"Are we in a Bonhoeffer Moment?"


The Sacred vs. the Religious

There was a time when everything sacred was religious. Increasingly most things sacred are not religious and most things religious are not sacred anymore. What happened?

From Unam Sanctam of 1302 to Immortale Dei on the Christian Constitution of States of 1885, the papacy held that the state must be subordinate to the church. For Boniface VIII, the power of kings must be "at the will and sufferance of the priest." For Leo XIII, church and state are like body and soul, the latter controlling the former. In 1885 most European nations (Italy, Spain, Greece, Holland, Germany, Austria, and England) were still dominated by Christian royal families. By accepting church tutelage kings gained religious legitimation. Until WW I and even later, everything sacred was religious and everything religious was sacred. Religion was seen by social scientists as the glue of society.

Today the "sacred" refers not only to what is religious as in the past but also to all things valuable, worth living and dying for, like the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and happiness. This kind of sacredness has been defined by some of the greatest intellectuals of all times.

There are forms of sacredness in all social institutions. The basic value of government is power; that of business is wealth, that of the military control, that of manufacturing the production and sale of goods, that of the police law and order, etc. Today some of our most sacred values are power, wealth, control, fame, and consumption. These values are seen as worth fighting for, hence as sacred by their beholders. One of our highest values is individual choice, hence there are no universal sacred values, only competing claims. Religion itself has become individualistic and all churches must compete in the religious market place. Today most things sacred are not religious, and most things religious are not sacred anymore to most people.

Under President Trump the worst kinds of power, wealth, control, and egotistical individualism have become sacred in order to make America imperial again. This is a return to the times of the robber barons, but it has been so for some time now.

What is religious sacredness?

In the past religious sacredness was experienced as awe in face of frightening things like untamed nature, roaring oceans, dangerous snowy peaks, violent storms, the earthquake on the Sinai, and a God of judgement and condemnation. Temples and religious objects were thought of as untouchable, moral laws as immutable, and certain secular things as taboo, impure, polluted, or intrinsically evil. But the modern Prometheus as conquered nature and the God of Judgement has become a God of love. Nothing frightens us anymore.

The Christian religion is not about the Sinai terror but about the mystery of God made flesh in order to confront evil and death. The values of power, wealth, and control do not address the mystery of evil which, like sickness and death, corrupts all things. Christianity is not about traditional sacredness but about holiness and conversion. The mystery of God is not about sacredness in the sky but about the mystery of the incarnation.

Where do we go from here? Intellectual and spiritual resistance

The call to holiness and conversion may ring like the sing-song of pious generalities which are inappropriate today because the robber barons have taken control over most institutions. Conversion today must begin with resitance to our enslaving conditions. - People submit themselves daily to five hours of commercial propaganda by watching television. Commercial television tells us what is sacred, what to value and what to buy. The robber barons want it so.
- Our cell phones keep us in a constant stage of anxiety about people and things.On average, Americans check their phones 46 times per day (74 times among those aged 18 to 24) which amounts to 195 minutes per day (more than 3 hours!). The robber barons want us to do so.
- Universities teach us that truth is relative – relative to what? – hence there is nothing sacred in knowledge because, according to the Sophists of yesteryear and today, "man is the measure of all things" – no explanation needed. The robber barons think it should be so.
-Our children are breast-fed on media milk; they learn about sex and intimacy, about life and death, from screen as soon as they can watch, with litle or no adult guidance. The robber barons kuje it to be so.
Christianity is not essentially about immutable sacred institutions and doctrines, intrinsic evil acts, and ordination male monoply. It is about holiness. "Are we we in a Bonhoeffer Moment? Our confession of faith sometimes means resisting secular authority. This is such a time." (Sojourners, February 2018). What is needed is intellectual and spiritual resistance.

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