Is religion a construct of the mind

The question of God - today

by Gerhard Card. Müller

A respected contemporary philosopher, Volker Gerhardt from the Humboldt University in Berlin, recently presented the project of a "rational theology". His book has the significant title: "The meaning of being. An attempt on the divine." [1]

It is a matter of showing the rationality of natural belief in the existence of God philosophically in advance of the revealed faith. From the analysis of self-consciousness, which cannot be separated from world-consciousness, he comes to the remarkable result: "As long as a person sees himself as a person, he understands the world that makes him and his kind possible. It is his self-image that opens him up Provided that he does not overestimate himself in this, he has every reason to embrace the world that embraces him and everything else, in recognition of its incredible diversity and size, its beauty and horror, as well as the possibilities it invokes with every word and every act To call 'divine'. Those who do not shy away from believing in themselves in spite of everything under these conditions have good reason to believe in God in the divine. "[2]

In the introduction to his book, Volker Gerhardt says somewhat smugly that the leading professor of philosophy at a large German university used to explain to freshmen students in an authoritative and alternative way that God today is no longer an object of philosophy. He used the Nietzsche term of "God's death" to prove definitively that one cannot deal rationally with a non-existent being. During his grand appearance, however, the honored colleague was probably not aware of the fact that Nietzsche's word about the death of God is not the determination of a neutral research result. Rather, it shows the shaking of nihilism, which takes all hold and every direction from our existence. In the meantime, however, the said professor has recognized that the question of God cannot be killed as long as people in their fragile existence are concerned with the meaning of their individual existence and the existence of the whole of humanity, of which I am a member.

So God is a worthwhile and inescapable subject that is linked to the question of myself, whether I believe in him, atheistically deny his existence, or skeptically doubt God's interest in me.

It would be completely absurd from the outset to use scientific methods, i.e. more geometrico, to try to prove or refute the existence of a thing or living being beyond the sensible and appearing world as part of this very world. Because by definition God does not belong to the universe. It is neither a part of the empirical and phenomenal world nor an immanent force in it, but its transcendent ground. Rather, it is important to show that in relation to the human spirit and the whole of the world, the question of the transcendent origin and goal of man and the world meaningful and thus reasonable is.

To discover the meaning of the whole in its transcendent ground does not mean to be condemned to have to invent it. How should we perishable beings be able to do this?

Another consequence arises from believing in God: We do not have to justify ourselves that we exist at all and that we are taking away from others or being a burden to them as children, the sick and old. Rather, it is that God justifies my existence and that I am who I am. So to apologize for your existence is an insult to God. In believing in the benevolent and merciful God, the feeling that everything is pointless and in vain disappears. The apostle puts it this way: "But when the goodness and philanthropy of God our Savior appeared, he saved us - not because we had done works that could make us just, but because of his compassion - through the bath of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit. " (Tit 3,4f).

The atheistic conviction that the history of ideas and the breathtaking progress of natural science and technology as well as the global digitization of knowledge with an inner necessity lead to complete immanentism and secularism, contradicts the fact that humans are constantly new to the existential questions of where they come from and where they are going must and will. The question of the meaning of being and the goal of our existence can therefore not be rejected by positivism as meaningless and therefore never be silenced. [3]

The philosopher Robert Spaemann states in his book "The Last God Evidence": "So far not a single serious argument has been put forward by the sciences against the rumor of God, only by the so-called scientific world view, scientism, that is what Wittgenstein believes in superstition Modern science is conditional research. It does not ask what something is and why it is, but asks what the conditions for its creation are. To be, to be oneself, however, is emancipation from the conditions of creation. And the unconditional, i.e. God , by definition, cannot occur within an inner-worldly research on conditions, like the projector in the film ... So the alternative is not: scientific explainability of the world or belief in God, but only in this way: renunciation of the understanding of the world, resignation or belief in God ... Belief in God is belief in a reason in the world that is not itself gru ndless, i.e. irrational, but rather 'light', transparent to itself and thus its own ground. "[4]

This is not about the philosophical question of whether priority should be given to the transcendental or ontological approach or whether, given the inseparability of self-transcendence and world-transcendence, reason recommends a synthesis of the two starting points in the act of cognition. These two approaches lead either to God as absolute spirit, the infinite consciousness of himself or to being, which exists by itself and does not need any other reason for its realization (ipsum esse per se subsistens). When we speak of reason in philosophical theology as the place where the question of God is opened, we do not mean instrumental reason or sheer intelligence as a strategy of survival, which, according to Nietzsche, does not distinguish us from "resourceful animals". What is meant by the term "reason" "is the ability by which man transcends himself and his environment and can refer to a reality that is transcendent to himself ... Belief that God is means that he is not our idea, but that we are his idea. "[5]

