How to discuss Religion in Germany?

24


Discussion by: Joe Wolsing

I would like to put the following to discussion:

As a German citizen I do not suffer religious oppression or indoctrination as people in the US or in some of the Islamic states. I am free to express my lack of superstition (I still regret to give the fact that I prefer the null-hypothesis a name – atheism. I don't feel it is an “ 'ism”, this it becomes by the fact that you have to justify being a representative for the null-hypothesis. At this point I like to refer to that fact that amongst others Prof. Dawkins talks about the phenomena that concerning all other gods we invented throughout human history we agree that they are a human invention, only about the three left over monotheisms there is a discussion!). And even if I meet people who deeply believe in God(s) I can have an argument with them but it usually ends with the discovery of the fact, that we do not agree and everyone goes their way.

Nevertheless religion has a deep impact on the public life in Germany. As an example a lot of the social institutions under patronage of adopt their rules (you can't work there if you are not of religious confession and I talk about schools and nursery schools, in growing numbers! Living together with your partner without being married, or being gay excludes you as well), all the salaries of all the church members are paid by tax money, as well as the maintenance fees for all the buildings owned by the church! In my “Bundesland” Baden-Württemberg the Archiepiscopal Bishopric has to approve every school book! What (the “Hell”) can these people ad to a science school book? Nothing! Exactly! And there is a lot more – at least our Chancellor belongs to the Christian (CDU = Christlich Demokratische Union) named party!

 

Now the problem:

As religion is for the most not very aggressive here (there is the diffuse fear of Islamic terror like everywhere in the world today) it is even harder to talk about the absurd, bizarre and sometimes dangerous aspects of religion. The protection of religion in fact is enormously and deeply embedded in the society. You are always pointed to the good things they do, e.g. the abuse scandal is being largely typically church-like terminated. By denial, payment where unavoidable and insisting to deal with the things internal where possible.

Every kind of critics is interpreted as, you are taking something from the people away that they have an a priori right for. How should one argue in this situation? How can you criticize, if all critics are interpreted as an insult?

I posted this also in German on the German RDF site. But I do it as well in English here, because I’m afraid that the content of my question is exactly describing why there will be no discussion about it (and maybe this will make the German RDF site fail!) at all!

24 COMMENTS

  1. I recommend “A Manual for Creating Atheists” by Peter Boghossian.
    He defines faith as “pretending to know something which, you don’t know” which is pretty much the same concept you will find in any dictionary, and works from there. Is a good read and quite amusing.
    Eg, He likes to replace the word Faith with his full definition in common religious speak such as..
    “Life has no meaning without faith” becomes “Life has no meaning if I don’t pretend to know things that I don’t know

    • In reply to #1 by Catfish:

      I recommend “A Manual for Creating Atheists” by Peter Boghossian.
      He defines faith as “pretending to know something which, you don’t know” which is pretty much the same concept you will find in any dictionary, and works from there. Is a good read and quite amusing.
      Eg, He likes to replace the word…

      The problem is not the argumentation itself. The problem is the fact that icritizism itself is seen as an affront to people “never doing bad things”. Although it is not difficult to prove the contrary no one wants to talk about it at least. Arguments against having an imaginary friend although you are old enought to find solutions for your problems by yourself are countless. I mean that starting a dicussion about it is the problem here. Religion – much more liberal here than in many countries of the world – is in a kind of protective cocoon. This goes on my nerves because there IS reason to criticize!

      • In reply to #13 by Joseph Wolsing:

        In reply to #1 by Catfish:

        I recommend “A Manual for Creating Atheists” by Peter Boghossian.
        He defines faith as “pretending to know something which, you don’t know” which is pretty much the same concept you will find in any dictionary, and works from there. Is a good read and quite amusing.
        Eg, H…

        Yes, so this book recommends to start by questioning Faith not Religion. I just added the “pretending to know things you don’t line from the book for amusement. It is not a line of argument you would use against religion. The Author ( Peter Boghossian) actually visits churches specifically to try and discuss people’s faith. He has been doing this for decades, is a professor of philosophy, worked in prisons, etc. So am sure will give you some good ideas on how to open useful discussions about faith that do not lead straight to a stale mate or conflict.

