I’m currently reading through some of the secondary literature as I near the end of my doctorate. Reading Moltmann’s foreword to A. J. Conyers’s God, Hope, and History, I stumbled across this personal note from Moltmann in regard to his aversion to authority (whether it be ecclesial or political)–something that Conyers is critical of Moltmann for in his study. I haven’t seen it stated in this way in his major works so I thought it would be helpful to share with others here:
“I grew up during the German dictatorship and as a young man spent five years in barracks and prison camps (1943-1948). I have therefore personally experienced authority and power as not especially healing—in fact, the reverse. Quite early, I believe it was in 1947, a sentence from Abraham Lincoln fascinated me: ‘I do not want to be any lord’s slave nor any slave’s lord.’ As a theological student, I was hesitant and mistrusting of the then-dominating theological schools of Bultmann and Barth, of Gogarten and Althaus. I felt myself oppressed by the pressure for ideological consent that was placed on one if one wanted to ‘belong.’ I could not march well in step with others, and so I became a divergent thinker, a nonconformist in that theological school to which I owe the most: the Barth school” (vii).
This is the second post on Gupta’s work on the Lord’s prayer. Having given his introduction, Gupta proceeds to explore the first line of the prayer, “Our Father in heaven.” Interestingly, besides the name “Lord’s prayer,” the prayer has alternatively been known in church history as the Pater noster, in Latin, the Our Father.
Gupta opens with a discussion of the context in which God is called Father. Some have suggested that Jesus’ use of the name in reference to God was one-of-a-kind, perhaps even scandalous. But, Gupta clarifies, “While Jesus’ addressing of God as ‘Father’ in prayer was distinctive, it was not precedented” (38, emph. original, but see John 5:18). He points to places in the OT where God is depicted as a Father (e.g. Exod 4:22-23; Isa 64:8-9; Psalm 89:26). (For a lengthier, accessible treatment of this theme, I recommend The Shadow of the Almighty).
In the context of Matthew, Jesus alone is the Son of the Father, but believers come to know God as Father through him, coming to share in his sonship. Alongside this, Gupta picks up on the theme of “family resemblance” (42), where we as children imitate our Father through our actions, such as showing love to our enemies (Matt 5:48). He also addresses how Matthew’s fatherhood imagery dovetails with his depiction of God as intimately caring for his children. Here, too, Gupta looks at Jesus’ use of the Aramaic “Abba” to address God in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36; cf. Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15). Some scholars thought this best translated as “daddy” in the past but it has since been shown that adults in Jesus’ time used the form of address as well. The middle term, which I prefer, “dad,” is not addressed at this point, however. Many people have never addressed their dads as “father,” so that a gap between how God is addressed and how earthy dads are addressed has emerged in the church, something I sure goes beyond the picture provided by the NT.
A quote from Cyprian of Carthage introduces the comments on the opening line, focussing on “our”: “Before all things, the Teacher of peace and Master of unity did not wish prayer to be offered individually and privately” (45). This is true, and the primary setting of the prayer is surely communal. But the question remains as to what positive role the Lord’s Prayer might play in private. Gupta proceeds to provide a personal reflection on the use of the name “Father” in the prayer. He writes, ‘When I first had children, I remember my father would call me on the telephone and ask how they were. Once he said, ‘Nijay, you know how much you love those babies, your beloved children? Remember, my son, I love you even more.'” With the last part of the line, “in heaven,” Gupta suggests that this leads us to reflect on God’s omnipresence (being everywhere), greatness and majesty, and perfection.
In Luke, Jesus simply has his disciples pray one word to open, “Father.” But the context says something more. Luke portrays God the Father as compassionate. Thus Jesus commands his disciples, “Be merciful as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Gupta also points to the famous parable of the prodigal son, which only appears in Luke (15:11-32).
In closing, Gupta turns to the problem of gendered language in the Lord’s prayer. “Some men and women have had difficult experiences with their fathers such that it is uncomfortable, perhaps even offensive, to imagine God in such a way” (49). Of course, there are also other criticisms on this point, like how such language functions to uphold the patriarchal superiority of the male over the female, for example, and works together with other oppressive theologies like an all male priesthood (which RC theologians uphold on the basis of Jesus’ maleness). Gupta seeks to uphold the language of fatherhood while still being pastorally sensitive, stating, “I am hesitant to reword the LP because kinship language is so central to the biblical message” (49). He looks at Patricia Wilson-Kastner’s suggestions, namely: showing the positive content of Jesus’ relationship to God the Father, underscoring the limits of the metaphor, resourcing other biblical imagery for God, and speaking of Jesus’ Father before speaking of God as our own Father. In a short commentary there is no room to go into detail on this issue, however.
Thomists today abound. The reader can be directed to the Thomist, the analytical Thomist, the Cracow Circle Thomist, the existential Thomist, the neo-Thomist, and the transcendental Thomist, among others, at least according to Wikipedia. But there are also yet more basic forms:
1. tomist. n. A writer of tomes. Pope Leo I is probably the church’s most famous tomist.
2. Tommist. n. A producer of Tomme. We stopped by the Tommist while in the Swiss Alps.
3. t’ohmist. n. Short for: the ohmist. The person in charge of dispatching ohms. T’ohmist lived inside a giant, black and yellow resistor.
4. toe mist. n. A mist about the toes. After removing her sock, a light toe mist emerged.
5. toe-missed. adj. That which a toe has missed. The toe-missed soccer ball rolled slowly to the right.
6. Tow missed. phrase. Used to inform the addressee that a requested tow was not fulfilled, usually because they were not present when the tow-truck arrived. Tow missed, 12/10/2015. Please contact Bill for details.
In my spare time (!), I am currently reading through Nijay K. Gupta’s commentary, The Lord’s Prayer, Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary (Smyth and Helwys: 2017). The Smyth and Helwys commentary series, while not addressing the deeper exegetical questions of larger commentaries, produces short and accessible commentaries on biblical texts and are generally helpful for those with little formal training.
Gupta introduces the text with an exploration of prayer in the OT and Judaism, and the texts contexts in Jesus’ wider prayer life, and the theology of Matthew and Luke. He indicates the prayer’s significance, being “prayed by millions and millions of men, women, and children across the globe every day, in some cases several times a day” (2). Indeed, the first-century Christian text, the Didache, prescribes that the prayer be prayed three times daily. In his discussion of OT prayer in the Shema (Deut 6:4), the priestly blessing (Num 6:22-27), and the Psalms, Gupta focusses on the theme of covenant, where, though not equal parties, both God and human beings are responsible to each other. Later Jewish prayers demonstrate key similarities to the the themes of the Lord’s Prayer, underscoring again their common origin in early Judaism.
Much of the first chapter is given to the prayer’s context in Matthew and Luke. In Matthew, for example, the prayer is divided into six petitions (seven if you split 6:13), which theologians from the early church divided into petitions concerning the things of God and those concerning the things of human beings–in a similar way to that in which the Ten Commandments are often divided. I was a bit disappointed that Gupta seems to dismiss the later, concluding clause, “for yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever and ever.” Granted, this does not appear in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts, but can something be said about its importance throughout church history? It remains to be seen whether Gupta will provide any further comment in his chapter on this section. Interestingly, Gupta notes that Luke’s version has a lesser-known addition, replacing “Your kingdom come” with “May your Holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us” in some manuscripts. It would be good to see further comment on this, too, but perhaps it falls outside the scope of the commentary. I am particularly interested in it because the work of the Spirit in the prayer is only ever implicit, which for me, who cannot but see God in a thoroughly trinitarian way, has always been an issue.
Also notable is Gupta’s quick treatment of the question of whether the very words of the Lord’s Prayer are to be prayed or if instead the prayer is to be used as a guide to other prayers. Gupta comes down in favour of the latter, which is of course necessary, considering the many different prayers in Scripture and the church’s history, but it would have been good to see something more positive said about praying the words themselves. It seems to me to be the same reason we read Scripture, so as not to forget what the latter says in the midst of our own reflections on it!