To clarify this, I would like to point out the essential difference between the philosophical and theological knowledge of God, despite all the inner relatedness. Because of the revelation of God, we not only say that God is the absolute spirit and being in and of itself. For the believing Christian, the highest knowledge applies that God is love (1 Jn 4: 8, 16) in the community of Father, Son and Spirit. With the help of reason we can come to the insight that God is a mystery and the unknown to us, but that HE can recognize us in the word in his self-revelation and give himself to us to love in the Holy Spirit, if he wants. [ 6]

The modern alienation from God in its full range, beginning with the depersonalization of God in pantheism and deism, through resigned agnosticism to aggressive neoatheism, which considers every religion to be harmful and worth combating [7], ultimately has two roots:

First there is this philosophical epistemologywhich so restricts the range of metaphysical reason, especially with Kant, that God only remains as an ideal of pure reason or as a postulate of practical, i.e. moral, reason. Theology as a science has thus become obsolete.

Second, and related to it, it is the so-called scientific worldview. It starts with modern natural science, which methodically restricts itself to the empirically quantifiable and mathematically describable, i.e. the logical structure of matter, but then, in conjunction with a monistic materialism, reduces everything that is and knowable to the objectively and sensibly given. Knowledge as knowledge of the objective is opposed to belief as the knowledge of God that opens up meaning. The paradoxical consequence of this is that knowledge becomes a belief (in the belief in science and progress) and the belief that in its essence a personal knowing and free relationship with God is reduced to an objective knowledge, whereby God becomes a necessary or superfluous hypothesis is used to explain the existence and usefulness of natural processes (God as the builder of the mechanical world clock, intelligent natural designer or evolutionary programmer).

Positivism as a so-called "scientific worldview" has the reductionist consequence for determining the essence of man: Man is nothing more than matter, as a machine, an animal and his brain is nothing more than a computer that is once outdone by artificial intelligence becomes. It is one species among others with a typical tendency to rise above other species. That is why, for example, an animal, because of its greater intelligence, stands above a mentally ill person or an embryo and small child who cannot yet calculate. It is clear that then in ethics the difference between good and bad was replaced by the category of useful and expedient and empirically verifiable. The empirical naturalism was traced back by Paul Henri d'Holbach in his work "Système de la nature" (1770) to an eternally existing matter. But according to mechanical - and today one must add - according to biological and chemical laws, matter gives itself by means of the evolution of the living, their formation in individual species and living beings. Life and consciousness of man would only be higher forms of self-organizing matter. The ideal contents of consciousness, such as the idea of ​​God and the moral imperatives, are only products of sensuality and the will to survive. Nothing in reality corresponds to the ideas of our intellect except matter and evolution. Either they are relics from our childhood phase of the individual or the species caused by developmental psychology, or they are - read in the socio-political tendency - instruments of rule of the church and the state When the blockades of metaphysics and the revealed religion, namely Christianity, have been overcome, man has the undisguised insight into his situation and becomes free from superstition and religious fanaticism, with which the clergy keeps the people imprisoned. They believe that tolerance based on agnosticism and relativism must sweep away the rigid dogma of the Church. And a pleasurable life liberates us from the life and body hostile legal morality of Christianity.

In an Enlightenment that was radically critical of religion, it was convinced that only socially and educationally implemented atheism would free mankind from all evils and prepare a bright future. Instead of theonomy there was autonomy, instead of theocentrism, anthropocentrism was the order of the day. Similar consequences result from the findings of neurology interpreted in terms of monistic materialism. If all, even the most abstract, thought processes of the human brain are based on measurable material energy, then the brain is nothing more than a computer that processes information. Mind would only be an epiphenomenon of matter. Combined with evolutionary biology, neurophysiology would, as it were, empirically prove that man neither has a reason that is capable of transcendence and can distinguish truth from lies, nor has a will that can spontaneously aim for good and abhor evil. What is true and good is decided by the majority or also by the minority of enlightened citizens for the rest of the population.

On the other hand, one can ask, if there is no spirit, to whom should this theory make sense? For every knowledge presupposes the ontological difference between the subject of knowledge and the object of knowledge.

