Does God Exist? An Answer for Today, by Hans Küng. Edward Quinn, trans. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1978, 1979, 1980; German edition, 1978
I have begun my summer’s reading project, which will include several books about Christian understandings of God. Although I will include recent publications such as Paul Davies’ The Mind of God and Jacob Needleman’s What Is God, my primary interest is in reading (or re-reading) more ponderous tomes representing the classics in liberal theology, beginning with Friedrich Schleiermacher’s precedent setting On Religion.
My purpose is to think carefully about the basic narrative line that has sustained my way of life these many years.
The first book in the project is Does God Exist? by the prolific Catholic theologian Hans Küng (published in 1978). I started here because a borrowed copy of the book was handy and I had never read any of Küng’s writings. It is a good place to begin, I have decided, because he focuses on the relation of theology, science, and philosophy.
Although Küng wrote as a Catholic theologian, his work is trans-confessional in its style and conclusions. He believes that the Christian God can be trusted because in Jesus Christ this God identifies with us in our suffering.
The Christian God, Küng writes, is a strong, persuasive alternative to the “god of the philosophers.”
Does God Exist? is a massive book, and I decided to postpone reading the first 580 pages in which Küng discusses the ideas of Descartes, Pascal, Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, Kant, Barth, Wittgenstein, and others. Instead, I started with the Preface and then skipped to the final part, “Yes to the Christian God.” Even this section, however, is 115 pages long.
To my surprise, I have found Küng’s prose style to be straightforward and understandable. At this stage in my reading, however, I am concentrating on following his development of the topic. It is too early to write an analysis and evaluation of his work. (For a review of the book, see the report by Catholic theologian Richard P. McBrien, published in the New York Times soon after it was published.)
My main objective is to compress his ideas into a set of study notes, mainly for my own use. Even so, the result is a lengthy paper—fifteen pages (8,400 words).
It’s important to let Küng speak in his own words, which he does in the half page with which he concludes the book:
“After the difficult passage through the history of the modern age from the time of Descartes and Pascal, Kant and Hegel,
considering in detail the objections raised in the critique of religion by Feuerbach, Marx and Freud,
seriously confronting Nietzsche’s nihilism,
seeking the reason for our fundamental trust and the answer in trust in God,
in comparing finally the alternatives of the Eastern religions,
entering also into the question ‘Who is God?’ and of the God of Israel and of Jesus Christ:
after all this, it will be understood why the question ‘Does God exist?’ can now be answered by a clear, convinced Yes, justifiable at the bar of critical reason.
“Does God exist? Despite all upheavals and doubts, even for man today, the only appropriate answer must be that with which believers of all generations from ancient times have again and again professed their faith. It begins with faith—Te Deum, laudamus, ‘You, God, we praise’—and ends in trust: In te, Domine, speravi, non confundar in aeternum! ‘In you, Lord, I have hoped, I shall never be put to shame” (702).
To read my notes on this book, click Does God Exist