Category: Non-fiction

Kurt Flasch
Warum ich kein Christ bin
[Why I am not a christian]

Non-Fiction

Review

​Kurt Flasch, who is turning 85 this year, is the great philosophical custodian of the sheep flock of Christian philosophy. His method is historical-critical, meaning he finds the best edition of the sources, creates a genealogy of interpretations, establishes different versions – in sum, he takes pains to be exact in dealing with the sources. He tries to understand Christian thinking on the basis of its own premises, and to link it to ancient and modern concepts of truth. The systematic theologian and historian complement each other synergetically and are inseparable in Flasch’s work. We see this too in his grandiose study of Nicholas of Cusa published in 1999, where Flasch not only examines the intellectual environment of this Renaissance philosopher but reconstructs his thinking in five “epochs.”

After six decades of acting as a philosophical custodian Kurt Flasch has now taken stock. “Why I am Not a Christian” is the title of his personal confession. Flasch offers 280 pages of “report and argumentation,” or so the book’s subtitle. He reports on his personal educational journey, his research and the arguments he developed against the Christian philosophers, from St. Paul to Ratzinger, none of whom he found convincing with their missionary motives.

This approach is not to be taken lightly, coming from someone whose subtlety in dealing with the Christian tradition, whose knowledge of it and of its sources, would be the pride of any church father. Indeed, his arguments hit even harder, because Flasch argues from the perspective of Greek and modern philosophy. His verdict is stern. From the very beginning, he claims, Christianity was built on dubious myths and worked with flimsy Aristotelian premises. Where modernity criticizes and threatens Christianity’s understanding of truth, Christianity resorts to constructs of faith that elude argumentation. Some of Christianity’s dogmas serve to terrify, humiliate, and intimidate its followers.

In no period of its history, Flasch concludes, did philosophical thought on Christ and faith conform to its concepts of truth, neither in the present-day nor in preceding epochs. Following a detailed and modest account of his theological and philosophical investigation, the upshot of which has been a thorough “demythologization,” he introduces the historical-critcial method and explains the concept of “truth” in religion. Then he follows the metaphysical hierarchy in chapters about “God” and the “world,” “salvation” and the individual Christian soul with its vascillating between heaven and hell.

Flasch ends with a detailed chapter about “How It Feels to Not Be a Christian.” Apparently he feels peace and calm by not being a follower as the Church and its tradition define it. The unreasonable demands of the Scholastics and their philosophical subterfuges fade into the background, and the psychological risks stemming from a belief in hell vanish – in short, the mind and spirit are free. Flasch hints at what he found appealing about these supposedly inspired texts: the poetic inventiveness and “movement of thought” manifest in Christian scripture. What remains is the suggestion of a theologia poetica, in which nothing is believed but the mind is given food for thought. 
Marius Meller

By Marius Meller, 18.07.2014

​Marius Meller studied German philology, philosophy, and musicology, and has worked as a literary editor at the Frankfurter Rundschau and Berliner Tagesspiegel newspapers. He lives in Berlin as a writer and works as a freelance literature critic for Deutschlandradio and Deutschlandfunk.

Translated by David Burnett