Positivism in the natural, social and historical sciences and critical rationalism make the philosophical and theological reflection of the existential basic questions about the where from and for what purpose of human existence obsolete. Instead of the joy of the Gospel, however, such an image of man creates a collective depression in the heart. Bertrand Russel (1872-1970), one of the fathers of analytical philosophy, expressed the transcendent sense of time that is inherent in monistic naturalism by speaking of the "world as a chance hit in the alternation of solar systems". [8] Referring to the feeling that may creep in with the findings of astrophysics and evolutionary research, Jacques Monod formulated the shocking forlornness of man in the infinite spaces and times of the cosmos: "The old bond is broken, man finally knows that he is is alone in the indifferent immensity of the universe from which he happened to emerge. "[9] The only way out is to make the best of oneself in one's short life on earth, before falling into eternal oblivion. The feeling of the absence of God in the desolate vastness of spaces and times on our tiny planet is echoed in us when the human being gives up his tragic existence in resignation or intoxicatingly numb the pain of transience.

The nameless burial of the dead, as it is unfortunately chosen by some, is only the harrowing consequence of this existential nihilism. While the use of my ashes as humus in the cycle of nature is not an act of love, sinking into eternal anonymity only represents the absurd renunciation of my dignity as the son and daughter of the loving Father in Heaven. The biblical experience, on the other hand, with the God of Israel, who protects and liberates his people, expresses a comforting certainty: "Do not be afraid, for I have called you by name. You are mine." (Is 43,1).

Even if Christians - historically seen - were also responsible for the loss of the credibility of the revelation by linking their religion with social and state purposes - such as the Gallican Church in the ancien régime - or trying to support the content of faith with outdated scientific worldviews what remains is a systematic complex of radical immanentization of our conception of the whole of reality.

The hard core of specific atheism, as it emerged on the background and in strict contradiction to Western Christianity, seems to me to be the opposition between grace and freedom that is felt to be insurmountable. Is there still room for human freedom when God is everything and works alone, or does man first have to fight his way out of an overpowering God?

Paradigmatic for Western criticism of religion from the spirit of empiricism and sensualism from David Hume to Ludwig Feuerbach and Sigmund Freud is Bertrand Russell's opinion that religion, especially Christianity, is the result of an illness that arose out of fear. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are slave religions because they demand unconditional submission. "The whole idea of ​​the ruling God comes from the oriental tyranny. It is an idea that is unworthy of a free person." [10] With all due respect, one should expect a better knowledge of the Bible. Where is the memory that the God of Israel reveals himself as the deliverer of his people from the slave house of Egypt or the Babylonian captivity? In the New Testament, the liberation of all creation "from slavery and forlornness to the freedom and glory of the children of God" (Rom. 8:21) is the fruit of Christ's act of redemption on the cross.

The God who is rejected here is only the hypothesis of idealistic speculation or the wrong approach of the doctrine of grace or the stopgap in scientific research, but not the living and merciful God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the Father of Jesus Christ, who gives us and wants to complete us in his love.

In the pastoral constitution "The Church in Today's World", Vatican II captures the systematics of actually existing atheism in its various forms and excesses in this sense. Atheism opposes the belief that God is the goal and origin of man and the world, that man is himself the origin and goal. Man must and can create and redeem himself. That is why he has to free himself from all creature requirements, at least condition himself mentally and psychologically like a demiurge and model himself physically and socially. Religion, that is, reference to God in whatever historical form, is an expression of man's alienation from himself or a means to keep him underage. Religion is the opium of the people.The redemption through God's glorious grace is contrasted with the self-created paradise on earth, which humanity has so far only been allowed to get to know as a hell on earth.

Postulatory atheism turns against a phantom by failing to recognize that divine grace creates, promotes and perfects human freedom, because the essence of God is not pure power that holds on to itself, but love that gives itself away.

Because his omnipotence expresses itself and is experienced as a gift of being through which we participate in his life and his knowledge. Because God gains nothing and loses nothing when he calls us into existence and when the longing for union with him awakens in our hearts. Because God is love.

