Friday, September 7, 2012

The First Couple of Pages of Karl Barth's Einfuehrung in die evangelische Theologie

I received my copy of Karl Barth's Einführung in die evangelische Theologiein the mail yesterday and began reading it right away. I began writing notes about it, and it occurred to me that I might want to write a review of the book here in The Wrong Monkey after I was done reading. But then I decided not to wait that long, because I don't know how long it will take me to read the entire book, and because I already have quite a few notes. Maybe I won't have much to say about the rest of the book. (Or maybe I'll write many blog posts about it, who knows.)

The first thing to say is that I hate this simple-minded crap, as I have hated all of the theology I've read so far in my life. So why am I reading Barth if I hate him? Same reason I've read some -- not all. Shuddering at the very thought -- of Augustine and Aquinas and other Christian "thinkers" -- because Christianity continues to rule a very large portion of the Earth. Perhaps I will actually like some parts of this book by Barth. I continue to hope that someday I'll find some theological writing, Christian or otherwise, which I find interesting. But to be frank, that hope is fading.

Well no, that's not entirely true, not if you consider the writing of Hesiod and some of that of Homer and Ovid to be theological -- and why shouldn't you? I love that stuff. But it's so very different from Christianity. It's true that Christians were sometimes systematically persecuted by some ancient pagan Roman Emperors, who tried to stamp them out. One of the chief recurring pagan charges against the Christians was impiety. Christian apologists have pointed to this as evidence that the pagans simply didn't understand Christianity, but these apologists, most of them, don't understand what piety was to the Romans: it was a respect for every religion and every deity on the face of the Earth. Don't worry, I'm not about to become a pagan. I don't agree with any concept of piety, but I find this pagan inclusiveness much more sympathetic than any monotheism. It has a lot in common with the multiculturalism of today, and, if I have not been misinformed, with some strains of Hinduism and Buddhism. Naturally, Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians and every other sort of monotheist flew straight in the face of piety as the Romans defined it.

Back to Barth. Right off the bat, at the very beginning of Einführung in die evangelische Theologie, he offends me by making a very familiar assertion: that everyone has a God or gods and that therefore everyone is a theologian. Over and over again in "modern," "enlightened" Christianity there's this attempt to drag everyone down to their level. Is this sort of thing familiar to me because the contemporary theologians I know are all, directly or indirectly, influenced by Barth? Or does Barth merely swim in the same putrid stream as they? What about apes, Karl? Are they all theologians too? And dogs and cats?

I don't want to assume things and then believe them -- I'll leave that to Barth and his ilk -- but I wonder whether Barth would entertain for a moment my question about apes and cats and dogs and whether they, too, are all theologians. Most theologians, of course, would dismiss such a thought with a contemptuous snort, betraying that their image of mankind comes not from science, because of course science tells us that we share our DNA with other species, and they evolve just as we do (some of us anyway), but from the Genesis legend, which portrays man as a thing apart. (Unfortunately many biologists obviously still follow the Genesis legend rather than science inasmuch as they reject out of hand, in the face of ever-mounting evidence, the very possibility that animals may possess certain qualities and states of consciousness traditionally -- at least in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition -- thought to belong to mankind alone.)

Barth says that "we" -- presumably "we humans" -- are all theologians, and then he loses me even more thoroughly by revealing that the theology he follows has all to do with the Bible and particularly with the Gospels, the Evangelium, that God Himself, the Creator of All, the Infinite, has expressed Himself most clearly in Bible, and in the Bible especially in the New Testament, and in the New Testament especially in the Gospels. (Note the complete contrast to pagan Roman piety or modern multiculturalism.) He wrote that in 1962, after centuries of textual criticism of the Old and New Testaments, after the discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi library and thousands of scraps of papyrii at Oxyrhynchus, and he is considered by many Christian theologians to still represent the state of the art of theology, and that's just about the most damning thing I can think of to say about Christian theology. So many books in this world, such a big world, so many discoveries piling up concerning the world around us and things long ago, and we can see so far and ever farther beyond this Earth into regions which make it look tiny indeed, and the man many Christian theologians call the greatest philosopher of the 20th century insisted that the key to understanding Everything is distilled into Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It was a pretty silly notion when those four books were freshly written, and the more we learn the sillier, the more infuriatingly, arbitrarily narrow-minded it becomes.

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