Will religion die out or grow stronger?

"Heidelberg University Speech" by Federal Minister Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble: "State and Religion in the Plural Society"

October 29, 2008

The Federal Minister of the Interior spoke today as part of the lecture series of the College for Jewish Studies in the old auditorium - here is his speech in full

Federal Minister Schäuble during his speech in the old auditorium

Photo: Anton Davydov

As part of the lecture series “Heidelberg University Speeches” at the University of Jewish Studies, Federal Minister Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble in the auditorium of the Old University on the subject of “State and Religion in the Plural Society”. Rector Prof. Dr. Bernhard Eitel warmly welcomed the speaker, the guests of honor and the audience. Ruperto Carola was happy to make her “good room” available to the university, because this enabled us to show quite openly “that we have close cooperation and trustful cooperation at the highest academic level with the University of Jewish Studies”. With the “Heidelberg University Speeches”, the University for Jewish Studies also gives Ruperto Carola a special shine.

Prof. Dr. Johannes Heil, First Vice-Rector of the University, introduced the Federal Minister of the Interior. Wolfgang Schäuble speaks with his topic "State and Religions in the Plural Society" today from his immediate work and sphere of activity. “He is given up by the office, but completely determined by personality and provided with energy.” For Wolfgang Schäuble, politics is not a staging, but a task. "Its design is a matter that demands seriousness and commitment and is also worthwhile."

It was not long ago that many experts agreed that religion was something that should not be reckoned with for long. The American anthropologist Anthony F.C. Wallace made the prognosis in the 1960s that religion would become extinct worldwide with the global advancement of civilization. Others didn't go quite as far, but most believed that increasing modernization was weakening religious ties. Where such ties continued to exist, they would be a purely private matter, so irrelevant to political questions.

The actual development seemed to prove this thesis right. Memberships in the major churches are declining - this process is not new. But it has only become noticeable in the last few decades. The vast majority of those who belonged to a church were of the opinion that religion was a matter of personal belief that should largely be kept out of political debate. The magic word was "secularization": The modern institutions should be released from their traditional bracing with religious values ​​and content. Religion in a secular society should mean: religion in an environment that does without religion in its essential functions - a kind of ornament that makes some moments more solemn, but is beyond that of no significance for the actual course of things.

That interpretation had an impact on how we viewed the rest of the world. It was clear that the political importance of religion - be it Christian or otherwise - was greater in other parts of the world than it is here. But it was taken for granted that the modernity of a society was shown not least by how 'secular' it was. So a backwardness in secularization turned into a general backwardness that one had to hope would slowly but surely overcome.

This impression has changed in recent years. In the USA, the thesis that modernization and religion do not go together has never been true. In the last few years and decades there have also been economic and social modernizations in many other parts of the world. In the last 15 years, democracy has found its way into a large number of countries that have had little or no experience with this social model. However, there are no indications that the same development is taking place outside of Western Europe that was envisaged here with the concept of secularization.

An exception are perhaps some of the former communist countries in East Central Europe, which have a very special history. In view of this, the development in Russia is all the more remarkable, a country where for much of the 20th century a policy prevailed that actively suppressed religion. In 2001, President Putin said his country had voluntarily “assumed the role of guardian of true Christian values. You absolutely have to agree with those who believe that without Christianity, without Orthodox faith, without the culture that grew out of it, Russia could not have come into being. "

The examples from our globalized world could be multiplied almost at will. In Germany, too, the discussion has shifted over the past few years. Certainly - the decline in membership in the large churches continues, and general literacy in the Christian-Jewish tradition also seems to be declining. At the same time, however, there is also an opposing development: In view of the major tasks that our society is facing, many people have become more aware of the importance of values ​​that provide orientation and are the basis for taking responsibility for individual decisions. Many see the threat that seemingly 'unlimited' possibilities threaten our world, and they see the need for moderation, the importance of boundaries as a precaution against exaggeration.