Turns out I did find some time to transcribe the second part of the podcast, the discussion with Moltmann following his short biographical presentation. The audio can be found here.
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Tony Jones: There’s a lot, and there’s obviously a lot that happened since 1967. I’d like to stop and look back at a couple of points, and maybe Danielle would too. Trying to understand what a significant event it was for you to convert, to become a follower of Christ, is difficult, because those of us who’ve grown up in America, where Christianity is so much a part of the culture, in the water. How would you characterise—you write about and I’ve heard it many times that you went with a pocket edition of Goethe in your pocket, and Faust was—. So, for a lot of us who’re unfamiliar with that, what’s the message of Faust? What’s the gospel of Goethe and early twentieth century, European humanism?
Moltmann: Well, do good, love the beauty of nature, and follow your instinct for adventures of life. So, it’s a kind of humanism of free will and reason and good emotions, but without transcendence. Goethe was certainly convinced that God is present everywhere and everything is divine. Well, with this presupposition, you cannot go through a war and the imprisonment and the suffering. This collapses very quickly.
Jones: In the war a couple times you had close friend die right in front of you?
Jones: Yeah. And when you first learned that Hitler was exterminating Jews, you write about this in A Broad Place, yes? Were these some of the events that caused that—you’d said earlier Goethe had awakened a young boy, like, it had been exciting to as a young boy but then these were starting to collapse, these ideas of humanism. They seemed not in keeping with your experience?
Moltmann: Yeah, and no words for these experiences of forsakenness and destruction, and guilt-feeling. There were no words for it. I found these words first in the psalms of lament and then the New Testament.
Jones: Many of the people in this room are pastors—the majority are pastors, Danielle is a pastor. I was once told in seminary by a theologian, Jim McClendon—he said all the best theologians were pastors. This was his opinion. [He?] had spent some time in parish ministry. Do you continue to draw on that these many years later?
Moltmann: Yes, when a theological idea occurs to me, I ask myself, What would the people think about it and what would they make with it? And then, of course, the people of my congregation, who are [a] long time dead already, appear in my spiritual eyes and react to it. I think professional theologians must again and again into the people and listen to the people—into the people’s theology, to their questions and also to their answers.
Jones: Of course.
Moltmann: And the people should not be shy, and get away from professional theology. They should take responsibility for the education of theologians. I think most of the seminaries do this. They have connections to the congregations. Only the universities in Germany—I have a lot of colleagues who want to be accepted by the other faculties. And therefore they change the title of systematic theology into philosophy of religion, because this sounds more general and not so Christian, etc., etc. So there are a lot of problems inside of university theology. But this not the main question.
Jones: No, but I think a lot of us will resonate with that—what you experienced at Duke, that the American pragmatism—. There are people here who are thinking, as you’re speaking these two days, Well, how does that preach? Danielle just quotes you in her sermons, which her congregation doesn’t complain about, I’m sure.
Danielle Stroyer: *Laughs* It’s usually the best thing I say.
Jones: Can you us the story of your book—you’d been in Latin America, you’d been in base communities, your Crucified God, which many of us consider—. That book is a life-altering book, I think. And that book had an impact in the liberation, base communities of Latin America, yes?
Moltmann: Well, to most of the things in my life I came by chance. And I came by chance to Latin America because I was invited by the Ecumenical Council to give the [unclear] Lectures in Buenos Aires, and then all the other schools in Brazil and Mexico came into it. So it was a long trip over six weeks. Then, all of a sudden during this travelling I got fed up with conference theology, this [unclear]-type of theology, and wanted to be on earth at some place. I found this place at that time in the year 1990, in Managua, Nicaragua, which was still destroyed by the war of the Sadinistas against the Somoza regime, and by the Contra War on the borders of Nicaragua. It was really a poor and destroyed country but with very self-conscious people because they had won their freedom by themselves. And there was a large Protestant seminary in Managua—CIEETS—still with sedged huts and very poor. So I promised that this would be my place in Latin America and I would return every second year to give lectures in Managua. Five years later, we founded the first Protestant university in Central America, UENIC—Universidad Evangélica Nicaragüense—which is flourishing today with five thousand students and a lot of support from outside. But, as you know, the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua is completely separated from the Pacific coast. There is no road in between. You cannot get from one coast to the other coast, and the Atlantic coast is Protestant. The Miskito Indians are Moravian brothers, *laughs*
Moltmann: This was British Honduras in the nineteenth century, a British kind of kingdom.
Jones: *Agrees*, A colony.
Moltmann: Yeah. So, twenty-five percent of the Nicaraguans are Protestant. This is strong in comparison with other places. I’m a part of the Protestant seminary and university of Nicaragua. With the book, The Crucified God, there’s a for me very moving story. As you know, in ’89, Ellacuria—Ignacio Ellacuria—and six Jesuit brothers were killed by the soldiers in UCA, the Jesuit university in San Salvador—and the housekeeper and the [? their?] daughter too. Really, an act of terrorism. When they had killed the Jesuits, they dragged one across—Ramón Moreno—into the room of Jon Sobrino, who, by chance, was outside of the country at that time. And in the morning they found this corpse of Ramón Moreno in his blood. One book fell out of the bookshelf of Jon Sobrino and was sapped [?] by the blood of this martyr. This was El Dios crucificado [The Crucified God]. Two years later I made my pilgrimage to that place and found it under glass, as a reminder of what really happened in this place. So El Dios crucificado was helpful to understand what happened there—
Jones: We can just let that sit—
Moltmann: Otherwise, I had a very lively exchange of letters with the first liberation theologians—my friend, José Míguez Bonino. I wrote an open letter to him to criticise this type of seminar Marxism—
Moltmann: —and they were very angry about me—most of them. But this happened after a group of students from Argentina and Brazil came to Tübingen and declared: We want to be liberated from European influence. We no longer read Karl Barth, we no longer read Rudolf Bultmann, and we will never read Moltmann, because Karl Marx had said,—
Moltmann: *laughing* “All history is a [? the?] battle of class struggle.” And then I asked, Where was Karl Marx born, in Trier or in [unclear]? Then they became silent and angry with me. So, when I made this trip in 1990, through Latin America, I ended up in Mexico City with liberation theologians. And my friend, Jim Cone, from Union Seminary was also present. He said to me, “Jürgen, they want to crucify you.” Really, after my lecture, they criticised me from all sides—as a liberal humanist, a fundamentalist, whatsoever—
Moltmann: —because I was not a real Marxist. I knew Marx very well, but I was not a Marxist. On the next day, something strange happened. Jim Cone stood up and went through the rows of liberation theologians and said, “You are all whites, and to my knowledge there are more blacks living in Brazil than in the United States of America. Where are the black liberation theologians?” And then the liberation theologians became silent and looked to the floor. But then, Dora Arce—the mother of Reinerio Arce—from Cuba stood up and went through the rows and looked to Jim Cone and to the white liberation theologians and said, “To my knowledge, more than half of mankind is female. *Laughing*, There is no female liberation theologian between you.” So they were shocked again and at the end we celebrated a beautiful fiesta and were all one heart and soul. *Laughs*
Moltmann: This was the beginning of liberation theology. Nowadays you have black liberation theology and indigenous liberation theology, a lot of feminist liberation theologians, mujerista theology, etc. So it has differentiated more and more, and that’s good.
Jones: —I might read a little bit from it later—yesterday, John Franke, who’s a theologian here in the States, read from Experiences in Theology, his favourite book. I think my favourite text is actually the preface to [The] Trinity and the Kingdom of God, because in there you write about a turning in your career. You wrote the first three, each of which looks at the entirety through a single lens. And then you write in the preface to The Trinity and the Kingdom of God that you got back to Germany after having all these speaking engagements in liberation circles and realised: I’m a white male who lives in Germany. I’m not a liberation theologian in that way. And you then set out to write the six contributions to systematic theology [i.e., Moltmann’s “systematic contributions to theology”]. In that you’re talking about your experiences in Latin America and liberation theology, but some of those very conversations about how do you fit into this burgeoning liberation theology world must have had an impact on you as well?
