Kafka was no atheist but I think one would be hard pressed to conclude that he had much faith, either. I don't agree with this article that Kafka was constantly seeking the road to redemption. I believe The Trial was far more external than internal. Kafka was more a prophet himself than a seeker of the prophets of God.
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Faith and Franz Kafka "We Cannot Retreat To Atheism"
by Martin Walser — 09.03.2012
Alexander Görlach sat down with the German writer and intellectual Martin Walser to discuss the role of faith, the false promise of atheism, and the writings of Franz Kafka.
The European: You have written about man’s deep desire for justification. Where does that desire come from?
Walser: We can see the desire in everything that men have said, thought, and written to justify themselves. In earlier times, people felt they had to justify our actions before God. They did not think that they could truly speak for themselves, that they could act freely. A higher authority was invoked to judge man’s actions. From that, different religious moral codes came into being, all driven by our inability to justify ourselves.
The European: In addition to the religious component, you also mention a social component – justification of the rich vis-à-vis the poor, for example.
Walser: Yes, that was added later. However, the original desire for justification does not include a social component. In Christianity, the idea of mercy through good deeds entered history only during the time of Martin Luther. St. Augustine or St. Paul radically rejected that idea, and I was very impressed by that attitude: You were committed to a God against whom you had no powers. You were chosen, or not. That is a rather radical conception of human being, marked by a severe lack of human agency. But with Luther, religion came to be seen as a thing of the world, as practical. So you had to act in certain ways to be able to justify yourself. And the old wound of lacking justification has continued to bleed – that’s what I am interested in. The authors Franz Kafka and Karl Barth have quite a bit to say on that question.
The European: For Barth, lived religion is the “useful” religion of the church. He seeks to transcend the church to find pure religion. But isn’t religion always manifest in practice? I think that Barth was looking for something that does not exist, that he drifted towards dead ends and nihilism.
Walser: The term “nihilism” doesn’t fit with Barth, although it is sometimes used. He is someone who evades easy categorization because he maintains his faith throughout his life. He might have a very negative take on it, but he is not losing his faith. When he writes that “we are hoping for no hope,” there is a temporal horizon: A place behind which the new world and the new man can be imagined. Never does he reach a point where it becomes nihilistic. Barth does not retain the comfortable relationships that the protestant church maintains with God, he does away with those structures. But you can’t say that he finds peace in nothingness.