        • In reply to #15 by Catfish:

          In reply to #13 by Joseph Wolsing:

          In reply to #1 by Catfish:

          I recommend “A Manual for Creating Atheists” by Peter Boghossian.
          He defines faith as “pretending to know something which, you don’t know” which is pretty much the same concept you will find in any dictionary, and works from there. Is…

          O,k. thanks for that: I didn’t get it this way. Now I see you got my point right. and I will look what I can find there for the constructive start of discussions about faith … I’m especially curious how he managed to get into churches to start this discussions. My experience is that in the moment you really start do criticize them where they cannot step back (their own “house”) the discussion always shifts from talking about faith into talking about the freedom to believe whatever you want and that criticizing it is an absolute insult. Even here in Germany they think about strengthening laws against blasphemy and we all know that it don’t take much to annoy believers just by questioning their belief.

          • In reply to #16 by Joseph Wolsing: I am first generation US, with parents who moved here from Germany and met in NYC in the late 1930′s. Mother Lutheran, father a lapsed Catholic. My studies of history, science and philosophy have led me to the conclusion that “faith” and “religion” prevail only because of horror in face of the void. If “God” is indeed dead, then where is purpose, where is meaning ? My students in Boston and later in Colorado have cringed at the very notion – “do you mean to say that I cannot look to the church, my teachers, my parents for meaning and purpose ? that I need to flounder around and determine for myself (based on what ?) what life is and can be ?” I’ve seen blank stares, ashen faces, even tears when this comes up in a class; and disdain and hatred when it’s come up among adults. So let’s start with this: confronting the void (consider Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Charles Adams, Nietzsche, the existentialists, usw., all of whom grapple with this idea) takes courage, imagination and a huge dose of self-confidence. If the finest and most sensitive minds struggle mightily with it and frequently fail, how can we expect an entire population to just dump “explanations” that go back millennia and then somehow take comfort in the mix of joy and desolation that life entails ? I see this as a long-term issue, as the general population slowly learns to accept and adjust to uncertainty, complexity and flux. Isn’t it mind blowing just to think about it ? It’s not a surprise that faith and religion, as leaky and absurd as they are, remain organizing principles for the vast majority of human beings. Joseph Campbell famously observed: “I don’t need faith – I have experience.” Richard Dawkins has science. I would argue that experience and science are just (a lot) less leaky and absurd.

            In reply to #15 by Catfish:

            In reply to #13 by Joseph Wolsing:

            In reply to #1 by Catfish:

            I recommend “A Manual for Creating Atheists” by Peter Boghossian.
            He defines faith as “pretending to know something which, you don’t know” which is pretty much the same concept you will find in any dictionar…

          • In reply to #18 by ericg:

            My studies of history, science and philosophy have led me to the conclusion that “faith” and “religion” prevail only because of horror in face of the void. If “God” is indeed dead, then where is purpose, where is meaning ? My students in Boston and later in Colorado have cringed at the very notion – “do you mean to say that I cannot look to the church, my teachers, my parents for meaning and purpose ? that I need to flounder around and determine for myself (based on what ?) what life is and can be ?” I’ve seen blank stares, ashen faces, even tears when this comes up in a class; and disdain and hatred when it’s come up among adults. So let’s start with this: confronting the void

            You are correct that ” confronting the void “, is the answer. Those whose brains have been spoon fed the “life-purpose” of propagating religious memes, have been indoctrinated with lazy dependent thought habits from childhood, to disable their thinking out of their own purposes in life.

            They are like children, crippled for a life of street-begging by their parents, – watching athletes with envy and incredulity: – and then projecting their hatred, jealousy, and envy, onto the “evil” athletes, who are indulging in those activities where they are inhibited from participation by their “superior” up-bringing.

  2. One of the goals of the secular movement should be to have “Religion practiced by consenting adults in private.” That is, if you and like minded persons want to conduct rituals and rites, go right ahead. I have no objection. My objection arises when you wish to impose any of your religious views on anyone else. What you describe in Germany appears to include the imposition of one persons religious views on another, by placing restrictions on that person. And all of this is without any supporting evidence.

    It will be a long slow process to get to the position, where religion no longer has a say in decision making at any level. But the process to get to that goal has begun with the “coming out” of the rational thinkers.

    It think this is a Dawkings argument (or a Hitchens). Religion has had a privileged position in the town square. It has had an automatic seat at the high table and thus, has influenced decisions for thousands of years. But religion is just another lobby group, no different from the National Rifle Association, the tobacco lobby or Greenpeace. A goal should be to have religion line up with all the other lobby groups and take a ticket. Sit in the foyers and take their turn with the decision makers. No more “Straight through to the Mayor.”