It may be that modern man was deeply disturbed in his belief in the God of love by the deep disturbance over the division of Western Christianity and the appalling religious wars in England, France, Germany, Switzerland and elsewhere. But in addition to the offense caused by the wrong opinion that grace hampers freedom and self-determination, the tendency towards postulatory atheism is based on the "will to power", which is linked to the empowerment to make oneself the law of being and good. The atheistic political ideologies since the French Revolution until today have fascinated the masses because they want to be absolute power over nature, history, society, down to the core of the thoughts and conscience of every single person (therefore: the secret services' craze for eavesdropping on all telephones , SMS, Twitter and Facebooks.

The church does not counter the combative and often inhuman atheism in its state, academic and media power with the same means. Since we are convinced that God also loves those people who do not yet know him and even deny him, the right means must be sought to give people access to the mystery of being and love that is to us in God the Creator , Savior and Perfector has communicated ... It is, as the Council said, the "situation-appropriate presentation of doctrine and the life example of the Church and her members with integrity" [11].

Vatican II explains the prejudices and misjudgments of modern atheism: "The Church insists that the recognition of God in no way contradicts the dignity of man, since this dignity is founded and perfected in God himself Creator God created with reason and freedom as a being of community; but above all, as his child, he is called to actual communion with God and to participate in his salvation. Furthermore, the Church teaches that eschatological hope does not diminish the importance of earthly tasks On the contrary, when the divine foundation and hope for eternal life vanish, human dignity is severely violated, as is often confirmed today, and the riddles of life and death, guilt and Pain remains without a solution, so that it is not uncommon for people to fall into despair running to himself an unresolved question that he dimly senses. Because at certain moments, especially in the more important events in life, no one can completely suppress this question. Only God can give the full and certain answer to this question; God, who calls man to deeper reflection and more humble searching. "[12]

Only in this way is there a way out of the "Dialectic of Enlightenment" (1944) [13] with its turn into the despotism of totalitarian ideologies and the tragedy of "atheistic humanism" (1950). "[14]

Only those who fail to recognize the dramatically acute situation in the world today can ignore this insight. Pope Francis often says that we are already in a third world war. He means the "globalization of irresponsibility". [15] Let us only think in a global context of the civil wars, the genocides, the degradation of children, women and men to sex and work slaves, the mass exodus and migration of millions, hunger and poverty among half of humanity, the innumerable multitudes of children and young people without human warmth and participatory upbringing and career opportunities, the divorce orphans, the unleashed capitalism, which subjects everything and everyone to the dictatorship of economic benefit and profit, the global terrorism in criminal gangs and states and organized crime, the deliberate destabilization of the legal system and the Subordination of the common good to group interests even in the established democracies.

In our technically so efficient civilization, the crisis of modernity and postmodernism jumps into the eyes of every sighted person [16].

Because of the lack of a reference to transcendence, postmodernism is essentially based on a deficit image of man, which leads to the fatal consequences of the disolidarization and socialization. If the human being is reduced to a product of matter playing with itself or a construct of society or is only considered to be a participant in social networks or as a pension payer, then he is deprived of his subjectness, his personality, because he is a means of industrial production, political power or biomaterial for research. Behind a shiny facade of the brave new world shows the full extent of misery: the loneliness, the isolation, the mental suffering, the increasing violence and brutality, the egocentrism, the orientation towards selfishness and egomaniacal self-realization, the denied primary communication in the Familys.

All designs that deny the irreducible peculiarity of man as a person - i.e. The spirituality and immortality of the soul as a substantial form of its spiritual-physical nature and its development in history and culture - and which cut it off from its essential relation to the transcendent God and thus deliver him up to the absolute dominion of people over people - come with all contradictions among one another in the relativism of the question of truth. The denial of the objective truth does not lead to freedom, because the opposite of the truth is the lie. The truth is no more the cause of intolerance than the demand for social justice gives rise to class struggle. And relativism does not justify the tolerance and the free setting of the knowing person in relation to the truth of reality and being, but - as was rightly formulated - leads to the dictatorship of those who claim to have a clear view or who claim to be the only good ones Hold people. Relativism contradicts itself in that it apodictically claims absolute validity and at the same time denies the existence and recognizability of truth other than its own.

There are certainly many interpretations of the world and existence, as Vatican II says in the Pastoral Constitution about the Church in today's world: But in the face of the global political, economic, moral and religious crisis, "the number of those who ask the fundamental questions is growing or feel with a new sharpness: What is man? What is the meaning of pain, evil, death ... What can man give society, what can it expect from it? What comes after this earthly life? "[17]

The Church represents an image of man that draws its essential content from the Judeo-Christian tradition, but which, in its positive and constructive orientation, can come together to form a community of action with many people of good will and other religious and ethical traditions.

