What can be done to eradicate religion?

"The Dark Backside of Religions"

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Religions / Archive | Article from November 10, 2012

Theologian on religions and their relationship to violence

Hermann Häring in conversation with Philipp Gessler

Thousands of Buddhists took to the streets against the Muslim Rohingya minority in September 2012. (picture alliance / dpa / Man Thar Lay)

At the moment when religions gain political power, the primacy of non-violence can often not be maintained, says retired theology professor Hermann Häring. This can be seen, for example, in the expulsion of Muslims by Buddhists in Burma.

Ralf at the ladle: In 2011, the rule of the military in the Southeast Asian state of Burma ended. And as so often after the end of such dictatorships, long suppressed battles broke out between different ethnic groups and religious communities. In the past few days and weeks there have been repeated reports that the Muslim minority of Burma is being driven out by the Buddhist majority. Many people find it difficult to believe that Buddhism, which is perceived by many as a peace-loving religion, should have such a violent side. On this occasion, my colleague Philipp Gessler spoke to the professor emeritus for philosophy of science and theology Hermann Häring before the broadcast and first wanted to know from the Tübingen scholar whether we now need to revise our image of Buddhism.

Hermann Haring: Yes and no. I think we just have to see Buddhism in its political reality. As a rule, we experience Buddhism as a religion, as a vanishing point for dropouts who take refuge there in meditations who have just got to know the idea of ​​non-violence, of withdrawing in Buddhism, of compassion, but not exactly the question: How is it realized Buddhism now, for example, in a culture when political powers are of Buddhist origin? Then, of course, things get very sober.

Philipp Gessler: Especially Buddhism - because you speak of sobriety - from the founding period, i.e. from the fifth century BC, appears to be a very non-violent religion. According to some traditions from this period, Buddhist believers are forbidden to kill an attacker even if their own lives are in danger. Buddhism today seems to be quite a long way from this radical peacefulness, doesn't it?

Haring: Yeah, I think it's a lot like the history of Christianity. It all started that way with Jesus Christ - the herald of absolute nonviolence, who would rather let himself be killed than use violence. The early monastic ascetic movements in Christianity also proclaimed absolute non-violence. And that is quite comparable. But the same thing has happened in both religions: the moment such a religion gains cultural influence, becomes political power, becomes institutionalized, it naturally has to deal with the realities of the world.

And then exactly the same thing started in both religions, which was realized, for example: If I have to protect someone else, I may have to use violence or kill. If I have an entire culture to defend as a ruler, then I have to grapple with the possibilities or necessities of war. This does not prevent groups in both religions from secreting themselves who now live monastic, who say we separate ourselves from the violence of the world and live our ideal of non-violence. There is just as much and just as intense in Buddhism today as in Christianity.

Gessler: Is it then primarily the circumstances that make one religion more prone to violence than another, or are some religions simply more prone to violence than others, for example because of their respective holy scriptures?

Haring: I think there is a graduation, but it is not that good in terms of quality. All of the major religions that we use the term world religions to describe today - well, I am now mentioning Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism - all have a decidedly non-violent position.

It becomes more differentiated when you ask the question: What exceptions are there? Where does self-defense begin, so to speak? In what sense and to what extent do I include the animals' right to life? There is no doubt that Buddhism is further ahead than we are in Western religions. But I think there is another point that is much more important: religion always comes into action, so to speak, where it is about borderline experience, suffering, misery, accidents, where something is not right. That is, there is an internal affinity for violence in the sense of dealing with violence in every religion. Otherwise it could not be culturally effective at all.

And there, I think, it's like in homeopathy: the moment I deal with violence and want to overcome violence, I think about how far I let myself be affected, infected, by violence. How much hate energy do I take on myself in counter-hatred? How much violence do I use to curb other violence? So it's not so much the positive affinity of violence, it's more the fact that every religion feels called to the scene at the moment when people can no longer cope with violence.

