If religion fails in logic

Religion and corona"We live under the virological imperative"

Michael Wolffsohn is a Jewish historian in Munich. He is a cross-border commuter and always has other religious communities in mind. Most recently he published: "Tacheles", a rather political book. But also in it: many aspects to religious questions.

(imago / Rob Engelaar / Hollandse Hoogte)

Andreas Main: We don't want to talk about books, but about God and Corona, about soul and worry in times of pandemics. And above all, ask whether belief in God can help in a pandemic. You are interested in theology, but first of all a historian. Therefore, at the beginning, the historical question for you: How do you rate the reactions of the religious communities today compared to reactions to pandemics in the past?

Michael Wolffsohn: Astonishingly, the religion of the present, the institutionalized religion of the present, hardly differs from the past, if I see it correctly. One has mostly acted with quotations from the Bible or other pious quotes, but not asked the basic questions of being, namely: Is something like this God's will? I'm not talking about God's punishment at all. So: Quoting less and reflecting more, that would actually have been my request. And that would also be necessary in the modern age.

State-supporting tradition

Main: Let's stay with the mainstream, the middle of the religious communities in this country, regardless of whether churches, rabbis or representatives of Islam: People have supported the state behind the measures that politics has developed with scientific support. Was there, so to speak, no alternative to this reaction of the religious communities?

Wolffsohn: It is impeccable in terms of the philosophy of religion and the history of religion. I am now leaving the Muslim community aside, because the basic orientation of the Muslim community is based on the identity of religion and state - that is, the traditional ummah that the Prophet Mohammed founded at the time. But in terms of Judaism and Christianity, that's tradition.

(imago images / Thomas Müller) Consequences of the corona crisis - What is really systemically relevant in our society
The corona crisis should be used as an opportunity to re-pose the question of systemic relevance, said sociologist Hartmut Rosa in the Dlf. He attested that the church was discouraged in the current debates.

I start with Christianity: "Give the emperor what is the emperor and God", so Matthew 22:23. And the mirror image of this in the Jewish tradition: "Dina de-malchuta dina". I translate freely: State law applies. In this respect, the Christian and Jewish religious communities, and then the Muslims in the diaspora as well, adhered to this tradition.

"The elementary question: May human beings intervene in God's work?"

Main: And there was no alternative either?

Wolffsohn: That's the big question. And that was also controversial within religious circles. In the Jewish world I found few deviations in this regard in the Diaspora, in Israel they had a great many deviations, especially in the first phase.

One of the strongholds of Corona was Bnei Brak. Bnei Brak is an Orthodox settlement. No, that's the wrong word. A religious, strongly Orthodox city near Tel Aviv. And then people said: If God wants to overcome the pandemic, then He will see to it; and the state does not have to do that. And you have similar things in the Catholic world, for example, I am thinking of the Afra community in Berlin: And there, too, there was very demonstrative ...

Main: A catholic community.

Wolffsohn: ... the service. A Catholic community in Berlin, quasi fundamentalist, say some. Anyway, they said: If it is God's will that we have the pandemic - I now translate freely - then we can only pray that it will stop and God will see to it. And there we come to the elementary question, namely: what can a person do, what can a person do? May man intervene in God's work or not? At least that is a question that believers always ask themselves.

"Nothing theological has actually come out of the religious institution"

Main: And that these questions were not asked, that there was a silence from the Church and theology, was lamented in mid-March. In April you said in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" that religions have to contribute something in the sense of creating meaning, and you have just repeated that. How can it be that there was so little? What's the explanation?

Wolffsohn: I cannot answer that question; you have to ask the respective clergy. I can only give a few examples - all well-intentioned, but ultimately ignoring the needs of the people: the Pope held a prayer in Rome, so to speak, in a one-man performance - very impressive, visually also wonderfully staged. He went through the deserted city and prayed. Yes that's right. But why do you pray? Does pray, reflect? Prayer alone is too much of an appeal. That is, so to speak, the quotation of the ritual - and you can no longer reach people with it.

Pope Francis celebrated Easter mass in an almost deserted St. Peter's Basilica (AFP PHOTO / VATICAN MEDIA)

Also in the orthodox Jewish world - in liberal Judaism there was this discussion as well - but nothing theological actually came from the religious institution, regardless of whether it was Jewish, Christian or Muslim, but more virological. And that should be done by the virologists.

Brokenness as the strength of religion

Main: But now we are all fixated on the material. Hardly any of us can look like that. We follow the podcasts of the virologists, we concentrate on the physical. So soul and worry have gotten a little under the wheels.

