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Culture and Religion

‘Reflect on and speak about religion'

Professor Marcel Poorthuis on his book '25 Centuries Theology'

The most frequently googled search terms are Christian holidays such as Easter and Pentecost. Now most Dutch people are familiar with the meaning of Christmas, but how is it generally with the knowledge of religion and theology? Does our individualistic, supposedly secular society still need theology? And can theology develop even further? The end of the year and on the brink of a new offer time for reflection. Professor of theology Marcel Poorthuis states that theology is alive and kicking, and even calls it exciting. Earlier this year his monumental textbook 25 centuries of Theology was published, which he compiled with philosopher Laurens ten Kate and forty other authors.

'The hundredth contribution of the book is about the future. People tend to look back when it comes to religion, as a phenomenon that evokes nostalgia, but is also dusty and something of the past. But it is precisely the (Jewish) Marxist Ernst Bloch who describes how important hope is for people and for the world. Theology reflects on the vision of peace and justice. Religion as light. Whether with or without institutions. The significance of Christmas is that looking forward to the light of the world can only be done if we ourselves are prepared to be the light of the world. And make a unique contribution to society. Becoming a light is the essence of Christianity. Christmas is not nostalgia and past, but rather present and future.'

Taboo on talking about faith

Poorthuis says it would be a good idea if there would be more discussions on religion and the philosophy between the generations, especially parents and children. ‘Religion has become a taboo, like sexuality in the past. People are even ashamed, because faith comes very close, it is about the deepest of existence. Let us break through that segmentation of our society in generations.’

The history of theology by Poorthuis and Ten Kate starts with Moses and the pre-Socrates and ends with the Shiite cleric Fadlallah and Ernst Bloch. All in 739 pages. What does the book teach us?

'Europe is struggling with its religious past which is based on three Semitic religions that originated outside its borders. Jesus was not born in Brabant! Judaism, Christianity and Islam, with the same common basis, have formed us. Furthermore, we have also dealt with philosophy in this collection, because in our opinion the dividing line with theology is not so absolute. Especially Jewish and Islamic philosophy is actually theology. Spinoza and Nietzsche, for example, can also be found in the book. In addition, a number of unconscious cesures have been removed in history: the Middle Ages has always been seen as a dark period in which nothing happened, but the opposite is true. Many Arab scientists were influencing our thinking in that period.  Also of importance is the use of the concept "the axial turn" that took place in the fifth century BC and which has continued to characterize religion since then. In this period both Confucianism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, the prophetic revolt in Judaism, and the tragedies and philosophy in Greece developed. They break with representations of a world of gods outside of man. From then on the world is no longer a mere fact, and man not only has a destiny, but he himself reflects. The religions themselves contribute to the empowerment of man. What also emerges in our book is the relationship between faith and reason, which do not exclude each other. Reason contributes to faith, only when you think carefully can you understand the faith and make choices. '

 (by Tineke Bennema)