Moltmann on Working Towards a Better Future in Community

Petare Slums in Caracas. Source: Wikipedia.

This post is part of an ongoing series on Moltmann’s political theology. I have previously posted about turning swords into plowshares and the American Dream. Stay tuned for more to come!

Below are two sources where Jürgen Moltmann expounds on the importance of community when it comes to political engagement. Here Moltmann offers reflections on how the early Jerusalem church in the book of Acts gives us an example of how a another (better) world is possible when we live not as individuals but in community with one another. The first is an extended quotation from Ethics of Hope that includes this powerful statement: “The opposite of poverty is not wealth, but community. In community individuals become rich, rich in friends who can be trusted, rich in mutual help, rich in ideas and powers, rich in the energies of solidarity.”  Below it I’m including another clip with transcript from the Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Moltmann from 2009, where Moltmann is asked about this same topic. You can view other clips I’ve shared from that event here.

‘No one said that any of the things he possessed were his own.’ In the Spirit of the resurrection and in the experience of the Spirit of life they share, no one needs to cling on to what he possesses any more. Anyone who lives a divinely filled life has no need for the ambiguous securities which possessions and property give him. So these things are there to be used by those who need them. Because they had ‘everything in common…there was not a needy person among them’. In this little Jerusalem congregation, which was probably made up of poor people, ‘there was enough for everyone’.
Is that ‘early Christian communism’? Is it an unrealistic ideal? No, it is a new, realistic experience of God we can make together at any time and in every place. This other world is possible! It is a counter-image to all the societies with social inequality and want. In these societies ‘there is never enough for everyone’, so they are dominated by a struggle of each against all for the mans of living and the pleasures of living – to be more precise, by a struggle of the rich against the poor, of the strong against the weak, of the healthy against the sick, of the upper classes against the lower classes. The competitive struggles in the marketplace of modern society are explained in a social-Darwinian sense as being ‘the natural rights of the stronger’, but in actual fact they are driven by the fears of death and the greed for life. Where these rule, the result is a world of social frigidity, a dog-eats-dog society in which ‘everyone is his own best friend’.
The opposite of poverty is not wealth, but community. In community individuals become rich, rich in friends who can be trusted, rich in mutual help, rich in ideas and powers, rich in the energies of solidarity. These energies simply lie fallow or are repressed. All helpful actions have come into being at the grass roots: kindergartens, neighborhood help, care for the poor and the sick, and other citizens’ action groups.
In the economic crisis of 2008, beneath the lamentations fo the consumer culture a completely different culture of solidarity emerged. The misery of the unemployed and the homeless, of the impoverished and excluded, released a wave of unexpected readiness to help in the major cities of the Western world. Free meals, co-operatives, and neighborly help were set up in a way no one had expected. This saved the lives of numberless people. So we should not overcome the present economic crisis by restoring the old consumer culture, but should surmount it by developing this culture of solidarity, and by drawing up guidelines for a post-capitalist society.
The energies of the people’s solidarity also emerged in the terrorist catastrophes of 9/11, as well as after the mass murders by crazed pupils in German schools in Erfurt in 2002 and Winnenden in March of 2009. The families affected were not left alone. In the towns and villages a crowd of people unknown to each other came together to express their grief and thronged to spontaneous services in churches and in the market places in order to show their support, to participated in the mourning, and to comfort.
These forms of solidarity among people show a different culture from that of the consumer temples and the shopping malls.
Jürgen Moltmann, Ethics of Hope, p. 158-159

E.V. It seems to me that if we have embraced hope we are living into the peace of resistance. I am interested in examples of where are the concrete practices or rhythms or values that we can live as we anticipate. Within the global social movement there’ve been a lot to do with resistance… and at some point people realize “Resistance only takes us so far, we had better start creating alternatives”. So there are people creating co-ops, and creating new ways of local government. What are some concrete examples in your experience that you’ve seen of this happening, of us as communities of faith and the church actually creating enclave of the future and landing places for the future. Any concrete examples that you have had?

J.M. Well, these movements are not always Christian churches. But many Christians take part in these movements. And some of them are very effective. For example when the Green Party started in Europe, especially in Germany, there were extra-parliamentary opposition groups, and they formed a political party, a small one, were bringing the ecological questions to the public. And after 20 years we already see how they pressed these topics or questions of ecology into the other parties. Even to the conservative parties, and the neo-liberal parties. They all talk about the environment, and “save the environment” and so they have all become more or less green. And the same is true with forms of social justice. Groups in the Social Democratic Party in Germany and now more or less all of the parties have on their agenda “social justice first” even before free market. Even the Neo-Liberals are for social justice first and if there can be a free market, that’s OK. And so the influence of small groups of alternative life, change of conditions, are very effective. And many young people in Germany don’t join political parties any more, because politics is limited to a nation or the European community, while Attac, or Doctors without Limits are global. Global engagement with young people, and this is much more attractive than a small political party in Germany. Especially Attac – Another world is possible (I would say, not only another world, but a better world is possible) – is very effective at attracting many young people who engage and give time and energy of their life for it. And this is certainly an influence on the whole situation on the globe.

E.V. Were you able to see that kind of alternative life within the base communities that you visit, and that you have had encounter with? Because sometimes we have an understanding of the base communities as “a different kind of house church”. But some of them actually embrace different practices and ways of living that were different from the dominant system. And if so, how did they touch you?

J.M. What I have seen of it in Nicaragua is: to live a community life in the slums to show the people how mutual help will bring them out of the misery. So they always say… the contrary of poverty isn’t property; the contrary of poverty and property is community. Because in a community we are very rich of ideas and energies, we can help ourselves. Its only the individualization that comes through commercials which is making people powerless. But in a community we are strong. And Christian churches should be reminded of the first Christian congregation according the Acts chapter 4, I believe: “There was not a needy person among them. They had everything in common.” This is a promise, and a commandment so to speak, in all our Christian churches and communities. A Christian church is alive when in the congregation there are a lot of communities. So a community is alive when smaller communities live together.
Normally, the churches in Germany are only half-full, as you know. Because after worship in Germany you cannot ask “Did you enjoy the service?” There was nothing to enjoy in it. But there is one church in Tübingen, which is overfilled every Sunday because they consist of smaller communities that meet in the houses and work for third world issues or for the poor – the table as we call it, feeding the poor – and in the service after the sermon and prayer, these groups show up and say what they have done in the last week and where they need help and a person can engage, etc., and this is the most lively church we have. But this is an old knowledge I believe, that a community consists of communities, not of single persons or individuals. Individuals form a lonely crowd. Only communities form communities. And if this is practiced in churches, people will look at it.

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