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Religion is not the problem

Felix Steiner / cmk
January 10, 2015

The brutal attacks by Islamist terrorists in Paris have shocked Europe. That these attacks will discredit not only Islam, but belief in God in general, has angered DW's Felix Steiner.

Symbolbild Christentum Judentum Islam
Image: picture alliance /Godong/Robert Harding

It's time for a confession: I'm a Catholic. And I'm glad to be one. My faith gives me strength. And the good feeling that I'm more than just a quirk of nature, more than a biological accident that came out of nowhere and will eventually disappear into nothingness once again.

I am a reflection of God, Yahweh to the Jews, Allah to the Muslims. This is written in the Book of Genesis, holy scripture for both Jews and Christians. And because of my faith, I - like everyone in the world - have dignity. An inviolable dignity, one that should be respected and protected. No coincidence, but this is exactly what's written in the first sentence of Article 1 of the German Constitution.

The state protects my faith

Deutsche Welle Felix Steiner
DW's Felix SteinerImage: DW/M.Müller

Whoever doesn't need the foothold of faith - that's fine. The free societies of the West don't force anyone to believe in one specific faith, or indeed anything at all. But even if the nature of my faith doesn't matter to the German state, the state nonetheless stands on the side of all believers: it guarantees the "undisturbed practice of religion." That, too, is anchored in the German Constitution. For this reason, I do not have to accept, for example, when a nude young woman jumps on the altar of the Cologne Cathedral during a Christmas service and calls out "I am God." But I can be happy about the fact that she was properly fined for her act.

But there are other things which I must accept, even if it annoys me to no end. Because they end up dragging my religion through the dirt, things which are important to me, even sacred. For example, when the crucified Christ is derided and given childish nicknames. Or when the pope, the head of the Catholic Church, is depicted with a urine stain on his cassock under a headline: "Leak found in the Vatican."

No comedian, no cartoonist from any satirical magazine is sitting in a German prison for such acts. Because such provocations fall under freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of art. And I, as a believer in Christ, can choose to avoid them: I don't frequent comedy evenings like that, or read such magazines, nor do I have to buy them. As an educated Christian, I console myself with a quote from Goethe: "Nothing more describes a person's character than by what they find ridiculous."

All this is the result of the era that historians call the Enlightenment. Simplified, it's all about reciprocity: I get the freedom to believe what I want, and I accept the freedom of others to say what they want. Or even shorter: my rights exist because I tolerate dissenters. Only personal offense is not allowed. And places of worship - whether churches, synagogues, mosques or Buddhist temples - are protected spaces. For around 300 years, Europe and North America got along very well with this principle.

No compromise on tolerance

The "enlightened West" can and must not make any concessions in this regard. Those who want to live here must accept these rules. This is not an imposition - even if it may sometimes make conservative Christians appear to be just like radical Muslims. And those who use violence to enforce their religious goals or eliminate enemies of their faith have no place in civilization in 2015.

This view is shared not only by most of Europe's Christians, but also by more than nine out of 10 Muslims living here. Muslims who have long ago realized that if they were living under the rules that apply in many Islamic countries, it would be impossible to openly practice their faith in Europe. And therefore, they have learned to cherish European tolerance.

But what hurts devout Muslims just as much as it hurts me is when the brutal acts of a few radical crackpots bring shame to an entire religion. When, on days like this, many claim that a world without faith would be a better world - because religiosity always ends in radicalism. No - I won't stand for that! My faith is precious to me, and I won't let anyone take it away. My Muslim neighbor, by the way, shares my opinion.

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