Wolffsohn: Yes, but you just have to see the unity. We currently live - and I also say this self-critically in relation to myself - under the virological imperative. But humans are not only made up of antivirology, humans do not live on bread alone. So let's apply this biblical saying to the pandemic situation! Life cannot be limited to our survival. There is a lot more to life. And it cannot be the one-dimensional fixation on what is virologically right or wrong.

(imago images / epd / Jens Schulze) The Church in the Corona Crisis - "I saw a wonderful Holy Anarchy"
There is strong criticism of the churches in the Corona crisis: They have failed, are discouraged and irrelevant. The Protestant theologian Thomas Hirsch-Hüffel holds against it.

And certainly not because the specialists, i.e. the virologists, disagree with one another. This is nothing new in science at all, it belongs to science: A says A and B says B - and then maybe it develops into the correct C. But you only know that afterwards. And that is what we are now experiencing: We are in a total experimental situation. And religion can contribute a great deal here, especially in its brokenness and especially, for example, in relation to the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.

So, New Testament: Why is God, God's Son Jesus crucified, passed out on the cross? We're passed out now, too, despite the science. These are questions that can be derived and traced back from religion to virology and from virology to religion.

Main: And even most virologists would possibly sign that?

Wolffsohn: I do not know that. I think they're so fixated. Chronologically speaking, I'm a '68, and in my day there was a lot of talk of "technical idiots". That can be interpreted in a friendly and a less friendly way. The specialist is a specialist and not a generalist. And maybe there are some generalists among virologists as well.

Christianity minus the crucifixion

Main: Now let's really look ahead. You have already indicated: What help can arise in your eyes from religion, from religions?

Wolffsohn: I would make a difference. So, as a Jew, I say this very consciously, not critically, but descriptively: The consoling religion is of course Christianity, if we take the Gospels - minus the crucifixion, which also poses the basic question of human existence as to why. Why is this great man Jesus - whether spoken in faith or not - crucified and survive the villains? In the Old Testament you always have the angry God, the loving God, the merciful God in this refraction.

The crucifixion of Christ poses the question of God's will (imago stock & people)

And we are now experiencing the broken, but in public reflection a one-dimensional rule of behavior is recommended to us, so to speak. Yes, not even in the sense of the suppression of freedom, everything is well meant, but I lack the reflection of the concrete situation in relation to the general being. Say: How is that possible? Although we know so much, we are addicted to a mini-mini-mini virus around the world right now. Those are elementary questions!

"Religion is responsible for the soul"

Main: How is that possible? What answer would arise from a Jewish perspective?

Wolffsohn: From the Jewish perspective, that is the difficult and at the same time fascinating thing about Judaism, there is no definitive answer. When the rabbinical sages, to make this clear with an example, the rabbinical sages, i.e. the Talmud founders, had controversial discussions and got to the origin of existence and then ultimately said: That God allows this is unheard of ! And then a voice sounds, a heavenly voice, they say, and it then says to these rabbinical sages: It is not up to you to decide, but to God.

The insight that, despite our much knowledge, we don't know so much. And that means in turn: We should not concentrate on one-dimensionality, but on multi-dimensionality, because we also need the soul. And religion is more responsible for the soul than virology and politics.

"Religion is not an executive body of politics"

Main: To what extent do you, as a Jew, see consolation potential in a situation like the current pandemic situation in Christianity?

Wolffsohn: Just as little as in Judaism. Christianity is a wonderfully comforting religion for everyday life if you stick to what Jesus preached above all. But it is also no consolation when you consider the end - that is, the crucifixion.

And we as human beings have to come to terms with the fact that our existence is constantly in danger. And we have often forgotten that, we suppress death. And in this respect it would have been a great opportunity for the institutionalized religions - it still exists - to lead us back to this thought.

(Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg / Britt Schilling) Theology and Corona - Prudent through the crisis of faith
Modern theology must be subordinate to scientific knowledge. Nevertheless, the Catholic theologian Magnus Striet said in the Dlf: "I do believe that it helps to fix oneself in God in the end."

Not in the sense of grumpiness or the constant appeal "Remember our mortality!", But in this sense: "Beyond enjoyment, joy of life, which is something wonderful - life is beautiful - you must always ask: How Am I living today, if I am possibly already dead tomorrow? And if I am dead, what then? Is it just nothing? Do I come to God or do I not come to him? Does he exist? "

So to ask these questions of being beyond the questions of pleasure, that is the task of religion; and not, executive body and also supplier of ideologies of the respective politics.

Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.