Gessler: It is interesting that the Egyptologist Jan Assmann put forward the thesis as early as 1998 that the major monotheistic religions, i.e. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are particularly prone to violence. The reason: Belief in the one God carries within itself the dualism of true and false, but this inevitably leads to intolerance, at least against other gods, but definitely against polytheism. What do you think of Assmann's thesis?

Haring: I believe that the thesis should be taken very seriously. I believe that especially for Christians, who of course resisted the thesis on a large scale at the time that it was true after all. You just have to see: At the moment when religions become world religions, let me put it a bit simplified - in the famous Axial Age, as Karl Jaspers called it - at the moment when you don't just ask the question Who is for me and against me, from people to people, but says, God is the creator of the world, all people are subject to the one God, the question of truth naturally arises.

Then, for example, hatred, rejection and the use of violence not only become an action against my neighbors, but against all who do not follow my faith. Then hatred, superstition, disbelief, heresy, intolerance, all these words that come then all get a universal dimension. And that is a very dangerous story. And this can be made clear in the history of Christianity: Why did one have to go to Israel in the Crusades? That would have been unnecessary. Only because it was said that we have to save the truth of the whole world, so to speak, not just the truth of the West.

Gessler: You once wrote: "Apart from Stalinism and fascism, there is probably no second group of institutions in the history of mankind that has triggered or legitimized so much intolerance and intolerance, so much righteousness and belligerence, so much fanaticism and destructive zeal like the monotheistic religions Christianity and Islam. " Quote end. Are these two religions particularly prone to violence because they are so dynamic, proselytizing, and growing religions?

Haring: Yes, I think one should actually include Judaism in terms of structure, but that is not so important because Judaism always belonged to the minority well into the 20th century. But these are the two great religions that have set themselves the task of changing the world, improving the world, actively shaping the world, and who do so with the universal claim to truth - and which have not seen the limit, so to speak, for a long time, which when I said in the name of exercising true God's power, I am on the right side. That is a very great burden for these two religions, and this exercise of violence has had an indirect, secularized effect up to the present day, keyword imperialism, what are Western powers actually doing in Asia and such questions, all of which still live from this impulse : We have to look for the truth and the law in the whole world by striking brutally if necessary.

Gessler: In view of the situation you are describing, how can one tame the destructive dynamics of religions, especially monotheistic religions, and strengthen their peaceful passages, which exist in all three religions?

Haring: I think we are on the right track, simply because, for example, Christianity is no longer the dominant religion in our culture and Islam will not remain the dominant religion in their culture forever. We are forced to go back to the origins, and we are now discovering, so to speak, the bottom and the downside, the message of Jesus, which is more important than what medieval theologians made of it - that resistance to violence can basically only come about through non-violence, so the paradox that is in the great religions.

Incidentally, this is a big topic that Hans Küng takes up in his "Global Ethic" project by looking for this paradoxical truth - truth in peace, truth in non-violence, truth in the fact that we fight together for justice - that he has this political potential wants to raise consciousness again in all world religions, so that everywhere people stand up again and say: people, truth does not happen when we hit it and ensure truth, on the contrary: truth happens when we see our own problem self-critically. If you want to put it more religiously, more piously: Each of the religions also speaks of conversion, and conversion always means first discovering the limits, the errors, the misunderstandings of your own convictions and becoming aware of them before we go out with the claim, so to speak we can be the angels of peace in the world.

Gessler: It seems that, not only in Judaism and Islam, but also in Christianity, fundamentalist movements have recently had more and more influence in their respective religions. Does this mean that there is a growing danger that these religions will become even more violent in the future?

Haring: Yes, in any case, within the individual religions ... and the dispute and the dispute about where may violence start and where does it stop, what are the potentials for violence, are getting sharper. Fundamentalists are people who no longer see any orientation, who think that they can only get ahead by saying: That is true and that is true, there is no longer any discussion and whoever does not follow me must be exterminated. That is the great danger, that is, so to speak, the dark backside of religions. To put it a bit global-pathetically: The better and the higher a religion is, the worse and more abysmal is its backside, and we have to uncover it, so to speak, always bring it up.

Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandradio does not adopt the statements of its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.

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