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The Demonstrative: Culture and Religion


From: Christ in der Gegenwart, 23/2010, P. 251 et sequ.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    Islam is probably the biggest challenge for the future of our society and culture - and Christianity.


The Higher Administrative Court of Berlin-Brandenburg has ruled that a student has no legal right outside religious education to pray openly in school or on school grounds. The verdict of a lower court of last September is thus repealed. It allowed a sixteen year old Muslim to say his ritual prayer without interruption in the school environment. The student had taken legal action against the headship of his school, which wanted to forbid him the ritual activity. The youngster had some day begun together with like-minded pupils to spread out his jacket as a prayer mat in the corridor, and - turned towards Mecca - to fulfill on it his religious duty. In the meantime, the school placed a computer room to the boy's disposal. However, the person in question is supposed to have made use of this offer only about a dozen times. This fostered the suspicion that Yunus M. - that's his name - wanted to misuse the prayer for a demonstrative act. This would jeopardize the peace at school. The prayer would thus get a "politically advertising character." In the conflict, ideological neutrality, undisturbed lessons, and the parental rights of others [negative religious freedom] had to be valued higher than [positive] freedom of religion. In addition, with the large number of students from different nations, cultures and religions, it would even be impossible for a school to allow everybody the appropriate ritual activity.

The Higher Administrative Court has now adopted this view. It was seemingly also of importance that Islam indeed allows flexibly exceptions. For example, the five compulsory prayers can daily be said together. By referring to the "authoritative sources of Islam", the renowned Islamic scholar Tilman Nagel in Göttingen even ascertained that the five prayers are "not at all absolutely binding". "Plausible reasons" would be sufficient to be freed of them. Moreover, disputes between Muslim youths about whether someone who does not pray is still orthodox at all are supposed to have already taken place. Thus,Yunus M's prayer campaign was indeed meant as provocation and had the corresponding effect. However, the Higher Administrative Court has allowed the appeal at the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig.


School Prayer of Yunus M.

The opinions about the verdict differ. The Badische Zeitung says the prayer ban was "disproportionate". It was "factually and legally wrong". The Court had e.g. not proved "that the prayers of the student have led to tangible disputes". Even if there had been conflicts - from wearing of headscarves up to fasting, "Why should the student permit that all this is attributed to him? He wants only to pray. The German Basic Law is indeed sympathetic towards the religions. The neutrality of the state requires only equal treatment. It is simply wrong that religion had no place in public." The "Frankfurter Allgemeine "on the other hand assumes that the student had still other intentions. "This is about much more than individual freedom of religion."

From a "neutral" Swiss perspective, the "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" notices a dilemma. In the population the current verdict will indeed meet with far more approval than the prayer permission of the lower court, bacause the public was "extremely skeptical, as far as the establishment of separate prayer rooms in schools is concerned." But in practice "enormous confusion" now nevertheless prevails.

Of course, the verdict has especially repercussions on Christianity. In fact, with it claims of the churches are repudiated that within the context of the state's education mandate the personal belief must be treated with respect and get encouraging recognition. The defeat of the young Muslim is as much a defeat of the Christian presence in public places. However, also the Christians who take their Christian faith not seriously are to blame for the supression and privatization of religion. The will of Muslims to live their faith no longer in the back yard but before the eyes of all people, and to bear thus witness to God's presence in a society that has out and out become secular, religiously detached, and indifferent with regard to Christianity is without doubt connected with the Berlin events. It is, of course, also a demonstration of power and dominance, a strong self-expression, when members of a social minority in this way symbolically proclaim that there are still other goals in life for them than money, career, consumption, and having fun. This gives cause for soul-searching: How does it affect us? What are its effects in a culture that does no longer want to be a Christian culture, or as a Christian culture has withdrawn from many public fields?

Religion and culture cannot abstain from demonstrative elements if they want to maintain their position. At the same time, one has of course to be mindful of a healthy balance, and triumphalism is out of place. This is already subtly dissected and criticized in the Bible, for example in the Gospel of Luke in the story of the publican and Pharisee in the temple, "The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, "I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like everyone else, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get." The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." This man, I tell you, went home again justified; the other did not. For everyone who raises himself up will be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be raised up." Is the parable also relevant to the situation in the Federal Republic? Then you would need to ask, where are the Christian 'tax collectors' who set out to say their prayer of sinfulness?


Islamic Self-assurance

In fact, in the general perception Islam makes itself the centre of attention. It is increasingly calling for considerateness, e.g. at school, at work, even with regard to holiday regulations. The fasting month of Ramadan is as a cultural event meanwhile present on all media channels in the "Christian West", whereas the Christian Lent, despite all attempts at resuscitation, has a very poor appearance in public. According to the self-conception of its foundation, Islam is entitled to encompass, beyond the religious area, the entire social and thus the political life. The Umma, the collective cannot be separated into "public" and "private", "universal" and "merely personal".



