Sunday, December 27, 2015

From Heaven Above

©Der Spiegel
This year too* Der Spiegel stuck to its tradition and published a religious-critical title story in the form of the classical dispute between a scientist and a theologian. While astrophysicist Ben Moore, Holder of the Albert-Einstein-Chair at Zürich's university, keeps attacking the stories told in the Bible pastor Johann Hinrich Claussen, lecturer at Hamburg's university, defends the Holy Book. However, he reduces the Bible to a mythical text containing symbolic truth in reading it literarily and existentially.
*Here is the link to 2014

Referring to the recent murders committed by fundamentalists Moore advocates a world without religion whereas Claussen defends religion for the reason that it forms communities. When he was told that there are communities without religion Claussen cracked: Well, many people form communities who do not believe. I do not think that a missing belief is a defect, I even would not go so far to say that unbelieving people are missing something. For me personally faith is the better way to understand myself and I know that many people think like me.

There is nothing new. Tolerant enlightened Christians are helpless "in their fight" against fundamentalists even in their own ranks. Religion is a very personal affair. Red Baron was not impressed by the discussion between Moore and Claussen but two words rang a bell: astrophysicist and Einstein.

When proposing eight books everybody should have read American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson had placed the Bible in first place: To learn that it's easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.

And Einstein? When in the late 1920ies a younger generation of physicists confronted Einstein with the irrational uncertainty in the subatomic world he wrote in a letter to Max Born: You believe in a God who plays dice, and I in complete law and order in a world which objectively exists ... Even the great initial success of the quantum theory does not make me believe in the fundamental dice game, although I am well aware that some of our younger colleagues interpret this as a consequence of senility.

Einstein, as a Jew, however did not believe in the personal punishing God of the Old Testament and definitely not in the loving God of Christians they address as Our Father. He wrote: The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naïve. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. Later he specified:

In taking up Einstein's words: How much can our science reveal? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Protestant theologian, imprisoned by the Nazis in 1943 and hanged in April 1945, wrote in one of his letters that was smuggled out of prison: If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed farther and farther back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. Although Bonhoeffer's statement turns out to be true creationist Paul A. Nelson argues that God may have left “gaps” in the natural order as his signature. These gaps — call them designed or created discontinuities — won’t go away, or be dissolved into strictly material or physical causes. The discontinuities exist, not because of the incompleteness of our scientific knowledge, but rather because they are real markers left in the world, indicating the handiwork of a divine intelligence.

Where are Nelson's "unexplorable gaps" or recesses where God still subsists and that science cannot reduce? Is the uncertainty in quantum mechanics one of His resorts where He does not throw dices? Has an enlightened humanity eventually reduced the interaction of the Christian fatherly God with His world to the scale of atoms and molecules only? During a discussion with a friend, a former physics colleague, he said: Maybe it is an interaction on the level of neutrinos and that would be very small indeed.

Here is another less speculative approach to the interaction of God with His world. In view of the wave of refugees overrunning Germany Eberhard Schockenhoff, professor of moral theology at Freiburg's university, wrote a Christmas editorial in the Badische Zeitung titled: Gott ist in der Not der Anderen (God is in the needs of others). It is remarkable how Schockenhoff as a Catholic throws fundamental principles of the Christian faith overboard when he writes: 

Gott zeigt dem Menschen sein innerstes Geheimnis nicht in Naturerlebnissen, nicht in einem heiligen Buch und nicht in einer gesetzlichen Ordnung, deren Befolgung Wohlergehen und Sicherheit verheißt. Wer Gott für den Menschen ist, offenbart er in der Geburt, im Leben und in der Botschaft eines Menschen, des Jesus von Nazareth. Seine Geburt im Stall zeigt uns den einzigen Ort, an dem Gott sich von jedem Menschen, ob gläubig oder zweifelnd, getauft oder ungetauft, fromm oder atheistisch, finden lässt: in der Not des Anderen.
Dieser Universalismus der Gottesbegegnung im Anderen bestimmt die Identität des Christentums.

(God does not show his inner mystery in the experience of nature, neither in a holy book, nor in a set of orders where compliance with will promise welfare and happiness. What God is for mankind He reveals in the birth, life, and message of one man, Jesus of Nazareth. His birth in a stable shows the only place where any human being believing or in doubt, baptized or heathen, pious or atheist will find God: in the needs of others.
This universalism of the encounter with God in others determines the identity of Christianity.)

And Schockenhoff closes his editorial referring to the current situation: When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34).

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.

Matthew 2:6.