Moltmann: I started with a theology of hope, and this is granted in the resurrection of Christ. Then I turned—because of some experiences with American optimism—to a theology of the cross, which is the other side of christology. And then, in the book on the crucifixion, I had only in view two subjects: Jesus the Son of God, and God the Father. Jesus cries out to the Father and the Father experiences bereavement from his own Son. I asked myself and my students were asking, Where is the Holy Spirit? So, I made a lot of doctoral seminars on the question of the Holy Spirit and finally found it, I believe, and wrote this social doctrine of the Trinity—because, since Augustine, we have a psychological doctrine of the Trinity. God the Father has two hands: the Son and the Holy Spirit. And his image is the subject in every person, the subject of will and reason, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Each subject on the human level is an image of the Holy Trinity. This I found misleading because then the Holy Spirit is only the interrelationship between the Son and the Father, but the Son and the Father already are interrelated by the fatherhood and the sonship of Christ, so they don’t need the Holy Spirit for it. If the Holy Spirit is a relation between two subjects, the Holy Spirit is not a subject herself.
Moltmann: We have in the Western tradition, in the icons—pictures—of the Holy Trinity, always two subjects and an animal, the dove, while in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, you have the three angels who visited Abraham and Sarah. And if you take Abraham and Sarah away, you have the three angels sitting around the tabled—on the centre is a cup. This is Rublev’s icon, very famous. They have complete kind of doctrine of the Trinity, while we in the West have a shattered kind of doctrine of the Trinity. And so I came up with the idea that the best would be to create a social doctrine of the Trinity, where God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are interrelated by the perichoresis, the indwelling in each other. “Who sees me sees the Father. I am in the Father; the Father is in me.” This mutual indwelling is the real mystery of the social understanding of the Trinity. And then, all of a sudden, it’s completely clear: the Christian congregation, which is one heart and one soul, is a good image of the Trinity. “That they all may be one, like you are in me and I am in you.” This is the high-priestly prayer of Jesus, according to the Gospel of John. The true human community is an icon and a witness to the trinitarian God. This is the idea of the social understanding of the Trinity. I got a lot of support from the Orthodox side, of course, but also from Protestant sides. My friend, Leonardo Boff, always tells a story: One time, the basic communities in Brazil came together in one place. They had a sign: The Holy Trinity is the best basic community. And he followed me in this social understanding of the Trinity. But, to put it in simple terms, the doctrine of the Trinity is not at all a mystery. It’s very simple. If you come into fellowship with Jesus, you also come into fellowship with the God whom he called, “Abba, dear Father.” And in the fellowship with Jesus, and in the prayer, “Abba, dear Father,” you feel the life-giving energies of the Spirit. So, the Christian faith has a triadic structure in itself. Before we develop a doctrine of the Trinity, we live already in God, surrounded by God, the Son of God—Jesus Christ and [? in?] the Abba, dear Father—and the life-giving energies of the Spirit. We don’t believe in the Trinity only; we live in the Trinity. We live in God, in the trinitarian God, surrounded from outside. There’s an indwelling in us and our community, just as there’s an indwelling of our community in God. I found this for myself very enlightening.
Jones: A few others agree—find that enlightening as well. I think Danielle might be on the same page.
Stroyer: I really appreciate the way that you restructured—or helped us to reorient understanding of—the unity of the Trinity, because it seems that in Western theology when we talk about the Trinity, the numbers sort of mess with us and we try to figure out how to be three in one. You were very clearly stating, Well, Jesus said that “I and the Father are one,” not “I and the Father are one and the same.” As a pastor, that’s helpful for me because we’re not a doctrine-based church. So, when people come and say, “What do you believe about X?,” or, “What is your statement on this?,” we often say, “Well, there are a lot of different beliefs in our church.” And then they say, “What holds you together?” And we say, “This unity comes not through our doctrine, but through the fact that we feel that Christ provides us a unity that is far above that, right? So, can you talk a little bit more about that?—because I think for many of us in the room who are pastors, who have congregations, who disagree on a number of different doctrines, this gift of the unity of the Trinity that doesn’t have to be sameness is a really important thing for us.
Moltmann: Let me first say: Jesus addressed his God as Abba, dear Father. The Apostle Paul heard the Abba prayer in Galatia and in Rome. But after the first century, the Abba prayer disappeared from the Christian congregations and was replaced by “Our Father, who is in heaven”—with a far distance, and with the possible misunderstanding of patriarchalism: There’s a Father in heaven and a father in the family, etc., the father of the fatherland, etc. If we would reintroduce into our congregations, in our personal life, the Abba prayer, we would feel the nearness of Jesus in the moment. So I try to convince congregations in Tübingen to reintroduce the Abba prayer, and replace the “Our Father in heaven” with “Abba, dear Father, hallowed be thy name,” etc.—because then you are already in the Trinity, while the father of the fatherland and the Father of the universe, etc.—this is another concept of fatherhood. And what keeps us together? Well, the trinitarian persons in their mutual indwelling and their perichoresis are not only three persons, but also three rooms. They give room for indwelling of the other persons in them. So, God the Father gives room to Jesus to dwell in him, and he dwells in Jesus. To give room to each other means what we are doing if we accept other people, open our life, our houses, in love and friendship to them. We give them a light space in which they can breathe [?] freely and reveal themselves, go out of themselves, etc. If we give no living space to other people, to exclude them or shut them out or become aggressive, the other people will retire into themselves and become defensive. We all do this, and therefore this room-giving to each other is the best way to correspond to the triune God. And perhaps this is what you are doing, your church.
Snyder: Well I hope you enjoyed the first episode. The next episode we’ll again join Tony but we’ll also add Tripp Fuller with us, sitting alongside Professor Moltmann, as we continue the conversations. In the second episode, the panel’s going to talk about Moltmann’s theological method. In other words, we’ll hear about how Moltmann thinks theologically, how that happens, to what end, and how all that affects the kind of theology we focus on. It, too, is brilliant and it’s an important conversation so I hope you’ll join us again next time. But, until then, please do join the conversation. If you have thoughts, reflections, or you have questions—you’d like to bring them up to continue [?]—we really only get started here [?]. Visit the website at emergentvillage.com [now defunct]. Click on “podcast,” on the left-hand side there. Hey, we wanna give a special thanks to our sponsor for this series, the Center for Missional Leadership at Luther Seminary. They’ve provided studio space for this podcast. So we wanna thank them for their role in making these conversations available. If you’re interested in learning more about the Center, you can visit them online at luthersem.edu. Music for this series comes from our good friend, Jonny Baker. The theme song is called “Hope.” It’s from Jonnys in the Basement album, Backbone. So a special thanks to Jonny for letting us use that. Again, I’m Tim Snyder, host of the Emergent podcast. Thanks for listening, blessings on [? all?] the way.
I got this down today as there’s some good content in this series that hasn’t appeared in writing yet–something I always find easier to make my way through, especially for engaging with Moltmann’s theology in my doctoral studies! I don’t know how many of these I’ll complete but I’ll post this one anyway because it’s done. Also, I don’t know how long the audio will be online so make sure you download it in case it disappears forever!
Most of the following content can be found in the first chapters of A Broad Place, though there are some extra details here, too.
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Tim Snyder: Hi, and welcome to the Emergent podcast. I’m your new host, Tim Snyder. Before I introduce the upcoming episode, let me first just say a quick word of thanks to all of you who have written about the podcast, anxiously encouraging us in relaunch and telling us how much you enjoy what we’ve done in the past. So, from all of us at Emergent Village, Hey, thanks, we really appreciate your support. It means a lot to us. Alright, now that we’re back, I can’t even say how excited I am to be hosting podcast. We’ve got a great upcoming podcast season for you this summer. To get us started, we’re releasing all of the audio from them Emergent theological conversation with Jürgen Moltmann from this past September. If you were in Chicago with us, then you know what an incredible contribution Professor Moltmann has made, especially to contemporary theology, and especially how provocative that conversation was, as we began to intersect his work with our ongoing conversation about the future of the church and Christianity. If you weren’t with us, well, you’re in for a treat. In the first episode, Tony Jones and Danielle Shroyer sit down with Professor Moltmann for a conversation about his life, how he came to Christian faith, what drove him to study theology back home, in post-war Germany. In this episode, Professor Moltmann shares the stories of his first pastorate and then teaching at the seminary at Wuppertal, before ending up at Tübingen where his career as a theologian took off. If this is your first time hearing Professor Moltmann’s life story, I think you’ll be amazed how his own theology is so wrapped up in that story of his. It’s an incredible story. So, let’s listen in now as that conversation unfolded in Chicago.