The debate about the reference to God in the constitution of the European Union, about stem cell research, but also - in a completely different way - the public participation in the person of the last Pope during his last days indicate that we are becoming more sensitive to the importance of religious questions. An interesting example is Jürgen Habermas, who describes himself (with Max Weber) as "religiously unmusical" and yet has expressed in numerous statements in recent years that something is incomplete here, that secularization is not the final answer to our problems Time can be. Incidentally, Habermas speaks in this context of a “dialectic of secularization” - that is the title of a book that he published in 2005 together with the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Unfortunately, the developments that have made us more interested in religion are not all positive. Religion has always had a Janus face in human history. It can do wonderful things and has done it again and again: Many activists who campaign for human rights, for environmental protection, for the sick or the poor around the world, do so for religious reasons. But it also served time and again as an explanatory model for fanatical delusion and is thus associated with inhumanity, violence and terrorism. Religious conflicts can undermine the coexistence of societies and nations and lead to bloody feuds. It is this ambivalence that gives our subject its urgency.

Now we have a tradition that sees religion primarily as something of a disruptive factor for politics. In his political testament of 1752, the Prussian King Frederick the Great expressed this view from the position of the Enlightenment in his inimitable way. For Friedrich, the experience of the wars of religion was a trauma that had taken place relatively recently. And so his ideal consists in a coexistence of religions, in which the ruler primarily prevents them from pursuing their tendency to quarrel and, at the end, to violent conflict. The Prussian King makes no secret of the fact that for him the basis of every religion is a lack of enlightenment. The ruler's tolerance was based less on an appreciation of religion than on the insight that one must not take away from the people what it depends on.

The problems that Friedrich articulates are not out of thin air. A few weeks ago I was at the opening of the Luther Decade. It is precisely in the work of Luther and in the following history of Protestantism that the different faces of religion appear. On the one hand, there are Luther's courageous words at the Reichstag in Worms, which have almost become a symbol of freedom of conscience, and his admonishing words to the princes, with which he denounced the grievances of the time. On the other hand, one must not forget his tough, uncompromising words in the peasant war and his excessive attacks against the Jews. This ambivalence of the reformer continues in the history of Lutheranism: the social commitment of Protestantism since the 19th century is opposed to the Lutheran war theology of the First World War. In the 20th century there was a justification for German dictatorships, but also a commitment to freedom and human rights.

No matter how you do the math: In any case, it is clear that the Enlightenment view of the political relevance of religion was one-sided.

She is right where religion threatens the community, where fanatical religious forces hinder or threaten to destroy the coexistence of people, the cohesion of society and the functioning of institutions.

The problem that religions also lead to separation and strife affects us today as well. When there is talk of a “war of civilizations”, it is primarily about religious disputes. Only one thinks less of a conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism than of the conflict between the Christian-Jewish and Islamic world. And this is no longer just a foreign policy problem with the Arab world, but also a domestic policy challenge that we have to solve.

It was a fundamental step forward to create religiously neutral social and state institutions that made it possible to act independently of the various religious communities and to represent political decisions equally towards all.

The Frederician fixation on the problematic side of religion was nonetheless one-sided. It overlooks the fundamental, positive importance that religion continues to have for political action. Religion is an important resource from which fundamental value orientations also arise in our society. It is - to take up a formulation of the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor - an important "source of the self" from which we draw - especially in view of the great challenges facing politics. A constitutional separation of church and state does nothing to change this. Because politics is made by people, and these people do not come from a vacuum. People with a religious background are needed as politically active citizens. They are all the more needed if they have a clear orientation, a basic direction of their life. Orientation for our society is rightly expected from politics. But orientation can only be given by those who are oriented themselves. Religious belief is one of the most important sources of strong values ​​in our culture. Politicians cannot do without this source.

It's not just about convincing individuals. Religion has to do with community, and in this dimension, too, it is important for the state in our increasingly individualistic society. Identity cannot be achieved through reference to political institutions alone. “Constitutional patriotism” cannot explain why we are cheering on our own team at the football match between Germany and France, even though both sides have similar political values. I was won over by Karl Otto Hondrich, who defines identity in terms of “shared feelings”. “The harmony of feelings,” as he once put it, “has its own magic: the magic of unity.” If we want to feel part of a community, there has to be something that connects us on a deeper human level. That then has to do with questions about the beginning and end of human life. Despite the big bang and black holes, the question of the before and after and the where from and where to remains, and there we are on the level on which religion and belief are located. In this sense, even in a modern, plural and secular community, we cannot do without the contribution of religion.

