Moltmann Monday: On Trust and Personhood

Good afternoon, Moltmann friends. Today’s selection comes from a short edited collection of essays called A Passion for God’s Reign, from Moltmann’s essay entitled “Christianity and the Revaluation of the Values of Modernity.”

He begins this section by referring to (and sorry for the rough transition but we’re going to jump right in)…

…the communitarian idea of strengthening once again the sensibility of modern human beings for the notion of membership and belonging. This includes the creation of local forms of community in overseeable circumstances, a reacquisition of the values of the common good and an enhanced appreciation of social consensus, the development of a participatory economic democracy–all in all: the idea of the ‘good society,’ of a ‘civil society,’ actualized at every level, both large and small.

Moltmann then quotes Nietzche, who defines a free human being as ‘a being that can promise.’ He continues,

In the act of promising, a person defines himself or herself and becomes reliable, acquires fixed contours, and can be addressed. In keeping one’s promises, a person acquires identity within time, since that person reminds herself of herself whenever she is reminded of her promises… If we keep our promises, then we gain trust; if we break our promises, we are mistrusted–we lose our identity and no longer know ourselves… Free persons live together socially in a dense weave of promises made and kept, of agreements and trustworthiness; such coexistence cannot exist without trust. It is not predetermined membership, but rather covenant that is the paradigm of a free society; and this covenant is based on social consensus. 

The making and keeping of promises, the giving and receiving of trust–these are not restrictions of personal freedom, but rather the concrete actualizations of that freedom… For me, true freedom is realized through mutual acknowledgment and reciprocal acceptance; that is, it is realized personally through friendship, and politically through covenant.

I’m feeling feisty today, so let me just put this as briefly and succinctly as possible: You can, I suppose, be a Christian without caring that much about other people, people who look different than you and act differently than you and make a different amount of money than you and maybe live in a very different environment than you. But you can’t be a good one. You can’t be a faithful one.

We have gotten Christianity all wrong– and I mean ALL wrong– if we think covenant only means something that happens between us and God, or us and other church people, or even us and other people of faith. We are to be in covenant with those whom God is also in covenant. It is, in fact, the covenant that is the basis of all the other covenants, as important as those may be. And we cannot be in covenant with others if we don’t listen to them, respect them, consider their welfare and well-being, heed their concerns, and do what is right by them, even if that means sometimes having to speak/act/mobilize against them.

We have a personal covenant of friendship. And we have a global covenant through politics.

And what we do in those relationships, what we promise, how we decide to show up or not show up, is a direct reflection of our personhood and our values. And it is exactly time, it is past time, for us to reacquire the values of the common good. It is exactly the right time, with no time to lose, for us to “strengthen once again the sensibility of modern human beings for the notion of membership and belonging.”

This is how we become actual human beings. It is how we gain contours and gain principles and start living from our centers and are recognizable to other people by our promises and how we keep them. This is how we gain trust and gain a sense of identity-in-relationship.

I say this I don’t know how many times in my book, and try to say it in every interview and podcast: the cost of original blessing is to see the world the way that God sees the world. And that is a world of membership and belonging and connection.

I sometimes wonder if you guys are tired of me writing about this. But then I remember a story my friend Emily told me when someone complained to their pastor that all of his sermons were about how to love one another and he said, “Well, the minute I see you guys doing it I’ll move on to another topic.”

So. Connection it is.

You can’t lie and have a connection. You can’t dismiss and disparage and degrade and have a connection.  You can’t “my way or the highway” everyone and everything and have connection. You cannot demean people on Facebook and Twitter and have connection.

Covenant and connection are the whole shebang, folks. And, like it or not, covenant is a political word as much as it is a personal one. It is a communal word, a communitarian word. It is a word of belonging and personhood and trust.

So who do you want to be? Because it’s time for us all to show up and let our actions, our words, and our connections continue to shape our identities…into Christian ones, or decidedly not Christian ones.

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