Religion and the Future of Humanity

Rede anlässlich der Verleihung der Ehrendoktorwürde durch die Universität zu Uppsala

Kardinal Walter Kasper

Speaking on the subject of religion and the future of humanity is a daring enterprise. If I, as a university professor, had attempted to establish a link between religion and the question of the future 20 years ago, I would have been ridiculed. I would have been told that the future which religion offers was just a consolation prize, a confidence trick or even a deadening opiate: what matters is the real future which we establish and achieve for ourselves. Since then the situation has changed. It is not the future promised by religion which has become problematic, but the future belonging to this world. A well–known philosopher who is a reliable witness because he himself comes from the philosophical tradition of utopian projections, Jürgen Habermas, speaks of the exhaustion of utopian energies (1).

That is not just a theoretical analysis of our times; the thesis of the end of all utopias in fact expresses the concrete experience and fears of mankind, for whom the future in many instances has negative connotations. Some even speak of a “no–future” generation. Many people have the impression that they have no future or only bleak prospects for the future, if for example they cannot find work and are not needed. The situation is even more drastic in many economically underdeveloped countries where many of the more talented and dynamic young people make their way to Europe or North America with all available means, making great sacrifices because they have no future at home, only to be turned away here because their presence would cause us anxiety for our own future. One could easily add many similar examples.

It is not within the competence of a theologian to give a direct answer to the questions touched on here. In the following paper I would like instead to approach the question of the relationship between the future and salvation from a fundamental perspective, demonstrating that hope is an essential dimension of humanity, and in the process reflecting on the significance of religion , and of the Judeo–Christian tradition in particular.

In the first section I would like to discuss the existential nature of the question of the future; in the second part I will reflect on the current demise of the future as utopia within a broader historical philosophical context. In the third section I will demonstrate the relationship between the future and the religious promise of salvation, and in the concluding fourth part draw from that three conclusions which one could describe as being located on a more or less realistic level.

1. The question of the future as salvation or catastrophe

The most significant German philosopher of the modern era, Immanuel Kant, claimed that the goal of philosophy was to answer three questions: What can I know? – that is the question of science. What should I do? – that is the question of ethics. And what may I hope? – that is the question of religion. According to Kant all three questions merge into the one question: What is mankind?(2) The question, ”What may we hope?” is therefore a question which directly involves the meaning of our human existence, our happiness and our fulfilment. It has direct relevance for every individual. The meaning or meaninglessness of human existence stands or falls on the basis of hope.

Another great thinker of the modern era, Blaise Pascal, who reflected a good deal on the greatness and the wretchedness of mankind, explained why the question “What may we hope?” is the most important of Kant’s three questions, and why it concerns us so directly.

Pascal reasons thus: The past is past, it remains immutably fixed, there is nothing we can do to change it. We cannot take hold of the present, for in the moment in which we try to grasp and hold it, it has already become the past, it constantly eludes us. We can never say “Augenblick, verweile, du bist so schön”, that is, pleading the fleeting moment not to pass. For Pascal that means: We emerge from the past and stride constantly into the future. The future is that which is open, where there is still something we can do, or where we can at least have some expectations. Therefore Pascal can state: “The past and the present are means, the future alone is our goal. Thus we never live, we always hope to live.” (3)

So the question of the future is the question of a meaningful, successful, authentic life. Either we anticipate a better and happier life in the future, or we dread what may happen to us because we suspect and expect the worst. Thus the future is bound up with our hopes for life and happiness or with our fear of unhappiness or catastrophe. The future is thus a category of salvation or catastrophe.

The problem is: We do not know the future, it does not lie within our power. There is only one thing we know for sure, the dead certainty that one day death will overtake us. Death is the one certain given for the future, but it is not a given in the true sense of the word because we do not know when, where or how it will overtake us. Thus the question of the future shows us the groundlessness of our human existence. Therefore Martin Heidegger could claim that fear is the fundamental mode of existence, the fundamental existential of mankind.