Tony Jones: Well, thanks everybody again for being here, and I think we have just an incredible two days in store. This first session—you’ll kind of get the flow of how everything’s going to go. In this first session, Danielle Shroyer and I are going to talk to Professor Moltmann about his story, and what led him to be the theologian of hope that we all know. After the coffee break, Tripp Fuller will join us on stage, and we’ll talk a little bit about theological method and what it means to be the one who wrote a theology on the way. So, you know, I could list off book titles, and letters after his name, and this kind of thing, but I think that’s all well on the record so, with no further ado, let’s welcome Professor Jürgen Moltmann.
Jones: Thanks for being here.
Moltmann: Thank you for inviting me.
Jones: It’s very much our pleasure, for sure. *To Stroyer*: You’ll get that set up?
Jones: Do you wanna test it?
Jones: There we go, it seems to work. *To Moltmann*: Was it you who said—I think I heard this quote—I think it was you who said, “Talking about theological method is a lot like listening to someone clear their throat”?
Moltmann: Yes, [if] you do it for too long a time, the people will leave.
Jones: Yeah, so, we’re gonna do that before lunch, and we’ll try to keep it interesting. Danielle and I, I think, and everyone here would very much like to—your life story is so compelling, and many people in here have read A Broad Place, your autobiography. If you haven’t yet, I would really encourage you to pick up that book. Several people have said to me, something along the lines of—I mean, even in the last day—something along the lines of, “Wow, that book is written”—and I think they’re saying this vis-a-vis the theological text—“Boy, that book is really easy to read.”
Jones: And it’s a really good story, and it’s so compelling, but what I think is so interesting about—this is the case with any notable theologian, where I’m sure someone’s life story has a big impact on what the theology they end up doing. But yours in particular, it seems like in every introduction of you there’s talk about being a POW, there’s talk about growing up in a kinda early twentieth century German, Enlightenment, secular kind of environment—
Moltmann: You seem to know everything about me.
Jones: Well, I’m a bit of a stalker—Danielle’s even more so—but—
Moltmann: Well, it’s easy to tell but it was difficult to live through these years. Shall I now introduce myself?
Jones: Yeah, please, please.
Moltmann: I was born in 1926 in Hamburg, Germany. My family was a secular family Op teachers and schoolmasters. My grandfather was a great master of a freemason [lodge] in Hamburg, and left the church because he believed in free will and reason—and reason, I also believe. We had no connections to a church because in our quarter of Hamburg there was no church. There was only a pastor living in a certain house. We went to his worship only on Christmas Eve. As my father later confessed, not to celebrate the birth of the Saviour, but to celebrate the Holy Family—father, mother, and the first child in the manger. So this was his ideal—and church and theology and religion was far away from me as it was from my family. My intention was to study mathematics and physics because I was sure that my father understood nothing of physics and mathematics.
Moltmann: —to be an alternative to him.
Moltmann: When I was sixteen, in 1943, I was just studying the first book on quantum physics—it was a preface [?] of Werner Heisenberg—, when our whole school class was drafted to the German army, and we were sent to the anti-aircraft batteries in Hamburg and around Hamburg. My class was sent to an anti-aircraft battery in the centre of Hamburg, where we found this very compelling. So, we were looking for aircrafts at night, and, in the morning, school teachers came to give us what they had in mind while we were sleeping. And then it happened. In the last week of July ‘43, the royal air force came with one thousand airplanes and destroyed Hamburg—at least the eastern part of Hamburg—by creating the so-called firestorm. This is a fire, which is running for miles, destroying everything living. Fourteen thousand people died in these nights at the end of July of ‘43, mostly women and children, because the men were already on the front. So, our battery got bombed out. And the bomb, which tore the friend standing next to me like you—tore into pieces—spared me, unconceivably [sic]. When I afterwards stood up, I saw the dead around me, and did not know where I was. There were two questions at that time. One cry: Where is God? Where is God?—in this inferno around me. And the other question was: Why am I alive, and not dead, as the others are? Is there any meaning to survive? And these two questions then followed me and tortured me for years. I was then drafted to the German army and became a prisoner of war in the [unclear] in February of ‘45, and then had three years as a prisoner of war in Belgium, Scotland, and England, to find answers to these two questions. My return into life came about I think by three things. We were completely desperate, and all prisoners in the camp were trying to conceal their wounded souls by an armour of untouchability. This is normally the first reaction. So, you don’t feel sorrow, you don’t feel joy, and everything’s the same. You become stiff while you’re still alive. My first opening of the imprisonment of the soul, which came together with the imprisonment of the person, happened through a blooming cherry tree. We had to bring a wagon out of the camp—and this was the first time I went out of the camp, and all of a sudden stood in front of a blooming cherry tree. I was so overwhelmed by this demonstration of life that I almost collapsed. I still feel the weakness in my knees today, if I remember this. This raised the first sparks of life in my heart. I [unclear] to Scotland and worked in Kilmarnock [unclear] on road reconstructions, and the Scottish workers were so kind to us prisoners, former enemies, that they took us as human beings, while we were still only numbers and had the patches of the prisoners’ suits on our bag. The Scottish families were so kind to us so that we sensed forgiveness of guilt without confessing guilt. So that we could live with the guilt of my people, we were confronted with the pictures of Bergen-Belsen and the other concentration camps in Kilmarnock [unclear] for the first time. We were so full of shame and feeling of guilt that this kindness of the Scottish workers was overwhelming. Then, on one day, [an] army chaplain entered into our camp and distributed Bibles. I didn’t know what to do with it and many of my friends would have expected cigarettes or something like that [instead of?] a Bible.
Moltmann: Then I started to read the Bible, and when I came to the psalms of lament, especially Psalm 39, I found words that spoke to my heart. “I have to swallow up the sorrow in my heart. I am a stranger with you all my time. O God, hear my cry.” I lost my interest in the wonderful of poems of Goethe and Schiller, which had awakened the emotions of a boy, and started reading the Psalms, especially the psalms of lament, because they gave words to my feeling of forsakenness. Then I read the Gospel of Mark, and when I read the death cry of Jesus, “My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?,” I thought, There is someone who understands you. “A fellow-sufferer who understands,” as Alfred North Whitehead put it—his words. So I understood the assailed and tortured, the godforsaken Christ because I felt so close to him. I felt understood by him. This was, then, my first encounter with Jesus and this impression never left me since—that I’m sure that Christ found me in the dark pit of my soul and in this situation behind barbed wire where we all felt forsaken by God and all good things. So, I felt the presence of Jesus in my life and felt that he was taking up the lost prisoner on his way to resurrection and life. Then I lost interest in mathematics and physics and wanted to find out about the truth in Christian faith. I was still seeking God, but, all of a sudden, I had with Jesus the impression that I would not [be] seeking for God if God was not already drawing me. And so I became interested more and more in this type of seeking God. Then, in ‘46, I heard about a special camp for the education of teachers and pastors for post-war Germany. It was arranged by the British YMCA. It was a great gift of the British Christians to the prisoners they had in the British Isles. And it was funded by an American businessman, John Barwick. I never met him, but he was behind the whole camp. I applied for it and was accepted, and a British soldier, strangely enough, with a gun in his hand brought me in a railway from Glasgow down to Nottingham, because Norton Camp was located in the park of the Duke of Portland under beautiful oak trees. There were Nissen huts where we lived. And there I started to study theology. My first book I tried to read was Reinhold Niebuhr, [The] Nature and Destiny of Man, and I’m sure I did not understand one word.
