Theology and Economics in the Postcommunist Era

By Trojan, Jakub | The Christian Century, March 16, 1994 | Go to article overview

Theology and Economics in the Postcommunist Era

Trojan, Jakub, The Christian Century

AMONG THE FIRST tasks in the field of theology in my country--the Czech Republic--is overcoming the ghetto mentality that both the churches and theology adopted under the communist regime. This task applies to both the Catholic and Protestant churches in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This ghetto mentality grew gradually over the years of communist rule as the regime intensified pressure on the churches. Only one area of the churches' activity was exempt from this process: the so-called Marxist-Christian dialogue in the early 1960s. Enlightened Marxists at the time were moved to dialogue because they felt an "anthropological" deficit in their own doctrine; Christians, for their part, believed that they could learn a bit about the structural aspects of socioeconomic life which they had traditionally interpreted, or rather misinterpreted, in their theological ethics by using inadequate, individualistically oriented concepts.

The theology of those years corresponded to the churches' confinement--it focused exclusively on congregational, parochial activities. Consequently, theology reflected a ghettoized life--something quite different from Karl Barth's conception of theology as the church reflecting on the universality of faith. At that time we witnessed a reductionist form of theology; it developed into a harmless means of consolation in times of persecution. Or, perhaps even worse, while the wording of theological statements still claimed to be universal, the churches' practice was becoming very limited--focused only on survival. To be sure, within these limits, some remarkable work was achieved: a modern Bible translation was produced, as well as a new Protestant hymnbook. Not least, many laypeople and clergy carried out a faithful ministry under daunting circumstances.

In order to overcome a ghetto mentality in a completely changed society, Christian churches have to resume their universal responsibility based on the universality of the biblical message. Commitment to political and socioeconomic life is an essential part of that responsibility.

Yet there are some temptations on the path of sociopolitical ministry. The Roman Catholic Church, the majority religious body in our country, shows signs of a pre-Vatican II orientation. Neither the Catholic Church nor Catholic theology in general has absorbed the Vatican II's aggiornamento strategy; instead, a prejudice seems to prevail in that communion. Since Marxist ideology and the system based on it has revealed its powerlessness and collapsed, many Roman Catholics argue that their church's doctrine and spirituality should fill the immense spiritual, cultural, and social vacuum created by the previous system's demise. Yet Roman Catholicism cannot fill this void easily. Today's Catholic theology and mission basically picks up where it left off say, 40 years ago--as if nothing significant had happened morally and spiritually in the meantime. Perhaps even more troublesome, it picks up as if important moral and spiritual forces had not changed the face of society before communism came to power in our region. Secularization was not invented and set in motion by the communists alone.

Intellectually prepared by the Enlightenment, existentially strengthened twice in this century by great military conflagrations, secularization in its atheistic version was simply adopted by the communists as an official state ideology. In the context of Czech history, however, secularization was intensified by the Catholic Church's ideological dominance in the time of the Austrian monarchy. It achieved this dominance through an ecclesiastical and political symbiosis symbolized by the uncritical unity of altar and throne. No wonder that millions of Czechs left the Catholic Church after World War I and continued to exit up to World War II. The close connection between this church and a foreign political dynasty (the Austrio-Hungarian Empire) created a climate of public mistrust of the Roman Catholic Church. …

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