Saturday, October 21, 2017

Patriotism or Religious Devotion

When being interviewed by Ben Witherington about his biography of the great German theologian Karl Barth, Mark Galli made an interesting comment about religious experience.

Karl Barth believed that basing theology on feeling inevitably confuses us, as it did liberal theologians at the beginning of World War 1. They were so taken with their feeling of patriotism, they confused it with a divine experience, and found themselves justifying German’s entrance into an unjust war. A theology grounded in experience will sooner or later go astray in significant ways...
Galli explained Barth’s position more clearly.
German liberal theologians could not separate their patriotism from their devotion. Experiential religion is not merely personally dangerous but socially and even nationally dangerous. He believed it was one of the main reasons the German Christians were attracted to Adolf Hitler. They were deeply moved by Hitler’s oratory and ideas, and they equated those with the movement of God. That was, to say the least, a disastrous move at an unprecedented scale.
Christians in the United States are getting really stirred up about kneeling during the national anthem at NFL games. Look from the outside the strength of feeling seems odd.

Civil religion is stronger in America than true faith. I suspect that many Christians are confusing their feelings of patriotism with the presence of God. It seems like patriotism and devotion to God are being confused.

The German example warns how dangerous this confusion can be. I presume that many Americans experience the same feelings of religious devotion at Trump campaign meetings.


Anonymous said...

Barth was Swiss, actually.

Ron McK said...

Whoops. You are correct. It sometimes takes an outsider to see clearly.