Should the religion be controversial
Criticism of religion"The state must be godless"
Christiane Florin: The religion was tamed 100 years ago by the Weimar Constitution. We just heard that. But that is not enough, say critics of religion. The way to a truly secular German state is still a long one. Various authors, including such well-known names as Hamed Abdel-Samad, Michael Schmidt-Salomon and Ingrid Matthäus-Maier, have now published an account with the religion under the title "Exit". The message of the deep black book with pink title: Religion blinded, yes, stupid, poisoned. The editor is the journalist Helmut Ortner. He is now connected from Frankfurt. Good morning Mr. Ortner.
Helmut Ortner: Good Morning.
"The separation of church and state has not yet taken place"
Florin: Mr. Ortner, yesterday you held an ecumenical mourning service in Frankfurt on the station forecourt for the eight-year-old boy who had been killed and hit a platform and was hit by the ICE. What do you have against such publicly practiced religion?
Ortner: Nothing at all. Collective public devotion can provide comfort, can alleviate pain. But this can also be achieved by an equally non-ecclesiastical gathering. It is important that the right words are found for grief. And that is always a sign of humanity, social solidarity and empathy, regardless of whether it is a priest speaking, the words, or a philosopher or a writer.
Florin: And why is your subtitle called "Why We Need Less Religion"? What bothers you about public religion?
Ortner: We just heard the post. Of course there is a constitutional text, but it is not being implemented. The constitutional reality looks different. The authors in the "Exit" volume describe this clearly and emphatically and call for a more consistent separation of church and state. That is, the strict observance of the constitutional requirement of ideological neutrality of the state is still not given. For example, we are still paying the bishops' salaries from the general tax pot and the churches are undermining certain standards in labor law. We have also seen that the criminal prosecution of Catholic abusers does not do what a constitutional state ought to do. And up to seriously ill people who are denied the right to die independently. All of this makes it clear that the separation of church and state has not yet taken place in the way I would like and most of the authors in the volume.
"It is time to abolish the privileges"
Florin: But the majority of Germans still belong, one must say, to a religious community. The membership development of the churches indicates that it will soon fall below the 50 percent mark. Who is this "we" that you mean in the title or in the subtitle?
Ortner: So, first of all, this book is not an anti-faith book. It is a book that is critical of religion. I am a constitutional patriot and I am particularly interested in the privileges and immense advantages that the large churches, the Catholic and Protestant churches in this country in particular enjoy, that they are overdue ... that it is time to abolish them. I am talking about a church republic of Germany.
Of course, the non-church members can, if you will, feel discriminated against. That is well over a third. In 2018 alone, over 400,000 people left the major churches. And there are very many areas of society where this separation of church and state is permanently undermined and in a certain way the constitutional reality that would be popular does not take hold. Of course, belief is perfectly legitimate for a believer. In the sense of the word he can make you happy. He can give support and hope, here at this devotion in Frankfurt now in front of the train station. It can therefore be a source of strength, orientation and consolation for the individual. In short, it can be wonderful for humanity, but as a private matter. I think the state itself must be godless. It is a prerequisite for being able to guarantee freedom of religion and the diversity of religion. In summary, I could say that the state must always protect the believer, but never a single religion and, above all, it must not favor it.
Florin: Yes, but the rights, the prerogatives of the churches, above all, are based on laws, in part on the Basic Law. That means that one could change the laws, including the Basic Law, with a political majority. Why does this political majority not come about? Why does a majority of those who are entitled to vote apparently not have the impression that there is disproportionate preference (of the churches) or that there is discrimination against non-believers?
"Political celebrities were irritatingly calm when it came to abuse"
Ortner: There is a lot in common, if you will, between politics and the churches in this country. This shows not only that the detachment in a certain way of the state achievement, the historical state achievement, as it was also mentioned earlier, the detachment is not being promoted. One notices that, for example against the background of the worldwide cases of abuse, but also the cases of abuse in this country, how hesitantly politicians came forward, it was barely noticeable. So, political celebrities, who otherwise rate everything and immediately publish a statement in every microphone, were irritatingly calm here. There is a large, almost undisclosed alliance. Politicians know when they open the churches ... whether it is religious instruction, euthanasia, abortion, these are all issues that they are not thanked for. You always have the large electorate in view and most people, if they even understand church as folklore, baptisms, weddings and then at the funeral, react allergic when politics interferes. And politicians have understood that.
