Short preliminary remark, in order to avoid misunderstandings :
People often ask me: what's your religion? On one hand there are interlocuter who have their own obvious religious point of view, and now wish to know mine. On the other hand there are fellow men who know me as a theologian who is doing research on religions, reading, talking and writing about religions without talking about his own religion. Last but not least there are people, who notice how far I have withdrawn from Christianity which they regard as my hereditary religion.
Well, in fact I am a Christian, in that sense that I am a member of the Roman-Catholic Church, baptised as a baby, having experienced a Christian, catholic socialisation during my further life, paying may church tax and eventually having studied even Fundamental Theology as a side subject. Therefore, from a formal point of view I am a Christian, to be more exact: a Catholic. From the formal point of view one could also call me a Buddhist, since I am a member of the Buddhist community in the German Buddhist Union and pay the annual fees. So formally I am member of two different religious communities.
However, these formal criteria are not sufficient to determine my religion, since religion is something coming from deep inside, which is revealed only at a second step. Of course, this inner concern is preceded by manifold influences from outside, manifold indeed, only becoming my religion in my innermost place - in my thinking and emotions - not being identical with the religion of any other person, even if there are several similar religions for other people, since we live in a constant, nowadays even global, exchange.
If I want to arrest my religion, I have to reflect which influences are affecting me mostly. Thus I have identified four main influences:
Theism, Agnosticism, Buddhism and Humanism.
I briefly want to explain, what they mean to me and which impact they have on me :
I believe in God . While thinking the word “God” and imagining God it may happen that my eyes get filled with tears. God, that means vastness, immensity, depth, height, love and security, but also strength and challenge. God - that is a secret, it is THE secret of being. God - that is a feeling, a feeling of all the qualities just mentioned. I sense God. I sense God when I am walking through the forest , when I am looking at the cloudy or starry sky. I sense God when I am looking into the face of a person. I sense God when I see people of whatever religion praying. I sense God when I am quietly sitting watching my breath. Sometimes I even feel God as gods and goddesses, as temporarily individualised aspects of the Only Being . I pray to God and feel Him as a listening and answering counterpart. I sense God as the unity of all contrasts, as the basic essence of all being, as THE being itself.
I do not want to further specify this. Poly-, mono-, pan- or pans-theism as well as atheism or concrete ideas of personality or non-personality or even the gender appear to me being just a product of the brain - stammering trials to approach the secret with thoughts and notions, and to get hold of it. Surely, this may bring about valuable thoughts however they are just thoughts, nothing more and nothing less. Calling my theism mystical may be the closest specification possible. Besides, while praying I use the name “Great Spirit” more often than “God”, because “God” in a way seems to be too anthropomorphic for me.
I sense God…
...however I know nothing about Him. What is knowledge? Even that I do not know.
I know that God is trinity. I know that God became human as Jesus, born from the virgin Mary etc. That is what I have learned, that is what I know. One could test me - I would get good marks . However, I do not know whether what I have learned is true. I know that many people are really certain about the dogmas of their religions, and thus know things by these which are different from the knowledge of other people, taken literally even oppose them.
I know that the earth is a sphere (at least approximately), just with flattened out poles. But I have not calculated it myself, nevertheless I can understand it, otherwise I would not fly from Frankfurt to Los Angeles via Greenland . On the flat map of the earth in an atlas this route would be a detour, however on the globe this is the shortest distance. So, if I trust that Lufthansa usually does not take detours, which cost a lot of fuel, then something must be in the doctrine of the earth being round.
I have seen elves, right in nature, not only in fantasy films. Okay, I know they were not elves but mosquitoes, which practised their mating dance in the evening light, or glow-worms in the nocturnal forest. However, how do I know they were not elves?
I also know that one constructs many things in the mind, projects them to the outside and then believes to see them. So I see the smile of a dog, which looks at me in a friendly way. Yet dogs do not smile; they just look like that, it is their normal way of looking. Some dogs look grumpy, without being grumpy. I just take facial expressions I know from human beings and transfer them to dogs. I had to learn, in a way like a foreign language, that dogs express their moods using their tail . I also greet my car, and imagine the humming of the central locking to be kind of a welcoming tone of the car . And surely I project a lot into that sphere which is going beyond all sensuously empirical knowledge, the transcendence, in which God appears.
I have learned that all our knowledge is a mixture of reception, construction and projection. We can know something only in the framework of given preconditions. The more axioms we question, the more uncertain we are about what we know. This resulted in the findings that “All our knowledge is just scrappy” and “I know that I know nothing”, findings which I can subscribe to with full conviction.