It seems to me that this post is becoming even more important. The state is not immutable either. We tend to expect the state to provide the solution to almost all problems that exist in our society. I think we have to learn again to be more confident in people. Not everything can be taken over by the state; it should only take over what it can really do better. Where this is not the case, we should have the courage to return responsibility to society.

The development that has assigned so many responsibilities to the state also has to do with the fact that we traditionally make a very sharp distinction between the private and the public. On the other hand, the area in which citizens do something together, but not under state responsibility, plays a much lesser role for us. But it is precisely this area that produces the often admired diversity of civic engagement in the United States of America. The fact that the clocks tick differently on both sides of the Atlantic was already noticed by Max Weber when he studied American society and compared it with German society. His formulation is known that American society is not an informal "sand pile of individuals", but that associations, i.e. non-governmental associations of citizens, played a decisive role. Religious communities are among the most important actors in this area.

If we want to strengthen our civic engagement and look at the level of such associations, we should see that the ability of religion to form community is of lasting, rather increasing importance in our society. The state needs religion not only as a source of individual values, but also because of its community dimension.

One could argue that the community-building role of religion was a thing of the past, which in a time of increasingly plural religiosity has become an anachronism. And doesn't religion - especially in its plural reality - contain at least as much that divides as that which connects?

It is true that what many have called the "return of religion" does not simply restore a state of affairs that existed in the past. However one judges the intensity of the religious development in German society in the next 20 to 50 years, it will certainly be shaped by an increasingly pluralistic situation. So there will be no return to the time when the vast majority of the German population naturally belonged to the Protestant or Catholic Church and other religious groups, such as Judaism or the Free Churches - for all their importance - purely numerically small minorities were. We are currently dealing with a diversification process, the extent of which cannot yet be foreseen. For obvious reasons, Islam is most in the public eye, but the Jewish communities have also grown considerably in the past 15 years - not least due to immigration. Immigrants are often religiously active, and if they are not integrated into existing German religious communities, they create their own groups and communities.

First of all, there is a formal challenge for the state. Our legal system emerged from a state church system which, after the state churches had been abolished, was extended to religious communities as a whole. This construction is definitely geared towards pluralization and has so far also proven itself (for example in cooperation with the Central Council of Jews). For some religions, however, it is more difficult than for others to do justice to the organizational framework required by German law. Islam is not a church, and neither do Muslims. And our constitutional state must not want to prescribe how religious communities are to be organized. But our proven relationship between the state and religious communities is based on partnership, and whoever wants to use this for himself must make these partners available to the state as a religious community. Regardless of the legal basis, the coexistence of religion and the state in Germany has been de facto shaped for a long time by the close cooperation with those religions whose organization made it easy to find a contact with whom the state can discuss issues of mutual interest could.

Everything should not and will not be different.I am by no means of the opinion that we have to completely change the way the state and religious communities work together, and possibly overnight. It just works well in many areas. Nor do I believe that the pluralization I was talking about changes the fact that certain religions play a special role historically and culturally in our part of the world. These are Christianity and - in a different way - Judaism, with which we Germans have a particularly difficult and painful history. Nothing will change for one or the other. That is why there is not only the right of the minority to tolerance and equal treatment, but there is also a right of the majority to be considerate.

Nevertheless, the state must also break new ground. The convening of the German Islam Conference by the Federal Ministry of the Interior was also a sign that we are aware of this need. Germany is a country that is becoming more religiously diverse, and the state hopes for the value and community-building forces of all religions represented here in the common interest of our society.

But how can we achieve that we connect people through religion and at the same time avoid that new rifts open on the basis of different religious beliefs? For this it is helpful that we look at what unites us in our religious and denominational differences and less at what divides us.

Let us take the reference to God that is central to the monotheistic religions - for Christianity as well as Judaism and Islam. Despite all the differences in the individual, it is fundamentally important that people know that they are responsible for their own actions before an authority that they have not appointed themselves. That they relate to something that is greater than themselves. That there is something that they have not made, but should be respected by them. That everything they want and do is not just about themselves. That alone has far-reaching consequences for political and social action. Knowledge of the unavailable is a precaution against totalitarian omnipotence and abuse of power. "Wherever in the world someone no longer knows that he is at most the second, the devil will soon break loose," said Bishop Reinelt on the 50th anniversary of the Dresden bombing night.

