God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Truth, facts and lies

Living together as society means compromising on the way, we want to live together; it means tolerance towards the life design of my neighbour and to acknowledge the boundaries of what is still acceptable and what not.

For this to happen and for society to function we need to agree on some facts or truth, which build the base of every exploration of boundaries and limitations, freedoms and expectations.

The advent of social media and global connectivity via the internet has given rise to an ugly side of these advances which we call fake news, conspiracy theories or simply lies. This has brought us as societies, but also as human mankind in a danger zone.

For example Donald Trump lies regarding election results jeopardizes the US democracy with consequences for other countries and their safety and well-being. His lies and fake news about climate change has serious consequences for Mother Earth and the future of human mankind. His denial towards Covid-19 costs thousands of human beings their lives.

The denial of truth and the ignorance towards facts is not only in the political arena dangerous, also other organisations weaken themselves because of it. Look at the Catholic Church and its dealing with the topic “abuse”. Not acknowledging the facts brings besides pain and hurt also disrepute and a silent withdraw from many, looking for a new home for their belief system or drifting into the fake news corner and hoping that denying facts and changing the narrative rescues somehow their faith. We see this in so many instances in the USA even much broader than only in the cases of abuse or only the Catholic Church, looking at the Evangelical churches and major parts of the Catholic Church where meanwhile ideology, focusing on one aspect while actively ignoring or fighting all other not so convenient parts of reality trump (in the real sense of the word with a big T) religion and transform it into a blindly followed ideology.

Obviously fake news, lies, blind ideology have a shelf life, which is definitely prolonged by the use or better abuse of social media, the bitter flip side of something which was aimed to connect people and ended up to divide them in ways we never thought we will see. Do you recall the enthusiasm of entering a new millennium, the dream of a global village, the possibility to communicate and foster peace and dignity around the globe and the belief, that digital communication will bring all the positive goodies to the world we live in?

We are doing a detour now regarding truth and common grounds – and maybe as human mankind we are allowed to do so. But I would argue that the silent majority has now seen enough to determine the dead end and the destruction caused. Now is the time to stand up for the truth, for valid discernment and reasoning and I believe that especially religion – and religion does not mean necessarily church institutions – has a major role to play: the tradition of mystics (think Karl Rahner) and Global ethics (think Hans Kueng) and yes, the encyclicals and universal writings of Pope Francis are waiting to be more – or again – discovered and put into practice.

At the end truth will prevail – the costs to get there – that is the only thing we can determine as human beings and influence as part of societies.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Roma locuta and other anxieties

Roma locuta causa finita – Rome has spoken, the discussion is over, so goes the proverbial attitude within the Catholic Church pointing out that the final verdict in the Roman-Catholic church always is a Vatican located one. Rome is speaking a lot in our days – be it about the synodal process in Germany, be it about the Synod of Trier and its decisions, be it on valid baptisms and other theological matters.
And looking also across the aisle into the political and social arena to the floods of words on social media, spearheaded by a twitter-happy Donald Trump, the armies of automated bots and paid pen or keyboard holding soldiers, one can drown in the flood of words and verdicts, of opinions and analysis being encountered opening the email box, social media or news outlets.

And in so many cases, be it Roma or the warrior behind the keyboard, it seems that whatever is said or voiced carries often the smell of eternal truth, to be defended and backed up either with dogma or ideology depending on the arena it plays out. Strength and power are on display, conviction and verbal muscle play.

I don’t know, but in a world battling to understand the blessings and curse of a digitally connected world and a human race being challenged to either develop or to disappear, I see tons of anxieties hidden behind the just described scenario of current times. And this in turn leads to the yearning for leaders who clearly define black and white, good and bad, right or wrong to make it easier to navigate through a time when nothing seems to be fixed and everything flowing.

And it does not matter which arena you look at: the religious, the political or the social; be it values or certainties of the past: the philosophical concept of Heraclitus called Panta Rhei seems scary to most fellow humans. And Covid-19, the invisible small little bug has doubled down on those personal, social and political uncertainties, fears and anxieties. It has led to more conspiracy theories, which in turn have garnered more disciples from all walks of life and killing rational thinking and common sense on its way.

The human race is at the moment running in a proverbial hamster wheel fuelled by all those anxieties, refusing to stop in its track and just taking a breath and break. And maybe even pay attention to a writing, which was signed in Assisi last week: Fratelli tutti, the third encyclical of Pope Francis which is much more than a letter to only the faithful. Together with Laudato Si and the Abu Dhabi declaration on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together there is a treasurer of wisdom to be found to escape all those anxieties and grandstanding and false religious and political prophets and rabble-rousers of current times. I would add to this the world ethos concept of Prof Hans Küng to cover most aspects of what has to happen to give the human race a fair chance for survival on the long term.

There are many voices of reason – even some coming out of Rome – the question is: will they succeed in being listened to?

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , ,

I am not praying for Paris?