We only know things in the context of circumstances of our life, in the context of the plausibility structures, in which we have been socialised , even though it will be the plausibility structure of theoretical physics or of theological dogmatics. In terms of finally evidence we know nothing . Much of what we know is like the knowledge of trees, which know when to get rid of their leaves and when to have new ones grow. It is pragmatic knowledge, which is valid within narrow limits. Outside of these limits there is the great ignorance, which is like a hole in the web of knowledge, and which we fear.
In Science we can make our thinking a bit independent from the concrete circumstances of our life, though never totally. The same applies for mythology, magic, shamanism and also for…
... meditation. The Buddha has conveyed us a lot of techniques of meditation which serve us to look deep into our conditionalities and emancipate us from them to a great extent. I practice a Buddhist meditation on awareness in the form of Zazen, sometimes with a dash of Satipatthana or Shamatha/Vipashyana . In this meditation I sometimes succeed to have my thoughts become still, to inwardly distance myself from my pleasant, unpleasant and neutral feelings and clearly observe them from a safe distance. Furthermore, I more or less succeed to practice this calm, attentive perception in my day-to-day activities. I feel this to be very pleasant, beneficial. It supports me when dealing with the problems and adversities of life. It gives me equanimity, strength and compassion.
I do not know whether through this meditation one can achieve total salvation from what is called sin or samsara.
…and I even do not know if that is what I want. After all, the tendency to overcome the world through asceticism or to rescue it by self-sacrifice, which is taught in Buddhism and some other religions also, is going too far as for me. And I have observed that this tendency is going too far even for many devout followers of these religions. The religious virtuosos may be role models, and I am very much inspired by them; yet it is more like Reinhold Messmer can inspire me when climbing mountains, without me climbing a 8000-m-one as a result.
In the project Global Ethic they talk about the humanum – a human constant factor of values and ideals. I would like to write this humanum onto my banner as a worthwhile goal, yet it should not be forgotten that the humane also includes what we often like to assess as inhumane. No being on earth is capable to commit such cruelties as human beings are. Thus “beastly” cruelties also belong to the humanum, at least potential.
What I want to point out is, that although from the pedagogical and diplomatic point of view it makes sense to emphasise the good site in human beings, we should not mixed up ourselves in our reality as human being with our ideals of the humanum. I feel that humans are beings who arrange their behaviour according to Maslow´s pyramid of needs. We can protect ourselves from exaggerated expectations and thus from disappointment, if we take into account that religious, spiritual, philosophical, meditative, ethic needs are not just among the most basic needs. I myself have quite worldly needs too, which really do not let me be an ascetic.
So my ethics are determined by this image of human too. I allow my fellow humans what I allow myself, and I treat them in a way I would like them to treat me. That is the rough direction, the details I have to elaborate depending on the context. I know how harmful alcohol can be, that many people have ruined their lives with alcohol. However, I like to drink beer, wine and spirits, though I avoid getting intoxicated, and every year I impose on myself a period of several weeks without alcohol in order to avoid health hazards. I also know that there are many important problems in the world which call for committed people to find solutions ; however I treat myself to the luxury of choosing those problems which are of personal interest to me, like the lack of mutual understanding between people of different religions and philosophies of life, which I as a theologian want to help along. In addition, I like to collect all kinds of little things, and sorting those takes time as well – lifetime. These all are not the right activities to make me a saint, a Bodhisattva or any similarly noble person, yet I assume them to be appropriate to human dignity.
In the end, this classification of my religion remains unsatisfactory…
...yet I wish to summarize it briefly once more: Emotionally I am a theist, intellectually I am an agnostic, regarding my meditation practice I am a Buddhist and regarding the ethics I am a humanist. This is, of course, a very rough stereotyped categorization, which in the end is of cause not really true, since all the four spheres penetrate each other, and there are other influences as well.
I know that this for many people is a patchwork religion, not to be taken seriously - a syncretism and eclecticism - typical for our pluralistic, post-modern society. However, I think that with this kind of religion I can live my life according to my own will and responsibility. I quest for the wisdom to be able to live with the resulting tensions, so to say I am a philosopher . The important thing is to realize and accept the multitude of perspectives. For me, religion is less a question of viewpoint and identity, rather than of path and method. Of course, I have to be careful not to run in circles and turn around myself in a narcissistic way. I need to develop the wisdom to be true to myself on the one hand and on the other hand be open for new things and face the influences of life with the right mixture of trust and criticism. That is a lifelong learning process, and before one has finished it, one is…
Well, actually where?
Biography (in German)