    I concur there is a problem with criticism of religious dogma at any level. The knee jerk response of alleging “Insult” is an effective censoring tool. But somehow, we need to change public perception that a criticism of a religious dogma is just a normal part of public debate, especially if that criticism is evidentiary in nature. I suspect that the sensitivity of the religious is to the ability of the rational mind to mount such cogent and evidence based arguments that they feel threatened. They feel they are going to loose their place at the high table, and thus won’t be able to force their personal religious dogma on other people, like the examples cited in posted German experience.

    I don’t think there is a quick solution. I think the changing of societies attitudes to religion will be a long slow process, but the end result is a goal worth suffering some pain for. So continue to criticize religious dogma, and counter the charge of insult with “Your personal views about god should not be forced on anyone. That is an insult”

  3. I feel the exact same way (I am also in Germany.) It is somewhat not “allowed” to criticize religion here. Either people move away or they tell you it is non of your business. I wish there was more of a public debate here, not only about religion but also other superstitious nonsense like astrology, horoscopes, homeopathy, magnets, etc…

    (Just kidding about magnets, but I know an atheist who believes magnets have some other “powers” than just a magnetic force…)

    I would have posted on the German site but it always gives me a “505 error”…

  4. @webfra:
    Not my experience. People can and do openly criticise religion, without fear of reprimand. I guess it’s also a question which part of Germany you’re from – rural areas are more ingrained in religion. To me the big problem is that people simply don’t care. Religion plays virtually no role in people’s lives. No one I know believes in gods, they are indifferent to the church, they don’t think about it at all. But here lies the rub: because people are indifferent, there is no debate how much room religion should be granted in public life. Germany is a huge cash cow for the churches: no one cares, so no one asks questions. That’s the reason the churches always back down when they’ve overstepped the line and get called out for their bullshit (like the case of the “bling” bishop or when two church-run hospitals refused emergeny contraception for a rape victim). They don’t like to be in the spotlight lest they lose all the money they draw from the state. That was the reason this new pope everybody seems to be so fond of removed the “bling” bishop: once he was put out of the limelight, the overdue debate about the church milking the state (and therefore the people) fizzled out. Clever move.

  5. Hi Joe,

    First, would you describe or provide an example of the religious oppression you see in the US? As an American, I don’t see it from where I sit.

    Second, I’m not familiar with all the particulars of the German constitution, but can I assume that there is no separation of church and state? Though many US Christians think otherwise, the deep commitment of our founding fathers to separating the church from secular government has prevented many of the abuses you describe. There is still the issue of tax exemption for non-profit religious organization, but our tax system is a mess, and that’s a separate issue I think. Perhaps German citizens should press for a constitutional separation of church and state? Then the church cannot force its morality on private citizens.

    • Sorry for letting you wait so long but I was offline for a couple of days and I didn’t expect my question to be posted at all.

      In reply to #8 by Nordic11:

      Hi Joe,

      First, would you describe or provide an example of the religious oppression you see in the US? As an American, I don’t see it from where I sit.

      Second, I’m not familiar with all the particulars of the German constitution, but can I assume that there is no separation of church and state?…

      First of all it’s unthinkable in Germany that someone has to go to court to get rid of creationism in the classroom. Everyone here is free at the age of 14 to leave religion in school and shift to ethics. Following the vids of Richard Dawkins and many others the question where you live in the US determins how freely you can articulate your non-believe and so on.

      The seperation of church and state is indirectly fixed in our constitution by the first four articles of the of the German “Grundgesetz” (constitution) : article 1: the dignity of humans is inviolable; article 2: general personal rights guaranting your right of a free development of your personality (as long as it is not harming the personality of others!) … ; article 3: equality before the law. Alll men are equal before the law. This includes sex, political opinion (exeption: everything that is against democracy is forbidden – a defensible democracy) religious belief or other forms of world view; article 4: the freedom of belief, concience, and the freedom of religious and other world views are inviolable. The articles make it a little mor accurate but this is in short words what they say. So church and state are not directly seperated, but our constitution makes an intervention of the church concerning political matters very difficult. But as everywhere the personal religious belief of politicians will always be visable in their decisions.

