Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Progress & Abyss

Jürgen Moltmann, "Progress & Abyss: Rememberances of the Modern World" in The Future of Hope eds. Miroslav Volf & William Katerberg (Eerdmans 2004), 3-26.

Modernity, as defined by Robert Marshall in his book All That is Solid Melts into Air (Penguin 1982), is how human beings today experience history. It is how we have been experiencing it as a species since the sixteenth century. Modernity is a hurricane that goes by many names, such as progress and development, names that reveal and conceal, effecting both good and bad. Yes, there are benefits, but every benefit exists in the shadow of a faustian bargain. Modernity exposes new vistas of possibility even as it commodifies every possible experiences and relationship to its lowest negotiated value. Such commodification desacralizes all experience. Nihilism is the existential result; negotiated value a synonym for valuelessness. In such a context, human beings cry out for transcendence in any form. Jürgen Moltmann in his essay "Progress & Abyss" speaks directly into this, addressing the polarity, exposing its paradox and finding a way out.

In the first section of his essay, Moltmann sets out to discuss the birth of modernity out of the spirit of messianic hope. His aim is to understand "the age of beginnings without end." The modern world, he says, began at two points. Its first beginning was the conquista of America in 1492. Its second was the Baconian revolution of knowledge, whereby human beings are to rule over and dominate nature using science and technology. What motivated the explorers, adventurers, nobles and scientists, he continues, was the promise of a new world order: the messianic reign of Christ. Such utopias, even unto our modern novus ordo saeculorum, promise an overthrow of the domination of the past in the setting up of a transcendent and messianic kingdom. "[T]he future takes precedence in the experience of time." History is moving toward a consummation, a third empire of the Spirit (Joachim of Fiore). "Future" (futurus) is for "for the modern world the new paradigm of transcendence" (11). Future becomes the transcendent hope of the modern world and the place from which it derives meaning. Such an attitude marked a world of beginnings without an end, a world of progress, evolution, growth, expansion and revolutions of hope.

In the second section, the Age of Catastrophes, Moltmann examines the dark underbelly of the Enlightenment's secular chiliasm. The glossy horizon of First World history has its garbage dump in the Third to which "the messianism of modern European times has never been anything but the apocalypse of their destruction." Here are ends with no beginnings, an end which includes the natural world as well. Modern industry calls every natural resource into question, a relationship based on "the disturbed relationship of modern men and women to nature." In the twentieth century, a total inability to find meaning in the face of history has replaced the nineteenth century's credulous faith in the future. As Moltmann says, "Every accumulation of power also accumulates the danger of its misuse." Therefore, he concludes, history cannot consummate and transcend itself. "It would be cynical to go on talking today about the moral progress of humanity through civilization" (15). "In the twentieth century, a total inability to find meaning in the face of history as it has hitherto been replaced the nineteenth century's credulous faith in the future" (16). No future understood this way can complete history, but is always subject to it, as are all things. Thus, finally, Moltmann begins to talk about the future.

Over the abysses of history must be thrown bridges to the future, says Moltmann. And, looking into the next millenium, such bridges of hope cannot afford to be naive. Though they "are practically the same hopes which called the modern world to life" today they have become "wise through bitter experience." History should breed caution and negotiation. "We have to work and hope for the future without arrogance and without despair." Therefore, the transcendence needed to undergird such hope must meet certain criteria. It cannot erupt from the usual framework of historical options. No, "it must be a future for the whole of history," past and future, "and therefore it must have a transcendent foundation." It must hope in the raising of the dead!

Without qualification, Moltmann states that for any hope to qualify as hope, it must be a hope for the past before it can ever be a hope for the present. "Without hope for the past there is no hope for the future, for what will be, will pass away; what is born, dies; and what is not yet, will one day be no longer" (18). Because we too are largely more past than future, our own hope must involve more than simply the duality of sentimental remembering or charitable forgetting. The dead cannot be left; there must be resurrection and "healing for what has been broken." That is why Christian hope is resurrection hope; it is Easter hope. "Because of the raising of the broken Christ, the Christian hope for the future is at its heart a hope for resurrection. The resurrection hope is not directed toward a future in history; it points toward the future of history, in which the tragic dimensions of history and nature will be dissolved" (17-18). Thus, our hopes for the future gain courage. "Because of a great hope for the overcoming of death and transience, our little hopes for future better times gain strength, and do not fall victim to resignation and cynicism" (19). And so, we turn to the future.

First, there is the political and the democratic revolution. Where there are threats--absentee democracy which leads to party-rule; the lack of recognition for human rights; the threat of nuclear annihilation--Moltmann places the shoulder of hope: democracy as an open, expanding, even hopeful process requiring active participation; the push toward universal recognition of human and environmental rights; and the realization of every nation, large or small, that "every country has the urgent task of restraining humanity's nuclear self-annihilation. . . . The state not only has the power of restraining the nuclear catastrophe; it also has the positive task of gaining time, and extending the time-limit, [gaining] time for life." (21, the last being, without a doubt, chastened so much as to resemble pessimism.)

Christians, are reminders of the Kingdom. Christians are to prepare the way for the Kingdom; to preach in word, act, and presence parables and correspondences of the Kingdom-come, to being the contradictions in the world into harmony with the world's future. Christians "will contribute their ideas about justice and freedom to their political community. They will be present wherever political ways out of the perils have to be sought. In these perils of the world they can show where deliverance is to be found" (22-23).

Nowhere is this more true than in the process of globalization; power is acquired, ends are acquired, but no one asks what ends should be acquired. "We must begin a public discussion about humane goals and the purposes of globalization." Globalization is inevitable, if not already here. What is needed is "a counter-model to the [present Baconian one which governs the] globalization of power which concentrates on finding humane goals and purposes for it." "The economy needs its political correlate, and politics needs human goals [where there is no difference between human and environmental] about which human beings can unite" (25). As part of this process, a new ecological anthropology will be required. This anthropology will understand human beings not as masters over-and-against creation, but as co-created members at home in and with the earth; "human civilization must be integrated into the ecosystem and not the converse." And, in a footnote which goes unexplained, Moltmann says this new ecological anthropology must also take into account the insights of modern feminist anthropology.

Moltmann concludes his essay by saying that the church, always looking ahead to the consummation of God's dwelling with human beings, should discover a "sacramental view of the world which would be able to take up and absorb into itself the worldview held at present in science and technology" (26).

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