Religion is politics; and politics is religion. Without betraying itself, Islam can never share the Western viewpoint that the two spheres can be separated. In the course of migration and the spread of Muslim lifestyles, the West is confronted with this conviction. This causes uncertainty among the Germans and strengthens in turn the Islamic self-assurance and the awareness of its power.


The Burka of Sexuality

The sense of superiority is also expressed in the self-esteem of Islamic women and girls who deliberately and voluntarily dress differently from the people around them. They deliberately wear the veil or cover themselves even more in order to demonstrate that they are better than the Western "guiding culture", which in their eyes is contemptible, lascivious, libertine, morally decadent and incapable of self-defence; a culture that does no longer guide but accepts the mental, spiritual decline. This is possibly not our point of view of the facts, but it is, even if we do not like it, a widespread belief among devout Muslims, which triggers a history of impact - with interactions. It is not without reason that the deliberately different Islamic dress code is perceived as threatening by the local population. It is not by chance that in Belgium, France, Switzerland and elsewhere measures are discussed how it was possible to ban legally e.g. the burqa or other forms of veiling the entire body, even if up to now only minorities are commited to it, among them admittedly highly educated women, scientists, doctors, etc.

It is also of little help if we find out that some Islamic veiling regulation dates from a later Islamic period. True, it stands for an archaic image of masculinity, according to which the male is seen as a potential subjugator and rapist who has nothing else in mind than to make women to submit to his wishes. That's why, of course, especially the male with his honour and his claim of ownership must be protected, so that his women continue to be his women and are not desired or even seduced by other males. As a consequence, the woman must get as unattractive and sexless as possible, in order to hide her charms. Thus, not the woman is at issue but the man, when Muslimas veil themselves.

In a reversal of the usual perspective, it might therefore be said that Islam - especially that of Arab stamp - is anything but prudish or hostile to sexuality. On the contrary, there is nowhere as much archaic, atavistic thought on sex as where people must constantly smell danger that they lose their sexual possession, merely by the glance of alien males. From the nomadic period Islam has preserved a male pride of ownership [Besitztumsdenken] that appears to be sexually almost neurotic. In such an expression of religion and culture the male is the leading figure of sexuality, with all facets of sexuality, ranging from beguiling beauty over its dangerous nature up to the abyss of fear of loss. The male, however, is the pivot of desire. One need only read, beyond political correctness and whitewashing, the relevant passages in the Qur'an and in the so-called tradition of Mohammed's statements [hadith]. The fact that four wives and an unlimited number of slaves are granted the husband for his enjoyment speaks volumes. And that Muhammad as so-called "prophet" and as the voice of God is even privileged in a most sacred form by God as the only human being to possess far more women, as many as he wants, says much more about the conception of the man than of the woman within Islam.

By contrast, on the basis of the Judeo-Christian monotheism in our Western culture monogamy, and - associated with it - an enlightened personalism has become generally accepted. In this horizon, the Islamic urge of veiling women is clearly seen as what it is: the symbolism of the male sexual claim of ownership, anyhow, the opposite of personal partnership and equality. This does not mean that the West's sexual morals - because of their Christian stamp - were better. Also in the Christian context up to the highest ecclesiastical magisterium, we had our immorality and lack of culture in this field: marriage and concubinage and other extra-marital affairs from medieval feudalism over the Renaissance family clans up to our days, where every citizen is allowed post-feudalistically to enjoy sexually the democratized "privileges" of the former aristocracy. Nevertheless, this remains: we do not want to give up the personalism of the Enlightenment which Islam does not know. We want that every man can meet every woman face to face and every woman every man, in partnership, in an equal responsibility. This is the core of the aversion to Islamic veiling of women. The insistence on openness in public - if necessary by law and under threat of punishment - that is our secular-liberal and sacred-Christian demonstration in support of the view that human beings are persons, and thus for a culture of equality.