  6. Hi Joe !

    So Germans are too polite to talk about religion ! From what you say, it’s more or less assumed to be a force for good. But then religion has always been a useful tool for our leaders. Keep the workers’ minds on the rewards awaiting in heaven whilst putting up with the (very real ) daily grind of work, struggle and poverty. Jesus of course wanted the poor to be always with us so that His followers could help them out. Ah, how loving, how caring, how benign He is ! Blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the earth. (That is indeed in the afterlife, when the earthly body has become frail and failed).

    If I was Jesus, there would be no poor who needed to be helped by Christians.

    It was your compatriot Karl Marx who said:

    The more a man puts into religion, the less he retains of himself.

    A sentiment I heartily agree with.

  7. All religions have emotive basis and exist at emotive level. However, if you wish to understand the Islam which is not religion then please read the book titled Islam: A challenge to religion. It is free on the web. Read it as it is well researched and has discussed human ideas from the beginning of times. It has discussed religion as well. Ed

  8. @ ericg
    The confrontation with the so called void is less frightening when you understand that meaning and purpose are only human concepts. We adapt them to the World we live in not vice versa. If you learn as a kid that what you see is rational explicable you do not develop this need fot an mainary friend when you get older … I think a lot more scientific education in school would be a good way to decrease the degree of supertition.

  9. @ ericg
    The confrontation with the so called void is less frightening when you understand that meaning and purpose are only human concepts. We adapt them to the World we live in not vice versa. If you learn as a kid that what you see is rational explicable you do not develop this need fot an mainary friend when you get older … I think a lot more scientific education in school would be a good way to decrease the degree of supertition.

  10. Sorry for letting you wait so long but I was offline for a couple of days and I didn’t expect my question to be posted at all.

    In reply to #8 by Nordic11:

    Hi Joe,

    First, would you describe or provide an example of the religious oppression you see in the US? As an American, I don’t see it from where I sit.

    Second, I’m not familiar with all the particulars of the German constitution, but can I assume that there is no separation of church and state?…

    First of all it’s unthinkable in Germany that someone has to go to court to get rid of creationism in the classroom. Everyone here is free at the age of 14 to leave religion in school and shift to ethics. Following the vids of Richard Dawkins and many others the question where you live in the US determins how freely you can articulate your non-believe and so on.

    The seperation of church and state is indirectly fixed in our constitution by the first four articles of the of the German “Grundgesetz” (constitution) : article 1: the dignity of humans is inviolable; article 2: general personal rights guaranting your right of a free development of your personality (as long as it is not harming the personality of others!) … ; article 3: equality before the law. Alll men are equal before the law. This includes sex, political opinion (exeption: everything that is against democracy is forbidden – a defensible democracy) religious belief or other forms of world view; article 4: the freedom of belief, concience, and the freedom of religious and other world views are inviolable. The articles make it a little mor accurate but this is in short words what they say. So church and state are not directly seperated, but our constitution makes an intervention of the church concerning political matters very difficult. But as everywhere the personal religious belief of politicians will always be visable in their decisions.

  11. In reply to #1 by Catfish:

    I recommend “A Manual for Creating Atheists” by Peter Boghossian.
    He defines faith as “pretending to know something which, you don’t know” which is pretty much the same concept you will find in any dictionary, and works from there. Is a good read and quite amusing.
    Eg, He likes to replace the word…

    The problem is not the argumentation itself. The problem is the fact that icritizism itself is seen as an affront to people “never doing bad things”. Although it is not difficult to prove the contrary no one wants to talk about it at least. Arguments against having an imaginary friend although you are old enought to find solutions for your problems by yourself are countless. I mean that starting a dicussion about it is the problem here. Religion – much more liberal here than in many countries of the world – is in a kind of protective cocoon. This goes on my nerves because there IS reason to criticize!

  12. In reply to #15 by Catfish:

    In reply to #13 by Joseph Wolsing:

    In reply to #1 by Catfish:

    I recommend “A Manual for Creating Atheists” by Peter Boghossian.
    He defines faith as “pretending to know something which, you don’t know” which is pretty much the same concept you will find in any dictionary, and works from there. Is…

    O,k. thanks for that: I didn’t get it this way. Now I see you got my point right. and I will look what I can find there for the constructive start of discussions about faith … I’m especially curious how he managed to get into churches to start this discussions. My experience is that in the moment you really start do criticize them where they cannot step back (their own “house”) the discussion always shifts from talking about faith into talking about the freedom to believe whatever you want and that criticizing it is an absolute insult. Even here in Germany they think about strengthening laws against blasphemy and we all know that it don’t take much to annoy believers just by questioning their belief.

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