Was Jesus Christ arrogant

Martin Buber "Truth arrogance makes dialogue impossible"

On the 50th anniversary of Martin Buber's death on June 13, 1965, Professor Karl-Josef Kuschel wrote a book with the title: "Martin Buber - his challenge to Christianity". He is a Catholic theologian, a Küng student and has since retired.

Andreas Main: Mr. Kuschel, Martin Buber was an important voice in the 20th century and an outsider. Jesus of Nazareth was an important 1st century Jewish voice, if you will say so, and an outsider. Does this comparison hurt you intellectually or are there structural parallels?

Karl-Josef Kuschel: Well, comparisons are always problematic. Buber would be the last to stand on the level of Jesus. But structurally there is something to it. In the religious history of mankind, Buber is one of the figures in this broad stream who can be called the unadjusted. One could also say: to the prophetic figures. These were prophets who were at odds with their time. In this respect, there is between the freedom that shines through in Jesus' message, which also corresponds to the deep concern that Martin Buber then pursued in the 20th century.

Main: Buber called Jesus of Nazareth "big brother". Big Brother Jesus - that sounds very forgiving and harmonious to Christian ears. To what extent does this famous Buber word also have a dangerous subversive sting?

Cuddle: Yes, or presumptuous, many have accused him, would that sound like: "My big brother", he says in this 1950 pamphlet "Two modes of belief". No, the criticism doesn't hit him at all - on the contrary. When he wants to say that I saw Jesus as my big brother, he means the following: Brother means that Jesus is also a son of the people of Israel, a son of Abraham, a son of David. That is what the very first word of the New Testament is called. So it belongs to the, to the history of faith of this people. Insofar as Buber also belongs to this history of faith of the people of Israel, Jesus is his brother. And "big brother" means, in the sense of: He has his own size. He always saw that. He was on to it, he wanted to understand that. He did not want to make Jesus small, on the contrary - he wanted to make his uniqueness, his particularity, his historical uniqueness shine. Hence a big brother. In the same context, he says: He is the one who does not fit into any of the categories of previous religious history. In this respect, this word brother, big brother, is a unique bow, one can say, to this unique man Jesus from Nazareth.

Main: Buber has relentlessly pointed out again and again how the Christian faith has turned the Kingdom of God message of the Jew Jesus into a savior faith, a savior faith in Christ. This Jewish inquiry to Christianity can also be an agonizing process for Christians. When and how did you face this for the first time and what were the consequences?

Cuddle: I had to face this for the first time at the beginning of the 1970s, when this older generation of Jewish scholars in the spirit of Martin Buber, he was no longer alive, appeared here in Germany and the conversation started again after the Shoah. I think of Schalom Ben-Chorin, Pinchas Lapide or Nathan Peter Levinson, whom I personally experienced here in Tübingen and who suddenly got serious about the basic knowledge: Whoever meets Jesus as a Christian, meets Judaism. Whoever wants to understand Jesus must understand the Judaism of his time. He has to understand what he saw as a Jew, what shaped him, what the constants of his beliefs are, so to speak. And then ask again and again, if Christian faith means to orientate oneself by it, are we really still in conformity with what it originally wanted? That is the troubled question that has repeatedly led to protest movements within Christianity. What has been dumped on Jesus! No, it comes down to really taking care of it: What did this Jew Jesus of Nazareth want from people? How did he see God? How did he challenge us to follow us? Everything else that was then invited to him after Easter, said by him, are theologies that arose in a different cultural context, but which have to be relativized again and again to this original message of the Jew Jesus of Nazareth.

Main: To put it bluntly - unlike the Jew Jesus, the Jew Paulus does not get off quite so well with Buber. What is the central criticism?