Map of Israel with West Bank, Golan Heights,
and Gaza Strip (©Koret-Communication Ltd.)
When you travel in Israel as a Christian pilgrim you will notice that some of the historical sites are not in Israel but on Palestinian territories.

In fact, the territorial situation in the so-called West Bank is more complicated as stipulated in the so-called Oslo II Accord of 1995 between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Oslo II treaty defines three areas:

Area A is under full civil and security control by the Palestinian Authority. Entry to this area is forbidden to all Israeli citizens and punishable by Israeli law. From time to time, however, Israeli Defense Forces enter the area to arrest suspected Palestinian militants. Known places in Area A are Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarem, Ramallah, Jericho, 80 percent of Hebron, and notably Bethlehem. There are no Israeli settlements in Area A.

Area B is under Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control. In this area are some 440 Palestinian villages and their surrounding lands but again no Israeli settlements.

Area C, the rest, i.e., 63% of the West Bank, is under full Israeli civil and security control. It was supposed to be gradually handed over to the Palestinians. This did not happen. Area C comprises declared "state land", Israeli outposts, and settlements including annexed East Jerusalem and the western shore of the Dead Sea. The Israeli Government has started to "protect" most of these territories by a high wall against Palestinian intruders.

When our group on the road to Bethlehem approached the opening in the wall between Area C and A that is covered by an Israeli checkpoint our Jewish guide Jonathan left the bus while we were searching for our passports that the border guards however did not check when looking into our innocent faces.

Passing the wall
We continued to Jesus' birthplace looking from the bus window on our way at - what the Israelis euphemistically call - the West Bank barrier. Even at a great distance the wall arose strange feelings.

The West Bank barrier winding through the Judea countryside
All is well organized in Bethlehem. Palestinian policemen showed our driver (he naturally was a Palestinian) the way to a big parking garage that we found nearly empty. Were the recent knife attacks in Israel to blame for the absence of other tourists? In fact, last week I read in Der Spiegel that the US had recently stepped up their travel warning for the Holy Land to the highest level. Unemployed tourist guides and vendors of devotional objects are singing the blues: This coming Christmas in Bethlehem is sad and depressing.

We walked up Manger Street to Manger Square lined by the Omar Mosque on one side ...

... and the Church of Nativity on the other side.

Our Palestinian guide for Bethlehem was late so I started looking around. An old lady on walking sticks came out of what was marked Casa Nova, Franciscan House of Pilgrims. She smiled at me and - addressing me in a rusty German with an Austrian accent- told me that she had just passed 90. She belonged to the Franciscan sisterhood who guards together with her Franciscan brothers the Holy Site. Now she enjoys her retirement in talking to pilgrims and tourists alike.

Sister Blandine "Nordic walking" in Bethlehem
Suddenly our Palestinian guide arrived. While he was still apologizing for being late I noticed a noisy crowd approaching. They were mostly women talking Russian walking straight into the Church of Nativity. Our group followed and soon stood in line in front of the church entrance of a height of only 160 cm. I felt like a rich man for it is written: Sooner a camel would pass through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24).

Our Palestinian guide in front of the entrance like
Nevertheless I managed to enter the church although with difficulty regarding my passage as a penance. When I straightened up I found myself on a building site, the interior of the basilica being filled with noise and dust.

The Orthodox ladies were still in front of us moving slowly so we were blocked at the height of a table where a girl was selling candles. I bought a miserable one for 10 shekel and noticed that on the glued-on paper Bethlehem was written in Latin and in Cyrillic letters.

Although the Church of Nativity is under Franciscan control it is invaded by Orthodox Russians buying devotional objects en masse possibly for those they left behind. When I write behind I do not mean another group of Russian ladies following up.

Russian? icon with Our Lady and Child
Sandwiched between two cackling groups we continued to move on slowly taking a few steps downstairs. When our queue lazily wound around another corner I suddenly noticed the reason for our tardiness: A lady, iPhone in hand, was kneeling down to kiss a silver star ...

Not without my iPhone
... but not before she had put a one dollar bill into a nearby basket.

Every lady wanted to kneel, kiss Jesus' birthplace and donate her one dollar bill. I did not see any roubels, shekels, or euros only greenbacks, the US dollar being the key currency in Bethlehem. Where was my Christmas feeling? On our way out our Palestinian guide showed us ancient mosaics that however did not turn on any Christmas feelings either.

The mosaics are covered by wooden planks that are only opened by the guides
After having left the the Church of Nativity we paid a short visit to Bethlehem's Catholic parish church of St. Catherine of Alexandria ....

