“If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?”  This old bit of black humor popped into my mind as I drove home from a local college after attending a lecture, entitled “My Long Road to a Global Ethic,” delivered by dissident Catholic theologian Hans Küng.  “It would simply be too coincidental,” I thought to myself, “if that guy, who gave that lecture, who was that conceited, who didn’t use the C-word in that book of his (and was, incidentally, that good looking) . . . was also a vegetarian.”  After all, it’s one thing to study apocalyptic thought (as I have); it is quite another to have taken in a lecture given by Soloviev’s Antichrist himself!

Not-so-simply put: It would take more fudging and stretching of Nostradamus’s gazillion quatrains composed in multiple languages to make someone like Stalin fit just one of the Antichrists in his cryptic three-Antichrist scheme than it does to make Hans Küng the one and only archdemon in the scheme of Russian philosopher Vladimir Soloviev’s “Short Tale of the Antichrist” (1900).  The similarities (Soloviev’s vegetarian requirement notwithstanding) are positively creepy.

Soloviev wrote of the Antichrist: “His famous work [is] entitled The Open Way to Universal Peace and Prosperity.”  Hans Küng is the author of Global Responsibility: In Search of a New World Ethic.

Soloviev continued: “He appeared on the platform in all the glamour of youthful superhuman beauty.”  An elderly female acquaintance of mine in the audience at Küng’s lecture said, “Gosh, his appearance was stunning!  I don’t know how he can still look so young.”

Soloviev: “The Moral Achievement of Christ and his uniqueness were beyond an intellect so completely clouded by self-love as his.“  Küng (notorious for having a huge ego), averred: “I know Roman Catholic theology perfectly.”  “I spoke yesterday at the U.N.”  “I’ve had Tony Blair, Mary Robinson, and Kofi Annan to my Institute in Tübingen.”

Soloviev: “It is true some pious people, while praising the book wholeheartedly, had been asking why the name of Christ was never mentioned in it.”  Küng: (in Global Responsibility): . . . ?  (See below.)

In all fairness, since I do not even hold on to labels I apply to myself after I’ve gleaned a few insights, I will give the estimable Father Küng the same respect and say that I honestly do not think that he is the Antichrist.  Not at all.  In fact, he seemed like a nice guy.  I will say, however, that he does seem to have a very anti-Christian strain to his thought.  The “scandal of particularity” in Christian thought is not a scandal to Küng.  It is simply ignored.

The chapter entitled “Specific Christian Contributions” in Global Responsibility is a classic example of this anti-Christian worldview.  Küng does use the word Christian a couple of times, though it is combined with such questionable assertions and with such general statements that it becomes all but meaningless: “[M]ost Christian Churches have in principle affirmed the basic values and basic convictions of the French Revolution, which they had rejected for so long.”  And, further, “Indeed, Christianity aims at a change in the human beings from the center—of men and women in their confrontation with the Unconditioned, the Absolute, God himself.”  However, in this chapter on Christian contributions, there is strangely, (à la Soloviev), no mention made of Christ (or of His Church, for that matter).  Küng does mention that the “postmodern requirements” of Christianity include “a way from the differences between poor and rich,” “a way from the unemployment of millions of people,” “a way from a world in which human rights are violated.”  There are ways for this and ways for that, ways here and ways there, but, again, strangely (or not so strangely), there is no mention of the Way—or the Truth or the Life.

I did not attend the lecture seeking to flirt with the dark side.  Instead, like many, I went guessing that I would profit from touching a part of history.  I was there as a student of theology willing to give a hearing to Küng’s “Long Road to a Global Ethic” in the same way that some epicure, some 30 years down the road, might go to a lecture by Emeril Lagasse entitled “My Long Road to Bland Cooking.”  It was, therefore, a little depressing when I stumbled upon the similarities to Soloviev’s Antichrist, especially since those attributes and that worldview are currently underwritten with a lot of power.

There is good news, however.  Though the lecture hall was packed, it was packed with old people.  They were mostly those American Catholics, 55 and over, who developed a spirituality in the late 60’s that was primarily motivated, I would suggest, by guilt feelings and power fantasies connected to their own wealth and the wealth of their country.  Then as now, they were absorbed in the disembodied, gnostic, Cartesian, godlike worldview espoused by the likes of Küng and Karl Rahner during those hazy days after the Second Vatican Council (which was wonderfully exposed by Fergus Kerr in his 1986 book Theology After Wittgenstein).

Though this demographic group still has deep pockets and political power and will control the politics of the American Church for a little while longer, my experience in campus ministry suggests that its spiritual hold on the younger generations is weak.  Fatigued from looking at everything, including “religions,” as Hans Küng does—from a godlike, fleshless, and rootless distance—many of the students I meet are hungry for the real friendship, faith, and love that they read about in their humanities courses at the college (when they keep their eyes open).

Coming back down to earth, they are also quite willing, and even hungry, to perceive important distinctions that are lost on the likes of Küng and those with a global worldview—differences such as that between home-cooked meals and TV dinners; between getting an education and going to school; between dignified labor and “full employment”; and, as Bill Kauffman says in commenting on the difference between Arbor Day and Earth Day, “the difference between planting a tree in your backyard and e-mailing a machine-written plea for a global warming treaty to your UN representative.”

Contra Küng, of whom (and to his great wonderment, I’m sure) none of the students I spoke with had heard, most students at my little liberal-arts college seem quite willing to forego “global responsibility” and its connotations of power in order to brighten the corner where they live.  And, though things like “human rights” and “Parliaments of World Religions” still fascinate some, I think that today it is more of an age-old youthful enthusiasm for all things exotic, a passion that will probably mellow with age.

Finally, for all of Father Küng’s impressive knowledge of Scripture, theology, and philosophy, and for all of his power flowing from his connections with heads of state, the United Nations, and the likes of George Soros (through the United Religions Initiative and the Global Dialogue Institute, which are both supporters of Küng’s central project, the “Declaration of the Religions for a Global Ethic”), he seems to have missed one Gospel lesson that is eternal and that students today are noticing more clearly as the “blowback” of charity-underwritten-by-power dominates their TV screens.  When it comes to the corrupting influence of power, even as it is played out in the Body of Christ, no matter how you try to hide it, dress it, or change its name; no matter how popular you are in your own eyes or in the eyes of your groupies; no matter how good your intentions or how much your efforts may effectively mask or mimic the work of Christ, you are just spitting into the wind when you play the fool’s game of attempting to cast out Satan by means of that same Satan.

Sorry, Father Küng.