In exactly the same way however one can claim with Gabriel Marcel, another philosopher of that time, that hope is the fundamental existential of mankind. “Hope is the last to die”, says the adage, and a South African proverb says “Hope is the pillar on which the world rests”. For without hope no–one can live, no individual and no nation; where hope dies, an individual dies, or a whole nation. The future is the space where humanity lives and hopes, where one either hopes for salvation or fears being irredeemably lost. That thought confronts us with the whole drama of the current situation, the virtual death of all hopes for the future.

2. The end of the future as utopia

The fundamental significance of the future was not discovered until the modern era, only then did the future dimension of humanity come to occupy the foreground. Therefore, when we diagnose at least the provisional end of the future as utopia, that means from an historical cultural and philosophical perspective an epoch–making radical shift which can only be understood within a broader historical context.

The thinking of the ancient world was not oriented towards the future but to the beginning, the source or origin. According to the concepts of antiquity, the world moves in cosmological cycles, within a circular system of recurrence of the constellations, the seasons, of day and night, of seedtime and harvest, birth and death. According to neo–Platonic philosophy everything emerges from an eternal origin and returns to it again in the end. Within this thought system, a positive evaluation of history was impossible. On the contrary, within such a cyclical system time and history are ultimately an accident, a decline or fall which can only be made good by a restitutio in integrum, by a return to the origin. Within the cosmic natural religions this restitutio in integrum takes place in the cult, where the intact origin is represented and the world which has become alienated from its origin is reconciled with it once more. The universal law, which one could also call the universal formula, was accordingly expressed not as evolution, nor as history, nor as progress, but as exitus and reditus, departure from and return to the origins.

In the late 19th century Friedrich Nietzsche wanted to revive this thought with his doctrine of eternal recurrence. He was of course clear–sighted enough to define eternal recurrence as “the most extreme form of nihilism” – existence as it is, without meaning or purpose, but inevitably returning, without finality, into nothingness.” (4)

The Bible takes a totally different course. It broke through the cyclical system of thought and discovered linear historical time (5). For the Bible history is a journey, and this journey has a beginning, it proceeds according to a predetermined plan and has a goal, that is, the end of time, which has been promised as an eschatological time of salvation. With this insight, Israel discovered the future. The sentence “Nothing new under the sun” is no longer valid; in the Bible the New is instead a category pregnant with hope, as in the discourse of the new covenant, the new man, the new heaven and the new earth. The New is the “epitome of the completely Other, the Wonderful which the end–time of salvation brings” (6). Humanity has not only escaped from the hopeless eternal cycles; man can and may anticipate and look forward to something new. Thus Augustine states triumphantly in his great historical philosophical and theological work on the “City of God”: ”Circuitus illi iam explosi sunt” (These cycles are at an end)(7).

But the discovery of the future does not end with this biblical re–orientation. For the Bible what matters is the future understood as the eschatological time of salvation at the end of history; the end of time was simultaneously the annulment of time and its transition into eternity. At this point, at the height of the Middle Ages, a decisive shift occurred. This revolution was triggered – basically against his intention – by a Cistercian monk from Calabria and later abbot named Joachim da Fiore (1135–1202); he was a monastic reformer and one of the most famous medieval monastic theologians.

In his major work “Concordia” Joachim arrives at a revolutionary new interpretation of the Bible. He no longer speaks of two epochs, the Old and the New Testament, but three epochs. According to him the age of the Father (Old Testament) and the age of the Son (New Testament) are soon to be followed by an imminent age of the Holy Spirit; it is the age of the monks and a purely spiritual church which according to Joachim will replace the current institutional church. This anticipation of a renewed and spiritualised church of the future is within the church the origin of the progressive tendency, the thinking which affirms the church but not as it exists at this moment, but a fundamentally renewed church. This progressive expectation led to internal turmoil and discord within the church at that time.