Statue of Saint Jerome meaning man with the holy name.
He died in Bethlehem in 420. Jerome is Doctor of the Church
 and patron saint of Freiburg's university.
... but we had to wait until mass had finished.

On our way back to the bus ...

... learning Arabic numbers

Following a frugal but delicious lunch of chickpeas at the Ein Karem campus of the Hadassah Medical Center we had to wait in front of the hospital's synagogue to see the stained glass windows created by Marc Chagall.

To our left there was the entrance to the Jean Goldwurm* Auditorium ...
*An American benefactor. The Institute for Pediatric Medicine was named after him.

... to our right Israeli stamps ordered in four rows and three columns, i. e., 180 stamps @ 100 shekel each presenting a value of more than U$ 4600. These stamps give only a "small" impression of those windows standing for Jacob's twelve sons, progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel.

When the man with the keys arrived and opened the door of the synagogue our group was blinded by those overhead jewels of translucent fire.

From left: Presenting Jacob's sons Judah, Zebulon, Issahar, and Dan
Chagall said about his windows: The thoughts [to make the certain light when reading the Bible obvious] have nested in me for many years, since the time when my feet walked on the Holy Land, when I prepared myself to create engravings of the Bible. They strengthened me and encouraged me to bring my modest gift to the Jewish people, that people that lived here thousands of years ago.

From left: Presenting Jacob's sons Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin

©Lifegate Rehabilitation
In a Bethlehem suburb our group visited a charitable organization founded by some Germans named Lifegate Rehabilitation. Lifegate offers "a gate to life" to people with disabilities in the West Bank. The movement is supported by official German charity organizations and private sponsors but not by the Palestinian Authorities. Fact is, that the Authorities do not invest in social programs due to the lack of money? In the beginning only Christian Arabs called on the services offered to disabled persons as there are Kindergarten, schooling, and handicraft workshops. In the meantime Lifegate is flooded with requests from Arabs of Islamic faith too. Several extensions to their premises were already built but there is still a lack of space and personnel to fulfill all the demands for help.

We visited Lifegate's installations and looked into the workshops where handicapped and mentally retarded men and women were producing goods that are in part offered for sale in an annexed shop.

They are sewing shirts for the Catholic Boy Scouts. Note the coat of arms of the patriarchy of Jerusalem depicted by the middle red cross. The smaller crosses represent the other four patriarchies of the primitive Christian church as there were Alexandria, Antiochia, Constantinople, and ... Rome.

Near the entrance to Lifegate the wall is decorated with a mosaic presenting a scene as described in John 5:1-9:

Soon another Feast came around and Jesus was back in Jerusalem. Near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there was a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda, with five alcoves. Hundreds of sick people—blind, crippled, paralyzed—were in these alcoves. One man had been an invalid there for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him stretched out by the pool and knew how long he had been there, he said, “Do you want to get well?”
The sick man said, “Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.”
Jesus said, “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off.

Suddenly I had the feeling of a Christmas at Bethlehem.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Bye, Bye Bocksbeutel

Red Baron was shocked when he read in the Badische Zeitung that the good old Bocksbeutel bottle will change shape. So far according to Wikipedia the Bocksbeutel is a type of wine bottle with the form of a flattened ellipsoid or in uncovering the original meaning: with the form of a billy goat's scrotum.

Traditional Bockbeutel bottle (©Wikipedia)
In Europe white wine is more and more bottled in bottles with screw caps. While traditional wine drinkers still swear by the traditional cork they are sometimes annoyingly confronted with a wine having a corky taste. The screw cap for white wine is a boon for vintners, wine merchants, sommeliers, and consumers. So when the Franconian vintners had to change the rim of the Bocksbeutel anyway why not change its form at the same time?

It was not an inhabitant of Franconia but Hamburg's star-designer Peter Schmidt who convinced the president of the Bavarian State Institute for Viticulture Hermann Kolesch to change the dotty image of the Bocksbeutel, a bottle being round, sedate, and a little dusty. Up to now Hamburgers were knowledgeable about the form of beer and certainly of rum bottles although with the climatic change they will possibly grow a Sylvaner south of Hamburg on the slopes of the Harburger Berge by 2100.

The new "Bocksbeutel" bottle (©dpa)
Well, I have to admit that Professor Schmidt was born in Bayreuth, Franconia, where however beer is the favorite drink. So far he had been famous for his design of flacons for perfumes. Now we are faced with an elegant designer bottle of an edged shape, but according to my taste somewhat sterile for it no longer has the faintest resemblance to a ram's appendage. Are we still allowed to call the new bottle a Bocksbeutel? Red Baron has no high hopes humming the Sinatra tune:

Stead of feelin' sad, just remember that ram
Oops, there goes another ... piece of German tradition.

