Will the Catholic Churches ever reunite?
Church will be different - but how?
A dedicated Christian search for meaning
Another literary discovery this year made a special impression on me. The French writer Emmanuel Carrère published a very personal examination of Christianity in a German translation. “The Kingdom of God” even landed on the Leipzig Book Fair's best list. (Carrère, Emmanuel: Das Reich Gottes. Berlin 2016. This is where the following quotations come from.) Carrère follows in the footsteps of Paul and Luke and describes what it really could have been like back then, at the beginning of the history of Christianity. This search for traces is framed in the personal faith story of Emmanuel Carrère. Just a few decades ago he was a devout Catholic. He humorously describes how it came about - and how he finally lost his faith again. In retrospect, he is downright ashamed of the naivety with which he believed at the time. Nevertheless, the fascination of the Christian faith does not let go of him:
“When you think about it, it's strange that normal, intelligent people believe in something as nonsensical as Christian religion. Something that belongs in the same category as Greek mythology or fairy tales. Well, in the old days people were superstitious, science didn't count, but today! If anyone today believed in stories of gods who turn into swans to seduce mortals or princesses who kiss frogs and thus turn them into dream princes, everyone would say they are crazy.
Yet a lot of people believe in a story that is just as crazy and it is not declared insane. Even if you don't share their beliefs, you take them seriously. They have a social function that is perhaps less important than it used to be, but one that is generally viewed positively and respected. They live their quirks and at the same time pursue absolutely sensible activities. Even the presidents of the republic pay reverent visits to their chief. That's strange, isn't it? "
Carrère no longer believes - at least that's what he claims. But he is fascinated by the fact that countless people still take the Christian faith seriously:
“When you go to church, you speak the Creed, in which every sentence offends common sense, and you speak it in your mother tongue, which you understand. You can take it easy and think that these people don't believe in it at all. No more than Santa Claus. It's just part of the heritage, beautiful centuries-old customs to which they are attached. In cultivating them, they claim to maintain a relationship with the mindset that gave birth to the cathedrals and music of Bach and of which one has reason to be proud. (...)
Nevertheless: Among the believers there must be, in addition to those who allow themselves to be lulled by the music of the words, without caring about the content, there must also be some who have pronounced them with conviction and with knowledge of the facts and thought about them. When asked about it, they answer that they really believe that two thousand years ago a Jew was born to a virgin, rose three days after his crucifixion, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. They answer that these events are central to their whole life. Yes, that's strange, though. "
Carrère therefore deals with the content of Christianity. He deals with Paul and Luke, delves into the gospel, pursues historical knowledge and at the same time lets his fantasies run free by putting himself in the shoes of early Christianity. He conducts an intensive existential examination of the foundations of the Christian faith in order to find out how stable these foundations are and what the fascination that has kept Christianity alive to this day.
At the end of his book there is by no means a “happy ending” that leads Carrère back to faith in the Christian God. But it doesn't stop at an atheistic creed either. At the end of his book, Emmanuel Carrère describes a visit to an Archè community in which disabled and non-disabled people live together on a Christian basis. A group of disabled people sings a hymn of praise to God out of deep enthusiasm; they sing, dance and also draw Carrère into the inspiring religious events. At this moment, Carrère admits, "Tears well up in my eyes and I have to admit, for better or worse, that for a moment on that day I glimpsed what the kingdom of God is."
A little later he concluded his work with the following impressive words:
“I have written the book I am closing in all sincerity, but what it tries to bring is so much greater than I am that that sincerity is - I know it - ridiculous. I wrote it with the burden of who I am: A clever, a rich, someone from the upper class - too many handicaps to get into the kingdom of God. Still, I tried, and at the moment as I was writing the book, I wonder if it betrays the young man I once was and the Lord he believed in, or if he both up has remained true to his way. I dont know."
What is remarkable about this book is that someone who has said goodbye to the Christian faith nonetheless feels a fascination that leads him into an intensive examination of the core and origins of Christianity. In doing so, he reveals what is largely missing within our church: an intensive, personal and existential struggle for the Christian faith, a discussion of the question of what it is actually that Christians build their lives on.
Carrère reveals the dramatic speechlessness we suffer from within our church - and he shows a way how this speechlessness can be overcome.
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