But in our context it is not the effect of Joachim’s thinking within the church which interests us but its far–reaching subsequent secular consequences. For with this new conception Joachim relocated the originally eschatological hope of salvation within time and within history, one could also say that he reinterpreted it as an historical hope and thereby ultimately secularised it (8).

The consequences were significant: although he could not have predicted it, by postulating such hopes for salvation within this world, Joachim laid the foundations for the utopian thinking which determined the modern era. History is now no longer an endless cycle, but nor is it a process of salvation directed towards the end of time: it has instead become a progressive forward movement within history. That led to the utopias which characterise the modern era. The most famous of them include above all Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), Tommaso Campanella’s Civitatis solis (1602), Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1627) and later the great treatises on the philosophy of history of Schelling and Hegel. Karl Marx then – as he himself said – turned these upside down by interpreting them no longer idealistically but dialectically and materialistically in terms of social history, which culminates in a classless society. In the 19th century, utopian thinking diverged into two different directions which have prevailed until the present day: they can be described as a Western bourgeois and a socialist Marxist variant. Western bourgeois utopian thought appears in the form of the modern idea of progress. A characteristic example is Auguste Comte (1778–1857) with his famous three–phase law according to which the theological and the abstract metaphysical ages are followed by the scientific explanation of the world. Comte held the conviction that modern science and technology can solve the real problems of mankind far better and more successfully than the preceding age of religion and metaphysics.

In the 20th century the idea of progress converged with the theory of evolution. The French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955) adopted a form of evolution which continues on beyond cosmogenesis and biogenesis to the development of cultures (noogenesis) and on to the omega point where all reality becomes one in God. A parallel development was the establishment of an entire science of the future (O.K.Flechtheim) which believed itself capable of extrapolating and predicting the future on the basis of currently influential trends. Since then we have learnt that such predictions can go astray. Human beings – fortunately – are never entirely predictable, and historical processes never proceed in a simple linear fashion. We need to base our calculations instead on a dialectic of progress.

So it was not long before the development of counter–utopias, which were no longer utopias of a future ideal world and a future Paradise but dystopias of a terrifying future world based on total supervision and totalitarian control, the artificial breeding of human beings, etc., as depicted by Aldous Huxley (Brave New World, 1932) or George Orwell (Animal Farm, 1984). Since Hiroshima we know that the total self–eradication of mankind lies within the realm of our potential capabilities. Today the apocalypse is within our power.

Finally in 1972 the Club of Rome drew our attention to the limits of growth, with the – at that time – shattering insight into the limitations and the increasing scarcity of our natural resources, the danger of the destruction of the environment as the natural habitat of mankind and all the social and – as we now know – the environmental consequences of the industrial revolution. The actual calculations of the Club of Rome have in fact been proven false, but they created waves in the political and social sphere and – more profoundly – in the fears of many people. The utopia of progress and boundless capabilities was thereby demolished.

The socialist Marxist variant of utopian thought did not fare any better. Following the early socialistic utopias of a future ideal society, Karl Marx founded a scientific socialism, predicting the revolutionary development of a future classless society in which all social and human alienation would be abolished. The idea of the liberation of mankind had thereby become an absolute category, leading to the experiment of a fundamental emancipation from the past towards a new socialist humanity.

But when, following the October Revolution, the attempt was made to translate the theoretical ideas Karl Marx had developed in the British Museum into reality by force, it became clear that anyone who wants to construct a heaven on earth installs hell on earth instead. The generation of that time was violently and brutally sacrificed on the altar of a utopian future.

Nevertheless the Marxist utopia in a non–dogmatic and non–totalitarian form convinced many Western circles too. One example is the influence exercised by Ernst Bloch with his “Principle of Hope” (1959). And we also recall the liberation theologies of the 70s and 80s.

But the failure of dogmatic Marxism and the collapse of the previous Eastern bloc in the revolutions of 1989/90 also led to the collapse of utopian thought in the Marxist mould. But that is not all. With the fall of both its military and its ideological counterpart, the West has become aware of its own inner void. With the collapse of Marxism the West too has lost its self–confidence (9). Thus the future has negative and pessimistic connotations in cultural terms for both the East and the West. This crisis finds expression in the diminishing or bleak future prospects envisaged by many people.

