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Falling into the Spokes of the Wheel. Critique of the New Right

by Saskia Wendel Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020 at 6:05 PM

Why theology needs to be political again. Defunding the post office and threatening critics with jail time are perverse, signs of the security state or the authoritarian state.

Falling into the Spokes of the Wheel. On the Political-Theological Critique of the New Right

Why theology needs to be political again

By Saskia Wendel

[This article published on June 7, 2016 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet,]

In his book "Und der Zukunft zugewandt" (And Facing the Future), published in 1994, Wolfgang Schäuble argued that, in view of the growing complexity, a new social meta-narration is needed that gives meaning and legitimizes and ensures the social bond and cohesion of society.[1] Such a meta-narration, however, must address not only reason but also feeling. Due to the processes of social secularization and individualization, this can no longer be guaranteed by religion, which has long successfully performed this function. In Schäuble's view, religion must therefore be replaced by the nation, which in its function as a "protective community" can compensate for the fear of insecurity and reduce complexity and overcome contingencies.

Need for a civil religion?

Schäuble thus also tied in with theses on the necessity of a civil religion, such as those formulated at the time by Hermann Lübbe, for example.[2] In this reading, the principles of the liberal state need to be anchored in a (quasi-)religious authority…As early as 1976, Daniel Bell, for example, identified hedonistic and subjective value orientations as causes of the crisis and pleaded for the overcoming of a "profaned culture" and for the renewal of a religious consciousness as the basis of society.

Functionalization of religion?

In particular representatives of political theology, such as Jürgen Moltmann and Johann Baptist Metz, have criticized the concept of civil religion and the functionalization of religion in general as a mere social contingency management as well as a guarantor of citizens' commitment to the state or a civil consensus on values. On the one hand, contrary to the claim of transcending written religions, the concept of civil religion secretly makes one's own Christian religion the model of civil religion, thus ultimately excluding all those who do not share these options from the alleged consensus on legitimacy.

On the other hand, the secretly claimed Christian tradition is robbed of its critical content and thus becomes an emptied "civil religion". And above all, it is overlooked that the obligation to justify political power and political institutions in a democratic community is no longer based on a religiously legitimized "top/down" model and thus does not imply a sacralization of political offices, institutions and acting persons. The emergence of national conservative meta-narratives in the amalgamation of nation and religion

In 1994, Schäuble still relied on the national as a "civil religion," precisely because he saw religion as decisively weakened. Today we are confronted worldwide with political movements and parties that rely on the national as a political meta-narrative. But contrary to what Schäuble had suspected, the nation has not become a substitute for religion.

In the context of post-secular societies, the recourse to the national is rather accompanied by a recourse to religious traditions, or rather an ideological amalgamation of nation and religion into a new national-conservative meta-narrative, whereby the place of the religious is not taken by a civil religion, but by a Christianity interpreted in a culturally, socially, and socially conservative way in the service of the construction of a formerly integral "Christian Occident". It also becomes apparent that the originally neo-conservative concept of a civil religion has become sharpened and transformed into an explicitly national-conservative or right-wing populist project.

The Political Responsibility of Theology

Exactly at this point a central political task and responsibility at the same time arise for the present theology, in which it can tie up also to the debate at that time around the civil religion. Theology has not only the task of an as it were "outwardly" directed ideological and social criticism, but also of an "inwardly" directed criticism of those of its own traditions that were and are politically received from the right. "Who does theology when and where for whom?"[4] - this question is again highly topical today. I would like to deal with two motives that require such criticism: the idea of sovereignty and the specifically Catholic understanding of representation.

Sovereignty and the Concept of God

On the one hand, the concept of sovereignty comes into play with regard to the construction of a justification of the state "from above" through a decisionist act of absolute assertiveness, as Carl Schmitt, for example, had advocated, thereby establishing an analogy to the absolute sovereignty of God.[5] This possibility of reception challenges considerations on an understanding of omnipotence and God's action that is different from the concept of sovereignty, and on criticisms of an interventionist image of God. Theological reflections on the predicates of God, understood in this way, prove to be not a glass bead game far removed from practice, but rather an important moment in a theology that understands itself politically.[6] On the other hand, the concept of sovereignty becomes virulent in the interplay with that of representation, whether it is the representation of power and authority, or that of a will (of the people, of the ruler...).

The construction of a unified, general, "true" will of the people can be linked to the ideal of the representation of this will by a single sovereign, to the idea of a corporative form that directly embodies this will, represents. The state or nation can also be presented as such a corporative entity in which individuals are incorporated. It is precisely here that the schemata of inclusion and exclusion, inside and outside, friend and foe, take effect, and it is here that the biopolitical construction of a 'continuity of nativity and nationality' and a 'trinity of state, nation (birth) and territory' takes effect.[7] This model of direct representation, ontologically charged by recourse to participation ontology along with embodiment metaphorics, is also familiar to the Catholic tradition. It is no coincidence that Carl Schmitt drew the analogy between Roman Catholicism and political form precisely with regard to the Catholic understanding of representation.

Representation and legitimation "from above" or "from below"?

…Democratic societies do not need legitimation from above, for they can legitimize themselves "from below" through the creativity and power of action of their individual citizens, who both establish and hold together the "polis". At best, religious-minded people will ultimately interpret this ability as a sign of godliness, but will not impose this on all others as a meaningful political meta-narrative or as a political consensus if they see themselves not only as religious but also as liberal citizens.

Nor do such societies legitimized "from below" define themselves by a general will, nor by incorporation into a homogeneous national "body" determined by nativity. They define themselves solely through the recognition of the freedom and equality of all, and through the inalienable validity of human dignity and human rights, which must be expelled autonomously, regardless of religious convictions, if they are to apply truly to all, including non-religious citizens. This recognition, incidentally, is not only the result of a reflexive act, but also includes the intuition, to be compared with a feeling, that each and every person is to be regarded as an end in itself and not as a means of enforcing one's own interests.

