Based on such civil elements, some religions, such as Lutheran confessions in Europe, are meanwhile by far adapted to requirements of pluralistic state; they sometimes even behave as particularly committed agents of modern rights, such as rights of asylum seekers. Also other confessions, such as mainstream Catholics, Jewish, and Muslim confessions in Europe, indeed, have learned to a certain degree to adapt oneself to democratic demands. This adaptation may be partly a form of deceit: Not only islamic believers and organizations are explicitely entitled to deceive, so far they are under existential pressure, for instance by other confessions or by a pluralistic modern state (see certain surahs of the Koran as well as certain Chomeini fatwas). But real changes of world views and ethical norms in religious organizations into the direction of democratic norms seem to be more significant here.The democratic state, vice versa, accepts civil religions within its judicial bonds, based on freedom of religion.According to this principle any individual or community is entitled to manifest its religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance. Beyond, the concept includes the freedom to change religion or not to follow any religion as well as the freedom to leave or to discontinue membership in a religion or religious group. Therefore freedom of religion, as any effective freedom, implicates certain bonds for its users. Above all, it can only be realized amongst actors that grant it reciprocally to each other. That is: Freedom of religion presupposes reciprocal respect within a religion as well as between different religions and world views. Facing this necessity, overarching pluralistic institutions that protect reciprocal freedoms have to be obeyed and supported - a basic requirement of civilisation in a globalising world. In this judicial framework, religions are not only accepted as civil organizations; they are often considered also to be special representatives of transcendent issues, such as relations between life and death, as well as actors of particular ethic and socio-political competence.Even though the cardinal contrast between religions and civil (democratic) state is relativized through those programmatic and practical ways of religions, it is still alife. So even mainstream confessions of monotheistic religions operate in a steady tension with demands of modern democracy. See for instance practices of economic profusion, particularly by the Catholic church, sexual abuse in social institutions, such as religious children’s homes, and single racist and antidemocratic movements of Christian confessions. If there is no strong democratic state, the - in principle encompassing authoritative - logic of religion constitutes a welcome starting point for undemocratic organizations, up to totalitarian thinking and organizing religions.Religious TotalitarismTraditionally, the term totalitarism has been only referred to highly ideological formations of comprising violent rule in the 20th century, such as the Hitler regime and stalinism. Fed by these examples, totalitarism has been defined as a system characterized through a monistic (but not monolithic) center, an exclusive, autonome and exaggerated ideology, the participation and active mobilization of the masses by a monopoly party and its helping organizations (Linz 1975). Explicitely or implicitely referring the term to religions has been unusual. This understanding of totalitarism may be explained by three facts: 1) The historic process of modernization implies structural differentiation into different social subsystems. Through this process religion has been tendentially loosing its comprehensive reference and steering capacity. 2) Unmodern systems based on all-comprising religions were - in a seemingly unstoppable process - loosing its power and independence (see for instance the decline of the Ottoman Empire or Egypt). 3) In spite of and against the ongoing process of modernization, suddenly some highly ideological political movements came up that successfully enforced total rule, a new phenomenon of the 20th century.Since seize of power by the Chomeini regime in Iran and some other structural changes, however, the situation has been altering: The endurantly rising oil price has brought about a fundamental increase of economic and political resources in the Middle East. Hence cultural patterns of all-comprising islamic umma are getting its ruling function back in this region and beyond (under influence of rich oil-states). What we are experiencing since the 1980s, is a broad come back of ruling religion and hence, a strengthening of the logic of religion in its comprising meaning. Within these alterations aggressive fundamentalism have risen - see Chomeinis theocracy, terroristic organisations around Al-Khaida, and the rising of extremely cruelly operating new organizations, such as ISIS, Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria, and Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Kenia, up to the recently founded Califath in Syria/Iraq. Those forms of aggressive fundamentalism show the classical characteristics of totalitarian systems, such as a monistic center, an exaggerated ideology, and the mobilization of the masses. Doing that they operate within the logic of (ruling) religion.A New Discourse on ReligionThe phenomenon of aggressive fundamentalism up to totalitarian thinking and behaving has been received with bewilderment and psychological suppression: Either organisations and networks of this type are considered as simply terroristic (without trying to analyze them), or they are traced back to already cited conditions aside of religious aspects, such as failures in the policies of western states, constellations of power within the affected countries, and uneven socio-economic constellations. The fundamental role of ruling religion, however, have usually not been taken into consideration.Facing this situation, we need a new discourse on religion: Aggressive fundamentalism takes away any possibility of free life outside of the invidually totalitarized religion; it threatens or acutely destroys the safety of individuals and collective groups that feel bound to other faithes and convictions. Because aggressive fundamentalism operates within the basic logic of ruling religion, civil living together is not possible as long as the logic of ruling religion has not been querried.My conclusions are:1) Freedom of religion, an historic achievement of civil modernity, does not only entitle religions to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance; the concept is, rather, generally recognized also to include the freedom to change religion, not to follow any religion, and to leave or discontinue membership in a religion or religious group (see Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). That is: As any effective freedom, also freedom of religion implies bonds of reciprocal respecting the “other” individual or group.2) Any activities that contradict these demands of civil co-living force the contrary of freedom up to totalitarian behavior and civil war. That’s why they should be strictly taboo and formally forbidden. Religious actors that explicitely or implicitely propagate unfreedom for other religions or convictions, such as discrimination or even sacred wars, loose their freedom of religion. 3) Also in global scale, producing hate against other religions and convictions should be considered as a kind of crime: The steadily growing world community (now by about 8 billions of human beings) more and more depends on the ability to effectively protect pluralism. Activities in the logic of ruling religion, such as religious schools producing hate and violence, should be globally banned.What we need, is a world of reciprocal respect.
