Sunday, May 28, 2017

What the Hell Is Religion?

Last Monday Gerald Urban, professor of physics, talked about: Religion, was zum Teufel ist das eigentlich? at the Freiburger Museumsgesellschaft. The announcement of this talk reminded me of a statement by one of my directors at CERN. When young hopefuls in high-energy physics complained about the lack of chairs at universities he said: A physicist can do anything ... almost. In fact, only few could expect to become a professor of high-energy physics but during that time there were ample openings in information technology. These are nowadays taken by people with a special education in IT. So a physicist talking about religion?

Professor Urban told the audience that it had been his personal interest to understand what religion really is. He has tried to address the question using a scientific approach and blamed the church fathers for having successfully hindered the development of science for centuries. For Augustine science is just an ancillary discipline and faith surpasses knowledge whereas Jerome (Hieronymus) regards philology as important only when reading and translating the Bible. While the Latin version of the New Testament, the vulgate, is the basis of Christianity the historical development of the Church was more influenced by the writings of the church fathers. The Reformation did not change this for both Erasmus and Luther heavily relied on the church fathers.

While Wikipedia tries to define "religion" as either substantialist (the transcendent holiness, the religious feeling) or functionalist (the community) these two definitions are not exclusive.

In one of his slides Professor Urban presented a collection of material with two main categories "religion" and "religiosity".

The process of religion has its origin in the observation of our environment when the amazement about its incomprehensibility reaches our brains. Explanation attempts lead to "world models" aiming to answer the question of the meaning or purpose of our existence. This process is by no means static but of a burning dynamic.

At this point Einstein's "definition" of religion may be helpful:

The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.
It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.

Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder,
no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.

It was the experience of mystery — even if mixed with fear — that engendered religion.
A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate,
our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty,
which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds:
it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity.
In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man.
Other quotations from Einstein deepen his conviction: Every scientist becomes convinced that the laws of nature manifest the existence of a spirit vastly superior to that of men. Behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force is my religion. To that extent, I am in point of fact, religious.

This firm belief in a superior mind that reveals itself in the world of experience, represents my conception of God. My God created laws … His universe is not ruled by wishful thinking but by immutable laws. The divine reveals itself in the physical world.

There is harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognise, yet there are people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me to support such views ... I am not an atheist, and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist ... but there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is of the same kind as the intolerance of the religious fanatics and comes from the same source.

Professor Urban placed a "complete" overview into his last slide. Religions eventually arrive at "closed" world models pointing to their last mysteries. Religious groups close themselves off and will fight other groups in bloody wars: Templars against Saracens, Catholics against Lutherans and both against Calvinists and Anabaptists, Shiites against Sunnites. Where do brotherly love or even the Christian love of the enemy come in?

What makes me sick is that while only few are fanatic in their religious practice and belief, many (mis)use their religion as an instrument of power either to suppress their people or as a pretext for "holy" wars. No war ever was, is, or will be holy.

Let me finish by congratulating Professor Urban on his efforts ending with a conciliatory quote by our eminent physicist:

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Winner Is ...

Freiburg. Last Monday the Badische Zeitung proudly presented data showing that Freiburg has Germany's youngest population. Even Red Baron is not old enough to spoil the average figure of 39.8 years. The map clearly shows that older people live in the rural districts of the eastern part of Germany, i.e., in the former GDR. Young people move into the cities (e.g. Berlin, Dresden, and Leipzig) where the action is and where they find jobs.

Coming back to Freiburg. With 5,338 births in 2016 the city is approaching the record figures of the baby boomer years 1966 (5,396) and 1967 (5,348). At the present rate Freiburg will most likely surpass the previous record numbers in 2017.

The following photo illustrates the facts. Young mothers and even fathers invade Freiburg's streetcars with their strollers and sometimes twin buggies for the city counted 124 twin births in 2016. Also this number is increasing with the years for more and more young men evidence low sperm count so couples are seeking help in in vitro insemination. To be on the safe side doctors tend to implant more than one fertilized oocyte.

Three boys
Another fact is that more boys (2729) than girls (2609) were born in 2016. In my youth I was told that Mother Nature takes into account that men are the weaker sex and more baby boys die during their first year. With modern medical care this is no longer true. So 25 years from now I expect those young men will be fighting for the "rare" girls.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Erasmus's Translation of the New Testament and the Reformation

This morning Red Baron was at the university listening to a lecture by Professor Henk Jan de Jonge of the University of Leiden, the Netherlands. His topic, Erasmus's Translation of the New Testament and the Reformation, is highly relevant in the year when Lutherans all over the world are commemorating 500 years of Reformation.

