December 19, 2006

The Muslim faith is not a totalitarian dictatorship

I realise that this is old news if one is judging news simply by date. However, this is, in all its uglyness, still topical. No, let me rephrase this: This is still topical BECAUSE of its uglyness.

On October 31, in the town of Erfurt, the 73 year old Lutheran vicar Roland Weisselberg set himself on fire in the monastery where Martin Luther took his monastic vows in 1505. It was a public holiday, Reformationstag, in that German Protestants celebrate the Reformation. Weisselberg later died of his injuries.

In a farewell letter to his wife the vicar wrote that he was doing what he did to warn against the danger of the Islamisation of Europe.

During the past four years the vicar had frequently expressed his concern about the expansion of Islam, urging the Lutheran Church to take a principled stance regarding this issue.

The online edition of the newsmagazine DER SPIEGEL talked to Axel Noack, the Lutheran Bishop of Saxony. This is an excerpt. The original is German, the translation is, as usual, by me:
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Die letzten Worte von Pfarrer Weisselberg sollen "Jesus und Oskar" gewesen sein, in Anspielung an den Amtsbruder Oskar Brüsewitz. Der verbrannte sich 1976 aus Protest gegen das DDR-Regime - und aus Protest dagegen, dass er in seinem Kampf gegen den Kommunismus nicht genügend Unterstützung in der Kirche erfuhr. Ist die Kirche zu lax, wenn es darum geht, Widerstand gegen menschenverachtende politische oder religiöse Ideologien zu leisten?

Noack: Brüsewitz und Weisselberg kann man nicht vergleichen. Brüsewitz war während der Herrschaft des Kommunismus Verfolgter. Herr Weisselberg war nicht verfolgt. Der Glaube der Muslime ist keine totalitäre Diktatur.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Wird der Islam von der Kirche nicht als konkurrierende Religion gesehen, die das Christentum bedroht?

Noack: Natürlich ist es eine konkurrierende Religion. Wir haben als Christen ja auch einen klaren Wahrheitsanspruch. Doch gleichzeitig gilt es, tolerant zu sein. Tolerieren kann ich jedoch nur, was ich für falsch halte, sonst wäre es keine Toleranz. Wir wollen andere überzeugen, doch niemals mit Gewalt. Auch nicht mit Gewalt gegen den eigenen Körper.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Sie verurteilen die Tat Weisselbergs?

Noack: Die Tat Weisselbergs verurteile ich, den Menschen Roland Weisselberg dagegen nicht. Wir müssen uns fragen, warum es niemand gab, an den er sich hätte wenden können.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Der Pfarrer Dietrich Bonhoeffer wurde wegen der Unterstützung der Widerständler des 20. Juli 1944 von den Nazis hingerichtet. Ist diese Tradition der Standfestigkeit heute im Denken und Handeln der Kirche stark genug präsent? Hat sie Widerstandspotential?

Noack: Bonhoeffer ist in der Kirche umstritten. Er kann nicht für jedermann als Vorbild dienen, denn die meisten Menschen haben nicht das Zeug zum Helden. Die Forderung, man müsse Bonhoeffer nachfolgen, ist eine Überforderung. Wer zu gut von den Menschen denkt und zuviel verlangt, wird grausam gegen sie. Die Haltung "Wehret den Anfängen" muss allerdings ganz entschieden gegen Gewalt und Terrorismus eingenommen werden. Andererseits darf man auch nicht vergessen: Der Krieg im Irak war der Popularität westlicher Werte nicht zuträglich.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Vicar Weisselberg's last words are said to have been "Jesus und Oskar", refering to his colleague Oskar Brüsewitz, who set himself on fire in 1976, protesting against the GDR-regime -- and to protest the fact that he didn't get enough support from the church in his fight against Communism. Is the church too lenient when it comes to resist inhuman political and religious ideologies?

Noack: One can't compare Brüsewitz and Weisselberg. Brüsewitz was persecuted during the reign of Communism. Herr Weisselberg was not persecuted. The Muslim faith is not a totalitarian dictatorship.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does the church not see Islam as a competing religion gesehen, which threatens Christendom?

Noack: Of course it is a competing religion. We, as Christians, have a definite claim to truth as well. But however, one has to be tolerant. But I can only tolerate what I consider wrong, or it wouldn't be tolerance. We do want to convince others, but never by force. Not even by force against one's own body.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You decry what Weisselberg did?

Noack: I decry the deed, I do, however, not decry the person Roland Weisselberg. We will have to ask ourselves, why there has been nobody for him to turn to.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Vicar Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed because of his support for the members of the resistance group behind the July 20, 1944 events. Is such a tradition of steadfastness strong enough in the thoughts and deeds in today's church? Does the church have potential for resistance?

Noack: Bonhoeffer is a controversial figure within church circles. He can't serve as an example for everybody because most people are not made to be heroes. To ask to follow Bonhoeffer is asking too much. Think too highly of people means to be cruel towards them. To 'resist the first advances', however, must be decidedly done when it comes to violence and terrorism. On the other hand one shouldn't forget that the war in Iraq was adverse to the popularity of Western values.
This is so full of politically correct and relativist bullshit, that I'd ridicule it -- so to say out of habit -- until not a single letter would be left. But frankly, I'm too stunned for that. This is beyond ridicule. The good bishop has beaten me. If Christian bishops and their opinions can be taken as yardsticks for civilisatory standards, this society is demolishing itself.

Who was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the man who is not fit to be an example for others anymore? Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a theologian, spiritual writer, author of fiction and poetry and a central figure in the Christian resistance against the Nazis.

For Bonhoeffer, the foundation of ethical behaviour lay in how the reality of the world and the reality of God were reconciled in the reality of Christ. To him, ethics were centred on the concrete action by responsible men and women in the face of evil. He was sharply critical of ethical theory because of its failure to tackle evil head-on. Evil, he asserted, was concrete and specific, and it could be combated only by the actions of principled men and women. Thus, the adamant position Bonhoeffer took in his seminal work Ethics was directly reflected in his stance against Nazism. His early opposition turned into active resistance in 1940, which cost him his life.

In 2000 the Catholic Church published a 'roster of martyrs' for the German-speaking countries, in which the non-Catholic Dietrich Bonhoeffer is listed as well.

I am not quite sure yet, towards what kind of paragon for Christians the Protestant Bishop Noack is inclined. On that level, Michael Schumacher or Franz Beckenbauer come to mind.

Saint Dietrich Bonhoeffer pray for us. We need it.

"The ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, After Ten Years (December 1942)

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