Home / Hans Kung excerpts ...
excerpt is taken from the introduction to the first chapter in Hans Küngs
seminal volume, On Being A Christian.
A direct question: Why should one be a Christian? Why not be human, truly human? Why, in addition to being human, should we be Christians? Is there something more to being a Christian than to being human? Is it a superstructure? A substructure? Just what does it mean to be a Christian, what does it mean to be a Christian today?
Christians ought to know what they want. Non-Christians ought to know what Christians want. Faced with the question, "What does Marxism want?" a Marxist will be able to give a concise and firm, if no longer undisputed, answer: world revolution, the dictatorship of proletariat, the socialization of the means of production, the new man, the classless society. But what does Christianity want? The answer given by Christians is frequently muddled, sentimental, general: Christianity wants love, justice, a meaning to life, being good and doing good, humanity... but don't non-Christians want these things to?
The question of what Christianity wants, what Christianity is, has undoubtedly become far more acute. Today others are not simply saying something different, but often the same thing. Non-Christians, too, are in favor of love, justice, a meaning to life, being good and doing good, humanity. And in practice they often go further than Christians in this respect. But if others say the same thing, what is the point of being a Christian? Today Christianity is involved everywhere in a double confrontation: with the great world religions on one hand and with the non-Christian "secular" humanisms on the other. And today the question is thrust even on the Christian who has hitherto been institutionally sheltered and idealogically immunized in the churches: compared with the world religions and modern humanisms, is Christianity something essentially different, really something special?
This question cannot be answered nearly theoretically or in a general way. It must be investigated and answered as concretely and practically as possible within the horizon of our time, bearing in mind the experiences and conditions of our century, of our present world and society, of modern man. In this first section of the book, of course, there can be no question of a comprehensive analysis of our times. But there must certainly be a critical examination of Christianity itself in connection with competing idealogies, trends, movements. The present world and society will not be described and analyzed in themselves: on this there is an immense literature. But the meaning of Christianity in its relationship with this modern world and society will certainly be examined and defined afresh. The modern world and society are not the direct object of our study, but neither are they wholly irrelevant: in fact, they are constantly present as the background or reference point of our inquiry.Hans Küng. On Being A Christian. New York: Doubleday, 1976 (pp. 25-26)