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.

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).

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