In 1516 Johann Froben at Basel published the Novum Instrumentum omne diligenter ab Erasmo Roterdamo recognitum & emendatum, non solum ad graecam veritatem, verumetiam ad multorum utrisque linguae codicum ... emendationem & interpretationem ... by Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus.

The renowned expert in the field Professor Jan de Jonge told the audience that the initial purpose of Erasmus was to write a Latin text more elegant then the Vulgata. His translation of the New Testament from the hand-written Greek urtext is based on classical Latin as written by Cicero, Caesar, Sallust, Livius, and Quintilian. Erasmus went back to the Greek roots (ad fontes). He did not want to replace the Latin Vulgata that dates back to the 4th century but rather eliminate corrupt text passages and correct mistranslations.

According to Erasmus one should translate not ad verbum (word-for-word) but ad sensum (sinngemäß or meaning-based). Any translation is just a recommandation and does not determine the meaning. Erasmus had the hope that in his time of religious turmoil, i.e., during the Reformation his new translation would contribute to the renewal of Christianity.

For his translation of the New Testament into German Martin Luther used Erasmus's "best" Latin version but the interpretation with the help of many new German words he invented was all his. In fact, the significance of Erasmus's work is not so much the better Latin of the Novum Instrumentum to be used by theologists and educated people but the opening for other, additional, and newer translations and interpretations. This is why Catholics for centuries were not allowed to read other Bibles than those authorized by Rome. In the 19th century ironically Protestant theologists started scrutinizing and questioning Luther's text going again back to the roots (ad fontes). As times change so do translations and interpretations of the Bible.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Freiburg First

Yesterday the Madison Symphony Chorus (MSC) was in town. Before they gave their concert in the evening they had to rehearse Ein Deutsches Requiem together with a local orchestra and a local choir in the morning.

In the afternoon the Freiburg-Madison-Gesellschaft (FMG) had organized a reception at the Greiffenegg-Schlössle. The weather was somewhat cold but sunny so we met outside in a corner of the Schlössle's famous Kastanien-Biergarten (chestnut beergarden) for a glass of sparkling wine and Flammkuchen (tarte flambée). As Bing Crosby put it in the movie High Society it wasn't French champagne but domestic.

Our guests arrived slowly ...

... delayed by a farmers' demonstration (©BZ/Thomas Kunz)
Farmers' tractors were blocking the streets to protest a new quarter the city of Freiburg would like to build partly on farmland. Freiburg has a severe housing shortage and the new quarter called Dietenbach is an absolute must. Fact is, too many people are moving to Freiburg, Germany's number one Wohlfühlstadt (feel-good city).

Smiling red meets smiling green or
FMG's Vicepresident Frauke Feix meets the Director of the MSC Beverly Taylor

Spirits soon were high.

A few singers were tired ...

... but all were attentively listening to Frauke's witty welcome address.

Before the Concert began in the evening I had been asked to welcome the musicians and the public at the Konrad und Elisabeth Kirche. Here is what I said:

Good evening everybody.

My name is Manfred Höfert and I am the spokesperson of the Freiburg-Madison-Gesellschaft, the Freiburg sister city committee.

On behalf of our Gesellschaft, the Carl-Schurz-Haus and the City of Freiburg I would like to welcome the Madison Symphony Chorus, die Junge Kammerphilharmonie Freiburg und das Vocalensemble Breisach.

It is an honor that on its first visit to Europe the Chorus first came to Madison's sister city. May I say "Freiburg first"? On tour in Germany the Chorus will next perform in Leipzig and in Berlin. I wish you for tonight and for your upcoming concerts all the best.

The Konrad und Elisabeth Kirche we are in, is a historical landmark. It was built in the late 1920s and it is one of the first churches constructed in exposed concrete. St. Konrad and Elisabeth was consecrated in 1930. May I say that this church is as venerable as the Madison Symphony Chorus?

Meine Damen und Herren,

Ich hatte gehofft, die Badische Zeitung werde einen Bericht über dieses Konzert veröffentlichen, doch las ich in der Freitagsausgabe lediglich eine dürre Notiz über diesen Abend.

Lassen Sie mich also mit dem vorgesehenen doch ungedruckten Text das Konzert einleiten:

Der Madison Symphony Chorus wurde im Jahre 1927 gegründet. Mehr als 125 Sänger - heute sind es über 90, die den Weg nach Freiburg gefunden haben - treffen sich aus Freude am gemeinsamen Gesang, üben anspruchsvolle Musikstücke und Chorwerke und führen sie allein oder gemeinsam mit dem Madison Symphony Orchestra auf. Zu den Aufführungen vergangener Jahre zählten unter anderem:

-          Beethovens 9. Sinfonie
-          Mahlers 2. und 8. Sinfonie
-          Orffs Carmina Burana
-          die Requien von Mozart und Verdi
-          Auszüge aus Händels Oratorium Solomon.