Rationally, all the results of the modern natural and historical sciences can be brought into a synthesis with the knowledge from Revelation, without a Christian and contemporary having to live in two spiritual worlds. But beyond that, the Christian message is the gospel of love. The truth of the truth is not power but love. Power without service, wealth without generosity, eros without agape can never fill the heart of man. It depends on the acceptance of oneself and the love of one's neighbor, because everyone is already unconditionally accepted and loved by God.

The experience of God as the meaning and goal of man means the end of the dialectic of negativity and all delusional meaning in world history.

Only belief in God can look at the whole of reality, because it is a participation in the infinite mystery of God, which for the time being can only be recognized in "mirrors and parables" (1 Cor 13:12). Because God's secret does not stand before us like an impenetrable thicket, a black hole or the inanimate nothingness. It is light abundance and pure goodness. We see the world in its light. But we cannot look directly at the sun, although we will see everything through its light.

In the letter to the Romans, Paul insists that people in their "ungodliness and injustice" and in their "holding back the truth" cannot excuse themselves with their ignorance of the existence of God. Because "since the creation of the world its invisible reality has been perceived in the works of creation with reason: His eternal power and divinity." (Rom. 1:20). Even the heathen, to whom the commandments were not revealed, like the Jews at Sinai, know the natural, i.e. accessible, moral law, because it was written in their hearts and they ponder it back and forth in their thoughts (Rom 2.14ff).

God remains the secret of us. He is the subject of the revelation of his glory in the works of nature and history. He speaks through the prophets and ultimately unsurpassed in his Son to us from person to person. We can to him speak in confession and prayer. The Church can by him speaking and giving testimony in a dialogical proclamation.

The proprium christianum shows itself precisely in the confession of the Trinitarian God. Belief in the Trinity distinguishes Christianity from Old Testament Jewish and Koranic monotheism as well as from speculative monotheism.

Unitarian monotheism cannot deny the logic of trinitarian monotheism. Because its consistency consists in the divine logic of love, which the essence of God accomplishes in the relations of the three divine persons to one another, but who do not divide his essence, but realize it in eternity. This goes beyond human knowledge, which is nevertheless elevated through self-revelation to analog participation in God's self-knowledge in his word, which accepted our flesh, and to union with him in the love of the Holy Spirit.

Childhood of God in Christ and friendship with God in the Holy Spirit are the essential points of reference in the Christian image of man. The Church believes that the greatness of the mystery of man is only fully recognized in the light of Christ, and only in him the riddle of pain and death does not overwhelm us.

The question of God is certainly an intellectual but even more an existential challenge for people today. Faith faces its final test in the face of death.

The camp doctor reported about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was 39 years old at the time, who accompanied him on the last walk to the execution in the Flossenbürg concentration camp on April 9, 1945:

"Through the half-open door of a room in the barracks building, I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer kneeling in intimate prayer with his Lord God before the prisoners' clothing was removed. The devotional and sure-fire manner of this extremely sympathetic man's prayer shook me deeply. I also performed at the place of execution he said a short prayer and then bravely climbed the stairs to the gallows. " [18]

And his last word in the face of death was: "This is the end - for me the beginning of life." [19]


[1] Berlin, 2nd ed. 2015.

[3] Charles Taylor, Ein seculares Zeitalter, Frankfurt a.M. 2009, offers a fundamental analysis of the spiritual and religious situation of the time.

[4] Munich 2007.11.

[5] Robert Spaemann, The Last Proof of God, Munich 2007.20.

[6] Thomas Aquinas, De pot. Q.7 a.5. ad 14.

[7] Cf. the relevant analysis in Alexander Kissler, Der aufklierter Gott. How religion came to its senses, Munich 2008.

[8] Why I am not a Christian, Munich 1963, 24.

[9] Chance and Necessity, Munich 1971,219.

[10] Why I am not a Christian, Munich 1963, 36.

[11] Gaudium et spes 21.

[12] Gaudium et spes 21.

[13] Max Horkheimer / Theodor W. Adorno, Frankfurt a.M. 1969.

[14] Henri de Lubac, Beyond God, Einsiedeln 1984.

[16] Cf. the in-depth study by Matthew Fforde, Desocialization. The postmodern crisis, Freiburg i.Br. 2016.

[18] Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Theologian-Christian-contemporary, Munich 1983, 1038.