Karl Barth on Christianity, Religion, and Western Culture
Karl Barth, Fragments Grave and Gay, 29–30. Bold is mine.
You are visitors to this old Europe of ours, and our good city and university of Basle and the sample fair offers you a vivid picture of its traditions and civilization. Adopt as much of our science and technology, our art and politics, as you can and may. You will also come across signs of what is called Christianity. May they be real signs of real Christianity. And may you not confuse them with the signs of our religion. For, apart from wanting to be Christians and to call ourselves Christians, we are all also religious, and at times even terribly religious. There are also religions disguised in the form of science, art and politics, technology, sport or fashion, concealed behind a very demonstrative secularity, which represents superstructures or leaps that are the more vigorous for that very reason, leaps into some sort of beyond, worship of the most diverse gods and idols. Mammon, money, is the most powerful of these concealed but very real deities. Let no one pretend to you that here you are in an area of Christian tradition and civilization, that you are in the ‘Christian West’. ‘Christian’, properly understood, means being governed by the message of Jesus Christ, the liberating discovery of God’s gracious move towards humanity. But such discovery is an event, not a condition or institution, and thus is not an attribute with which human creations can be endowed or by which they can be distinguished. Nor are we governed by that event, but at best are only distantly touched by it. The truth of the matter is that we still have really and properly to learn what is involved in this essential Christianity and thus with the happy reversal in which God moves ahead and man follows, God as the father and man his child, in other words the whole meaning of Jesus Christ. There is a religions, but not a Christian West; there is only Western humanity confronted by Jesus Christ.Those who have ears to hear…