The problem reaches far beyond the economic sphere, it is ultimately a problem of hope, and thus a most profoundly existential problem. There are no longer any visions of the future. At least that is the widespread impression, and that is a devastating impression. “When the utopian oases dry up, the desert of banality and bewilderment spreads.” (10)

This situation goes straight to the heart of our modern civilisation with its enthusiasm for the future. It takes its breath away. So the exhaustion of utopian energies is at the core of the crisis which is not only economic but above all spiritual. We find ourselves at the end of a long and no doubt great intellectual epoch. The question of how to go on from here confronts us once more with the most profound questions of being human and of our political culture.

3. Religion and the future it promises

In this situation we are experiencing something like a rediscovery of religion. It must be said right at the start that this rediscovery is a thoroughly ambivalent phenomenon. In this context what is meant is not primarily the rise of the so–called neo–religious movements which often have an Eastern background (11), nor the exponential expansion of charismatic pentecostal movements in the Southern hemisphere in particular (12). And it has nothing at all to do with distorted violence–prone and indeed terrorist forms which are perversions of religion. Nor does it simply mean that something seems to be happening within the religious sphere of the church, where for example at the World Youth Day in Cologne in August 2005 many young people – at the closing service about a million – were at one and the same time both devout and joyful.

But these are all signs that the predictions of the end of religion are themselves at an end. And in the same way the “God–is–dead” theology of the 60s and early 70s is by now itself absolutely dead. It is becoming increasingly clear from the perspective of universal cultural history that the development of Western secularised culture over the past three centuries has been a particularly Western development which cannot be universalised.

Jürgen Habermas, who has pursued the project of the enlightenment as virtually no other, was right in his perception – expressed to my knowledge for the first time in his speech on “Belief and Knowledge” on the occasion of the presentation of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade immediately after the terrorist act of 11 September 2001 – that it does not suffice for secular thought to simply eliminate the religious categories. Instead he demonstrated that in view of phenomena like the Holocaust or 11 September, religious categories have at their command potential for interpretation and for hope which secular thought lacks (13).

Others have approached this idea before him; they have said that even in our secularised society religion has the function of enabling mankind to come to terms with the ineradicable and unavoidable contingencies of life (serious accidents, natural catastrophes, sickness, death); they have a consoling function which cannot be replaced by anything else (14). For Habermas, as for Walter Benjamin and Max Horkheimer before him, this insight takes on a more all–encompassing fundamental significance. But it is impossible to overlook the weakness in his initial premise. For him the religious categories have only a functional and a postulatory significance, their ontological status remains open, this way of thinking is as it were like spending unfinanced credit.

For the religions themselves it is an entirely different matter. For them the dimension of the sacred or divine is not merely a postulate but the actual reality, origin and measure of all things. It is only against the background of this ontology that we can understand the cultic rituals of religion, with which they sought to break through the blockades against the future.

In a realistic manner the religions take into account the fact that mankind – as Kant expressed it – is made of crooked timber. They knew that the cosmic order is again and again disturbed through human fault, and they also knew that such human fault is not just an individual matter, but involves the whole community in a complex entanglement of catastrophe, in a vicious circle of injustice and revenge, force and counter–force. The evil of the past which gives birth over and over again to evil in a sense sets up barricades against the future.

At first glance that seems to be an archaic world view which we can hardly empathise with today. But upon reflection it proves to be not in the least as remote from reality as it may at first appear. If we think of the injustices which Europe perpetrated against indigenous peoples in the colonial period, its consequences are still with us today, and rebound against us from the Arab world in particular in moral disdain, hatred and terror. Or we can think of the previously unthinkable crime of the Holocaust, the attempt – planned by a state and executed in an industrial manner – to eradicate European Jewry. This previously unimaginable crime has together with many other causes led to the crises in the Near and Middle East and thereby become a threat to world peace.

