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Karl Rahner addresses Christianity
On the Threshold of the Third Millennium

From an interview with a Swiss Magazine

Question for discussion:

Today we live in a very much manipulated and manipulable world. Modern technology s applied successfully to more and more problems that a little while ago were considered an unavoidable part of life. That can lead to a certain feeling of having things all taken care of. In your opinion, how does this development affect Christian faith?

Rahner’s Response:

I think that moderns do have it a lot harder being Christians than our forebears. Every active person simply has so much more to do today than our predecessors did, with the consequence that it is much more difficult to find time that earlier generations had at their disposal and could devote to religious purposes. Take the case of the Dutch Calvinists two-hundred years ago: they looked forward to three-hour sermons on Sunday and thought a pastor who did not use the whole time was a shirker. By contrast, we can see that there is a difficulty for the life of faith in our own times that did not exist then. It is just an extrinsic factor, but it is something the Church should take into account more than they do.

Add to that all the difficulties that unavoidably play a role. A modern person does not have the simple, straightforward relationship to the past that was the case for many earlier Christians

. . . . Can one be particularly surprised if such a person finds it difficult even to imagine that he or she was redeemed in Jerusalem in the year 33? Besides the difficulty of the relationship to history, there are difficulties in principle, not to mention the matter of a world that has become enormously differentiated: a universe whose temporal and spatial boundaries are beyond our horizons, a world that has developed. Therefore, this world is a world in which a relationship to God has to be articulated in a quite new way, completely different from what used to be.

It seems that the Church is not yet trying, in the radical way that is necessary, to develop that mystical experience of God in the individual person and make it accessible to broad masses of ordinary modern people. It will not do to present the doctrine of the Incarnation in a way completely insensitive to the difficulties that contemporaries may have, as is the case with the first encyclical of the present Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. I am as firmly convinced of this doctrine’s truth as the pope is, but all the problems with it that a Hans Kung has expressed need to be . . . . at least in the back of the writer’s mind. You would have to render the old, abiding basically Christian truth in such a way that a person can tell you are addressing not only those who believe anyway, but also people of today.

. . . .We have to preach with the awareness that we have “unbelievers” in front of us. Failing to do that, we practice a theology that is very true, but makes no impression on people such as they are today. . . . One has to have breath more deeply of the air of unbelief in order really to preach the gospel for today, with courage and a sense of identity, but also in a way suited for contemporary culture.