Thursday, December 26, 2013

Faith and Superstition

In a well established tradition the German magazine
Der Spiegel treats a religious topic every year around
Christmas. The theological complications of our
Christian faith form the hook in the editorial:
What is it that man believes in? (©Der Spiegel)
As a young man Red Baron reduced his Christian belief to two essential messages: Christ taught us that God is not the punishing God of Abraham, Isaac und Jacob, but He loves his children. Yes, we shall call Him our Father in heaven. The other essential that I have already mentioned several times before is a text in Saint Paul's letter to the Corinthians, 13-12: Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

What about all those bible stories? At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century Protestant theologians pursued the demythology of the New Testament. It was Rudolf Bultmann who contended that only faith in the kerygma, or proclamation, of the New Testament was necessary for Christian faith, not any particular facts regarding the historical Jesus. The Christian faith stripped down to its bare essentials as formulated in the Nicene Creed?

The Roman Emperor Constantine looking for peace in his vast empire was disgusted by the disputes in the Christian Church about the "right" faith. So he summoned a synod in the Asian Minor city of Nicaea in 325. When the dispute about the nature of Christ between the followers of Bishop Arius and those of Bishop Alexander came to nothing Constantine, himself present in Nicaea, became fed up. Angrily the pagan emperor decided in a Christian synod against the Arians whom he subsequently banned. Constantine's decision explains the content of the last paragraph of the Nicene Creed that the assembled bishops eventually adopted:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance (consubstantialem) with the Father. By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down [from heaven] and was incarnate and was made man. He suffered and the third day he rose again, and ascended into heaven. And he shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead. And [we believe] in the Holy Ghost.

And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion - all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.

Nowadays all? Christians confess the Apostles' Creed with important additions to the Nicene Creed. The Apostles' Creed originated around the year 390 and is given here in its modern ecumenical version:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic* Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
*Note that here catholic means the universal and not the Catholic Church.

Is the faith we Christians confess in the Apostles' Creed not rather complicated? God's Son conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a Virgin, the Catholic Church proclaims this a mystery of faith.

Although superstition is considered as sin in the Christian Church psychologists found out that even modern man (woman) is more driven by superstition than guided by his (her) Christian faith. It is a known fact that everybody lives his (her) own belief. The theological teaching of the Church will at best guide our personal belief that however remains full of atavistic feelings. The Catholic Church took this into account in its catechism when as a boy I learned two ways how to repent my sins. Although it was sufficient to repent out of fear of punishment it was nobler to admit and regret that you had disappointed the love of God, your Father. Not only for a child the fear of punishment is easier to understand. That theologians must defend the pure doctrine against popular belief and thereby are becoming more abstract and boring, the French anthropologist Pascal Boyer called the tragedy of the theologian. We learn about the Holy Trinity but we feel with Mary as a mother.

The communication between theologians and laymen deteriorates altogether when the former argue about religious truth. As early as the 16th century common folks had a feel for the ongoing disputes. A typical example is the understanding of the Holy Communion. The following picture called Geistlicher Rauffhandel (religious brawl) taken from a wood carving of 1590 shows the Pope, Luther and Calvin in dispute. The author of the flyer asks the pertinent question: Wo das Christentum dann sey (Where does Christendom come in)?


More than 2000 years ago Christendom came into the world with a boy born in Bethlehem.

Christmas crib in Sankt Johanniskirche in Freiburg on the first day of Christmas 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013

I Wish You a Merry Christmas

As mentioned in a previous blog: This year Freiburg's Minster church was honored in celebrating the 500th anniversary of the consecration of its Hochchor (high choir). The Swiss painter Johann Louis Bleuer (1792-1850) shows the Minster as seen from the Schlossberg in a "super-elevated" depiction with the choir, as the word high suggests, being higher than the nave.


In addition the amazing aquatint of 1840 shows that Freiburg had remained restricted in its surface to the size Vauban had specified when he constructed his fortifications around the then French city in the 1680s. When the French troops "definitely" withdrew from Freiburg in 1745 they destroyed Vauban's masterpiece. Note that on the debris left behind Freiburg's citizens do their gardening. Only with the energetic building activity under Mayor Otto Winterer did the city eventually expand beyond its inner circle at the end of the 19th century.

You are missing a Christmas theme? One of the artists who helped finish the Minster high choir was Johannes Wydyz. Sad to say he did not see its consecration for he already died in 1510. One of the masterpieces he created in 1505 is the Adoration of the Magi:


Undisturbed by the unrest of the times Wydyz shows three wealthy gentlemen clad in splendid gowns offering their gifts to little Jesus. The boy however does not take notice of them but rather wants to get hold of a box old man Joseph presents to him. In vain, mother Mary holds Jesus too tight.