So it is not just a question pertaining to the archaic thinking of the past, but our question too. How can we extricate ourselves from such catastrophic complexes? Will we bear the mark of Cain on our foreheads forever? Are we stigmatised for all eternity? Is there any possibility of a new beginning? How can we regain a future which we can share? The religions and the Bible too in a different way take up this universal human problem in their response. For them the purification and reconciliation rituals were the way out of captivity within an irredeemable situation devoid of any future. They were intended to counter–balance the disturbed order and restore order to the world once more. That could be achieved for example by sacrificing an animal instead of the individual or the nation who were condemned to death. The cultic rituals were accordingly substitute actions intended to restore the disturbed cosmic order and thus re–establish anew the potential for life in the future (15).

The Bible takes up this archaic religious world view, but modifies it radically at one decisive point. The Old Testament prophets share the idea of an inter–generational solidarity, but reject the idea of entrapment in an irredeemable chain of catastrophes set in train by the guilt of previous generations. This critique does not take place on the basis of our modern individualistic view of mankind, but was determined instead by the specific Biblical Judeo–Christian concept of God.

According to the Biblical concept of God, God is not part of the course of world events but elevated above world history. He is transcendent, but as a transcendent God he is at the same time a merciful God whose countenance is turned graciously towards mankind, who is over and over again prepared to forgive. Because he is transcendent, that is, distinct from the world, he can enable a new beginning even in irredeemably fateful situations, he can grant a new future even where human eyes see no way out and no longer any hope. He can lay the foundation for hope against hope, hope even in the face of death and beyond death. Thus the assurance of all reality becoming new merges, already at the end of the Old Testament and then definitively in the New Testament, into the hope for the resurrection of the dead and the healing of all the ills of the old world, in the hope for perfected justice and the conclusive victory of life over death and the powers of death. The claim that God is rich in mercy and opens up the future for mankind forms part of the earliest Biblical tradition, it is therefore inaccurate to contrast the alleged Old Testament God of revenge and retribution with the New Testament God of mercy, forgiveness and love. Here Jews and Christians share a common heritage, and to a certain extent they share this heritage also with the Muslems, for each sura of the Koran begins by calling on Allah as almighty and all–merciful. So all three monotheistic Abrahamic religions have a common heritage and, despite all their undeniable differences, to a certain extent a common promise. It is important to emphasis this commonality because world peace cannot in the end be guaranteed by military force but only by breaking down the barriers of prejudice and misunderstanding and building up mutual understanding, respect, and trust, and not least through due justice.

The assurances and promises of the monotheistic religions are statements of faith; and as such they cannot be proven. But that does not mean that they are unreasonable. The Christian tradition has always understood faith and reason as two different but not mutually exclusive approaches to reality. Faith and reason are as it were the two wings of the spirit. Therefore the Christian tradition has always been at pains to show that faith seeks reason and on reflection proves to be reasonable, that is consistent (16).

That is also true of the Biblical assurance of salvation. For if we are convinced of the dignity of each human being, we cannot do without the idea of justice for all. That necessarily includes the idea of justice not only for all who are alive today but also of justice for all the dead, for those who have been struck down and murdered, for all whom life has treated badly, for those who are not on the side of the winners of history but of the losers. We cannot come to terms with the ultimate triumph of the murderer over his innocent victim. If this idea of justice for all is to be more than a mere postulate, it cannot be maintained without faith in God’s promise for all. Then we have to agree with Max Horkheimer: “Any attempt to maintain unconditional meaning without God is in vain” (17) . That does not mean that non–believers cannot adhere to the idea of universal justice; but if one seeks an absolute foundation for this idea, the theological answer, though not logically necessary, is indeed in accordance with reason, consistent and meaningful.

