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Religion and integration
Lecture on "How much religion does society need?" on February 28, 2007 in Berlin

Your Excellencies,
ladies and gentlemen!

I don't know how much religion society needs. Not exactly, anyway. I did not accept the invitation to this symposium and to this own contribution because I could reliably answer the question, but because I think it is important. And because it deserves all efforts, but certainly also needs, to discuss the importance of religions for the cohesion of our societies in dialogue and to further develop existing conditions and structures in a way that promotes integration.

I was a bit surprised that the invitation to this event apparently answered a number of the questions that, as far as I understand, this symposium actually wants to deal with. "The discourse about incompatible cultures and values ​​of Germans on the one hand and Muslims on the other has become a core issue in domestic politics," it says. Whether these cultures and values ​​are incompatible is one of the exciting questions that I do not consider to be conclusively answered. And if anything, according to my understanding, it is about religiously oriented people on the one hand and non-religiously oriented people on the other, in no way about the juxtaposition of Germans and Muslims. “The supposed clash of cultures is a discursively generated reality” - that would be good news: actually there is no battle at all - “which is beginning to dominate our political and social order structure. It defines inequalities and tensions, which are recognizably caused by social educational and legal disadvantage, primarily as culturally or religiously conditioned and thereby legitimizes the exclusion of minorities ”. A “majority generated by discourse” legitimizes the exclusion of minorities ”!

Brave. I very much hope that this symposium will help us to question what is supposedly secure insights at the beginning in the course of this event.

"How much religion does society need". I'll start with a statistical clue. In Germany we have around 130 religious communities, of which the Roman Catholic Church and Evangelical Churches in Germany each have around 26 million members, a total of more than 50 million. The total number of Muslims is around 3.3 million, including around 14,400 Muslims of German descent; they no longer appear in the brief text of the invitation. The fact that we have significant differences with regard to the distribution of membership in religious communities between the western and eastern parts of Germany can be assumed to be essentially known. In the eastern federal states, significantly less than 30 percent of the population belong to one of the Christian churches, while in the west it is significantly more than 70 percent.

In a corresponding survey back in the 1990s, when asked whether it was religious, a girl from the former GDR said: “Nope, I'm actually quite normal.” That leads us right into the subject. How normal is this society, in which the renunciation, ignorance of, non-connection with religion is considered normal, appropriate, reasonable?

According to a current survey by the EUROSTAT statistical office, there are considerable differences between the EU countries in the assessment of the importance of religion. 88 percent of Maltese and 87 percent of Poles said religion was "important" in their lives. The values ​​are almost the same in Greece, Cyprus and Romania. In contrast, Belgians (72 percent) and Czechs (70 percent) think religion has no meaning for their lives. The differences are also relatively large within Germany. While 53 percent of West German people said that religion was important for their lives, in East Germany it was 26 percent.

If we do not only speak of the process of secularization at events like this and, of course, also use this collective term to describe a very complex process that certainly has to do with the decline in the number of people who expressly define themselves as religious, but not fully described is, then it is perhaps not entirely superfluous to point out that this process of an apparently unstoppable secularization, also considered to be an express achievement, only exists in this form in the West. And that right up to our immediate present in other parts of the world - if at all - it is associated with a rather opposing parallel development, which is always more characterized by the revitalization, reactivation of religion and its importance for individual and social behavior.

I don't know whether anyone dares to explain one and the other, described somewhat woodcut-like, in any case contrasting development, as reasonable and consequently the other as obviously unreasonable. Perhaps it is more a question of the dimensioning, the dosage, for which you, Mr. Hobohm, have already provided an interesting, debatable and debatable requirement with your introductory lecture.

My personal impression with a look at German and European history in any case suggests that we neither had particularly happy circumstances when there was - to put it cautiously - religious overzealousness, nor when we in careful or reflexive avoidance of this exaggeration have fallen into an almost demonstrative distancing from religions and religious orientations. Obviously, it seems to me that religions are still one of the very vital ones, to whatever extent, by the vast majority of people, not only are they learned, but are also considered indispensable orientations in their own life and also for social behavior.

What there is in a concrete society in terms of values ​​and orientations, of possible obligations that go beyond individual interests, is essentially fed by religious convictions. Religion is not the only, but is probably an indispensable source of values ​​in a society, of convictions that claim to be valid beyond one's own person.