Another day of terror and bloodshed, another day splitting opinions about how to react besides mourning the death. Reading the statements of local academic Professor Farid Esack I actually have to hold my breath. He writes in a Facebook post: “I am not praying for Paris; I am not condemning anyone. Why the hell should I? I had nothing to do with it,” and continues “I am sickened by the perpetual expectations to condemn. I walk away from your shitty racist and Islamophobic expectations that whenever your chickens come home to roost then I must feign horror.”

I honestly don’t think this is the way to comment on a tragedy killing innocent people – it is an insult to those suffered the loss of a loved one, but on the other hand it shows a pattern clearly visible in a lot of statements and talks about acts of terror, about the rise of ISIS and the Muslim faith: A toxic mix of emotions and perceived facts, intermingled in a way not helpful at all to see through the factual side of what happens in the moment. This mix, felt by most bystanders and those having lost loved ones is played with quite heavily by those in power, by politicians and fundamentalists and those trying to create havoc and push their own agenda and ideology without counting the losses.

So how to untangle this mix?

Firstly – and this is directly addressed to Prof Farid Esack: I am sickened if you don’t condemn barbaric acts of terror – you don’t have to feign horror – because it is horror. Realize your sensitivity on real or perceived Islamophobic attitudes and acknowledge that as a Muslim Scholar, you have to deal with it. And “it” means you have to deal not only with perceptions but with the question how Islam is connected to violence in our days and how those developing and studying the doctrine and the teaching of Islam define the relationship between violence, statehood and faith. There are dozens of open questions and you can’t hide behind politics. You are part of the Ummah which has to distance itself clearly from all forms of violence and acts of terror.

Secondly – yes, there is the level of politics and there the West has to come to the party: With the unlawful war in Iraq we seeded what we now reaping. And if there is a human justice in place, people like Georg Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld initiating not only war but terror, torture and renditions should face the music in a court of international law together with Tony Blair and others.  We continue to earn money with weapons delivered readily to fuel the war in Syria, we bomb a country to its knees like Libya and then let it run its own destruction – the West is two-faced and ambivalent when it comes to those questions. There is a lot the West, you are accusing has to account for.

Thirdly – again yes, it was the West introducing the word “war” in a very unconventional way – the “war on terror” created by President Georg W Busch is the mother of lots of evil today because it was used by its own creator to justify the unjustifiable giving a blueprint also for those now in charge in the “caliphate”. Pandora’s box was opened with the abuse and waterboarding and orange jumpsuits now famously seen in beheading scenes.

Fourthly – all lives matter and yes, there is in our global village a clear tendency to react more emotional when European lives or US American lives are at risk – and global diaries like Facebook make this suddenly so much more visible. And it feels wrong to many as could be seen by the reactions of so many African voices on social media. I find it remarkable that there is a sense that life is valued differently in our earthly village – and we have to work on it to change this perception.

We are in a mess – we reap what we have allowed to be seeded and we have to get out of it. But this can only happen if we overcome our emotions and start working on a better world. And it means first of all to pray and mourn those innocently slaughtered on a daily base, to keep track on all life lost on a daily base. I don’t expect the narrowness of politics to make an immediate difference but I expect us religious people to lay the grounds for a better world. The world ethos of Hans Kueng describes that there will be no peace on earth if religions don’t get it right and they are coming to a basic understanding.  We have to lead, we have to challenge each other, we have to have a robust debate on our relationship to God, to human mankind, to violence and much more, we have to find common grounds. And it all starts with mourning the death of Paris and Kenya and Nigeria and Syria and all those other hot-spots of terror, be it state sponsored or committed by others.

And let us start agreeing: ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, the word “jihad” cannot be used for terror attacks and “suicide bombers” are not connected to any religious faith whatsoever. Lets eliminate all those verbal connections loud and clearly. lets declare that killing and God does never go together and we have done the first step in the right direction. May the dialogue – urgently needed –  begin after untangling the emotions from the facts. And lets pray together for Paris and include the rest of the world in pain and agony…

Filed under: Africa, General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , ,