In this sense – despite all their differences – hope has the last word in all three monotheistic religions. It is the common hope of Jews, Christians and also Muslims, that in the end all masks will fall, all will be truly equal and will have to give account; that in the end that truth will prevail over lies, justice over injustice and force, love over hate and life over death and the powers of death. To impart such hope, capable of overcoming existential fear and conveying courage and confidence, seems to me to be the most authentic duty of the church’s proclamation, not only today, but especially today.

4. Three concrete examples

In this concluding section I would like to address the relevance of the preceding reflections. I will limit my discussion to three aspects (18).

In the first instance I proceed, together with Karl Rahner, from the thesis which clearly arises from what has been demonstrated so far: Christianity (and we can also add: Judaism likewise) is a religion of the future. It is not the religion of a static world but of a world of becoming, of history, of self–transcendence, of the future. But Rahner immediately adds: Christianity is the religion of the absolute future, which is simply another way of saying that God and life in God are the future of mankind. From that it follows in turn that Christianity does not set up any content–derived ideal historical future, it does not make any prognosis for the future of history, nor does it represent any utopian ideology. That distinguishes Christian hope radically from the utopian projections of the modern era. The end of all modern utopias therefore does not mean the end of Christian hope.

The fact that Christianity is not a future utopia within history does not of course mean that Christian hope holds no significance for the historical future and is therefore historically irrelevant. For although Christian hope is not the answer to the questions about the future which need to be answered in the life of every individual person as well as in political decisions, Christian hope not only proves its worth in those situations where human hope is at a loss; it also represents a horizon within which such historical decisions can not only be made meaningfully, but are positively invited and encouraged. This occurs on the one hand in a negative sense through its critique of ideology, but also positively by encouraging responsible action in historical time.

Firstly: its significance as negative ideological critique. The hope for an absolute future means that world history is not the ultimate reality. World history is not – as Hegel claimed – the universal last judgement. Historical success or failure, esteem or ignominy do not determine the worth or unworthiness of an individual or the merits or demerits of any particular deed. We cannot and must not construct the kingdom of God, heaven on earth. Eternal peace and perfect happiness can not exist in this world.

World history is thus relativised, demythologised, freed from ideology, and thereby humanised. No individual, no party, no religious or secular movement can commit a person absolutely to any specific historical goal, or sacrifice him for the sake of an historical utopia. Instead, a legitimate pluralism of historical options and personal life plans prevails. All ideological commitments are to be subjected to scrutiny and critique for the sake of God and of the individual and his personal freedom.

This function of Judeo–Christian hope as ideological critique is also evident in the fact that it resists all attempts to construct Christianity itself as an ideology for this world. That involves critique of integralism and fundamentalism and their desire to derive scientific or political answers directly from the Bible. The Sermon on the Mount cannot be turned into a political agenda, and it is equally impossible to determine scientific questions regarding the theory of evolution on the basis of the creation narrative in Genesis. The Second Vatican Council (1962–65) therefore emphasised the legitimate autonomy of the cultural spheres of this world such as science, culture, economics and politics, and decisively resisted all integralist and fundamentalist temptations (19).

This negative critical point of view must of course be supplemented by a second more positive point of view. Christian hope involves encouragement to act within history and to accept historical responsibility. Even though no concrete norms for historical action can be directly derived from the assurance of the absolute future, it does nevertheless give rise to the light and power for such action (20). The rejection of integralism and fundamentalism lays the foundation for a legitimate secularity but not an ideological secularism which would like to exclude religion and faith from public life and banish them to the sacristy or the private sphere. What is needed today is a resumption of the dialogue between faith and knowledge, theology and philosophy and modern science (21).

The absolute future as a future of truth, justice, love and life frees us from the nihilistic feeling of meaninglessness which haunts us in the face of the unpredictability of history and the contingency of natural catastrophes. It also involves a critique of the principle of relativism, according to which there is no truth but only truths, no universally valid value system. From the relativist perspective, fundamental choices between truth and untruth, justice or injustice, love or hatred and violence can be made pragmatically on the basis of more or less egoistic pragmatic utilitarian criteria, or cold–bloodedly according to calculations of advantage or profit.

