Thursday, September 9, 2010

Regret Or Admire?

Fr. Karl Rahner, S.J.
Jesuit Karl Rahner used to speak of people in non-Western countries who somehow live Christ-like lives as “anonymous Christians.” Now we have explicitly Christian aid workers exercising their discipleship anonymously, rather than in the name of Christ. Should we regret this or admire it?
Link (here) to read a rather lengthy piece at Religion Dispatches. 
Rahner's theology dominated the seminaries. Moreover, through his chief theological disciple, Johannes Baptist Metz, Rahner was the grandfather (if not always the happy grandfather) of the theologies of liberation. Further, 20 years of mission theory bear the imprint of Rahner's argument that all people of good will and moral earnestness are, in some sense, "anonymous Christians."
Link (here) to a great article dissecting Fr. Rahner's theology at Catholic Culture. 


Anonymous said...

Nobody takes Rahner seriously anymore. How often do you read someone referring to his thought? Hardly ever.

justrobnj said...

In the 1990s, every single graduate theology program I knew was enamored with Rahner. He was inescapable.

At Loyola Chicago, Intro to Systematic Theology was limited to Karl Rahner & David Tracy. Intro to Christology at Notre Dame's Graduate Summer Program was heavily Rahner.

We touched upon Aquinas & Augustine in other classes, but I had to enroll in special tutotials to get either of them in depth.

TonyD said...

I vote for "regret".

It is not sufficient to help the poor in imitation of Christ. True service involves a deeper understanding of values.

Is it ever possible that helping the poor is not service? If not, then there no such thing as a greater evil - and the Church has failed in its teaching.

If helping the poor is not always service, then we must move closer to values that allow us to understand such trade-offs.

Those who do not understand such things can continue to follow “interpretations” – with the associated consequences. In time, they will learn that judgment overrides “rules”. And, in time, they will discover that God’s actions are driven by underlying values.

I am not saying that we should not do much more to help the poor. I am saying that we should not mistake that activity for Catholicism.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tony--Have you ever run across this passage in the Bible?

Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothed you? When
did we see you ill or in prison and visit you? Whenever you did for the least of mine,
You did for me. Matthew 26:37-40

Anonymous said...

"Nobody takes Rahner seriously anymore."

And, yet, his name appears here on a regular basis and you discuss him (w/little depth).

TonyD said...

Anonymous #1:
Let’s suppose that the passage said: “feed all the hungry.” Would that mean that all judgment should be suspended, and that no other scripture or values should be considered? Have we moved beyond “literalism” to “literalism of any interpretation”?

Anonymous said...

I vote regret.
Rahner is responsible for the Jesuit mission being set back two generations.

Jack in St.Louis

Anonymous said...

The quote is lengthy and very much characteristic of the NT message. You may, of course, choose to ignore it or wiggle out of it but don't pretend it doesn't say what it says.

TonyD said...

You know, everyone seems to have trouble reconciling God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence with our experience of this existence (eg. the existence of poverty, communism, abortion, non-traditional marriage). But I believe that it is not confusing if you move closer to His values.

An important value here is free will – and lessons are one consequence of that free will. This occurs because free will that is not aligned with God’s values is allowed to create harm. As we move closer to God’s values we should encourage this (eg. as people who follow the advice of “love your neighbor” to allow others’ values to create their lessons.) While it can be correctly argued that this results in pain, suffering, poverty, greed, etc. – that is appropriate.

Everyone should be trying to prevent harm. But for those few who understand God’s will, and may even be asked to participate, a greater dedication to free will is requested.

While this is unequivocally horrible, the benefit is that lessons are enabled – lessons that are appropriate to everyone. Facing our own ego and self-righteousness is an important lesson whose value should not be underestimated. Similarly, becoming capable of the humility and self-sacrifice involved with “love your neighbor” represents a movement toward the perfection of the soul.

Further, it is understood that we are not God. And, as a result, we will find occasions where compassion or empathy is more important than adherence to “love your neighbor” – especially when we understand the worldly harm caused by “our neighbors” values. In those situations, we might ask ourselves: “Soul perfection at what cost?” The answer is clear – “love your neighbor” provides the lessons that God desires for us.

Joseph Fromm said...

Tony D
Excellent contribution!



Anonymous said...

"Everyone should be trying to prevent harm. But for those few who understand God’s will, and may even be asked to participate, a greater dedication to free will is requested."

This statement is pure slush.

TonyD said...


I understand the confusion about not “preventing harm.”

In order to align our values with God’s values we must respect others’ values. (“Love your neighbor” includes respecting their free will and respecting their values.) We should try to live to this standard unless there is harm – a level of harm as defined by God, not by us.

One reason that this is difficult is because people have almost no conscious knowledge of their values. Some believe that we can observe people’s actions in order to determine their values – but that doesn’t work. People’s actions tend to represent a complex mix of emotional responses, values, and judgments.

We can, however, ask them about their values. While their answers may not truly reflect their values, their answers do reflect information that helps us apply “love your neighbor.” It is sufficient to respect their stated values.

Emotions are immaterial, and they are something that we are trying to “perfect”. We perfect them by learning not just to balance them, but to control them. That means that we should aspire to a level of emotional control that is much higher than is commonly believed. (This also explains why God’s anger is not a justification for our anger – His standards are very much higher than ours. And even if our anger is appropriate, we still don’t understand how God would evaluate the situation. If you really believe yourself to be that close to God’s values, you should be getting unambiguous direct revelation.) So, in order to make decisions that are in alignment with God’s values, we must not only learn to control our own emotions, we must learn to judge situations based on an appropriate level of emotion, as well as the competing values between those involved.

This means that not only must we must balance emotions such as compassion, empathy, anger, and humility, but they must generally be given far less weight than other considerations about the situation. It is not reasonable to make a bad trade-off in order to keep someone from getting angry – anger, by itself, is the wrong metric.

But I am describing your judgments about a situation. This does not override “love your neighbor”. Your values are not others values – and you should not be trying to impose them. I hope it is obvious how such imposition or persuasion would be a greater harm --You would be living values out of alignment with God’s values. For example, this implies that you should let angry people try to live their values, until the point of harm. Similarly, you should try to reconcile competing values by finding suitable options for all concerned parties – not options that conform to your values or God’s values.

TonyD said...
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