Nostalgia: The bulbous bottle over Würzburg

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Heidegger's Black Notebooks

Freiburg's university still bears a feeling of guilt for the behavior of one of its prominent professors in the Nazi era: Martin Heidegger. The discussion about Heidegger's past had calmed somewhat until the philosopher's Black Notebooks, die Schwarzen Hefte, written between 1931 and 1975 were published in 2014. Red Baron reported about the university's attempt to master the past by suppressing the Heidegger Chair and about the wave of protests that followed this short-sighted decision.

Last week a coming to term with the past was seriously undertaken. The university and FRIAS (Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies) had called in top-class national and foreign experts to a seminar about Heidegger and Nazi ideology. Two events were organized for the general public, a panel discussion and a final presentation at the end of the seminar. Red Baron went to both.

The president of Freiburg's university, His Magnificence Hans-Jochen Schiewer, introduced the panel discussion stating that although Heidegger is regarded as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century he was a Nazi. Schiewer said that it is interesting to study the susceptibility of academics to ideologies in depth and emphasized that coming to term with the past means keeping the remembrance alive.

The Audimax fully packed ...
Professor emeritus Rainer Marten, a panel member and Heidegger scholar gave an introductory lecture accusing his teacher of Menschenverachtung (contempt for humans). Heidegger's philosophy addresses the Being and not human beings. It defies humaneness: Dem Leben des Menschen wird man nicht gerecht, wenn man das Leben als höchstes Gut ansieht (One does no justice to human life if one regards life as being the highest asset). Phrases like this are disturbing. Already in 1946 Hannah Arendt had accused Heidegger of destroying the presence of humanity in every human being (die Anwesenheit der Menschheit in jedem Menschen zu vernichten).

According to Heidegger Christianity, ethic, charity, humanism, socialism, Judaism*, capitalism, consumerism, all "isms", even National Socialism lead into nihilism. In criticizing rationality Heidegger looks for alternatives.
*Heidegger's anti-Semitism is motivated ideologically and not racially.

Against National Socialism too? Historically already in late 1934 Heidegger was through with the primitive excesses of this ideology. However the idea of a Führer remained relevant, of a leader who leads from Alleinheit zur All-Einheit (a pun in German meaning from singleness to the unity of all).

... as was Hörsaal (Lecture hall) 1010 the following evening
In his closing talk Heideggers Philosophie im Schatten der Schwarzen Hefte (Heidegger's philosophy in the shadow of his Black Notebooks) Professor Dieter Thoma, a scholar of Rainer Martin, said that when Heidegger writes Sein (Being) he actually means Sei! (Be!).

Heidegger is the philosopher of the exclamation mark: Das Selbst ruft das Selbst: Mensch werde wesentlich! (The Self summons the Self: Human being become essential!) however the Self does not know how. In fact, the Self does not follow its own order but the higher order of history forwarded by a Führer.

Too late Heidegger had realized that the Nazis were not up to this higher order: In abusing the Being's trust they failed. Therefore in his later Black Notebooks Heidegger transported the history of the Being into the far future, perhaps in the year 2363. In the meantime we live through the age of profiteers, profiteers of the Being's bankruptcy as there are Jewish thinking, capitalism, socialism etc. (see above).

Following Friedrich Nietzsche Heidegger is against progress in science and technology too. Is it only a play of words when he writes? Welche Beziehung hat die Naturwissenschaft zur Natur, wenn sie sich als deren Zerstörer herausstellt? (What is the relationship between natural science and nature when the former turns out to be the destroyer of the latter?) In opposing the dominance of modern technology should we regard Heidegger as an intellectual precursor of today's ecology movement?

It comes quite natural that Heidegger's ideas about time are not at all scientific. Human beings measure and count whereas das Wesen west im Augenblick (the essence exists in the moment). A sentence in Goethe's Faust comes to my mind about the Augenblick: Verweile doch, du bist so schön (Stay with me, you are so beautiful). According to Heidegger time is temporality bound to our existence. We experience every moment temporarily not as the passing of time.

Professor Thoma waving his argument
At the end of Dieter Thoma's exposé there was time for discussion but the public was stunned or just tired? Nobody raised his/her hand. Are we, as the Badische Zeitung wrote, Mit Heidegger auf dem Holzweg (got hold of the wrong end of the stick). Are we even finished with Heidegger?

Professor Marten addressing the members of the panel
The members of the panel the evening before were not prolific either proposing only sidelines: Heidegger lives on. He is a challenge. We must talk with him and not ditch him. We should not absolve him but be happy that we have him for we are not yet finished with him.

