What has the modern world lost

Religion and modernity

Geert Hendrich

To person

Dr. phil., born 1959; Research assistant at the Institute for Philosophy, Technical University Darmstadt, room S3 13/314, Residenzschloss, 64283 Darmstadt. [email protected]

Almost 70 percent of Germans describe themselves as "religious". 28 percent even admit that they are "deeply religious", while for a group that is "only" equally strong, religion does not play a role. Such figures from the Religion Monitor from 2008 [1] have given the public the impression that our modern, secular societies are experiencing a renaissance of religion, especially since the influence of religious orientation is increasing worldwide. This impression is reinforced by the simultaneous crisis into which (Western) modernity itself has got itself: On the one hand, it seems as if "the great secular framework narratives of the modern world (...) somehow have the promises that they have made into the world not redeemed ". [2] Progress and growth, freedom and self-determination, democracy and humanism as "worldly offers of meaning" (Gerhard Gamm) no longer offer sufficient orientation. On the other hand, the social impact of the history of modernization has increased in terms of threat in the general perception: the world does not seem to have become more peaceful and safer, or more humane or just. So it is not surprising at first when the topic of "religion" as an offer to "cope better in a disenchanted world" (Gamm) has become topical again.

For a long time, the role of religion in secular modern societies seemed clear and unproblematic: It was seen as a tradition in conservative milieus or as a private, individually lived spirituality, enclosed by the denominational, secular state. Conflicts arose only along the contrast between the normative claims of the churches and religious communities, known from the history of secularization - particularly effective in terms of public awareness in questions of sexual morality - and the changed values ​​in modern society. Conversely, however, the hope expressed from the Enlightenment to Marxism that religion and religiosity as relics of immaturity might "wither" in the further development of societies also turned out to be wishful thinking. But the importance of religion in secular societies seemed to decrease more and more - also in the scientific and philosophical discourses.

This correlates with a changed perception and valuation of the religious in the consciousness of the people in the modern age. Criticism of religion evaluated the divine as a projection surface for human fears, longings and unlived ideals (Ludwig Feuerbach) or exposed religion as manipulation of the ruled by the rulers and the consolation of religion as a mere "cry of the oppressed creature" (Karl Marx). Sigmund Freud saw the role of religions as standard givers, and thus as moderators and guarantors of social coexistence, bought by preparing people in a system of fear, suppressing their needs and redirecting their aggressions to outsiders, strangers and the weak. Thus "religion was seen as a universal obsessional neurosis". [3] While Marx still linked the illusory character of religion with social conditions as a product of history, for Freud the illusion was located in the act of faith of the people themselves - even the innermost confession of people was to be mistrusted.

Parallel to the criticism of religion since the Enlightenment, there was an attempt to save a "basic metaphysical need" of people, an anthropological constant, if not religions and beliefs from criticism, then at least to save their transcendent core and its meaning for people . In the wake of the Enlightenment, Friedrich Schleiermacher distinguished religion from morality (as a guideline for action) and metaphysics (as a philosophically founded knowledge of ultimate things). Rather, religion is "a sense and taste for the infinite", and "religious feelings should accompany everything human beings do like sacred music; they should do everything with religion, nothing out of religion". [4] Religion thus becomes a matter of the subject in its isolation; Religion is only "true" if it has "a principle to individualize oneself" (Schleiermacher).

Thus, in the modern age, an important step towards the profanization of the world of faith is being taken. Because a religion, the actual content of which is the "religious feeling" of the individual, his personal "sacred music" as a meaningful basic tone that mediates in the contingency experiences of one's own existence, no longer refers to a transcendent instance, an extra-worldly deity and incomprehensible entity, but has become inner-worldly, to be found in man himself. This reading of religion and religious feeling makes the (self) image and ideal of man in the modern age as a free, self-determined being compatible with a belief in a transcendent sphere that actually excludes this freedom. If the Enlightenment and secularization had enforced the freedom of religion in the private sphere, now faith itself in the private sphere was placed in the control of the people; what and how one believes has become a choice.

This transfer of the sphere of the divine into the control of free man for a collective consciousness of modernity was probably more powerful than the criticism of religion. While this can be fended off with the reference that the criticism might apply to the historically developed religions, which would thereby become "untrue", but not the core of "true" religion, the individualized religion meets the interests of modern people striving for autonomy , especially when he tries to cope with the consequences of this striving.

From the existence of handicrafts to a patchwork religion

Based on this knowledge, the figures of the Religion Monitor 2008 can be interpreted differently than as a "return of religion": Today "being religious" no longer means the same as "having religion". The sociologist Ronald Hitzler points out that behind the media promoted talk of the "crisis of meaning" of modern society actual Individuals have questions, namely the constant experience of contingency under the living conditions of our society. As "do-it-yourself tinkerers" of their own existence, humans are not "constructors of their own lives in a reasonable sense", [5] but rather experience shaping their own lives and coping with everyday life as a permanent problem of action: We have no choice whether we want to be "self-sufficient" and "autonomous", but also never the certainty of being able to be successful or at least existent; our freedom often enough turns out to be an occurrence in everyday life.

Hitzler believes that he can build on the thesis that our modernity is no longer determined by the demands of the first Enlightenment - those for the "exit from self-inflicted immaturity" (Immanuel Kant) - but "coping with the consequences of this massive emancipation so, so to speak, the outcome of man from his self-inflicted maturity ". [6] As society only provides formal rules for its members, for example as legalization and bureaucratisation of all areas of life, but at the same time the constant reference to personal responsibility, a general feeling of disembedding, of being devastated. [7]

Religion has always helped to cope with the experience of contingency, as this is one of the inevitable conditions of our existence: We experience ourselves as vulnerable and finite in illness and death, experience the world as unavailable and threatening in the constraints and violence of nature as well as in the constraints the social environment, both as our own powerlessness and violence perpetrated by people as well as in the need to reduce our needs and emotions to a "socially acceptable level". This is where the questions about the "ultimate things" come in, to which religions try to give answers: about the "where from" and "where to" of human existence, about the meaning of life and creation, about the beginning and end of the world. Under the conditions of modernity, these questions - unanswerable as they are by reason - are not entirely taken off the agenda, but take a back seat to immediate experiences of being at the mercy of being at the mercy of people and being perplexed. There has already been talk of the increasing distrust of the "great framework narratives of modernity", and for this one has to think about the direct experience of the "compulsion to freedom" in individual life practice under the conditions of a world that has become confusing and threatening in order to understand the new forms of To be able to understand religiosity.

An important reaction to this is the search for orientation, support and meaning no longer just in the comprehensive manner of the revealed religions, but in the variety of meaning offers. The theologian Paul Tillich already pointed out that religion does not provide anything as a resource of meaning that ethics, philosophy, political ideologies and even art do not have to offer. In modern society this can be supplemented with endless possibilities: the individual seeker of meaning discovers or lays "meaning" and "orientation" in the Pilates course as well as in the football club, in esoteric pseudo-science as well as in Far Eastern wisdom.

The sociology of religion differentiates between "religion substitute" and "substitute religion": Religious substitute is everything that contributes to overcoming contingency; Schleiermacher's "Sense and Taste for the Infinite" becomes a parceled sense of meaning according to individual taste. This explains why an (increasing) number of people describe themselves as "religious" and at the same time express their distance from the established churches and beliefs. Especially since these individual foundations of meaning from the "market of religious possibilities" can be combined with one another in almost any way and this also applies to comprehensive world views.