Corpus Christi without Public

Also in the religious field, one should recognize, understood and accept the challenge by Islam: as a religion to appear in public. Yes, it is a provocation for society in which Christianity is almost no longer visible in public. Quite without any coercion the faith in the Saviour Jesus Christ has degenerated into a vestry-Christianity. Even the senior officials of the Church's institutions are seldom perceived still as religious authorities, as experts in matters of faith and as men and women of God. Except for special interest-channels where divine services are broadcasted, they rather make almost exclusively an appearance as advocates for social justice or as general life counsellors, as preachers of vague values - even at Solemnities. In fact, the Christian Churches do no longer produce a ritual-liturgical publicity, apart from the rare exceptions of the church congresses or at Corpus Christi. However, people see this festival, which once by its real demonstrative character brought the mystery of faith onto the streets and public places in the world, at best still as a folkloric relic, which is often somewhat amused taken note of. Moreover, some Corpus Christi celebrations are performed almost in secret, in demarcated areas, parks, on church grounds. Corpus Christi together with the remains of the procession are partly deferred to the following Sunday, and so not even everyday life is interrupted, whereas just this is the meaning of worship, religion, prayer: for God's sake and his presence to interrupt the ordinary, familiar, customary life. God bursts into the routine of the world. Could it be that Islam is now miles ahead of us - and that we for good reason must be worried about the things that are lost for our society and culture?

We are allegedly defending our freedom at the Hindu Kush where we and our soldiers have certainly no business in a foreign culture, whereas the inhabitants of that distant region of the world rebel against the foreign forces whom they perceive as occupiers. No, our freedom, our culture, our democracy and our conviction that we have a good, perhaps even better religion, we have to defend here in our country - not militarily but spiritually. Truth only convinces by reasoning - through the common medium of the spirit. And spirit rather means practice than theory, first and foremost the religious practice.


Afghanistan or Germany?

The political scientist Heinz Theisen who teaches at the Catholic University of Applied Sciences in Cologne wrote in a very remarkable contribution worthy of discussion in the by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung published journal "Die politische Meinung" (May), "The time has come to orientate the strategies of the West towards a greater self-limitation outwards and towards more self-assertion inwards." Theisen sees a great contradiction in the fact that we give outwards universalist goals and want to bless the world with our views of liberalism and democracy, wheras we inwards let things slide and meanwhile indulge in a relativism that makes everything somehow arbitrary and equally valid. But "neither cultural relativism nor the political universalism are suitable for the return of cultures. Europe's cultural relativism does not help with the integration of immigrants and not with the search for the new role of the West in the multicultural world. It takes neither our own values nor those of other cultures seriously. It regards also their values as relative; they can anytime be integrated, manipulated and changed. But the more the processes of globalization form a world civilization, the more the different cultures insist on their own value. Cultures are not equal and do not want to be so."

This insight has implications for the question of how people of different cultures can live together within a small geographic area, within a state. Theisen advocates coexistence. One should not overtax each other with too many commonalities but agree on a certain minimum of reciprocities. These include tolerance, religious freedom and freedom of expression, social rights and obligations. In matters of religion and its truth claims, there can therefore be no real understanding and no real interreligious dialogue. One should confine oneself to inter-cultural dialogue. The political scientist mentioned as an example the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years War. At that time the parties involved refrained from forcing their religious truth on others and accepted instead the coexistence of the denominations. That is, integration at best as coexistence of cultures.


Coexistence or Inculturation?

This, however, raises questions. Already the comparison with the Peace of Westphalia is misleading, since Catholics and Protestants did not come from different cultures but from the same Christian and Western culture. There were also not different denominations within one territorial dominion. On the contrary, the country was divided according to the denominational orientation of the territorial lords, who went politically separate ways. This, however, cannot be the way of a modern state. Much more than mere co-existence and integration is probably necessary; what is needed is real inculturation. But how is this possible, on the one hand with regard to Islam, which has its own ideas of presence, and on the other hand with regard to a Christianity that has become weak both in its social reality and spiritual power? Which "one" culture could emerge, into which all had to inculturate themselves? Or will the war of cultures, the clash of civilizations happen, at the latest when a rising culture like Islam wants more than coexistence - namely dominance? Or will the exact opposite happen, i.e. the Western model of freedom and liberality has such a fascination for young Muslims and Muslimas that they, too, will also distance themselves from their traditional religious heritage and assimilate to secularism? Finally, will also Islam sooner or later reach that demythologization and emancipation from magical ideas, which causes a lot of trouble to a Christianity that is not ready to make the necessary reforms?

All this is open. History is never what people expect or want. Imploring appeals do not make history. History simply happens. We can influence it but not unrestrictedly. History is a process, a game with many unknowns. But if we allow that the Christian religion also becomes increasingly the great unknown, even the Christian facades and last Sunday speeches will no longer help us. The fate of Christianity will determine the fate of our culture and of our descendants. This does not mean fatalism. It requires rather deliberate information - also about our duty to defend and, by reforming, to develop truly the things to which we and our ancestors once religiously and culturally attached great value. In addition, faith means that the faithful appear in public, that they bear witness of the things that they hope for, and love the One on whom they have founded their life.


Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'