Thursday 29 October 2009

Disappointed by Hans Küng

An elderly friend of mine, now deceased, and a definitely non-Christian Unitarian, who I would see pretty much weekly at his house, used to praise Hans Küng to the hills. Küng's Global Ethic suited my friend's self-declared universalist outlook, and it was part of my running argument with my friend that there is no such position as a pure, interfaith, universalist position, except that of yet another position and interpretation. For me, Hans Küng was that ecumenical Christian, the one who could describe the whole Christian faith, which of course was another kind of universal survey. The In Depth Group programme will eventually land on Hans Küng (assuming it continues) as a big describer of Christianity. His 1977 trans. Edward Quinn On Being a Christian, London: Collins, is like a Christian textbook for confirmation candidates (and was just this for me).

As I understand it, he and Joseph Ratzinger were fairly close, but it was Ratzinger who took fright after the German experience of 1968 and all that. Part of the In Depth discussion has been about Germany (because of its theologians, a legacy of having so many states and universities) and it being both a place of the most progressive, Enlightenment thought, rational and inclusive of Jews like nowhere else, and a turn in Romanticism into a fantasy paganism, a distortion of power, Nazism and vicious anti-semitism, as in the culture of Wagner and Beyreuth (and all that). After the Nazi defeat the Western children of the Nazis were handling the most recent legacy, and reacted via 1968 against the fact that the same people were in power who had been in power, just that they were silent about the previous time. That Ratzinger reacted against 1968 and all that meant he was walking in dangerous territory, even if he did it inside Roman Catholicism.

Back in 1979 I was an economic liberal in outlook - voted Conservative then - and a female penfriend in Germany called Claudia Ziesel (met on a train going into Scotland) couldn't understand my association with a social class that she had rejected along with her generation, and she was going Green in those days. For me it was just economic theory and clearing up a mess of failed British institutions. I understand more now, and remain a social liberal as I became around 1981 as I watched people thrown on the scrapheap and had to adjust my outlook (voting Liberal Democrat or equivalent since, with Labour as a necessary exception in 1997 as part of another clearout - another one is coming but via the expenses scandal).

With more of a cultural understanding, built largely around religion, we come to a figure like Hans Küng. Reading him in The Guardian Online Comment is Free Belief, one sees the limit of his outlook. In The Vatican thirst for power divides Christianity and damages Catholicism, Hans Küng when on Anglicanism he declares that the pope's action creatign a mini-Church of Anglo-Catholics :

...means further corrosion. It is already suffering from the consequences of the heedless and unnecessary election of an avowed gay priest as bishop in the US, an event that split his own diocese and the whole Anglican communion. This friction has been enhanced by the ambivalent attitude of the church's leadership with respect to homosexual partnerships. Many Anglicans would accept a civil registration of such couples with wide-ranging legal consequences, for instance in inheritance law, and would even accept an ecclesiastical blessing for them, but they would not accept a "marriage"...

The latter part is just description of the facts, but he is opinionating the consecration of a gay man as "heedless and unnecessary". Had Hans Küng been the figure of universal and inclusive outlook he might have said instead that a man's sexuality has no bearing on his ability to be a bishop. What makes this "heedless and unnecessary" is a bureaucratic-institutional assessment, also as if this was done deliberately. Would, for example, the position of Jeffrey John as bishop also been "heedless and unnecessary"? Presumably, on a bureaucratic-institutional assessment, yes. Because, on that assessment, it always depends on the level of opposition at the time.

Now such expressions (for example having prayers and blessings after civil gay partnerships) may be quite radical from a Roman Catholic, but they are still about social and cultural boundaries as in institutions. So it is disappointing.

Even so, he recognises his countryman's institutional power grab for what it is, for "imperium" over ecumenism and "Ratzinger's stubborn, uncomprehending intransigence". He understands Roman Catholicism's quest for power and division.

It is running much deeper. There is no doubt just how deep the Pope's Finger has gone, in seeking to wrench out Anglicanism's most traditionalist. I've listened to even locally half-baked mutterings and expressions, that reflect this Catholicism up against the more Charles Gore tradition of Catholicism as in Affirming Catholicism and all that. It is as if there is this desperate need to be counted as Catholic, and even about 'Holy Mother Church', whilst Benny and all that specifically doesn't include these other Reformed Catholics. There is the feeling that the Pope's Finger has shaken those who use the label, because it indeed excludes as well as includes. So the division caused runs deep. The fantasy of Catholicism runs into such people who, basically, have had the division between them and the Oxford Movement-neat Catholics made very clear this month, and they don't like it.

1 comment:

Brad Evans said...

As an atheist, all I can muster for any form of belief is a yawn.
You've all become freak show imitations of each other.
Bitchy is probably the kindest expression I can think of.
I had no idea there were so many gay (closeted and otherwise)men who enjoyed dressing up and play "Let's Talk to Our Invisible Friend While We Wave Smoke About!"