Personally, I do not hesitate to say for a moment that this also applies and must apply in principle to politics. Politics without a solid foundation of convictions from which a design claim can be derived, without binding orientation, is the self-staging of power. Political action must not be reduced to questions of expediency, to virtuoso processing of case constellations. But that politics is and must be something different from religion, certainly not the same thing, and certainly not the simple extension of religion by other means, that is at least a firm conviction of Western civilization. The tension between religion and politics, between belief and action cannot be resolved or only at the cost of mutual trivialization. But politics is not banal, and neither is religion. This always requires a reflection on what is common and what is special in each case.

I would like to draw attention to one thing in common and a special feature in my article. Religion, like politics, is an attempt to domesticate violence. Either by giving meaning, by conveying timelessly valid binding values ​​or by structures and institutions that exclude the use of force in the pursuit of interests or at least limit it as much as possible. The first is the attempt to domesticate violence through religion, the second through politics. Religion is by far the older attempt in human history, politics the more recent attempt to domesticate violence. Viewed critically, both attempts have not been entirely successful. To put it more nicely: Both attempts were only partially successful.

With regard to violence, the history of religion, like political history, is also a history of failure. The crusades, for example, are neither the first nor the last religiously motivated, or at least religiously justified, wars of conquest. Not only since the Thirty Years' War has the bloody trail of religious wars stretched through the history of modern times to the present day of fundamentalist, again often religiously motivated or disguised regimes or activities.

We all find the use of religion for the use of aggressive violence intolerable, but we must not suppress the fact that it exists. And not just the action, but also its ideological packaging. In by no means seldom, violence is no longer organized as the last act of sheer desperation without needing or looking for any substantive justification at all. Rather, it is unfortunately more and more common that in specific cases of brutal use of force, a direct connection is made between an alleged divine will and the destruction of people or entire civilizations.

It would be extremely comforting if we could assume here at this symposium that this was one of the most appalling aberrations in human history, but one that we would have left behind once and for all. Only: the circumstances are not like that. Muslims all over the world and Western Islamic experts rightly oppose this kind of claim, which occurs again and again, as the original voice of Islam and accept it. And in this endeavor to distinguish one from the other, they deserve not only our respect, but our express support. But part of the perception of realities is that the general suspicion, which is often perceived in this way, is not a sheer invention, but has points of reference in real life with regard to the terrifying statistical accumulation of the connection between organized aggressive violence and religious justification, however serious.

Why can religion at all serve for such a legitimation, or better: sham legitimation? Why is religion, Christianity like Islam, not immune to such claims?

This brings me to the second point, which, in addition to the commonality of politics and religion in the effort to domesticate violence, marks the essential, literally fundamental, difference. Religions are about truths, politics about interests. Religions define truths and claims. By doing this, they integrate and disintegrate a society at the same time. At best, it is well-intentioned, but not realistic, to want to describe religions in particular and cultures in general as principally promoting and / or promoting integration. On closer inspection, they are one like the other. They contribute to the development of conflicts and if they are intelligently perceived and handled, they can help to resolve them peacefully.

The claim to truth excludes votes. Majorities cannot rule on truths. Whether a sentence is true or not is completely irrelevant compared to the question of whether this sentence finds majority approval. It is no more correct than without this consent. The highly subjective claim to truth cannot be seriously shaken by referring to large opposing majorities. Politics, on the other hand, is not about truths, but about interests. The modern concept of politics is based almost on the contestation of eternal truths. In any case, this is the idea of ​​politics and democratic order that arose in our civilization, which is based on the basic conviction that there is no claim to truth as a basis for concrete action. Nobody can justify what he does with a claim to truth with effect for others. Nor should he be allowed to make such a claim. According to this understanding of politics and democratic order, only what is generally accepted has a claim to commitment, and only what society agrees on is valid. And the means of determining the validity is the majority decision. What the majority decides applies. Incidentally, even if it is not true. The logic of the system is based on the common conviction that it is not truth claims that legitimize decisions, but the procedural rule, according to which only what the majority agrees applies. From precisely this point of view and only from this point of view of excluding truth claims and agreeing on a procedural principle that applies to all, politics enables the integration of the incompatible. This is the only way to tolerate very different beliefs.

