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Albert Keller SJ

Intellectual Discussion or Tolerance?


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 4/2007, 217f.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


In November 2006 the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) published the writing "Clarity and good Neighbourhood", in which the differences between Islam and Christianity are pointed out. In it the representatives of Muslim federations saw Islam disparaged and thereupon cancelled a meeting planned with the EKD's chairman Bishop Wolfgang Huber. This shows that the readiness for dialogue between world views must not be equated with the readiness for controversy. The expression "false peace" can be understood also as hint that the intellectual discussion is more demanding than sleepy or patronizing disinterestedness, particularly when the debate is about ideological or religious topics. We gladly avoid this trouble.

It has been said that one of the assassins steering the airplane into one of the two twin towers in New York had for many years inconspicuously lived as a student in Hamburg. This does not at all surprise, if one considers what is usual in our society: Probably none of his fellow students or co-inhabitants got the idea he should talk with him about his religious conviction. Obviously the courtesy rule holds good: One can talk to another person - independently whether he is German or a foreigner - about everything: about sports and politics, sex practices or healthy food, except one thing: i.e. world view and religion.

One has certainly to contradict with the utmost vigour the wrong and dangerous equation of Islam and fanaticism or terrorism. Nevertheless that must not cloud our judgement that terrorism and excesses against persons of different faith have very much to do with religion - be it only with its completely misinterpreted form, which manifests itself as fanaticism. "Fanaticism" is deduced from Latin, "fanum", which means sanctuary. If something is really sacred to somebody, it will be regarded by him/her as highest absolute value, and s/he is ready to sacrifice for it everything else and to stop at nothing, even to sacrifice her/his own life. Certainly religion is here understood in a broad sense. It then means the attitude which regards a certain aim in the world as absolute value in contrast to which everything else is secondary and if necessary to be eliminated or exterminated. In this sense there were fanatical Nazis just as fanatical communists or nationalists; also fanatical capitalists could be shown, who are ready to stop at nothing for their profits.

Unfortunately there are in many religions in the strict sense time and again examples of such fanaticism that despises human beings - Christianity itself supplies in its history deplorable examples of it, even if they all are to be attributed to the fact



that the fundamental request of the Christian faith was not understood according to which only man is to be regarded as "holy", i.e. as highest value in this world. Jesus' word: "The Sabbath is there for man" (Mk 2.27), at any rate proves that for Jesus man also ranks above religious values.
In our secularized society we are so much weaned of a religious view that we can hardly put ourselves in the thinking of fundamentalist Islamic assassins. But that makes any serious argument with them more difficult, and us baffled opposite this phenomenon.

From the German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte comes the sentence: "Who is able to force someone who is willing to die?" Who is ready to sacrifice his life cannot be frightened by any death threat. Here lies a decisive reason for the helplessness of the western world against fanatical assassins ready to die: Who threatens them with war or rockets cannot impress them. For the worst that could happen to them would be that they were killed. But just that apparently is accepted by those fanatics, particularly since according to their belief such a death is only the transition to a better paradisiacal life. Therefore with them all threats fall on deaf ears. But only by killing people one cannot remove the ideas determining their actions. We often underestimate the importance of the mind - also in the sphere of power politics, although history could set us right. The use of technical and military means, also of money no matter how much it is, is not enough as long as we shy the mental argument and do not try to fight inhuman mentalities and to correct them.

True tolerance allows any man to represent his own way of life and world view. It will never agree to violence that wants to force others to give up their conviction. But on the other hand it will by no means approve of all views held by others. Just when I do care about the other person I must try not to let it simply stick at its opinion, if this is dangerous for its fellow men or for itself. I should rather consider it worthy to discuss with it and to attempt to put it right.

Inhumanities and injustices are - just when others have to suffer from them - by no means to be idly accepted "for the sake of peace and quiet". Who does not give free rein to them, makes enemies. But he will - when he is orientated toward Christianity - not spitefully fight them. His indignation will concentrate on the injustice - not on those who commit it. Only who endeavours to obey Christ's certainly not easy commandment: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you" (Mt 5.44), can find a way that leads to a true, engaged peace and to true tolerance, and it alone will in the end take away the ground for any terrorism.


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