Hans KUNG, What I Believe. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010. pp. 205. $24.95 hc. ISBN 9781441103161.
Reviewed by Michael J. TKACIK, Saint Leo University, Saint Leo, Florida 33574

From the vantage point of his ninth decade of life, a life devoted to serious reflection on matters contributing to a more humane and just world, Hans Kung proffers reasoned spiritual guidance and wisdom spawned from his own spiritual and life journey. What I Believe can offer much to those who wish to intelligently mature in one’s own faith. A case for the ongoing viability and vitality of informed faith is made against the backdrops, considerations and assessments of a plethora of philosophical, cultural, social, political, economic and religious challenges which mark our contemporary world. In spite of herculean challenges and troubling manifestations on a global scale in each of the aforesaid areas, Kung offers an intelligent argument for the enduring relevance of religion, an argument edified by his personal reflections on how faith rooted in hope and at the service of life can provide a foundation for a life better lived and a world more at peace.

The work functions in such a way as to draw the reader into serious discernment regarding the role and place of faith in the contemporary global context by offering personal reflections on fundamental aspects of faith which have experientially served and sustained the author as he has considered the global challenges facing contemporary humanity and has striven to contribute to a global ethic. Taking seriously the paradoxes and seemingly meaningless aspects of life, Kung calls for sustained trust in life. Kung posits that such trust enables one to take the complexities of life seriously, yet maintain joy as one allows intellectual attitude and activity to provide an orientation towards life which persists even in the midst of unhappy situations, i.e., to embrace life without being content with everything. Additionally, Kung suggests that intellectual modesty vis-à-vis the complexities of the cosmos and incalculable nature of history can facilitate one’s ability to take joy in life.

Being social and relational by nature, Kung maintains that we human beings have unique capacities for empathy towards and cooperation with others. Self-transcendence and altruism, Kung notes, mark a primordial orientation of human beings which can serve to inform a global ethic that respects the humanity of others—an orientation encapsulated in the various articulations of the Golden Rule. This orientation yields “pointers” for a way of life which are expressed by all of the world’s major religious traditions: commitment to a culture of non-violence and respect for life; commitment to a culture of solidarity and a just economic order; commitment to a life of tolerance and truthfulness; commitment to a culture of equal rights, partnership and respect for all. These “pointers” indicate that life’s ultimate meaning is to be found in relationships. Other substitutes for life’s ultimate meaning, Kung argues, prove to be illusory and fail to sustain one in the face of the fragility, finitude and meaninglessness which frequently threaten our human orientation.

Despite the various contemporary challenges to belief, Kung maintains that religion has a future if it manifests its philanthropic face and shows itself to be a rational power for everyday living. According to Kung, dialogue, goodwill and an appropriate mysticism—a mysticism which respects unity in differentiation and recognizes the paradox of God being both personal as well as impersonal, incomprehensible and indefinable—can facilitate recognition of how the various religions evidence such power and, thus, provide models for life. Never pollyanna nor naively idealistic, Kung does not belittle nor dismiss the complexities of life, rather confronts them head-on and demonstrates that faith can reasonably and experientially lend to a life better lived and afford one the hope of consummate resolution to all the contradictions and complexities of life. Likewise, Kung does not shy away from the perennial challenge that excessive, unmerited and meaningless suffering poses to faith. However, he does not find conventional arguments regarding theodicy compelling, rather concludes that suffering cannot be understood theoretically but at best can be endured practically with the aid of faith.

Kung maintains that faith in praxis is central to the art of living. Love, peace-making, moderation, mutual respect and fairness are means by which trust, joy and meaning can serve as powers which can ground and provide a model for life. Kung believes that life characterized by these attributes offer the possibilities of new paradigms for individual living and a global ethic marked by greater political peace, economic justice and ecumenical sensitivity.

Anyone who takes the intelligibility of faith vis-à-vis the complex cultural, social, philosophical, political, economic and ecumenical challenges of the contemporary world seriously will find the work thought-provoking, edifying and an impetus for greater discernment. The work serves as a vehicle of spiritual direction for those who do not wish to shy away from nor diminish the complexities of life, yet who yearn for their faith to serve as a reasonable compass that helps one navigate these complexities, rendering a better life and more peaceful world.


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