In contrast to this nihilistic relativism the Judeo–Christian hope says that it is never senseless and never unreasonable to do good, to stand up for the truth, to let justice and mercy prevail, to protect and save life. For in the end neither lies, injustice, violence nor money, prestige and power will be the deciding factors, but instead, in a way which cannot be included in historical calculations, the future will belong to truth, justice, love and life. Thus hope for the absolute future encourages and inspires people to accept responsibility for both their own and the common historical future. The rabbinical saying, “He who saves one person saves the world” prevails.

According to the earliest Biblical tradition, which is now more than ever relevant in our highly technological world, our historical responsibility includes responsibility for coming generations as well as for nature as the habitat of mankind. The basic word for salvation in the Hebrew Bible is shalom: it is to be understood as a holistic universal cosmic order of peace encompassing both body and soul. It can exist within history only in a fragmentary and anticipatory form, but the historical responsibility for this fragment has been entrusted to us. The German–American Jewish religious philosopher Hans Jonas has established a categorical imperative for this context: “Act in such a way that the effects of your action are compatible with the permanence of genuinely human life on earth” (22) .

Thus the Judeo–Christian hope for the future takes up the concerns of the ancient cosmic religions. It integrates the theology of creation into its historical theological concept. Thomas Aquinas understood this better than anyone else when he integrated the neo–Platonic scheme of the departure and return of all things into his concept of the theology of history (23).

That brings me to the third and last point. If we take seriously the idea of historical responsibility, then the pathway into the historical future is obviously not comparable to a rocket which in its flight into space simply casts off and leaves behind all preceding rocket phases. Every responsible change directed towards the future will not allow itself in its progress to forget, much less recklessly or violently destroy, nature as the foundation of human life, or the positive heritage of the past.

Those thinkers in particular who come from a critically constructive analysis of the Marxist utopia (W. Benjamin, Th. Adorno) speak of the “dialectic of enlightenment” and thus set themselves apart from a one–sided and linear concept of progress. They discover the immanent danger in all progress of forgetting earlier insights and the loss of alternative potentials. They therefore speak for a new culture of memory.

Memory should not idealise or sanitise the past as our memories in old age often retrospectively idealise our childhood or youth, or as the past of a nation is retrospectively turned into a triumphant, sometimes even aggressively nationalistic historical myth. On the contrary: memory should also make us conscious of the reverse side of the history of progress or victory, and consider history from the perspective of the victims, those who have fallen by the wayside, the ignored and defeated. Memory should also keep present the unrealised possibilities of the past. Memory thus becomes dangerous, capable of breaking through the current plausibilities, banalities and delusions. It frees us from the thrall of the present and thereby opens up the future for us. Memory understood in this sense is memory directed forwards; it is memoria futuri. The new culture of memory resists an ahistorical one–sided scientistic and technological way of thinking and the loss of the historical consciousness. It is well–known that since Plato and again for Hegel and hermeneutic philosophy (Dilthey, Gadamer etc), memory has been a constituent condition of reason. Historical loss of memory on the other hand means the loss of identity and cultural decline. It leads to relativist arbitrariness and to captivity in the particular present and its fashions. Such lack of memory surrenders both a fundamental biblical category (sachar, anamnesis) and also an essential category of human, social and cultural identity. It leads to isolation of the individual, to the atomisation and dissolution of society. It renders a one–sided concept of progress devoid of criteria and orientation.

I would like to refer at least briefly to the theological dimension of these considerations by pointing to the memoria passionis Christi which stands at the heart of the Christian liturgy. The memory of the death and resurrection of Christ is for us Christians the memory of the reconciliation granted to us, and of an underived and to that extent absolute new beginning. It imparts the potential to re–evaluate the dark and difficult sides of history and the present in the light of this memory. On the one hand it purifies our human memory because it makes it possible for us to sweep away bad memories, feelings of revenge, hatred, bitterness, disappointment, discouragement, resignation and frustration, and to see unreconciled history with new eyes and a reconciled heart, to forgive injustices we have suffered and to dare to set out on a new shared path with our former opponent.

