The Malta Independent 18 March 2019, Monday

A religion-less Christianity

Bishop Mario Grech Sunday, 15 April 2018, 08:57 Last update: about 12 months ago

Recently, a young man asked me what change I wished to see in our society. My answer surprised him. I wish that a certain category of Christians, in particular those in the inner circles of the Church, would change their way of seeing their faith. I have an inkling that local Catholics are suffering from exhaustion, falsification and banalisation of our faith in Christ!

No scientific study is needed to draw the conclusion that several of the baptized young and the not so young are abandoning religion. Our religious community is turning into a white haired community! Those abandoning the Church do not lack intelligence and they are neither adverse to the religious phenomenon. They have simply lost interest or feel pushed away because they view us as "playing at Church". It is the way we are presenting the Gospel, celebrating our liturgy and our blatant incoherence that is causing people to feel spiritually deluded.


Auguste Comte was wrong when he said that man was to pass from the religious dimension into the scientific or "positivist" dimension. Neither was Karl Marx correct when he said that religion would disappear since it only offered illusory consolations. Nowadays many philosophers confirm that religious desire is an anthropological datum which can take many forms but which cannot be eradicated. For me this confirms that there is an implicit desire for Christ in the heart of each man.

It is the Church's mission to facilitate this encounter. Therefore, we Catholics need to ensure that we are not in any way hindering those who are searching for the truth. We need to ensure that our nostalgic passions for the past, our uncertainties and inner fears do not make us put forward a deformed Christianity. I am afraid that we are surrounded by such a deformed Christianity. I am not passing judgement here but stating a fact confident that some of those who have this forma mentis are in bona fide.

Max Weber, Marcel Gauchet and Charles Taylor all speak of the disenchantment of the world. Modern and ultra-modern man's expectations of the relationship between faith and religion have changed. Contemporary man still thirsts for faith, but maybe less for religion. Due to his disenchantment in matters which concern faith, he prefers to walk a different path. Modern man has a fresh view of the world and yet we, as a Church, still hang on to a stale and bygone vision of the world.

Why do we obstinately continue to follow this path? Perhaps we are afraid to take the risk of changing. Maybe we prefer a glittery and boisterous Christianity. Are we living a schizophrenic religiosity? We declare that we are following Christ, but in truth we are pursuing our own hobbies dressed up in Christian garb. Are we enslaving Christ in our religiosity? We disown his message but then we celebrate his Mother and his saints!

In such a context Marcel Gauchet's words come to mind. He says that Christianity "is the religion of the end of religion". I will not enter into the merits of Gauchet's thought, but I wish to apply his words to the situation in our country. I therefore ask whether it is time to re-propose a Christian faith which has the strength to change that religion we claim to be "Christian" but which is bereft of any Christian semblance. We need to help man discover the original authenticity of the Christian faith, we need to help him make the leap from a religion of convenience to a religion of conviction, from a religion spurred by laws to a religion which gives us a taste of true freedom, from a religion of void rituals to a religion which opens us to the mystery, from a religion exhilarating in the sacristy to a religion which finds its place in the town square or in the digital social world.

It is fine to admire our magnificent Church history, but if the Church is to have a future, we cannot continue deploying our energies in the perpetration of a tradition which may have blurred our vision of what Christ has proposing.

If, as Jean Luc Nancy puts it, Christianity is not a religion but a "deconstruction of the other religions", are we not then right to say that genuine Christianity has the strength to "deconstruct" or elevate our traditional religion? Sixty years ago, this process was induced by Vatican Council II for the benefit of the universal Church. Might it be the case that in its simplicity Christian faith will help us to slowly dismantle what is commonly known as "our religion"? It is not so implausible to apply our present situation to that which Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls a "religionless Christianity".

For Bonhoeffer, "religion was worship which had little contact or concern with the deeper currents of life. It was religion fostered by the Enlightenment, religion which involved the worship of a God remote from human life and little concerned with biblical social teachings... For some such religion might foster a comfortable feeling of inward piety, of calm and repose, but with little concern for the needs of the hungry or the poor. A renewed Christianity, Bonhoeffer was convinced, will slough off such religion, to be true to the ideals set by Christ its Lord." (Hermes Donald Krielkamp).

The Gospels confirm Gauchet's thesis that Christianity should bring to an end a certain type of religion. This is what Christ did. His teachings brought into disarray the Hebrew religion. He blatantly criticized certain religious practices. He affirmed that man comes before the law! He gave to a religion which was focused on ritual sacrifices, a new centre, love (Mk 12,33). He spoke about the need to bring down the temple of Jerusalem for him to build it again (John 2,19).

All this goes to show that the challenge which the Church is facing is internal. We need to bring order to our own house for we run the risk of ending up a soulless body. The brutal adversary of our Christian faith is not atheism, secularism or anti-clericalism, but our current Christian religiosity. While sitting on our religious laurels, we are so full of our own spirituality and ourselves that we leave little or no space for the novelty of Christ. There are several areas in the life of the local Church that need to be revisited. The Holy Spirit which is a gift of the Risen Christ to our community helps us.


Mgr Grech is Bishop of Gozo


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