This is exactly what I understand in the preamble of the German Basic Law. It says there that the German people gave themselves this Basic Law in the awareness of their responsibility before God. I am convinced that such a reference can unite people of different denominations and religions. He doesn't have to separate them. For example, why should a Muslim feel excluded by such a reprimand?

But what about atheists? Are they offended like that? Not necessarily. When it comes to existential questions, the question of the beginning and the end, the meaning of life and the existence of truth and law, even someone who does not belong to any religious community comes across the religious dimension. Atheists, too, usually seek an absolute point of reference: the idea of ​​truth or freedom, law or justice. If this does not mean ideologies, but something that makes the individual accountable, then there are more things in common than one would initially think.

The reference to God is also of great importance for human coexistence because it has immediate and direct consequences for the image of man. The responsibility of people before God is never separated from the responsibility for others. It is no coincidence that the double commandment of love, which in Jewish tradition and in the New Testament is the summary of all commandments, connects love for God with love for one's neighbor. The biblical creation story expresses the same context by speaking of man being made in the image of God.

This idea has found its way into our constitutional reality in the formulation of Art. 1 GG that human dignity is inviolable. This principle is irrevocable; not even a majority changing the constitution could change it. Our political order - what is often referred to as the value order of the Basic Law - is based first and foremost on the principle of human dignity. The individual basic rights that form the foundation of our liberal order ultimately arose from this principle. This includes the principle of religious tolerance, the principle of religious freedom. This is very important. At least from a Christian point of view, it can be said that the Christian faith in particular demands the acceptance of religious plurality as part of respect for human dignity.

Human dignity, which corresponds to the belief that man is created in the image of God, means that every person, regardless of skin color, origin or religion, has his own, inalienable and unmistakable dignity, and that necessarily also means respect for diversity , and thus tolerance. The principle of separation between state power and religious organizations can also be derived from this. If certainty of faith is translated into earthly order, there is little room for tolerance, and therefore the rejection of any fundamentalism in the political order can also be defended on religious grounds.

The reference to God does not only lead to the idea of ​​human dignity and the principle of tolerance. It can also save people from making themselves the measure of all things. People need limits. He needs limits in the interests of his own humanity, his humanity. The reference to a transcendent being draws his attention to these limits. This insight is vital for our world. People are learning at a tremendous pace. Science and technology enable them to do things that could hardly be dreamed of just a few decades ago - biotechnology, nanotechnology and astrophysics are examples of this. The globalized economy produces a constantly changing world and gives people amazing tools to take control of their own fate and that of the earth.

In all of this, people remain ambivalent. Its size is also its undoing. His striving leads him to new and higher insights, but also to envy and resentment, greed and quarrel. In war we see this “wolf nature” of man in its destructive reality. We have had more than enough opportunities to witness it over the past few years. The military conflict is not the only threat. Unbridled finance is also a threat. You can see that very clearly at the moment. Here, too, man shows himself as a wolf, fortunately so far without bloodshed. For our future, a lot depends on putting the reins on ourselves. A market economy is indispensable, but it needs an order that combines freedom and responsibility.

People need limits. Limits that he sets for himself in freedom. The reference to God is an important motivation to accept boundaries. The knowledge of something unavailable is a precaution against excess, omnipotence fantasy and abuse of power.

State and religion meet today in a new situation. Both have changed. On the religious side, the traditional dominance of a few or a few religions has turned into a variety of religions. The state can no longer be solely responsible for all kinds of social problems. There are dangers in both developments, but also opportunities. The plurality of religions can lead to new social conflicts. The withdrawal of the state from traditional tasks can lead to the erosion of social structures. But I think we should also see the opportunities that lie in both developments. Religions can, individually and collectively, be an important basis for individual and social values. And much of what they do in this regard is ultimately better off with them than with the state. It is important that we succeed in mobilizing the motivating and personal and community-building forces in them for the solution of our tasks. I am firmly convinced that this can also be a decisive condition for the success of politics.

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