The quote can now be found in many places on the web. Here is a little story behind the quote. It was unearthed by Fr. John Skinner of the Émigré Community in Turkey. He had lost the quote, but paraphrased it from memory.
The opportunities to reflect on this came my way firstly in a conversation with an family friend who we had not seen for 12 months or so and is number 3 in the National Australia Bank who is constantly toying on the practice of Buddhism – a form of the new monasticism. The other occasion was my sitting
With one of my former Parish secretary’s. We have kept in contact through letters but have not seen each other for 15 years or so. She told me of her love for God but she could no longer go to Church – it was not good for her soul.
Both opportunities gave me time to reflect on what the new monasticism might be and the link it with another idea in Bonhoeffer, that of religionless Christianity. This idea is found in his letters from prison, a letter of April 30 1944. Bonhoeffer does not elaborate and he was executed before he could enlighten us. But he did raise interesting questions.
His view was that religion in the so-called civilized world had come to an end. The Nazi period, holocaust and World War demonstrated that religion in any real sense had come to an end. That was the way it seemed to him in his prison cell. In this religionless world, what would happen to Christianity? Well, it would need to be a religionless Christianity: something new, something that would fit into a religionless world.
Now whether his view of the end of religion was true or not is beside the point. I suspect it has proved very true of Western Europe and is somewhat true of North America and Australia.
The interesting issue is that of religionless Christianity.
I want to link it to his earlier view of the new kind of monasticism that is rooted in the Sermon on the Mount, but has nothing in common with earlier monasticism.
Religionless Christianity is a Christianity that has lost itself in the world. It is the “leaven in the lump.” It is a hidden way of following the Christ that does not trumpet its arrival. It does not seek to convert. It simply is. It is being and becoming. It is Christ in the midst of God’s world. It requires new expressions of faith and new ways of praying. It is willing to discard much of the clutter of the centuries. It dies to self that others may live. It is solitary and communal. But I suspect it is never big, never the crowd. The group psychology of the crowd (witness Nazi Germany) is a fearful thing.
In the Patmos Companions, we try to practice this. It is why, in the end, both Michelle and I chose to work “in the world.” It is to be among the people. To lose ourselves. It is why we encourage other clergy to do the same.
I do not think this is an easy way at all. The great danger is that you really do lose yourself. The old securities of religion fade. Religious language becomes a foreign language. When you meet the pious who speak the “language of religious ones” there is a disconnect.
It is a different spirituality.
At this point, I am conscious that is a road with many hurdles. Part of the reason, I suspect is as I have said before, that religion provides security. The world is often uncertain. Religion, of any kind, tries to provide the certainties of life. That is how fundamentalisms grow quickly. However absurd the certainties may be, folk like to be sure. Religionless Christianity has no certainties. It provides only support for the questions of life to be lived through… many of them which have no authentic answer. It is not about saving you, but losing yourself. And who wants to be lost! The old question of religion: “Brother, are you saved?” becomes the new question of the religionless, “Sister, have you yet lost yourself amongst those who also are lost?” In losing self is salvation. In dying is life. In the loss of religion we find Jesus of Nazareth. In losing the church we gain the world. In my heart of hearts, I know no mater how many hurdles, that this is the way of the future…