Wydyz's presentation breathes the divinely ordered society of the Middle Ages. But there is trouble ahead with the peasants' revolt just outside Freiburg's city gates in the summer of 1513 although the executions of the apprehended insurgents at the beginning of December perturbed the celebration of the consecration of the Minster high choir only slightly. But this dissonance is only a forerunner of Luther's protest against the abusiveness in the Catholic Church in the form of his 95 Theses in 1517; another 500th anniversary is coming up. Well, it is all history, but it is history that shaped the Christian world. Let us admire Wydyz's masterpiece instead.

I wish all my friends and followers of my blog a

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Peace to the shacks!

No, this is not my Christmas blog. This text that I had intended to write back in January is devoted to Georg Büchner, a genius of the German language, who was born on October 23, two hundred years ago. The Büchner Year will be coming to an end soon; I must hurry up.

A recently discovered portrait of Georg Büchner at the age of twenty
Den 20. Januar ging Lenz durch's Gebirg. Die Gipfel und hohen Bergflächen im Schnee, die Thäler hinunter graues Gestein, grüne Flächen, Felsen und Tannen ... (On January 20, Lenz walked through the mountains. Peaks and high mountain-sides were snow-covered, down the valleys gray bedrock, green surfaces, rocks, and fir trees ...)

With these simple words sounding like a fanfare Georg Büchner introduces his novella Lenz. In just four years he wrote this novella and three plays: the drama Dantons Tod (Danton's Death), the comedy Leonce und Lena, and the tragedy Woyzeck. In his oeuvre Büchner pulled together information he had read, combined the texts, and worked out the highs and lows of human existence

- in the mental confusion of the poet Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz

- in the corruption of power in the antagonism between Danton and Robbespiere

- in ridiculing the nobility and celebrating the mystery of love in Leonce and Lena

- in the mental and physical sufferings of a tormented Woyzeck.

Büchner's plays are difficult to stage. The reason is that there is little action and the texts are dense. Red Baron has seen Leonce and Lena, Woyzeck, and even listened to Wozzeck, the opera by Alban Berg. Honoring Georg Büchner here in Freiburg director Robert Schubert staged Dantons Tod mostly abstaining from Regietheater (director's theater). Although Schubert rearranged some scenes he stuck to the original text and produced a remarkable performance.

Danton and Robbespiere on stage discussing the existence of God
(©Theater Freiburg/Der Spiegel).
Büchner not only was a master of the German language, he was a revolutionary and a scientist too as shown by an exhibition commemorating him at his birthplace Darmstadt.

Following Napoleon's fall the Restoration had suffocated all hopes of freedom in Germany. Only grudgingly did the re-installed princes agree to move from absolute to constitutional rule. Eventually they forced their versions of constitutions on their people. Seeing the misery of the peasants and taking up the feelings of the working population in the Grand Duchy of Hesse Büchner wrote his famous: Friede den Hütten! Krieg den Palästen! (Peace to the shacks! War on the palaces!). This proclamation he had printed as an introduction to a pamphlet called Der Hessische Landbote (The Hessian Courier) criticizing the social and political grievances in Hesse. As a result he and his friends were wanted by the state police for incitement of the people. Büchner escaped to France and Switzerland where he died in Zürich at the age of just twenty-four.

Friday, December 13, 2013

One Year Later, the Same Day


No, not exactly but the proceedings of a series of ten lectures about Freiburg in the Middle Ages were presented last night nearly Auf Jahr und Tag. The book presentation took place at the Parler-Saal of the Münsterbauhütte (masons' lodge), the place where all had started on October 15, 2012, with a lecture about Freiburg's beginnings: 1091/1220, the City Is Founded. The speaker, Dr. Heinz Krieg, harped on the fact that Freiburg's founding year is subject to interpretation and still debated among specialists. The interest in those lectures was so great that, with the Parler-Saal fully packed, the lecture had to be repeated one week later for those who had not found a seat.

The following lectures dealing with various aspects of Freiburg's history in the Middle Ages needed the space of the university's auditorium maximum. The series ended on March 4, 2013, with a lecture by Minster master builder Yvonne Faller: December 5, 1513, the New Minster High Choir Is Consecrated. A few days ago on December 5, 2013, the Catholic Church and Freiburg's citizens celebrated the 500th anniversary of the magnificent high choir.