South Africa not in good shape but there is still hope

Christmas time and New Year, also time for the matric results to be published and Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga will praise the improvement of the pass rate from 60,6% in 2009 to 76,6% in 2013. Not spoken will be about the grim realities surrounding this result:
* The low pass rate: pupils must achieve 40% in their home language and in two other subjects, and a minimum of 30% in the remaining subjects. They can fail in only one of their seven subjects.
* Extra exams for tertiary education: more and more universities ask for extra entrance or literacy tests and compulsory enhancement programs because they do not trust the matric certificate.
* Drop outs at school level: the total number of matric pupils who write the exams is half of those starting education – the other half is gone, be it through economic difficulties or for other personal or social reasons.
* Drop outs at University level: over 50% of those starting to study will not graduate, so a report of the Council for Higher Education chaired by Professor Njabulo Ndebele
It seems like in many other instances that the assessment of realities tend to differ sharply in South Africa and it is not only the fire pond baptized swimming pool of Nkandla. 20 years into democracy this society has not found its feet somehow and is still struggling to meet the dreams of those being liberated with the end of Apartheid.
I am not thinking South Africa is doomed to fail but I hear and notice things which indicates that there is still room for improvement in many ways and I don’t mean the remaining high crime rate, the lack of service delivery, worker unions which want to be government, representation of workers and capitalists at the same time, Malemas and there-likes  etc. Coming from Germany, where I was born in a city where US Americans ran a major airbase in Europe, in my childhood “black people” were rich people because they had the dollars. Moving to South Africa I learned how different worlds can be and I had to adjust to open and hidden conflicts between races and ethnic groups on a level not known before. Even thinking that I keep an open mind and a hopeful outlook, I catch me out at times to have doubtful thoughts indicating a deeper problem: Driving often to Parklands Mainroad I see all those youngsters standing there waiting to be picked up for a day’s job. Often I thought, it would be nice to employ somebody when help is needed but one reads so much about crime and spying out opportunities that I simply don’t have the courage to stop and give one of them the livelihood for today. It shows how deep mistrust is sewed into the heart and mind of people including me.  The same applies when it comes to the suspicion of corruption: Seeing not so talented drivers in big new shiny cars often brings up the thoughtful question whether hard work or corruption has brought this car on the street. I admit: it is a shame, but such thoughts are crossing my mind and with all the obvious corruption, from hungry police officers in Johannesburg asking for chicken wings at a police control up to Nkandla and all those politicians, people in power and the tiny group of multimillionaire turned BEE applicants it might be even excusable.  And I am sure I am not the only one having such thoughts.
Flying often from Cape Town to Johannesburg return and seeing the attitude of many at destination taken away by government cars I must hold on not raising my voice and telling those people what “service” in democracy means.
Despite those observations are all the positive points South Africa can show off with: besides breath-taking nature and mostly friendly and compassionate people with a smile on their face, natural resources, a young generation willing to take the challenge if society and education gives them the equipment needed. So there is so much positive to cherish in this country.

I sometimes have the feeling that our society here has come out of the truth and reconciliation commission process knowing most of what happened in the past, but had no time to heal the wounds of the past. A government blaming Apartheid for every own failure does not help to let wounds close and scarfs appear, which are still present as a reminder, but they do not hurt anymore. I honestly think South Africa is in need of better leaders on all levels, showing an example how to serve a nation instead of milking it in many ways. And for me, there are in every political party people who could rise to the challenge. I had the opportunity to speak to politicians of different parties and I am convinced that South Africans can take on the challenge of transforming this country to be a beacon of hope for all of Africa. We just have to escape the spell of corruption, lies, dishonesty and the devils circle of senseless violence marring this country. Healing is for me the miracle word, healing of a collective nations psyche.
Churches can play a big role in this – furthering the process of healing and being the needed conscience of the nation if and when they put aside they own agenda and just being willing to serve the people without the intention to proselytize or forcing their own believe system on a nation. There is an existing ethos we all can agree of – be it the golden rule or the principles of world ethos as described by Hans Kueng and his world ethos project. The justice and peace projects of the Roman – Catholic Church is another example of trying to support and assist this process. Other churches have similar portfolios. So there is hope for me – and I hope that this hope will be carried through to a year of elections which can be won or lost by any party; and there is no entitlement of owning certain parts of this democratic process – a good government, a strong opposition, separation of powers and the goodwill of all people should prevail and bring us a step forward. A blessed New Year to all.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

20.10.2009 Hans Kueng – and “Das Lied der Deutschen”

Residing in Fallersleben in the house, where August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote his “Das Lied der Deutschen” which is today the text of the National Anthem of Germany. So a real historic place to be and I like it more and more reading his life story: He studied theology while having interest in the old history, I did study theology also and was actually interested to study archaeology and Egyptology. Prussia kicked him out being suspected to have to democratic thoughts – Nachtigall ick hoer Dir trapsen..:-)) – he had great friends supporting him and backing him up. The nice thing is that his story has a happy end and he is rehabilitated before he is died in 1874.

Thinking of rehabilitation my mind directly recalls Hans Kueng, who wrote me an email after hearing of me terminating the duties as a chaplain of the German speaking Catholic Community. I have learned to know Hans Kueng in 1999 as a visitor to our community and we both participated in the Parliament of the World Religions. At that time we also concelebrated and I must say that I have very very seldom experienced a more pius priest in the best sense of the word as him. And my wish is the same like that of Mr. Erwin Teufel, previous premier of Baden-Wuerttemberg: That Hans Kueng will be rehabilitated within the official Catholic Church. He more than deserves that, the Catholic Church actually owes it to him.  Much more than any of those Pius brothers who think they are owning the truth. Sure, Hans Kueng is critical to many aspects of the church and I am too, but that does not make us less faithful or less part of the Catholic Church. In contrary: I strongly believe that only with honest critics we can find our way through the times. And my experience is that honest criticism brought me personally always a step further in life. There are anyhow too many people only saying what one wants to hear.

What for thoughts while having breakfast in this historic house…

Filed under: Reflection, , , , , , , , ,

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