Religionless Christianity: Who is Christ actually for us today?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

What keeps gnawing at me is the question, what is Christianity, or who is Christ actually for us today? The age that we could tell people that with words—whether with theological or with pious words—is past, as is the age of inwardness and of conscience, and that means the age of religion altogether. We are approaching a completely religionless age; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore. Even those who honestly describe themselves as “religious” aren’t really practicing that at all; they presumably mean something quite different by “religious.” But our entire nineteen hundred years of Christian preaching and theology are built on the “religious a priori” in human beings. “Christianity” has always been a form (perhaps the true form) of “religion.” Yet if it becomes obvious one day that this “a priori” doesn’t exist, that it has been a historically conditioned and transitory form of human expression, then people really will become radically religionless—and I believe that this is already more or less the case (why, for example, doesn’t this war provoke a “religious” reaction like all the previous ones?)—what does that then mean for “Christianity”? The foundations are being pulled out from under all that “Christianity” has previously been for us, and the only people among whom we might end up in terms of “religion” are “the last of the knights” or a few intellectually dishonest people. Are these supposed to be the chosen few? Are we supposed to fall all over precisely this dubious lot of people in our zeal or disappointment or woe and try to peddle our wares to them? Or should we jump on a few unfortunates in their hour of weakness and commit, so to speak, religious rape? If we are unwilling to do any of that, and if we eventually must judge even the Western form of Christianity to be only a preliminary stage of a complete absence of religion, what kind of situation emerges for us, for the church? How can Christ become Lord of the religionless as well? Is there such a thing as a religionless Christian? If religion is only the garb in which Christianity is clothed—and this garb has looked very different in different ages—what then is religionless Christianity? . . . . What does a church, a congregation, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life, mean in a religionless world? How do we talk about Godwithout religion, that is, without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, the inner life, and so on? How do we speak (or perhaps we can no longer even “speak” the way we used to) in a “worldly” way about God? How do we go about being “religionless-worldly” Christians, how can we be έκ-κλησία, those who are called out, without understanding ourselves religiously as privileged, but instead seeing ourselves as belonging wholly to the world? Christ would then no longer be the object of religion, but something else entirely, truly lord of the world.

Letters & Papers From Prison


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