I’ve blogged before about Karl Barth’s critique of religion in his Church Dogmatics I/2. For Barth, religion is an unbelieving grasping for God, in contradiction to the revelation of God in Christ. Moltmann approaches the subject from a different angle, speaking of the cross as the irreligious or unreligious center of Christianity, which puts to death everything that religious man thinks about God and wants from God:
If faith in the crucified Christ is in contradiction to all conceptions of the righteousness, beauty and morality of man, faith in the ‘crucified God’ is also a contradiction of everything men have ever conceived, desired and sought to be assured of by the term ‘God’. That ‘God’, the ‘supreme being’ and the ‘supreme good’, should be revealed and present in the abandonment of Jesus by God on the cross, is something that is difficult to desire. What interest can the religious longing for fellowship with God have in the crucifixion of its God, and his powerless and abandonment in absolute death? In spite of all the ‘roses’ which the needs of religion and theological interpretation have draped around the cross, the cross is the really irreligious thing in Christian faith. It is the suffering of God in Christ, rejected and killed in the absence of God, which qualifies Christian faith as faith, and as something different from the projection of man’s desire. The modern criticism of religion can attack the whole world of religious Christianity, but not this unreligious cross. There is no pattern for religious projections on the cross. For he who was crucified represents the fundamental and total crucifixion of all religion: the deification of the human heart, the sacralization of certain localities in nature and certain sacred dates and times, the worship of those who hold political power, and their power politics. Even the disciples of Jesus all fled from their master’s cross. Christians who do not have the feeling that they must flee the crucified Christ have probably not yet understood him in a sufficiently radical way.
(CG, p 37-38, my emphasis)
Below is another clip and transcript from the Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Moltmann, where he is asked about this aspect of The Crucified God. His response is very helpful, highlighting the “two crosses” of early Christianity: that of the suffering and defeated Christ (the foundation of Christian faith), and that of the conquering and victorious Constantine (the foundation of “Christian” imperialism). We should not confuse the two!
E.V. In The Crucified God you talk about the crucified one as almost the crucifixion of all religion, that the cross is the one irreligious object in our faith. Could you talk about that?
J.M. Yeah, let’s go outside of the camp and live under this irreligious cross. We have turned this instrument of painful dying into something in gold or silver etc. I think we should be reminded of the cross on Golgatha again and again. And those who followed the crucified one, the early Christians, in their surrounding were called “atheists” because they refused to serve the political demons of the Roman Empire. And then they were martyred to experience the same fate as Jesus did. This changed only with Emporer Constantine. Since that foundation of the Holy Christian Empire, we have two crosses at the beginning of Christianity. One is a real cross on Golgatha, the other is a dream cross of Emporer Constantine: In hoc signo vinces – “In this sign you will win”. This was his dream, and then he had his soldeiers paint a cross on their shields, and then they won the battle. And since that time we have these two crosses at the beginning. So we have the German Iron Cross, the Victorian Cross in England, the French Cross, St George Cross, etc. They all go back not to Golgatha but to Constantine. So this makes a lot of confusion. All the Christian nations have a cross on their flag. Only the Americans don’t have it. And that’s good. And with a foundation of the holy Christian empire: One God, One Christ, One Emporer, One Empire. This was imperialistic, because of the oneness of God and the oneness of the Caesar etc. and then they had the saint of the Holy Christian Empire, which was Saint George, who was a “dragon killer” to save the church; he was changed from a martyr to a dragon killer. This was Michael the archangel killing the dragon in heaven. So this was a whole kind of symbolism of the Holy Christian Empire which worked until the present day. And i agree with the Anabaptists that we must go back to the origin to find a new future for Christianity in the world, outside and apart from this kind of Christian Imperialism.