The divine as mystery

Here, incidentally, the political relevance of the theological conviction that the divine never presents itself in its entirety, but always remains a mystery, regardless of the effort to define it conceptually, is also evident. The reason of the political, and thus also of the power of action, possesses an indeterminable remainder, since no one can know beyond doubt the reason of consciousness and the freedom that goes with it in the sense of power of action and freedom of will, not even the believer who trusts that in the consummation of conscious life he owes himself in the end to an unconditional reason that theists call "God. The "reason in consciousness" is in principle open to interpretation, so also in the field of the political, whose condition of possibility it ultimately represents.

It is thus evident that theology is political even when it does not directly reflect politics. In this way, it is possible for it to contribute in its own way to the delegitimization and, if necessary, also depotentiation of right-wing political movements and thus to build up democratic counter-power. To paraphrase Bonhoeffer: The task of theology here is to fall into the spokes of the wheel, and not only when the wheel is already spinning at full speed, but already when one has to prevent it from taking off at all.


"God with us": The Theology of the New Right

The New Right instrumentalizes Christianity for its own purposes, but it also finds points of contact in theology and church history that are still too little reflected upon.

By Ulrich Schmiedel and Hannah Strømmen,

[This article published on Sept 22, 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet,

For weeks, there has been a discussion in Germany about the self-proclaimed "Reichstag strikers". One of the images that haunted the international press after the break-in at the parliament building remained unnoticed in this discussion. It shows a young man in front of the steps of the entrance staircase who has a red flag with the Iron Cross around his shoulders like a cape. "God with us" is emblazoned on it.

At the latest since PEGIDA marched through Dresden with a large black-red-golden cross, the churches have had to deal with the New Right. Although they had a hard time with it at first, the "strollers" - not only at the Dresden Frauenkirche - finally had their lights turned off.

As representatives of the two large German churches, Heinrich Bedford-Strohm and Reinhard Marx emphasized: The New Right has nothing to do with Christianity. "We must make it quite clear," Bedford-Strohm added in an interview, "that the Christian religion is nothing that can be associated with devaluing other people.

Is there perhaps something like a theology of the New Right?

But if one takes into account that the New Right in Europe has been claiming Christianity for decades, then doubts creep in about the clear edge of the churches. Especially at the community level, there are more and more reports of increasing attempts to take over Christianity by new right forces. Is there perhaps something like a theology of the new right?

It is not only in the churches that people like to talk about the fact that the New Right has "hijacked" Christianity. The metaphor of hijacking - "hijacking" makes one think of a plane hijacked by terrorists - is used to establish a difference between an authentic and an inauthentic Christianity. In this way the New Right is to be kept away from the traditional treasure of Christianity. Theological topics are not interpreted but instrumentalized by the right-wingers like the Reichtagsstürmer.

There is nothing wrong with the fact that church representatives follow this line of thought. A clear edge is exactly what is needed in many congregations. But the history of Christianity has already eaten away many a clear edge.

Pioneers of the New Right in theology

Christianity had already taken up the "God with us" of the Reichstag stormer during the Crusades: "Deus vult", "God wants it". The fight against Islam, which the New Right is fanning across Europe, finds many masterminds in theology who vary the motto dogmatically and ethically.

While since 9/11 at the latest, everyone knows about the dangers of a political Islam that radicalizes and terrorizes people, only few are afraid of a political Christianity. And this is exactly what the New Right wants to exploit. In its theologization of the idea of the clash of civilizations, Christianity is friendly and peaceful. Thus it is irreconcilable with Islam. And therefore Islam has no place for them in Europe.

Of course, one can make fun of the lack of tradition and textual certainty, which, in the case of PEGIDA, for example, has led to Christmas carols sometimes only being hummed during the protests. Even the Reichstag striker with the flag perhaps didn't quite know what the "God with us" on his back was all about. It is all the more astonishing that he claims the theology expressed in this motto for himself.

Occident instead of Orient

This theology is about the importance of Christianity for European culture, Occident instead of Orient. Crusade Christianity and cultural Christianity fit like a fist in the eye. Organizations such as "Christians in the AfD" then seek to join forces with those who subscribe to the Apostolic Creed, which they quote in its entirety in their Declaration of Principles. And then the fists fly.

One can object that the theologization of the clash of civilizations in the New Right is historically not necessarily conclusive and hermeneutically not necessarily clever. That is also true. Some interpretations of the Bible found in the pamphlets of the New Right are ludicrous - one thinks of Beatrix von Storch's statement about the Good Samaritan, according to which the parable does not call for the support of refugees.

The theology of the New Right - this makes the "God with us" clear - does not come from nowhere

Nevertheless, one has to deal with them. The theology of the New Right - this makes "God with us" clear - does not come from nothing, but from a history of Christianity that has always had difficulty in recognizing the others, heretics and schismatics. Islamophobia is only one expression and only an outgrowth of this history, but at present it is certainly one of the most threatening.

The theology of the New Right is so dangerous that it cannot be left uncommented. Anyone who says that the "God with us" of the Reichstag stormer has nothing to do with Christianity runs the risk of shirking his responsibility. In view of the success of the New Right, it must be a matter of facing up to Christian Islamophobia. Only in such a way a statement can convince like that, "that the Christian religion is nothing, which can be connected with devaluation of other humans".

Ulrich Schmiedel is Lecturer in Theology, Politics and Ethics at the University of Edinburgh. Hannah Strømmen is Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at the University of Chichester. Her book "The Claim to Christianity: Responding to the Far Right" (London: SCM, 2020) has just been published.

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