History of religion

Better to abolish religions?

 (Published in GralsWelt 43/2007)
The 20th century has been variously called the century of demagogues and dictators: Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, Mao, Castro, Pol Pot. As different as these oppressors were in their personalities or their political profile, they all sparked a pseudo-religious “enthusiasm” - in fact, it was hysteria - that persists in some fanatics to this day; long after the death of the once admired dictators and the failure of their criminal ideologies.

When, towards the end of the 20th century, the government of the People's Republic of China also changed its policy and moved away from Maoism (without criticizing the deceased “chairman”), one could expect a more objective, less ideological world policy for the 21st century.

This hope was not fulfilled.

The Middle Ages are back

In the second half of the 20th century, fundamentalist movements gained strength in various world religions - initially almost unnoticed. Very old religious ideas that had long been proven to be untrue found surprisingly broad attention: apocalyptists, evangelicals[i], militant Islamists, creationists, end-time prophets, Pentecostal churches, believers in miracles, religiously motivated Zionists, found popularity and were even able to influence political decisions.

For the supporters of such groups, it does not appear that there was an Age of Enlightenment. They preach anachronisms, ignore the natural sciences, sometimes still cling to superstitious ideas, and feel comfortable in world views that have long been believed to have been overcome.

The terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 gave the fundamentalists in three world religions a powerful boost:

Christian America felt attacked by Islam. Fanatical Muslims saw the beginning of the “Islamist world revolution”, or even the end times. And the State of Israel (like the entire Western world) had to feel threatened by religiously motivated terrorists. The militant religious fundamentalism on the one hand fueled fundamentalist and militant reactions on the other.

In the 21st century, are we now threatened by a new edition of the “Thirty Years War”, again a “War of Religions”, or, more correctly, of denominations, instead of the political and ideological East-West conflict?

A Neo-Enlightenment?

In the leading western power, the USA, atheists are supposedly an outlawed minority, and fundamentalist Christians are gaining influence.

In Africa and Asia, Islam is the fastest growing religion.

Woodoo is becoming increasingly important in Central and South America. ("A new major religion").

In Europe some are looking for a counterweight to aggressive Islam in Christianity. To this end, the European Union could define itself as a “Christian Club”, which may be open to Ukraine, Belarus and, in the more distant future, even to Russia, but which Turkey with its Islamic government majority may not join under any circumstances.

Religions are well on their way to helping shape politics in a way that seemed unthinkable half a century ago.

Modern scientists are now mobilizing against this renaissance of religions and their trend-setting influence on political decisions that can include wars. They question religions as such. Above all the well-known biologist Richard Dawkins, a distinguished advocate of neo-Darwinism:

As in the 18th and 19th centuries, religious communities have to be reproached for the fact that their holy books are full of horror stories. From today's point of view, the God of the Old Testament appears as an unpredictable, malicious tyrant, whom Gnostics already rejected ("The greatest of all heretics"). Jews, Christians and Muslims who orient themselves towards the Old Testament-influenced image of God in their religions will find the call to terror and violence here. Fanatics who take their respective scriptures literally can think of themselves as executors of divine will when they murder innocents[ii].

And critics of the old religious books ask whether world history would not have been happier without the historical religions and the terrible slogans of their books. So would the best way to world peace be to abolish religions? Are atheists perhaps the “better”, the happier people?

Insecure foundations

The foundation of the world religions are “holy books”, the history of which is a difficult and very controversial question. For the devout they contain truth, should be taken literally and not questioned. The fact that there are indeed questionable, perhaps untenable claims often enough in religious writings is suppressed; often with the charge of presumption towards God. The conclusion that even holy books sometimes only contain ideas from people, with a limited shelf life, is sacrilege for staunch followers of their religion. On the other hand, one is only too happy to devalue the traditions of other religions (which very few believers know) if only one's own books remain untouched.

The major religious communities have so far avoided questioning the "basic religious truths" of their holy books.

So z. B. to take note in the West that the ideas of the philosophy of the Enlightenment (which the churches long fought against), such as human rights, are not to be taken for granted as "Christian values" if one takes the literal statements of the Bible. One will come across a lot - not only in the Old Testament - that requires a great deal of explanation.

Dialogue with Muslims is likely to remain difficult as long as they see the “uncreated word of Allah” in the Koran, which must not be questioned. As with us in the past - with some fanatics still today - also the Bible. Here z. For example, the United Nations does not approve of the fact that in Islamic countries the UN Charter is only considered valid to the extent that it does not contradict Islam and its commandments.

The controversial image of God in the Old Testament, which influences not only Jews but also Christians and Muslims, has already been mentioned.

All religious communities have to deal with their own dogmas that are no longer up-to-date and sometimes untenable. This urgently needed and unpopular coming to terms with a long, often unfortunate history of religion includes the insight that no one, even if he claims to know “the whole truth”, can speak and act in the name of God. In other words, the realization that all religious action - beyond all claims - is still done by people who are laden with errors. On this basis, we should emphasize the noble similarities of the various religions and not regard the enmities between them as willed by God. That is, admittedly, "human" thought, but what better way can we do?

Unteachable insistence on the ancient traditions will not promote human culture, peace and freedom. In this case one would actually have to ask whether the disappearance of such religious communities, which are trapped in rigidity, would be a loss for humanity and its religiosity.

The future of religions

Humans are spiritual beings. I consider this to be a fact. The need for religiosity arises from this fact.

Spirituality needs more than teaching, liturgy, ritual. Spirituality and religiosity are the expression of a very personal, inner experience and knowledge that cannot be taught, cannot be learned and, above all, cannot be imposed.

It is high time that the religious communities realize that they can provide assistance, but must avoid paternalism, threats or even oppression. Every single person is allowed to walk the “inner path” of religious experience in a self-determined manner. Personally, I believe that God allows this, even requires it. -

One should not ask too much understanding of spirituality from people who only include what can be measured with instruments in their view of the world. As representatives of the “natural sciences”, they sometimes claim the “truth” for themselves[iii]. That they prefer atheism to some religious teachings can be seen from what has been said above. Their harsh criticisms of religion, which cannot be dismissed out of hand, can act as an impetus for religious communities to reflect on themselves and for the revision of religious worldviews. The following applies: "You shouldn't throw the child out with the bathwater."

(1) Dawkins Richard, The God Delusion, Bantam Press, London 2006.
(2) Der Spiegel, 43/2006 of October 23, 2006.
(3) Trimondi Victor and Victoria, Battle of Religions, Wilhelm Fink, Munich, 2006.
[i] Evangelicals = Protestants who proceed from the unconditional authority of the New Testament (Gospel).
[ii] From Hitler came the saying: “In defending myself against the Jew, I am doing the work of the Lord”. If he had won the war, “Mein Kampf” might be considered a “holy” book today.
[iii] In the philosophy of science there is quite a consensus that the sciences cannot discern “truth” in a broad sense.