Why do intelligent people join cults?

Even God does not protect against viruses: Why the corona pandemic hits believing people harder than others

Every religion thrives on the promise to reward people's good behavior. In the face of a pandemic, it is particularly clear that behavior that conforms to faith does not offer protection against illness. On the contrary: Believers in churches, synagogues and mosques are particularly exposed to the virus.

"Where does God live?" Asked the Kozker Rebbe Menachem Mendel some learned men who were his guests. They laughed at him: “How do you talk! The world is full of his glory! " But he answered his own question: "God lives where you let him in." Martin Buber had collected these and other wonderful “narratives of the Hasidim” and modernized them in terms of language - his critics claim: fudged. Martin Buber died in 1965 and the Kozker Rebbe in 1859, but their spirit still enriches us today. Especially in the corona pandemic. As the?

It cannot be denied that practicing believers in the church, synagogue, mosque or in other religious institutions probably “let God in” more than non-believers. Based on this and the thoroughly non-denominational idea of ​​the Kozker Rebben, we conclude: The church, the synagogue, the mosque and other religious institutions are "God's homes" because seekers, God-fearing and worshipers reside there.

Letting God in and God's reward for this - assuming these two basic assumptions that apply across denominations, God's benevolence could be expected especially towards those who let him into their homes: Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

The wrath of the Eternal

The promise of God's benevolence towards those - not only in church, synagogue or mosque - who practiced religiously in everyday life everywhere and always was formulated differently between and in the three monotheistic religions, but the basic idea is identical. This is indicated by the if-then formula. Their message is: If you keep the religious commandments, you will be fine. At least if you believe in (the dear) God or his grace.

We find this basic idea exemplary and representative - even as a promise! - in the central prayer of the Jews, the «Hear, Israel» (from Deuteronomy 6, 4-9). There we read: “And if you keep my commandments, which I impose on you. . ., then I will give you the early rain as well as the latter rain at the right time. You will then collect the grain, the must and the oil. I will give the grass in your field for your cattle. You will eat and be full. Beware that your heart is deceived, that you deviate from the commandments, that you serve other gods and that you bow down to them. The wrath of the Eternal will then kindle against you. "

Christianity and Islam also offer similar if-then promises or threats, sometimes based on religious law, sometimes pious of the people. Something like this among Jews: If you do not fast on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), you will not be entered in the book of life, but in the book of death. Among Christians: If you eat meat on Fridays, the best you can do is go to purgatory. Among Muslims: If you don't wear a headscarf, you will go to hell.

If you only believe . .

The objection could be: In Christianity, partly also in Islam, the righteous, i.e. the believers, are not necessarily rewarded in this world, but in the hereafter rewarded or freed from suffering. Even where in Christianity religious practice does not mean the if - think of "sola gratia" (only through grace) or "sola fide" (only through faith) - there is an elementary if or an elementary prerequisite, namely: God Grace or belief in God. "If you believe . . . "

The Catholic idea of ​​pilgrimage is entirely earthly. Here the believers in this world expect reward or grace. Their basic idea is also based on the if and then. If God wants or: if you go on a pilgrimage, then your wish will be granted. Similar in Islam. Just an example from the Koran. Sura 2, 155–157: Those who belong to God or who return to him will be rewarded with blessings and mercies. If people “follow the guidance”, then they will enjoy it. A heavenly balance is used for just determination (for example sura 101, 6–9). Despite differentiating objections, the if-then premise applies. Even the word images of the three religions are similar to one another.

Where does god live? This question implicitly presupposes that God exists. No arguments are made here for or against. Everything wise has already been said about it, just not by everyone, and I will do the devil to provide proof or counter-proof for God's being or non-being. Nobody knows, some believe in God, others don't. Either way, belief is very different from knowledge.

The old, always new question

This means that the following question and its answers are omitted: Why does God allow Corona, other pandemics, epidemics, genocides and other accidents, both individual and collective? It is an old question, but it always remains new, and whoever asks or even answers it breaks religion in two. Religion as an institution. This break with religion as a formalized institution is anything but synonymous with the loss of faith in God or a renunciation of people's need for transcendence. However, the answer to these questions, which is derived from strict empirical data, leads to an explanation of the different internal reactions in church (s), synagogue or mosque.