Moltmann: —Completely alien to me. But I studied Hebrew and learned Hebrew in this camp, and started with Greek, and heard my first lectures, had my first contact with the church. But I was still not sure whether to become a pastor because I didn’t know what the church was all about. I was only searching for the truth. When I returned home in April of ‘48—I still don’t know why the British kept the prisoners for so long, because we didn’t do anything good in that time—I all of a sudden felt that my soul was healed from the wounds of the war and the post-war time. I felt as if I had come together with Jacob through the struggle with the dark side of God, the [unclear] of God, the angel and the Jabbok River. I had experienced the dark sides of God and the [unclear] of God, and then had experienced also the warmth of his love and the presence of his countenance, his shining face. I could stop here but perhaps…—I then went to study theology at Göttingen, to the disappointment of my enlightened father.
Moltmann: There I met a beautiful fellow student, Elisabeth. She was already working on a dissertation, so in order to come a little closer to her I asked her professor if he would take me also as a doctoral student!
Moltmann: So, by chance, I came to write a dissertation during my study of theology. In ‘52, I passed three examinations in two weeks—the final examination, the doctoral examination, and the wedding.
Moltmann: Then I wanted to become a pastor and nothing else. It was only my professor, Otto Weber, who brought me to study more in Reformed theology. I had read Karl Barth up and down and got the impression that after Karl Barth there can be no new theology because he had said everything already—
Moltmann: —and everything so fine—so I returned to the study of the history of Reformed theology, especially in the post-Reformation time. I became a pastor in a rural congregation near Bremen. It was, I think, five hundred souls and nearly two thousand cows, a typical North German rural congregation. It was a Reformed congregation. The people came to church, but I felt—vis-a-vis the farmers and the women and children—like a fool with my PhD. So I tried to preach from life experience to life experience, and not to give kind of lectures to them, because whenever I started to lecture to them, they rolled with their eyes.
Moltmann: I think they fell asleep. They were more interested in the Ten Commandments than in existential self-understanding problems.
Moltmann: I was for five years a pastor in this rural congregation. When we just were looking for a larger congregation in Bremen, our professor came and said we need you in the Kirchliche Hochschule in Wuppertal. This was a seminary run by the Confessing Church in the time when all the faculties in Germany—in the Nazi time—were conformed [?], leicht beschädigt [? slightly damaged], as we say, and full of Nazis. The Confessing Church formed two seminaries, one in Wuppertal, the other one in Berlin, for the education of a free theology, free from the Nazi ideology. Then we changed to this seminary in Wuppertal and I felt this as an impoverishment. As a pastor, I had the old people and the young kids, the families—all the problems of life. And as a professor in Wuppertal I had only the more or less good-educated, young students, at a distance, like in a lecture hall. I think this was not the reality of life. It took me a long time to bring some life into this more distant life of doing theology than I did as a pastor in my rural congregation. Then we moved to Bonn University for three years, and in ‘67 I was called to Tübingen University, which is one of the oldest and the largest theological faculty at that time. It became even larger when a new generation came. It was good. In ‘67 and ‘8 I was a guest professor at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. This was still kind of the old south. And the boys and girls at the divinity school at certain different interests than my students in the four-hundred-years-old Tübingen University. For example, at Tübingen we raised, of course, the question, What is the church?, and were asking for the essence of the church, etc., while [?] the students in North Carolina were only asking how to run a church.
Moltmann: So there were certain differences. Well, at first, I liked the surface of America. But then my friend, Fred Herzog, showed me around to the misery of the black ghettos in Durham and showed me the huts of sharecroppers deep in the woods. And they burned crosses of the Ku Klux Klan in front of churches. So my American dream was a little bit disappointed at that point [?]. Then in ‘67 my book, Theology of Hope, was published in America, and was praised on the New York Times front page: replacing the God-is-Dead theology—which was not too difficult.
Moltmann: Then the divinity school made a nationwide theology of hope conference in April of ‘68. Everybody with name and rank in theology was present, and I was just debating with Professor Van Harvey the difference of the concept of history and the German concept of Geschichte, when Harvey Cox stormed into the room and cried, “Martin [Luther] King is shot!” It was on the 4th of April, of ‘68. So we stopped the conference and everybody was trying to get home as soon as possible. In the evening, one could see on TV many cities were burning. Durham came under curfew. Was this the end of my American dream? No, it was not, because on the same evening, more than four hundred students, male and female at Duke University, went out on the quadrangle and were having a sit-in for four days and four nights, in sunshine and rain. They were sitting there in silence and mourning. And this made a deep impression upon me. Then, on the last day, I remember black students from a nearby college came and danced through the rows of the sitting students. Then, we all stood up and were singing We Shall Overcome. So, this was my first impression of America. First I like America, then I was disappointed by America, and then I began to love America. At that point [or: part] I make my introduction an end, to give you the opportunity to ask questions.
This image is copyrighted so I have linked to other sites displaying it instead.
This is the first image I am aware of that influences Moltmann’s theology. As far as I know, none is mentioned in regard to Theology of Hope. In The Crucified God Moltmann writes, “In front of me hangs Marc Chagall’s picture ‘Crucifixion in Yellow’. It shows the figure of the crucified Christ in an apocalyptic situation: people sinking into the sea, people homeless and in flight, and yellow fire blazing in the background. And with the crucified Christ there appears the angel with the trumpet and the open roll of the book of life. This picture has accompanied me for a long time. It symbolizes the cross on the horizon of the world, and can be thought of as a symbolic expression of the studies which follow. A symbol invites thought (P. Ricoeur). The symbol of the cross invites rethinking. And this book is not meant to bring the discussion to a dogmatic conclusion, but to be, like a symbol, an invitation to thought and rethinking” (6).
Moltmann writes in his autobiography, A Broad Place, “When I was writing this book, a picture by Marc Chagall stood on my writing desk. Is is called ‘Crucifixion in Yellow’ and shows the crucified Christ appearing in the world in an apocalyptic situation: people are sinking into the sea, people are fleeing, and running about homeless, the fire glows yellow from the background. And with the crucified Christ the angel with the trumpet from Revelation 14.6 also appears, showing the scroll of life, open. For a long time this picture was my companion, and was a symbol inviting me to theological thinking” (191).
In the same place, Moltmann writes, “In those years I often sat in the Martinskirche in Tübingen and meditated on Susanne Müller-Diefenbach’s black crucifix. It drew me into the dark suffering of God.” I initially left this piece out because I couldn’t find any Google hits. I thank Steve Sprinkle for directing me to the following, on the website of the Evangelische Martinsgemeinde, Tübingen: Image 1 | Image 2 | Site
Moltmann writes in The Trinity and the Kingdom, “Here too, as in other theological work, there has been a picture in front of me. It is Andrei Rublev’s wonderful fifteenth-century Russian icon of the Holy Trinity. Through their tenderly intimate inclination towards one another, the three persons show the profound unity joining them, in which they are one. The chalice on the table points to the surrender of the Son on Golgotha. Just as the chalice stands at the centre of the table round which the three Persons are sitting, so the cross of the Son stands from eternity in the centre of the Trinity. Anyone who grasps the truth of this picture understands that it is only in the unity with one another which springs from the self-giving of the Son ‘for many’ that men and women are in conformity with the triune God. He understands that people only arrive at their own truth in their free and loving inclination towards one another. It is to this ‘social’ understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity that this book is an invitation” (xvi).
He writes in Humanity in God, “Andrei Rubljov best-known and most famous Russian icon around 1415 for the Church of the Trinity in Sagorsk. It depicts the Trinity in the form of three angels, who, according to Genesis 18, appeared to Abraham and Sarah by the oaks of Mamre. Rubljov has left Abraham and Sarah out and represented the Trinity in intimate conversation. I believe the angel in the middle represents God the Father, for the movement of the three persons proceeds from him. The angel on the left represents the Holy Spirit, who receives a glance from the Father and points with his hand to the Son, who sits on the right, and blesses him. At stake is the sending of the Son on the way of suffering for the reconciliation of the world. For this reason a chalice appears in the middle. The coordination of the hands of the three persons depicts the Trinity open to the sacrifice of love. Also in this picture the doctrine of the Trinity and the theology of the cross are united” (53).