Der langjährige Leiter des Madison Symphony Orchestras John DeMain schwärmt von "seinem" Chor: "Ohne die künstlerische Reife des Symphony Chorus unter seiner Leiterin Beverly Taylor könnte das Madison Sinfonieorchester niemals so großartige Werke darbieten. Talent und Hingabe des Chors lassen uns die aufregendsten Aufführungen verwirklichen."

Heute Abend führt der Madison Symphony Chorus zusammen mit der Jungen Kammerphilharmonie Freiburg und dem Vocalensemble Breisach Ein deutsches Requiem von Johannes Brahms auf. Chorleiterin ist Frau Beverly Taylor, die Solosänger sind Frau Anna Polum, Sopran, und Herr James Held, Bariton.

Der protestantische Hamburger Brahms folgt mit seinem Deutschen Requiem nicht der Liturgie der katholischen Totenmesse, sondern reiht hier tröstende Texte aus dem Alten und dem Neuen Testament aneinander. Mit diesem Werk für zwei Solisten, Chor und Orchester gelang dem damals 35-jährigen Brahms der Durchbruch als Komponist.

Wir sind gespannt. Enjoy the concert.

The church choir of the Konrad and Elisabeth Kirche
was fully packed with musicians.

Director Berverly Taylor masters them all.

Beautiful Soprano Anna Polum impresses the audience

Handsome Baritone James Held masters Brahms perfectly.

At the end Director Beverly Taylor is bowing to the audience ...

... which is frenetically applauding the fantastic performance.
Most impressive the angry: Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras
and the conciliatory ending: Selig sind die Toten.

Beverly Taylor gives her thanks to the Junge Philharmonie.
Bravo, with only one rehearsal chorus and orchestra sounded
 as if they had been playing together for years.

Exhausted but happy. Thank you again for the memorable performance.
Brahms would have been pleased.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Vive la France !

Last Sunday Red Baron followed the live-streamed inauguration of France's newly elected President Emmanuel Macron on Facebook. While I was watching I took some screenshots that I would like to share with you.

Macron arrived in a relatively small car and was greeted by President François Hollande at the steps of the Élysée Palace while dignitaries were waiting inside in a hall.

Hollande and Macron disappeared, apparently to attend a session of the French government that is always presided over by the President of the Republic. This time it was presided over by the old and the new; was this the reason why the meeting took nearly an hour?

In the meantime the cameras showed some interesting scenes while people were waiting.

The guard of honor waiting in the courtyard of the Élysée Palace

La tricolore always on top

Dignitaries are waiting inside

Two well-known faces. In the middle: Lionel Jospin, socialist, prime minister in 1997,
failed in 2002 to become Président de la République. On the right: His eternal rival
Laurent Fabius, socialist, now president of the Constitutional Council.

The two attractive daughters of the president's wife and one of the grandchildren waiting.

Soldiers of the Foreign Legion waiting.
In the background men of the Republican Guard waiting.

Citizens greeting their new neighbor are waiting too.

The waiting dignitairies are entertained with Mozart

Is he coming?

But he disappears again to say goodbye to François Hollande

François bidding adieu to Emmanuel's wife Brigitte
while the new president is watching the scene

Both men are descending the stairs
The car in which Emmanuel arrived is waiting for François at the end of the red carpet.

Is Hollande hesitating to leave the Élysée or is he eager to leave?

Macron watches the parting president entering the car

A last waving of the hand

The presidential couple united again is smiling to the crowd

The president of the Constitutional Council gives a lesson to Macron about his duties and rights

Laurant Fabius impresses the crowd by speaking without manuscript or teleprompter

The Grand Chancellor of the Order of the National Legion of Honor
 offers Macron the insignia of a Grandmaster

A close-up of the cross of the Legion of Honor

The Grand Chancellor signs the bestowal document first

The bestowal document of the Legion of Honor

Macron signs the document too

In his inaugural speech la France d'abord (France first)
defending the traditional values de la Républic: liberté, égalité, fraternité ...

... although Europe is important too

The presidential couple leaves the reception

Brigitte in small talk with some dignitairies ...

... while her husband is leaving the building for an inspection of the guards.

Macron on the red carpet face to face with ...

... the commanding officer

The new president on his way to inspect the guard of honor

Saluting the tricolore

Playing la Marseillaise

President Emmanuel Macron listening

On Monday President Macron was in Berlin. Traditionally the first foreign trip of a newly elected French president is to Germany while a newly elected chancellor visits Paris first. Both leaders agreed to advance the European Union.

Angela and Emmanuel being bosom buddies already (©AFP)