Gollwitzer on Christianity, Atheism, and the Existence of God

Once more onto the Gollwitzer band-wagon, shall we?

Gollwitzer is perhaps best known for being on the receiving end of Jüngel’s attention in God’s Being is in Becoming. Well, I went back and read the book from Gollwitzer that Jüngel criticizes there and found some interesting tidbits. You’ll have to wait for a further discussion, but here is one passage that I found interesting to tide you over. Given that so many folk in North America these days are interested in changes in religious demographics, and in trying to convince people that God exists (usually as a cornerstone for social conservatism in politics), I think Gollwitzer here offers a fresh and compelling take on the relation of Christianity and atheism.

Helmut Gollwitzer, The Existence of God as Confessed by Faith (Westminster, 1965), 244–45. As usual, bold is mind.
The seriousness of the contradiction between the Christian and the atheist does not lie in the fact that the atheist is a worse man than the Christian—the contrary is just as often to be seen.[*] The ‘unchristianness’ of Christians is at all events a worse thing than the immorality of athetists (Matt. 5.3ff), and the assertion than morality would perish without religion is an apologetic argument which would be better dropped. . . . Nor does the seriousness lie in the fact that the atheist, if he persists in his atheism to his last breath, will be damned; that is an anticipation of the divine judgment which is as frequent as it is premature, and against which Christians ought to find a warning in Jesus’ saying that the first can be last and the last first. The seriousness of the contradiction consists rather in the fact that where the Christian expresses relief, thanks and praise, but where he also trembles and fears, there the atheist sees cause neither for joy nor for fear. The contradiction is serious, because it means self-exclusion from the fulfilment of life in faith. To that extent it can well be said that the atheist misjudges not only God, but actually misjudges man—this, however, does not mean that he misjudges the proper anthropology, but that he misjudges himself as the man who should in fact long ago have been taking part in this fulfilment of life. For the call, ‘God is’—it is, as we have seen, a call of promise that awakens joy and fear, and not a static indicative—calls us to fulfilment of life.
*Ed. note: So shockingly true today…



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