Do you believe in God?

By Mathias Maurer, June 2016

Sundays offer a special opportunity: a time for talking.

This was revealed once again recently as we – all different ages – were sitting round the breakfast table when the discussion turned quite lively: “Why do so many refugees come to us? Are they really persecuted because they have different beliefs? How can religions fight one another? Doesn’t make sense. If that is the case, religion is sh**! Do you believe in God?” ...

Being religious is a specific human aspect of life. People would miss something if it were not there. Confessions cover this need only to a limited extent – a look at the news makes that clear: religious wars, igniting in all corners of the earth, threaten human life and civilisation with destructive power.

The golden rule of practical ethics is a laudable one: “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you.” But religion is more than ethics. Religion extends into a supra-human sphere, to a level which lies higher than the beneficial coexistence established by reason which we know as a socially negotiable norm. Religiosity means seeing a divine spiritual element in the other person and acknowledging it.

This higher part of the human being is connected with something which extends beyond the individual person. With angels for example. Angels who do not allow us to sleep in peace while our fellow human beings are unhappy. Who cause us to reflect that the dignity of the human being is inviolable, even if human beings are in a position to do evil; who thus make us aware of the difference between the good core and the bad, indeed abhorrent deeds of human beings.

In contrast, the widespread view that human beings are fundamentally bad, that they have to be civilised, disciplined, educated and put under pressure through religion to turn to good, is repressive and denies the free core of human beings, their contradictoriness und their permanent transformative ability. Such an attitude denies freedom of thought and interreligious dialogue.

In our present time the affirmation of the free individual stands and falls with the affirmation of freedom of thought and religion. It is a matter for the individual, not a group. Discovering the divine is an individual experience, there is no way round that. And we can be led to such an experience by the divine spiritual in the other person for which we develop an active, loving interest.

Our discussion at breakfast ended in agreement that what we experience today as violent religion on the global political stage is the opposite of what true religiosity can be.


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