalism – science as superstition – while preserving the respect for hard facts and the priceless personal religion that is the deepest source of scientific truth. Only then will we grasp the immense potential of scientific inquiry as well as its limitations; only then will science become a universal tool and its values consciously incorporated into our cultural credo.

As I see it, we urgently need competing centres for the open and comprehensive airing of our meta-rules: semi-organized associations for the elucidation of faith. Paradoxes abound: if we assume that we can better ourselves, degradation seems to be our lot whereas the assumption of human helplessness has proved a sound basis for lasting self-advancement. Besides historical experience, fundamental insights in the relevant sciences are the self-evident cornerstones of a modern theology, which should teach us to navigate in our value universe.

Faith is the sum total of our fundamental existential hypotheses. Learning and unlearning are excessively slow because faith can only be falsified by our entire experience of life and death. But for man such wisdom after the event is outrageously in adequate. We are not satisfied with expressing our conviction in deeds, as is unavoidable; we crave to understand our world, our lives and, most importantly, ourselves by consciously choosing and realizing our faith. Man is loath to be a puppet on a string, he thirsts for a mite of freedom and insight, he yearns to look existence in the eye – to behold the face of God.

The theory of evolution still strikes dogmatic fundamentalists as blasphemous, but it is really a profound expression of the Christian faith. Darwinism is not incompatible with the visions of the Old Testament or the teachings of Jesus; rather, it bears witness to the transforming power of time, the reality of the historical process – a living God.

A modern theology

Modern theology should be the crown of the cultural sciences, a prophetic institution for the holistic interpretation of the world. It should not issue normative decrees or fall back on the self-immunizing formulae of tautological universality, philosophical syncretism or undemanding, all-embracing ecumenicalism. What we need are disinterested guardians of our conscience who can contribute to cultural self-understanding and provide raw material for sincere truthseekers. A modern theology should weed out nonsense, chart the conditions of freedom and teach us to navigate in our value universe, unremittingly defining and redefining the ultimate context. In brief, it should try to discover how we play against God.

Modern theology should systematically expose religious, metaphysical, philosophical and linguistic double-dealing. Persistent cynics can never be proved wrong, but foul play and self-immunizing superstition can always be divulged before men and women of good will.If every conceivable theology, save one, could be falsified, then the remaining alternative would appear increasingly plausible. Such an indirect approach might help in underpinning a specific faith, but it can certainly not be brought to a conclusion in a finite number of steps.

A modern theology cannot and should not strive for unanimity by compromise which would produce only lukewarm, vacuous syncretism, devoid of conviction and passion. Even so, we have every reason to ponder the conditions of our very existence, to come together to define and redefine what we consider holy or inalienable. The hard-won insights into the workings of nature have created the capability to control our environment and to some extent ourselves, but they have also released the means of collective self-destruction, a memento mori for all of humanity. It is high time that we can find a way to meet in good faith so that the dialogue of the deaf is replaced by a plus-sum game at the highest level.

It would be presumptuous to try to anticipate the structure of a modern theology. Nevertheless, our game metaphor allows the formulation of a universal imperative: intensify the plus-sum game! The actual content of the plus-sum remains dependent on subjective evaluation, but a clear pattern emerges if we draw on universal human virtues and short comings. Zero-sum games provide the exemplar of nullity; the minus-sum means negation, waste and destruction. Only the plus-sum implies the generation of value, enhancing the level of the game, encouraging commitment, altruism, ethical thrust. The plus-sum game is an enunciation of agape, divine love, which seeks not its own but suffers and endures, believes and creates all things.