Similar comments appear in Sun of Righteousness, Arise! (169).
In The Coming of God, Moltmann writes, “Earlier, when I was writing on other subjects, I had a picture before me on my writing desk. And during my work on this eschatology of ‘the coming of God’ I have again had a picture in front of me: It is the Angel of the Annunciation, by Simone Martini, painted in 1315 and now in Galleria Uffizi in Florence. The angel is not looking back to the wreckage of history, as does Paul Klee’s ‘Angelus Novus’, which Walter Benjamin called the Angel of History. This angel of the future is gazing with great eyes towards the messianic Child of the coming God, and with the green branches in his hair and in Mary’s hand proclaims the Child’s birth. The tempest of the divine Spirit is blowing in the angel’s garments and wings, as if it had blown him into history. And its meaning is the birth of the future from the Spirit of promise” (xvii).
The 4 pieces discussed in this post appear in the prefaces to three of Moltmann’s major works. But Moltmann discusses other pieces elsewhere, which I would like to bring together one day, too. Watch this space!
Written by the chief copy editor at BuzzFeed, A World without ‘Whom’ addresses language in a fast-changing world. The title of the book refers to one of the greatest markers of this change, the use of the word “whom,” often deliberately avoided for its datedness or unconsciously substituted with “who.” Favilla provides an accessible take on various rules regarding spelling, punctuation, grammar, and style that are becoming obsolete in many areas, particularly in internet media such as BuzzFeed itself. She also provides helpful comment on developing conventions in different media, such as what to do in a text vs. an email, a tweet, etc. Published in 2017, it is perhaps not surprising that even now some of the content is appearing a little dated! Nonetheless, it is still an important read.
Favilla’s copy-editing philosophy is particularly notable. Early on, she writes, “Inaccurate information, insensitive language, and sentences that have egregious structural issues all put wear and tear on credibility…. You never want a reader to be jolted from their engrossment from a story because they’ve been distracted by an awkwardly structured, unclear, or offensively worded sentence” (33). Of course, there are exceptions to this. I would prefer to use the inclusive language of “pregnant people,” rather than simply “pregnant women,” despite it likely causing some readers a little jolt, for example, and there will be many similar situations. Perhaps this observation relates to Favilla’s critical take on the “just be consistent” mantra that often appears as a bottom-line in style guides. “There isn’t always a one-size-fits-all approach to language. And that’s really been the basis of the BuzzFeed Style Guide since day one: a fluid, evolving set of standards that shouldn’t be thought of as the iron-fisted rulers of prose… but as a thing that exists to just sorta help everyone out” (35). And quite a bit later: “How do you form an electrifying relationship with your reader? By speaking their language! Not by using the grammar rules our teachers taught us in 1989… or pretending that people aren’t really saying things like ‘I forgot how to person.'” (194).
Below I would like to offer critical comment on some of Favilla’s conclusions and suggestions. This should not be taken as a dismissal of her overall project though, which I think is basically brilliant.
In her chapter on “How Not to be a Jerk,” Favilla accepts APS* style on the distinction between a refugee and a migrant. “Use refugee when referring to ‘a person who is forced to leave his home or country to escape war, persecution or natural disaster.’ Use migrant when referring to someone seeking economic oportunity” (62). But this is problematic. First, there is not always a clear-cut distinction between the migrant and the refugee. Can this persecution be the spectre of growing far-right groups in someone’s vicinity, or must it be state-sponsored violence? What constitutes a natural disaster that is significant enough to warrant refugee status? Seasonal flooding? Second, the implication that migrants seek economic opportunity overlooks a whole lot of other factors. What about those seeking education or family? Etc? Even if the distinction appears in legal texts, the responsibility of journalists and other writers involves being critical of inhumane laws, especially those that uphold such a distinction in order to prevent particular people from migrating. (*I am assuming this refers to the American Physical Society, but please let me know otherwise).
In the same chapter, Favilla commends “LGBT” and “queer” as collective terms, against such as “gay,” for example in “the gay community.” This is not simply her own conclusion but the result of many discussions with LGBTQ+ people. While I’m hetero myself, it would have been good to see comment here in regard to different approaches to the acronym. At the very least, surely a + could be included so as not to confuse say intersex people with trans people or pansexual people with bi people? L, G, B, and T don’t quite cut it as representatives themselves of a much larger collection of people. Then there is “queer,” which, while many may find it a helpful umbrella term, is potentially problematic when non-queer writers use it (especially as it originates as a slur or exonym and still carries those connotations for some), and also fails when some people who might otherwise be identified as queer reject the term altogether, even as a self-designation.
Also in this section, Favilla rejects the use of -phobic words such as “homophobic” or “transphobic,” preferring “anti-gay” and “anti-trans.” Her reasoning is that “the suffix -phobic implies a fear, and although this fear may or may not be figurative, it also implies something inherent that cannot be helped, and its use can perpetuate stereotypes.” This, however, is simply etymological fallacy, confusing a word’s meaning with its origin. I’m sure people are smart enough to be able to differentiate between agoraphobia, claustrophobia (and, it may need some work, but both the term as it is used clinically and its perhaps more common, colloquial form), and homophobia. Moreover, the noun form of the word disappears altogether. Are we to replace “transphobia” with “anti-transness?” Think also of the often helpful “xenophobia.” Don’t be so “anti-other”! I’ve had it up to here with “anti-otherness!”
On quite a different topic, I didn’t find myself quite agreeing with Favilla on capitalisation, though she suggests a great rule. “In general … you’re safer capitalizing anything derived from a proper noun than you are lowercasing it” (118). But this means that we end up with “Brussels sprouts” and “French fries”! Admittedly, Favilla reveals, “I’ll take ’em either way” (118). For such common terms, I’m much more inclined to lowercase, though perhaps this derives from my experience in theological writing where I consistently lowercase “christological” and “trinitarian” (but not “Christian” or “Triune God,” whoops). Maybe though, this whole paragraph stems from my offence at the great cheese appearing in the appendix as capital-B “Brie.” Favilla also argues that “G/god” should be lowercased “in common expressions” so: “thank god” and “god only knows,” etc. whereas it should often otherwise be capitalised (124). The reasoning is, quite rightly, that “someone’s god could be a saltshaker” (124). I wonder though, if this overlooks the other side, that someone’s god in those expressions could be quite real to them. Even atheists and agnostics (not all, I’m sure!) can harbour a poetic or literary appreciation for a G/god or two, and one that may find expression in letter case as well.
The book’s namesake also warrants comment. I wonder if Favilla is being ironic when in her very first paragraph she employs such as “nary” and “frolicking” (1). Just a few pages on a “hodgepodge” can be spotted (4). Are these not the glorious companions of the departing “whom”? (Perhaps only “frolicking”; I find the other two significantly less glorious). Why, then, does Favilla proceed to argue: “Face it: You hate whom. If you don’t, you’re likely a liar or someone with an English degree who actually still really hates whom but can’t bear to come to terms with your traitorous hatred for fear of your overpriced degree being snatched from your cold dead hands” (151)? She compares it with “shall,” as both are rarely used, unless ironically, in spoken language. (Notably, my American friends living in NZ recently asked, “Why does everyone say ‘shall’ over here?”). Her most compelling argument, however, is in an example of its incorrect usage. “They were not sure whom would do a better job” (151). Now, I can accept “whom” going out of style in spoken language (though I have often heard it and am happy to use it myself in spoken language), and this being reflected in some forms of written media (virtually all forms within another fifty years, I’m sure). But maybe I’m still in the grieving stages as “whom” enjoys continued use in my academic writing (a use also enjoyed by me), so I’m being all nit-picky about Favilla’s half-archaisms (datedisms?) in the first few pages. And, really, I’m all on board with farewelling “whom” if we can finally agree that “me and [person]” as the subject of a sentence is now acceptable English (because usage!).