Florin: Yes, you yourself wrote an essay on the subject of sexual violence. And you are even sharper in this essay than you are now in your statement. You write about the failure of the constitutional state because church abusers and cover-ups were hardly prosecuted. Why is not only the state, but also the judiciary, so hesitant?
"Catholics don't like to look into the poison barrier"
Ortner: First you have to imagine another global company whose employees have committed thousands of crimes over the decades, not petty offenses, but rather serious and extremely serious crimes, the sexual abuse of children and young people. The company's board of directors knows about it, but has covered it up, covers the perpetrators and does not impose any visible sanctions - neither against the perpetrators nor their helpers. Usually the prosecution has to get involved here, but the company does nothing.
But this was not about a normal company, but about a global company whose unique selling point is mercy and credibility - the Catholic Church. The rule of law has proceeded very hesitantly here. We are not aware of any case, something like Ireland, Canada, USA, that a bishop was on trial. You are jointly responsible, are responsible for the cover-up. I think that this is a constitutional scandal that is taking place here, which has been investigated very hesitantly or not at all. And I can do that too, without falling into conspiracy theories ... it is the close entanglement, almost complicity, between politics and the church. And it is particularly regrettable that the rule of law ... that Catholic people do not like to look into the poison cabinet of their church, one can understand that. The rule of law has to do it and it didn't. In my opinion, it has not done its job here in this area.
Florin: But there are certainly Catholic people who want to look into the poison cabinet. There are very different currents within all religious communities: there are fundamentalists and authoritarians, but there are also plural, liberal and democratically-minded believers. If you then throw at someone's head that belief is nonsense, imagination, madness - this is what some texts say, is intended as a polemical exaggeration - but do you think you will achieve something, for example for those affected by abuse?
"Terribly childish nonsense"
Ortner: One has nothing to do with the other. Abuse is a crime. The rule of law has to act. The public prosecutor's office has to investigate. She has to speak judgments. She has to draw up reports. In case of doubt also for the accused - acquit again. Is the rule of law in demand. Whether the former believer in his church, as it is called, doubts or even despairs is his very personal affair. He can exit. He can argue. I have absolutely no missionary zeal, such a plea, especially in this area, which we have just talked about, for a plea that the rule of law should take its tasks seriously, which it otherwise does.
I am a constitutional patriot. It is one of the standards of a democratic society that the practice of one's religion is guaranteed. Man can have one god, several gods, whoever. He can believe in it, in the Virgin Mary, in some miracles, all of which I naturally regard as terrible childish nonsense. And I can scoff too. Even the Christian has to endure ridicule. He can defend himself. We are an open society. But still, an open society always guarantees religion. I am godlessly happy. My neighbor can pray, pray all day. But I don't want his church to ban me from dancing on Good Friday. That is incompatible with my concept of open society and democracy. My neighbor as a Catholic can then pray on Good Friday and slow down. I might want to dance. An exemplary example where there is a collision.
Religions are men’s business, so is religion criticism?
Florin: I would like to briefly touch on another topic. 16 men and five women wrote the book. So the quota of women is higher than in the Catholic clergy, of course. But religions are patriarchal, but obviously criticism of religion is also a man's thing, isn't it?
Ortner: Well, I didn't pay any attention to it now. I think very little of such discussions. 17 women and two authors would have liked to have written for me. Maybe they didn't have time. I have spoken enough. All religions are men's business. Constanze Kleis described this very, very well in her text. Religion is magic for men - let me say - women then believe in it. I would have liked to have kept the quota in my book, even though I'm not a fan of the quota. But don't worry about that. There are prejudices, wise and unwise opinions among the atheists as far as the quota is concerned, as there is in the church.
Helmut Ortner, publisher: Exit. Why we need less religion - a reckoning. Frankfurt, Nomen Verlag 2019. 360 pages, 24 euros.
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