I cannot and do not want to enter the discussion about a Euro-Islam, which is highly complex from many points of view, with and without the expression that Bassam Tibi gave this term. However, I would like to add to your suggestion, Mr Hobohm, that such a conception of Euro-Islam will most certainly not be accepted by the majority of Muslims, that the opposite concept of an Islam understood in a fundamentalist manner, that of the basic rule I have just explained about the limited area of ​​responsibility between politics and religion and the denial of truth claims collide, is certainly not accepted by the overwhelming majority of this society. So we must not think of the problem as simpler than it is obvious.

Whether at all, if so, to what extent, whether in principle or from the point of view of certain historical development processes, Islam as a whole has and wants to maintain a fundamentally different understanding of the relationship between religion and state, politics and belief than the Western understanding that I am currently trying to maintain I have presented in a woodcut style, that is one of the exciting questions that is worth thinking about and which in any case, according to my wishful thinking, should urgently be kept open from the point of view of development prospects. I say this from the perspective of a convinced Christian who would have great difficulty in any case to have, to keep or to find peace with his own religion, if there had not been a development history of this religion, and if some supposedly irrefutable beliefs were not in the process would have been identified and overcome as appalling errors of time.

If I emphatically advocate both a connection and a consequent separation of politics and religion, of belief and action, then I do not want to declare religion to be a private matter without any social or political significance.

Of course, religion is first and foremost a private matter, incidentally at the beginning and at the end. But it is always more and it must also be more, both in terms of its own claims and of the historical experiences we have had with societies that believed that the ultimate distancing from any kind of religious orientation would give them an increase in humanity, but would at least ensure modernity.

The fact that even modern politics, including that of the West, can neither be explained nor understood without the contribution of religions, is supported by many sufficiently frequently cited evidence from recent discussions. I do not want to quote again the memorable dialogue between Jürgen Habermas and the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, because I suspect that many of you are sufficiently familiar with the information given by one and the other. The fact that, by the way, one and the other, Habermas and Ratzinger, speak of the culture of faith and the culture of reason as the two great cultures of the West is in any case an indication that even with very different individual approaches to this topic, they are quite common Insights into complicated relationships are possible. Personally, I would prefer to speak of the connection of faith and reason as the culture of the West. But that's more of a different accent than a different observation.

Finally, I would like to reiterate that I consider the contribution of religion to be absolutely indispensable for modern politics, for political action, for modern societies. In this context, it may be sufficient to point out that the inviolability of human dignity is evidently not a procedural rule, but a normative principle. It has to come from somewhere. Incidentally, it is not a state invention. But almost all of us today consider it a universal principle. As we understand it, human rights are not granted by the state, nor by churches or religious communities. They are innate, inalienable rights of every human being. The state does not grant them, nor does it have to tolerate them. He has to protect and respect them. At least that, Mr. Hobohm, will be allowed to be recorded as the guiding culture.It is not about the question of whether cultures claim to dominate one another. I consider such a claim to be absurd. And where it is levied, it is unacceptable and should be rejected on grounds of intellectual honesty as well as political prudence.

But within a specific society it is absolutely essential that it must be clear what applies. And that this claim to validity must not be called into question with reference to possibly differently developed, culturally justified beliefs. Incidentally, the vast majority of Islamic countries do not hesitate for a moment to claim and enforce a dominant culture without using this term. So if we want to attempt to penetrate complicated issues with a little more care than is usually done, we should not completely shut ourselves off from this connection either.

Finally, I would like to give you the concluding remark of an article that the recently retired long-time Limburg Bishop Franz Kamphaus formulated on this topic in a readable article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung a few weeks ago: “A dialogue with Islam”. His concluding remark, which I am happy to agree, reads as follows: “The dialogue between Christians and Muslims is only just beginning. He needs patience and trust, staying power and an open heart. For the sake of peace there is no alternative to it, not even for the sake of faith. One could easily think that we are condemned to dialogue. But that wouldn't even be half the story. We owe it first and foremost to ourselves and our faith to speak to one another in spite of all oppressive experiences. That is what God expects us, the God, the Christians together with the Muslims call the righteous and the merciful. "