I don’t know if this is just me either, but I found Favilla’s rejection of the verb “to Facebook” a little frustrating. “Why? Because Facebooking sounds silly; that’s why” (156). But Favilla is quite happy in the same chapter to accept the verbs “to Instagram” and “to Snapchat.” Hmmm. Maybe it’s because the first is ambiguous. If you Instragram something, you post it on Insta. If you Snapchat/snap someone, you send them a snap. If you Facebook something you… look it up on FB search? If you Facebook someone you… contact them over Messenger? Actually, this is the form of the verb I have used and still use. It probably derives from the earlier days before Messenger became a second thing. I’m quite happy telling someone I’ll either Messenger them or Facebook them, just as much as I am telling them I’ll “send [them] a message on Facebook/Messenger.” Also of note here is that the BuzzFeed Style Guide in the appendix lowercases “google” as a verb. Perhaps this is because it’s the most common? But I think there is a need for an executive decision here. Either all verbs deriving from proper nouns retain their capitals, so “to Google [something],” or they automatically lose them in becoming a verb, so “to snap(chat) [someone].” There is precedent for the former, in much older words such as “Judaise,” though I think I would prefer a blanket lowercasing, even on the older words.
Finally, I’m likely to be outvoted here, but I’d like to offer a little apology for the !? interrobang, as opposed to the ?! one that Favilla favours, writing, “the logic being that the sentence it punctuates is a question more so that it is an exclamatory phrase; the ! is just an added bonus” (250). I find the !? much more aesthetic, however. The question mark hints at enclosing the exclamation mark, somewhat like a bracket. Compare (thing!) with (thing)! The other thing is that I read a phrase or sentence with an interrobang in quite the opposite way to Favilla. When someone says, “What!?” it is their surprise, anger, enthusiasm, etc. that is apparent to me ahead of their asking a question. The logic of the exclamation-first interrobang follows this (though perhaps this symbol should have another name, as its order does not reflect “interrobang”: a “banginter?” “bangative?”).
Reposted by me on my Goodreads with my permission.
Me and my wife recently finished watching season 1 of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix. We loved it. Beginning a week before Sabrina’s sixteenth birthday, the first season explores the trials faced by a teenage half-mortal, half-witch. A ten-episode horror-lite, the show is a particularly darker rendition of Archie Comics’ Sabrina the Teenage Witch (something I only learnt this week), more famously as a sitcom featuring Melissa Joan Hart throughout seven seasons in the nineties and early noughties. The new take is not without its own comedy though, and Lucy Davis’s performance as Sabrina’s Aunt Hilda is especially notable here. Aside from that, it is the lore, the gradual unfolding of the story with its revelations about the pasts of different characters, and the ongoing tension between Sabrina’s two worlds that gives the show its biggest appeal. My main criticism, other than that which appears in the discussion below, is that Sabrina has its characters spell out key features of the witch world or important aspects of character history, rather than have these arise more organically. But overall I found the show thoroughly enjoyable.
On a yet deeper level, I think the show falls short in its depiction of Satan. Speaking generally, outside of the world of Sabrina, I would first like to point to two different uses of Satan as a symbol (though of course there will in reality be more than two). The first is that of Christian faith, where Satan is a symbol of evil. Here, the world’s greatest evils, everyday slip-ups, and even things that are good but judged by the church to be bad have all alike been associated with Satan and his primeval rebellion against God. That is, Satan has been associated with everything from Hitler to playing cards.
The second, in reaction to this misapplication of the symbol to so broad a litany of inadmirable and admirable, co-opts it and effectively employs Satan against the church. A famous example of this is the attempt by the Satanic Temple to have a statue of Baphomet installed next to the monument of the Ten Commandments on Oklahoma State Capitol grounds. Significantly, here Satan is explicitly acknowledged to be a symbol, rather than a supernatural being. The Times article puts it as follows: “Most vitally, though, the group does not ‘promote a belief in a personal Satan.’ By their logic, Satan is an abstraction, or, as Nancy Kaffer wrote for The Daily Beast last year, ‘a literary figure, not a deity — he stands for rationality, for skepticism, for speaking truth to power, even at great personal cost.'” The proposal for the statue’s installation raises questions about religious freedom and the relationship between church and state in the U.S. As Ivy Forrester, cofounder of Satanic Arkansas, recently claimed in a similar attempt, “If you’re going to have one religious monument up then it should be open to others, and if you don’t agree with that then let’s just not have any at all.”
I'm amazed that anybody is confused as to why we would seek legal remedy over Sabrina using our monument. Would they be as understanding of a fictional show that used a real mosque as the HQ of a terrorist cell? A fictional Blood Libel tale implicating real world Jews?
There is some good discussion on each thread too. To be honest, I am less sympathetic to the comparison with Islam and Judaism, but maybe I just don’t know enough about Satanism.
For our purposes, Greaves’s reference to “Satanic Panic” is particularly interesting (setting aside the fact, of course, that the effectiveness of The Satanic Temple’s statue protests relies on existing Satanic Panic). Satanic Panic, as I’ve since found out, is a sociological term for the fear of real or perceived practices due to their apparent association with Satan. It could be anything from Pokémon to Charles Manson. For Greaves, Sabrina adopts Satanic Panic tropes.
This is true, but I want to argue that because of its ambiguous handling of the material, Sabrina ends up in an awkward medium between the traditional Christian symbol of Satan as great evil and the Satanist interpretation of Satan as a symbol of individual freedom and anti-Christian protest.
This awkward medium becomes especially clear in Chapter Seven: Feast of Feasts. Here, Sabrina attempts to convince Prudence not to allow herself to be eaten by others in the coven, a yearly ritual in which a witch is cannibalised and “transubstantiated,” spending eternity with the Dark Lord. It is not the practice itself, however, that I want to draw attention to. For Sabrina, the rite is merely human and as such can be changed by humans. In order to sway Prudence, she takes her into the woods to meet Dezmelda, an older witch in hiding. Dezmelda claims that she, too, was once selected to be eaten in the feast of feasts but she escaped after her high priest attempted to rape her, a child, as he claimed that he had received a revelation from Satan informing him to do so. It becomes clear that high priests presiding over the feast of feasts are indeed merely human. The message is that child rape is a human misappropriating of the rite and not something that the Dark Lord himself would ever command!
But the problem is that while such a claim could be made of a certain Satan, perhaps a Satan who champions freedom of choice and expression, this is not the Satan that Sabrina has presented its audience with. Sabrina’s Satan is a Satan whose favourite dish is children, whose right-hand demon slays and cannibalises mortals, and attempts to wipe out a town in order to force Sabrina to come to a decision. Another demon slowly brings a man to his death through possession, the man being chosen for possession because he is gay. Then there is the Church of Night, Sabrina’s coven, which seeks to serve the Dark Lord. Members have no moral qualms about killing mortals, and a tradition of “harrowing” new entrants at the school has seen many children murdered.
Of course, there are numerous fantasy worlds where acts such as these are a matter of course and no one protests. What I am trying to do is to draw attention to the cognitive dissonance in presenting child sexual abuse as anti-Satanist but murder and other evils as normal, everyday life. The unconscious course to this dissonance probably lies in the fact that child sexual abuse is a major issue that is still taking place in our world, whereas death by demons and witches belongs to a faraway fantasy world. But if they are both real in the world of Sabrina, I cannot see the logic in finding one abhorrent and the other acceptable. The series itself is a good symbol over current cultural confusion over what to do with the symbol of Satan: a great evil or a champion of human freedom against religious institutions?
Prologue: We sat down with Professor Moltmann in the living room of his house near Tübingen University, in Tübingen, Germany.
Interviewer: In the introduction to your book, The Coming of God, you reference a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, where he said, “The end is in the beginning.” What does that statement mean to you?
M: Bonhoeffer’s last word before they brought him to the gallows was: “This is the end—for me, the beginning of life.” Both statements are similar. It means that in every end there is a new beginning hidden. If you search, the new beginning will find you. And I am convinced that in the end there is always a new beginning with God hidden. And I have experienced this in my life with the early death experiences and the firestorm in Hamburg, and then with the imprisonment after the war. So, I’m convinced. In the end, there is the beginning. You must look for it and never give up.
