Shifting from the Church

From Pope Benedict XVI’s book, Jesus of Nazareth, p 53-55:

Since that time, a secularist reinterpretation of the idea of the Kingdom has gained considerable ground, particularly, though not exclusively, in Catholic theology. This reinterpretation propounds a new view of Christianity, religions, and history in general, and it claims that such radical refashioning will enable people to reappropriate Jesus’ supposed message. It is claimed that in the pre-Vatican II period ‘ecclesiocentrism’ was the dominant position: The Church was represented as the center of Christianity. Then there was a shift to Christocentrism, to the doctrine that Christ is the center of everything. But it is not only the Church that is divisive — so the argument continues — since Christ belongs exclusively to Christians. Hence the further step from Christocentrism to theocentrism. This has allegedly brought us closer to the community of religions, but our final goal continues to elude us, since even God can be a cause of division between religions and between people.

Therefore, it is claimed, we must now move toward “regnocentrism,” that is, toward the centrality of the Kingdom. This at last, we are told, is the heart of Jesus’ message, and it is also the right formula for finally harnessing mankind’s positive energies and directing them toward the world’s future. “Kingdom,” on this interpretation, is simply the name for a world governed by peace, justice, and the conservation of creation. It means no more than this. This “Kingdom” is said to be the goal of history that has to be attained. This is supposedly the real task of religions: to work together for the coming of the “Kingdom.” They are of course perfectly free to preserve their traditions and live according to their respective identities as well, but they must bring their different identities to bear on the common task of building the “Kingdom,” a world, in other words, where peace, justice and respect for creation are dominant values.

This sounds good; it seems like a way of finally enabling the whole world to appropriate Jesus’ message, but without requiring missionary evangelization of other religions. It looks as if now, at long last, Jesus’ words have gained some practical content, because the establishment of the “Kingdom” has become a common task and is drawing nigh. On closer examination, though, it seems suspicious. Who is to say what justice is? What serves justice in particular situations? How do we create peace? On closer inspection, this whole project proves to be utopian dreaming without any real content, except insofar as its exponents tacitly presuppose some partisan doctrine as the content that all are required to accept.

But the main thing that leaps out is that God has disappeared; man is the only actor left on the stage. The respect for religious “traditions” claimed by this way of thinking is only apparent. The truth is that they are regarded as so many sets of customs, which people should be allowed to keep, even though they ultimately count for nothing. Only the organization of the world counts. Religion matters only insofar as it can serve the objective. This post-Christian vision of faith and religion is disturbingly close to Jesus’ third temptation.

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