The discussion will continue with many theses still to be written.

All photos are copyrighted FRIAS. Try to locate Red Baron on each of them.

Even in New York ... (©Andreas Höfert†)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Green City Hotel

Remember my blogs in 2011 dealing with the Wagenburglers, people who like to live in caravans and who were looking for space in Freiburg to park their rotten gear?
The new Green City Hotel at the entrance to Vauban (©BZ/Rita Eggstein)
I reported on the forced cleaning of a lot the Wagenburglers had occupied at the entrance to the Vauban city district and the aftermath.

In the meantime the city has built a special hotel according to the latest standards of ecological building on this long-contested site. The Green City Hotel employs mostly handicapped people with the city trying hard to make this social installation profitable.

Last night left-autonomous people attacked the building in hurling glitter balls* filled with pink paint against walls and windows. At the same time other left-wing people attacked the IHK Building (Chamber of Industry and Commerce) near the train station breaking windows.
*fitting to the season

In the Internet the left-autonomous scene took responsibility for the two attacks. The Green City Hotel employing handicapped people is a symbol for brutal social repression while the IHK stands for the densification of living space leading to the destruction of the environment and a social displacement of people. They announced: Although the Climate Summit in Paris is over their resistance against capitalist interests will continue.

We already "suffer" from a much to warm winter in Freiburg. Are we getting an even hotter one?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Homage to The Voice

Today is Francis Albert Sinatra's 100th Birthday. Yesterday Red Baron was at a Party Happy Birthday Frankie! sponsored by the Carl-Schurz-Haus where two DJs presented the best songs of Ol' Blue Eyes on Vinyl.

Here are some of my impressions taken with my iPhone. The B&W photos are ©Getty Images.

The stage is set
That's life ...
One of  Frankie's many wives
Gambling and ..
... booze
The Rat Pack plus one:
Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Johnny Carson and Frank
Frank in crisis ... but he picked himself up and got back in the race
Come fly with me ...
I did not know that Ella sang together with him
In high society
Vote for Kennedy, vote for Kennedy ...
Bossa nova with Antonio Carlos Jobim and The Girl of Ipamena
He did it his way ...

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dominus flevit

I am taking up the blogging about my visit to the Holy Land. Sunday November 1, our group spent in Old Jerusalem. We approached the city from the Mount of Olives looking down at enormous Jewish burial sites with all the dead waiting for their final resurrection and judgement.

Jerusalem is located on a hill with the golden Dome of the rock always visible

The stones on the tombs bear testimony of many visits.
On our way into the historical center of Jerusalem we passed the site where Dominus flevit over the city:

Luke 19:41-44: And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.

This visitation happened in 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, following a massive revolt by the Jewish population.

Mass at the church Dominus flevit

Mosaic floor of the previous church showing bred, fish, and grapes

Another mass below a tent at a terrace above

Next we visited the nearby garden of Gethsemane on the slopes of the Mount of Olives where Jesus prayed in agony and was arrested later.

Harvesting olives the classical way
however black plastic sheets replace the original cloths.

Luke 22:39-54: And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him. And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow. And said unto them, Why sleep ye? rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.

Jesus agonizing at Gethsemane
Over the centuries also here many churches were erected, destroyed, and rebuilt.

And while he yet spake, behold a multitude, and he that was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them, and drew near unto Jesus to kiss him. But Jesus said unto him, Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?

Judas kiss

When they which were about him saw what would follow, they said unto him, Lord, shall we smite with the sword? And one of them [Petrus] smote the servant of the high priest [Malchus], and cut off his right ear. And Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far. And he touched his ear, and healed him. Then Jesus said unto the chief priests, and captains of the temple, and the elders, which were come to him, Be ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and staves? When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness. Then took they him, and led him, and brought him into the high priest's house. And Peter followed afar off.

View from the basilica on to the ancient city wall with,
in the center, the Golden Gate. It leads directly to the Temple Mount.
According to the legend Jesus had entered Jerusalem through this gate.

Did Jesus pass this old olive tree?
We we left Gethsemane looking up to the Golden Gate that Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent had bricked up in the 16th century so that infidels (Jews and Christians) could not get to the Tempel Mount from outside the city. We walked up to the Lions' Gate instead from where the Via Dolorosa starts.

I shall stop here my blogs about the Holy Land to get in phase with the New Testament, So I shall blog about our visit to Bethlehem before Christmas and continue the Holy Year thereafter through Easter 2016.

Standing in front of Jerusalem's Lions' Gate