A New Discourse on ReligionFreedom of Religion and Aggressive FundamentalismVolker von Prittwitz (August 12, 2014)
On the beginning of Ramahdan 2014, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced an islamic califathe under his lead in the conquered areas of Syria and Iraq. This extremely aggressive state has meanwhile subdued large parts of Northern Iraq and has become an existential threat for all other ethnic and religious entities in the region. Beyond military aspects and issues of backing this terroristic state by arms and financial flows through certain regional actors, the new role of religion in world politics has to be analyzed: The foundation of an extremely cruel and aggressive fundamentalist state can be considered as the previous peak of a development that goes back till late 1970s, when the Chomeini regime seized power in Iran. Since then religion has come more and more into political focus, and forms of religious totalitarism rised, up to extremely fundamentalistic terror organisations, such as IS in Syria and Iraq, Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria, and Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Kenia. Backgrounds of this development are:1) The dominant tendency in western states of considering religion as nothing but a private matter within the bonds of state law. Therefore forms of politicized religion up to religious totalitarism have been misunderstood as completely extra-religious syndroms.2 The endurant power of rich oil states, such as Saudi-Arabia, that finance islamistic operations and organizations around the world.3) Failed policies of western states, such as the superficial tendency of the US to finance the respective military enemy of the own enemy - with the consequence of strengthening the logic of war and totalitarian forces. 4) Wrong policies within Middle-East states, such as the unwillingness of Iraq’s Shiite prime minister al-Maliki to cooperate with other religious groups. Out of these four variables, I will focus on the first one and show that there is a logic of (ruling) religion. The Logic of Ruling ReligionAny religion authoritatively proclaims a certain transcendent truth. That truth is explicitely proclaimed to be objectively given, but not checkable by material means because of its transcendent character. Religion, hence, implies a fundamental contradiction between particularly high pretention (of proclaiming objective reality) and strict refusal to prove this pretention. Often clergy men try to bridge this contradiction by referring to testifiable miracles, such as surprising healings or other wondering actions of sacred persons. But also those miracles are either not clearly testifiable or may be explained on a material way by psychological oder physical effects that can be scientifically reconstructed. Also attempts to prove religious truth by certain chaines of arguments, a usual practice in medieval times, are no longer accepted. Transcendent truths, rather, have simply to be believed (or not). They are usually spread and controlled by authoritative agents, such as priests, mullahs, or missionaries. Already that’s why religions in principle operate in an authoritative manner.Also as regards contents, religions tend to spread messages of omnipotent transcendent authorities, such as the message of one all-knowing god and last judge. They tend to consider history, personal lives, and events as predetermined by this transcendent authority, and they consider this authority as absolute ruler. Hence neither civil rights (protecting believers against unlimited power) neither political rights of guaranteed participation belong to the core-structure of religions.Derived from their authoritative transcendent character, religion usually claims to rule in an all-encompassing way: Religions mostly call for enforcing their view of reality, their norms, and rituals in all areas of everyday life and society. Religions, hence, operate in principle with a logic of its own rule.Facing this logic, it is no wunder that religions often do not comply with fundamental demands of democracy, such as the right of free opinion, the equality of men and women, and above all the decisive role of pluralistic procedures as well as democratic state law. In contrast, religions not seldom economically utilize their believers - with the consequence being that religious organizations get exceedingly rich and powerful at their believers’ charge. Sometimes religious authorities propagate world views that complicate or obstruct a peaceful cohabit, such as by praying the withdrawal from society up to eschatologically motivated self-destruction. And sometimes religious authorities declare sacred wars, possibly against democratically legitimated states.So there is a fundamental contrast between the logic of religion and the logic of democracy: While citizens in a democracy are protected against unlimited power and entitled to freely elect and to freely deselect their representatives, religions operate footed on autocratic mediation of God’s will (the will of a transcendent absolute ruler). Therefore, in principle, the logic of one religious truth and the pluralistic logic of democracy do not consort very well with one another. Human rights and fundamental institutions of democracy have not been developed or established by religions, but by democratic movements - often in a hard battle with religions that try to block and to roll back democratic progress. Civil ReligionIndeed, the described contrast between the logic of religion and the logic of democracy can be relativized through certain factors: •Religion is practised on different levels, the level of fundaments, such as fundamental books, the level of authoritative mediation through priests, mullahs asf., and the level of believers’ everyday practice. At least on the second and third level, religions are able to currently adapt themselves to given preconditions, such as norms of democratic state.•The ethical footings of religions reflect ethical needs and demands of the times when they were originally developed. These needs often imply, aside of today anachronistical needs, also modern necessities, such as needs of a peaceful living together or needs of justice. That’s why there are in any religion certain features and norms that go well with democracy, such as holding peace in everyday, equality before God, and ethical bonds for every believer.•In certain cases, religions relativize themselves - see the New Testament (Matthew 22: 21), where Jesus said: Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. Or see Daoism, a mixture of religion and philosopy, that relativies everything, even the powers of sky, within the frame of balance.
IPAInstitute for Political AnalysisProf. Dr. Volker von Prittwitz