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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


VORSTER, J.M. (Koos). Being Church in a post-secular paradigm. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.4, pp.602-617. ISSN 2224-7912.

The term "post-secularism" was introduced in a 2004 Television debate between the German philosopher Habermas and Cardinal Ratzinger, the former Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. With this term Habermas ventured to identify a new paradigm in Western thought and social development which testifies to a renewed interest in religion and metaphysics. Several contemporary case studies reaffirm this notion. Zieberts & Riegel (2009:300), amongst others, say that a new, relevant kind of religion is emerging where religion is seen as a source of socio-moral commitment, because it proposes an ethical orientation. According to Cliteur (2010:1) religions are growing. Sigurdson (2010:177) identifies this phenomenon as a "re-enchantment" of society possibly with a reference to the view of the philosopher Taylor (2007:21) that secularism brought about "disenchantment" in the modernist society. In his recent empirical research Martin (2011:105) concludes that this revitalisation of religions is also evident in the Christian religion with certain exceptions in Western Europe. However, he adds that this resurgence does not necessarily imply a new interest in the main ecclesiastical traditions. This new development follows an era in Western Europe where the validity of Theology as a science, the authority of the Bible and ecclesiastical Creeds and Confessions have been questioned to a large extent. Post-Apartheid society in South Africa seems to follow the same route. The attempt by the Theologies of Secularism initiated by Cox (1967) and the Political Theologies of the seventies and eighties of the previous century to address the decline of Christianity did not stem the flow of secularism. How valid is it then to take the notion of an emerging post-secular paradigm seriously and to expect a revitalisation of Churches of the European Protestant tradition in South Africa? And, if so, what are the prerequisites for such a revitalisation? The central-theoretical argument of this research article is that such a change is possible. Churches in South Africa can be enriched by the post-secular paradigm when the confession of the church as the community of believers is revisited and explored in the various major ecclesiastical traditions. The emergence of post-secularism is a valid point of view and can be seen as a result of the post-modernist condition that Lyotard (1991:XXIII) identified in Western culture. Postmodernism scrutinised the dominance of reason and the existence of absolute truths. Spirituality became a plausible feature in modern life as well as the role of religions and religious experience. Postmodernism brought people and their deeper emotional and spiritual needs into view and created the humus for the development of personal identity, deep relations and true humanity. Western Christian Churches in South Africa are thus confronted by a new post-secular reality where people are in search of new answers, forms of worship, ways of relating and experiencing. Institutionalism, formalism and traditions are no longer answering the needs of the new spiritual environment proposed by post-modernism and post-secularism. This research proposes that the communion character of the church should be revisited and utilised in order to create a plausible religious climate for the post-secular society and its needs. The biblical metaphors of the church as the people of God; the body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit provide the foundation for such a climate. These metaphors emphasise the relational character of the church where people can experience a deep spiritual relation with God and with others. As a witnessing community the church can engage in dialogue with other moral agents in solving the major problems of the modern environment. As a communion of believers the church can function as a therapeutic community where the destitute, the poor and the suffering can find healing and hope by way of entering into living relationships. Furthermore, the church as a community of believers should act as a community of character (Hauerwas 1981:42), which, by way of example, can give moral guidance in the process ofstrengthening the moralfibre of the post-secular society. It may be possible that a re-assessment of the church as a community can provide the keys to open a new dynamic future for the church. As long as the church can nurture such a sense of community it will be relevant in the post-secular society.

Keywords : Body of Christ; Christian Churches; communion of believers; Lyotard; meta-narratives; modernism; moral community People of God; post-modernism; post-secularism; secularism; Temple of the Holy Spirit; therapeutic community; transcendent.

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