Monday, September 10, 2012

Karl Barth's Einfuehrung in die evangelische Theologie up to page 18

This might be my last post on Barth's book. Not only has it been hugely disappointing so far, but it's extremely familiar: I'm finding in this book many of the harebrained assertions currently en vogue in Christian and also Jewish theology, or at least in the versions of those disciplines or undisciplines (How disciplined is it to make things up willy-nilly in order to defend one's preconceived notions?) which make it onto the Huffington Post. Either HP's theologians have been greatly influenced directly or indirectly by Barth, or else they and Barth share important influences.

Or maybe this is actually as close as theology can come to making sense. (Not close!)

As I mentioned in my first post on this book of Barth's, Barth wastes no time in making the untenable and insulting assertion that everyone has a God or gods, and that therefore everyone is a theologian, the only question is: what kind of theologian? From this point he rushes, as any sensible German would agree, "von einem Kurzschluss zum naechsten," from one premature conclusion to the next. He describes the God of the progressive person and of the "deified progressiveness" as a human being with all sorts of nasty qualities: aloofness, contempt, deadliness, a God of No, bringing Bad News directly opposed to the Good News of the Gospels, from which people would flee if only they could, and he throws in terms such as "Uebermensch" just in case anyone might have any doubt that he was implying that progressivism, humanism and National Socialism are all one and the same.

Nazis may have referred to themselves as "progressive." That doesn't mean that it made any sense at all when they did, any more than when Barth implied that German progressives in the 1960's were like Nazis. The Nazis were of course thoroughly regressive, regressing back to a time when the primary occupation of the Germanic times was war. Barth is also regressive, harkening back to a time of unquestioning belief in the fairy tales of the New Testament. Of course I greatly prefer Barth's regression to that of the Nazis, and of course Barth resisted the Nazis in a very courageous manner. But still he's building an entirely fictitious world here and insisting that it's real. And perpetuating the fiction of the Nazis that they were Nietzscheans, when in fact Nietzsche despised antisemitism and did all that he could to keep his sister from associating his name with it. But Nietzsche suddenly went insane in 1889, leaving his sister in charge of his estate, and she published altered editions of his work and actively associated his name with so much that he despised, and in 1935 Hitler attended her funeral. The false association of Nietzsche and the Nazis persisted for quite a while, but one expects to find it mostly among non-German non-academics. To find it in the work of a German professor who is considered to represent the twentieth-century epitome of his field is downright discouraging, even if that field is only Protestant theology.

And by the way, yes, I am referring to Barth's theology as Protestant, not Evangelical. Yes, the German words "protestantisch" and "evangelisch" look very much like the English words "Protestant" and "Evangelical," but they do not mean exactly the same. There is no exact English equivalent for either of those German terms, but "Protestant" is much closer than "Evangelical" to "evangelisch." Thst's how these things go sometimes. Yes, I know that other English translations of Barth say "Evangelical." They're wrong.

So, Barth says that everyone has a God. He goes on to say that the God of progressives is horrible, cold, distant, negating -- basically either a Nazi or potentially a Nazi -- and then compares this imaginary God to his equally-imaginary friend, "the God who is the subject of Protestant theology," who in and with mankind wishes to accomplish a helpful, healing, correcting work which will bring joy and peace. How nice! And what a stark contrast to that awful, awful God of progressivism which doesn't exist outside of his imagination any more than his own wonderful Protestant God does.

This is the sort of gibberish which is considered by many Christian theologians to represent the very best any of them has ever accomplished. And perhaps they're right.

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