Such a culture of memory which is at one and the same time dangerous and conciliatory is what the world needs. For not only our natural resources but also our spiritual resources are limited, we must make responsible use of both. We can never emancipate ourselves completely from history, we can only have a future if we know and value our past and know how to make it fruitful for the future. The historical future is not utopian, that is, it is not homeless, it has its place in the world and in history, it is the future of this world and of this history.

Allow me to conclude with a personal comment. With all that we may and sometimes must find to criticise in the religions and the Christian churches as they actually exist today, the Judeo–Christian tradition still holds a potential for the future and for hope which can – in view of the current exhaustion of utopian energies, the feeling of meaninglessness and the fear of the future which that gives rise to – open up the future and hope in a new way. I am therefore personally convinced that the Judeo–Christian tradition can not only look back on a long past but can today also look forward to a new future. One could perhaps apply Blaise Pascal’s famous wager in this context by saying: if one accepts the assurances of religion one loses absolutely nothing, but one stands to gain everything, not least hope as the breath of life (24).

  1. J. Habermas,  Zeitdiagnosen, 2003 27–49
  2. Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft B 833f (Critique of Pure Reason)
  3. B Pascal Pensees, 172
  4. F. Nietzsche WW III (ed. Schlechta) 853
  5. This distinction between the ancient cyclical and the Biblical linear understanding of time has been discussed by among others the religious scholar M. Eliade (Kosmos und Geschichte, 1953), the Old Testament scholar (G. von Rad) (Theologie des Alten Testaments, vol 2, 108–121) and the New Testament scholar O. Cullmann (Christus und die Zeit, 43–52) Compare also Note 23.
  6. Entry on ?αινοζ, in ThWNT III, 451
  7. City of God XII, 21
  8. This process of secularisation has been demonstrated by K. Lowith (Weltgeschichte und Heilsgeschehen, 1953) and by Josef Ratzinger in his post–doctoral thesis (Die Geschichtstheologie des hl. Bonaventura, 1959).
  9. J. Habermas, Zeitdiagnosen, 2003, 30
  10. lbid 47
  11. R. Hummel Religioser Pluralismus oder christlicher Abendland, 1994
  12. Ph. Jenkins The next Christendom 2002
  13. More recently in Zwischen Naturalismus und Religion 2005.
  14. H. Lubbe Religion nach der Aufklarung, 1986
  15. This deeper meaning has recently been made accessible to us once more in impressive analyses by the recently deceased French philosopher P. Ricoeur (La symbolique du mal), 1960).
  16. Romans 12,1 speaks of a a "logikh latreia", which the Vulgate translated as “obsequium rationi consentaneum” and which has entered into Vatican I in that form (DH 3009). The unity of faith and reason was a fundamental concern of John Paul II (cf the encyclical Fides et ratio), as it is of Josef Ratzinger as Benedict XVI. Cf. J.. Habermas – J. Ratzinger Dialektik der Säkularisierung. Über Vernunft und Religion, 2005. Glaube und Vernunft The Regensburg Address, 2006.
  17. M. Horkheimer, Die Sehnsucht nach dem ganz Anderen, 1970, 69.
  18. In the first two points I refer back to reflections by Karl Rahner (Weltgeschichte und Heilsgeschichte in Schriften V, 115–135, Marxistische Utopie und christliche Zukunft des Menschen, in Schriften zur Theologie VI, 77–88); in the third J.B. Metz Glaube in Geschichte und Gesellschaft, 1977, 77–103)
  19. Pastoral Constitution “Gaudium et spes” 36,41,56,76.
  20. Ibid 42f.
  21. Cf note 16
  22. H. Jonas Das Prinzip Verantwortung, 1979
  23. M. Seckler, Das Heil in der Geschichte, Geschichtstheoogischer Denken bei Thomas von Aquin, 1964
  24. B. Pascal, Pensees, 233.