©Thomas Kunze, BZ
The book is a treasure trove. It will serve to improve further Red Baron's website on Freiburg's history.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

GroKo and BAföG

The elections to the Bundestag were held at the end of September and Germany still has no government.

In Thailand people are taking to the streets against the government. In the Ukraine too.
And we don't even have a government to demonstrate against.
Note: the people are wearing Germany's national colors (©Harm Bengen)
Lengthy coalition negotiations between the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats eventually led to an agreement on legislation projects for the coming four years.

The coalition has 503 and the opposition 127 seats in the Bundestag:
One fart from us -- and things will be quiet down back there (©BZ; Stuttmann).

However, before the Gro-Ko-deal* may come into force all members of the latter party were asked to approve the Elefantenhochzeit (marriage between the black and the red elephant) by December 13.
*German pun with the word Krokodil, i.e., Großer Koalitionsdeal that translates into grand coalition deal.

Stop the press: Red Baron just learned that GroKo has been chosen Germany's new word of the year.

A GroKo made from concrete in Freiburg? I would rather call it a Crocon.
As you may imagine the coalition agreement is an expensive compromise on the combined promises made by both parties during their election campaign. Due to lack of money many a promise will remain on paper that, as we all know, is patient. In particular, one expenditure both parties agreed upon will be axed: an increase in the ceiling of BAföG. The Bundesausbildungsrderungsgesetz (Federal law concerning the support of high and tertiary school education and academic training) provides interest-free loans to students for financing their studies. Borrowers start paying back their loans once they earn some money. I do not want to give you a lesson on BAföG but instead would like to comment on a poster full of demands students at the Humboldt University in Berlin produced for the recent federal election:

As one of my most loyal readers observed, Red Baron likes alliterations and here we go:

©BZ
These demands translate as follows into English albeit without alliterations:

BAFöG instead of bankruptcy. No more money for that. The parties instead agreed to serve their clients, i.e., aging mothers and worn-out skilled-workers with increased pensions. This did neither please the young Christian Democrats (Junge Union) nor the young Social Democrats (Jusos) who rightly criticized that once more the young have to pay for the old.

Student canteen instead of instant noodles means that students demand enough money so they can afford decent meals.

Work instead of illegal employment requests that it should be possible for students to find real jobs instead of working without paying taxes and without being insured.

Student dormitory instead of camper van. In fact, there is a lack of student accommodations all over Germany so that some do sleep in rather unusual places.

Advising instead of burnout. In comparison with the States, academic advising at German universities is an area still in need of improvement. Indeed, some students not guided properly in their studies have been diagnosed with signs of an early burnout.

Culture instead of console. Give the means to students so that they may participate in cultural activities instead of playing computer games. Here I do not agree. Already at the time when Red Baron was among the student population operas, theaters, and concerts were offering tickets at a reduced affordable price to students although we had to be early in line and stay there for long periods to get those.

Day care center instead of being childless. This demand I do not understand. Does that mean the female students aim to get pregnant and then will park their offspring in day care centers? I understand that women will always have a problem matching both family and career; but then nursing babies in lecture halls?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Women Power

In its weekend edition the Badische Zeitung published an article: Women catch up, slowly. The title is surely misleading when the female author proudly compares the number of female students with the number of male students in Freiburg and its sister (sic!) cities with the result that the former are dominating. With percentages ranging from 52.2% in Madison to a record 60.2% in Iran's !! Isfahan female students have the majority throughout. With 52.5% female students Freiburg is only slightly "better" than Madison. Red Baron attending physics lectures was never distracted by long-haired fellow students sitting in front of him. Those days are long gone.

A determined female student is entering Freiburg's Alma Pater? through the main entrance.
The photoshopped picture shows Homer's statue with red varnished fingernails
(©Badische Zeitung).
With respect to master degrees the figures are 51.1% compared with 51.6%. Here Madison's female students are ahead of Freiburg's students as well as in the percentages of doctor degrees with 45.4% to 50.6%. When it comes to the numbers of professors Freiburg is a "developing" university. It carries the red lantern among all sister city universities with only 17% female professors compared with 25.9% in Madison.

Why? Red Baron's experience with female bosses is only positive. When doing my thesis I was working at an institute headed by a male professor who was rarely visible. Instead the institute financed by federal money was "governed" by a lady whom the Ministry of Science had sent. She gave us youngsters all the attention needed during our entry into the world of science and I am still grateful for her encouragement and assertion.

What Freiburg really needs is a female university rector whereas the University of Madison has already its third female Chancellor.