Cuddle: The central criticism is that Paul has now switched this Christ, or Christians' faith in Christ, between God and man again. So you only receive grace when you profess Christ. Then one is saved through faith in Christ, through faith in Christ. So the difference to Jesus, that's how Buber works it out, Jesus offered the forgiving, the gracious God to all people. Repentance is possible at any time, without preconditions towards this God. Think of the parable of the prodigal son. There is no need for Christ faith in between. Paul narrowed this universal willingness to forgive God, says Buber, to the faith in Christ, which is interposed. And then, over time, with further developments, but already in the late writings of the New Testament, a kind of process of deification of Jesus resulted. He becomes, so to speak, a second God next to God, so that when Christians pray to God, they really only pray to Christ. Christ hides God the Father, this is how Buber portrays it. Christians no longer address him directly, but at best to him through Christ. That is the great danger. Then he holds up the mirror to us and says: At the center of the preaching of Jesus is God himself. Doesn't this Christ become a barrier, a bar between God and man?

Main: And he not only holds up a mirror to those who, as Christians, consider themselves Christians, but in general he says that religions can become ends in themselves, that they tend to put themselves in God's place, according to Buber's criticism. Such criticism of religion does not lead to him not being religious - on the contrary. Is this something like a plea for religiosity as free from institutionalization as possible?

Cuddle: As free as possible from reification, which is always the danger of institutions. Institutions are not an end in themselves - in the best sense of the word according to their self-image. Institutions want to help. And Buber observes that the opposite is often the case - in all religions. In all religions we have such a process of consolidation, of - in this sense - institutionalization, where the institution is pushed between man and God. Buber's criticism of religion does not derive its sharpness from the atheistic of the 19th century - like Feuerbach, Marx and Nietzsche, but gains its sharpness from the understanding of God in the Hebrew Bible. "I will be as who I will be" - this is how God presented himself to Moses in the thorn bush. So, a criticism of religion for the sake of God's unavailability - that is Buber's passion. Not a criticism of religion to dismantle or cut off the relationship with God, to declare it irrelevant, illusory, but rather to keep the relationship between man and the eternal you of God open.

Main: He also says that religions are tentative. If that is the case, then - from my point of view - they would have to put themselves into perspective, possibly even be able to smile a little self-ironically. From your point of view as someone who has been involved and active in an interreligious context for a long time, are these good prerequisites for interreligious understanding?

Cuddle: Yes, best conditions, I mean. A dialogue cannot work if a partner is truthfully arrogant. So that means, my truth is certain and see that you understand it as well as possible. You can't have a dialogue like that. Buber coined a word that I didn't understand for a long time. He says religions are like exiles. I asked what did he mean by that? Every religion is an exile. Until I understand, he means this: Religions are not the last. Religions are not the home in which man belongs, but God himself is the home that we expect, that comes to us. In this sense, religions are temporary structures, human structures. And it is crucial that all religions must be humble to God. Based on this thought, Buber says in the same context, become humble, that you always only give testimony of this unavailable. If one understands together that every religion only ever gives testimony to the unavailable, then one can mutually explain - for example in the dialogue between Jews, Christians and Muslims - how one then shapes this relationship with God as the unavailable. And perhaps there will be astonishing similarities in the final relativization of all religions before God.

Main: Buber always looked outside the box - throughout his life; and at the same time he was aware of his own identity. So no wischi-washi tolerance term. If I filter this out as a memento after reading your book, have I understood you and him correctly in at least one aspect?

Cuddle: Yes absolutely. He says himself that the word tolerance is far too cheap for him. Tolerance only means that I tolerate the other in his being - in a manner of gritting my teeth, for the sake of peace I accept him. But that is not yet a commitment, not yet getting involved with the other. It has nothing to do with dialogue. Tolerance is the minimum that you allow the other person to count, not bother them. No, there are actually two things that are at stake with Buber: On the one hand, not to deny that every human being has his own access to God. Christians too - Christians control their relationship with God through the Christ message, through the person of Jesus Christ. Buber says, as a Jew, I will never be able to understand why you need this Christ in between. Just as a Christian will not understand why Jews do not need this Christ, but rather hold fast to God's relationship with Israel alone, so to speak. No, we respect our different divine secrets, says Buber on the other side. But at the same time we hold a critical mirror up to ourselves.