I: My son is eleven. How could I explain to him what the subject of eschatology actually is?
M: Eschatology is a somewhat strange name—for the life-power of hope. And the life-power of hope is: To stand up after defeat. We have in German this little “stand-up-man.” If you knock him down from that side, he is standing up. If you knock him from the other side, he is standing up. If you suppress him for some time, he is standing up. And this is the power of hope: To stand up after defeat and begin anew. This is the real freedom. And you can bring this little stand-up-man to your boy [laughs].
I: Why is eschatology more than just speculation about the end of the world?
M: Eschatology is not only about the future but also about the presence of that future. And if the future is the new creation and the resurrection of the dead, then the presence [i.e. present] is already filled with resurrection hope: The life-power before death, which we experience in the Spirit of resurrection—to be reborn to a living hope, as it is said in the New Testament [1 Pet 1:3]—and this gives us certainty that there is a resurrection after death. And, therefore, it is not a speculation. It is not wishful thinking. It’s about a power to stand up here. If we expect a catastrophe at the end, why should we preserve the world? After us, the flood. So, the expectation is always shaping our experience of the [present] and also our decisions. And, therefore, apocalyptic expectations of a catastrophe at the end is the most dangerous thing on earth, because it destroys what should be preserved in the name of God here and now.
I: There’s another technical term: Millennialism. Could you explain what that means?
M: It’s the expectation of the 1000-year reign of Christ and his faithful—especially the martyrs—on earth. This is mentioned in Revelation, chapter 19 and 20. It is a special, martyr’s hope, a hope for martyrs, not for speculations. And, therefore, we should be very careful with this outlook. On the other hand, the millennium of Christ, the expectation that there is a reign of Christ coming—and that this is at the same time the golden age of humankind, a new blooming, flourishing of the earth—is a very important expectation because it is a bridge between human history and the new creation of the world.
I: Why is millennialism important?
M: Because it forces Christian hope to be a fervent hope in history, to work for a better world here and now—or, as in your country people would say, “To save the world for freedom and democracy.” So, there’s a certain goal in history, because the unity of God and man is Christ. So, Christ is the kingdom of God in person, already. So, to follow Christ is to work for the kingdom, to share in his messianic mission, to bring the gospel to the poor, and to heal the sick and liberate the oppressed.
I: Scripture is clearly a very important source to you. How do you approach Scripture?
M: Well, with the presupposition that God’s Word is in human language, present in the Bible. So, first of all I read and listen to what psalms, and the prophets, and the apostles, and the evangelists are saying. Then, I’m thinking about it and comparing it with other parts of the Scripture. And then if I won’t agree, [I’m] arguing with the apostle Paul or with the Gospel of Mark, with the author, and [I] find my own solution to my problems. So, it always starts with the Bible and will return to it. But I have great respect for the presence of God’s Word in the Bible. But I won’t say that every word in the Bible is God’s Word. It’s a human witness to the presence of God’s Word. But I have also respect before my own spirit, and my own conscience, and my own intellect. I have to make up my own mind on certain questions [for which] I could not find a solution in the Bible.
I: Now, you say that your approach to theology is as an adventurer. Could you explain what you mean by that?
M: Well, my first theological virtue is curiosity. So, if you have a special idea—let’s say hope—you apply the perspective of hope to everything. How would creation look like in the perspective of hope? Or how would human history look like in the perspective of hope? And how would a human being look like in the perspective of hope? You become completely one-sided but you see new things. And later, I had the idea of Christ and God suffering on the cross, and [I] put everything into the perspective of suffering—redemptive suffering, and the passionate suffering of God. And again, ten years later, I had the idea of a social doctrine of the Trinity, so that human sociality should reflect the image of God as a Triune God. So, it’s one idea after another, coming and going [laughs].
I: What does it mean to say that Christ does not come in time; he comes to transform time?
M: We experience time as transiency. The future is coming, the present is going, and, in the end, everything is in the past. So, it’s passing by and we cannot keep one moment of happiness. It’s sliding out of our fingers. And Christ will transform time to stay—world without end. What we experience here is chronos, what we experience in the Spirit of God is kairos, and what we expect is eternity—eternity is eternal life. And this is a transformation. We have already—we can experience a transformation for chronos, passing away time, to kairos, wonderful time, wonderful presence [perhaps: present], happiness or consolation in the [present]. And the older one becomes, chronos is leaving and kairos is coming [laughs].
I: So what is the role of human effort in bringing the kingdom of God into being? In fact, some would say that the kingdom of God imagery in Scripture is really about the highest human potential, and doesn’t specifically have to do with an actual action of God.
M: In the kingdom of God, everything tastes divine and smells divine because the divine and the human, the heavenly and the earthly, are intertwined and interpenetrating. So this a great vision of the prophets of Israel, already, and of the apostles. And we have this approach to theology, strangely enough, in liberation theology, with Gustavo Gutiérrez. He said that liberation theology is one part of the kingdom of God theology. And I think this is necessary, because then no part of life is separated from God. If you speak only about the salvation of the soul, then you neglect social salvation and the salvation of the earth. So we have a lot of one-sided, “partly” type of theology, and we need this holistic understanding of the kingdom of God which is present everywhere.
I: Do you think that talking about the Battle of Armageddon is really the focus of the Christian view of end times?
M: Well, go on reading the Book of Revelation. Armageddon is mentioned only once, in chapter 16. And if you then come to the end, in chapter 21, you come to the last great promise of God: “Behold, I make all things new.” Not only 144, 000, but all things, so this is an inclusive promise of the new creation.
I: In the traditional view of the Last Judgement, some are saved and some are damned. Does that fit your theological understanding?
M: No, not at all [laughs]. I think there are two streams in the New Testament. One is Mark and Matthew, and they have in view an end with a double outcome of the saved and condemned. And there is a universalism in the writings of the apostle Paul—that God confines them all under unbelief to have mercy on them all [Rom 11:32], and that in the end all the tongues will confess that Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father [Phil 2:11]. There is an overall perspective—universal perspective—in the letters of Paul, and one must make a decision: To follow the one way or the other way. And I think the Final Judgement has not so much to do with the good and the evil—or the good guys and the bad guys—but more with the victims and the perpetrators. We should look forward to the Final Judgement with joy, because this will be the victory of God’s righteousness. And, his righteousness is not a statement—this is good and this is bad—but it is always a creative righteousness. He brings justice to those who suffer violence. He brings justice to the widows and the orphans, according to the psalms of the Old Testament. And he will bring justification to the sinners by transforming sinners into righteous people. And, therefore, I think we have a great programme ahead of us in theology—to Christianise the idea of the Final Judgement.
I: Can you talk about the difference between redemption from the world and redemption of the world?
M: The first prayer German children learn is: Dear God, make me pious, that I may come into heaven. But, do we really want to become angels? Are we not human beings? Do we not belong to the earth? So, I think the Christian hope is not to come into heaven, but the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come, the world to come. This is a new earth and a new heaven, or a situation where heaven and earth merge, but not to leave the world and go to heaven, because this is estranging people from the earth, from the questions here and now. If our home is not in this world but in heaven, we don’t care about the earth, because we are only guests on earth, or strangers on earth, and we are alienated from the earth, so we can do with the earth what we want, and exploit the earth and destroy the earth. But this is not the Christian hope. This is another religion.
I: You describe the doctrine of universal salvation as the most disputed question of eschatology, one that’s been with us since Origen and Augustine. I won’t ask you settle it in this interview, but could you say: What would you ask someone preparing to come to this conference to reflect on?
M: Whether they would be able to condemn another person? And, as a pastor, if a family would ask to bury an unbelieving son, would he say, “Unfortunately he must go to hell now”? I think not. But I myself, I am not a universalist, because there are a few people I don’t want to see again. But God may be, because he created them. Of course, he will not give up one of his creatures, even the most perverted one. He will not give up them but transform them. The power of religion is life, and the strength of life and love, and not condemnation. We would be very close to terror in religion if we would follow this line that damnation is necessary in religion.