The empirical evidence is clear: worldwide, the coronavirus particularly hard affects those who strictly adhere to religious commandments and who, despite the pandemic, continue to regularly go to church, synagogue or mosque for communal services. The facts are merciless: wherever church services take place in overcrowded synagogues or mosques and people are crowded together praying, where everyone really “lets God in”, a disproportionately large number of people are infected. 40 to 50 percent of all those infected in Israel in the past few weeks are Orthodox Jews. We know comparable horror numbers as a result of overcrowded churches and mosques.

Epidemiologically, the finding is obvious. Mask gruff, even those who keep God's commandments, not only let God in, but also the virus. Especially if you disregard the rules of distance. Theologically revolutionized, yes, this empirical finding ruins the foundation of the church, synagogue and mosque, because it refutes the if-then premise. Certainly this is not the first time in the religious history of mankind. Otherwise there would not be the eternal problem of theodicy, which we encounter, condensed, in the biblical book of Job. Job let God enter his "dwelling" more than anyone else. However, just as in the current corona pandemic, the "dear God" inflicted endless suffering on his loved one.

Keep praying!

The reactions to this religious revolution are different. More within than between the three monotheistic religions. The dividing lines are not primarily between Jews, Christians and Muslims, but rather within the three groups. Especially between fundamentalists on the one hand and flexibilityists on the other. Quantitative and qualitative distinctions can also be found on each one.

The key message of the fundamentalists is: “Despite our efforts, we have just inadequately fulfilled God's commandments. We are punished for this. That is why we have to serve God more intimately ”, because, according to the head of the Lithuanian Orthodoxy in Israel, the 92-year-old Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, who ruled his followers in an almost absolutist way, in his first Corona message:“ The Torah protects and saves. ”

Two weeks later, Corona grabbed him too. Now he recommended to his disciples that they should continue to pray, but not together in the synagogue, but alone, each for himself. A little later, on October 17, 2020, not yet recovered, he ordered the return to synagogue prayer, in defiance of state laws. Likewise, the resumption of teaching in the Talmud Torah schools.

Torah or ventilator?

Epidemiologically, the aged rabbi exposed tens of thousands to the corona risk. Theologically he was celebrated by his disciples. They repeated well in front of the cameras and microphones of the world media: “The Torah protects and saves” or “Who needs a ventilator when the Torah exists?”. Even if you repeat it a thousand times: it may be that you are right with reference to the “coming world”, the hereafter unknown to all of us, in this real world, in this world, this statement is sheer nonsense.

One can object this: Firm belief and optimism have a healing effect, says psychosomatics. A medical layperson should not deny this scientific statement. However, it relates to healing, not to the risk of infection, and belief in God or other beliefs does not always guarantee medical security, which other parts of Jewish orthodoxy certainly recognize. They therefore bow to state regulations.

Theological, Jewish, the way Jewish fundamentalists think and behave is nonsense for two reasons. First, since Rabbi Shmuel (165–257) his sentence in the Babylonian Talmud (tracts Baba Kama 141 a and Nedarim 28 a) has been valid: "Dina de malchuta dina", in German: The respective state law applies. Second, also according to the Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Shabat 151 b) “Pikuach nefesch Doche schabat”, in German: Saving human life cancels the Sabbath commandments.

Not only the Sabbath commandments are meant here, but all those who hinder and prevent the saving of human life. Certainly this example relates to Judaism. With Christian and Muslim fundamentalists one finds the basic pattern - «We were just not pious enough» - as well. For Islamic fundamentalists, however, the distinction between religious and secular law is unacceptable. For them all right comes from God.

Don't lose sight of the sky

The diverse flexibilists of all three religions think, believe and behave epidemiologically unproblematic. But theologically, as believers, they are confronted with the same if-then dilemma as the fundamentalist orthodox: Are we punished by the virus, i.e. ultimately by God, despite or because of our practiced or insufficiently exercised religiosity?

Her formalized, institutionalized path to God via "her" synagogue / church / mosque also turns out to be a wrong path. God does not seem to have passed through the front door to their "apartment" either. The mosque serves God in its own way and threatens to overlook people and humanity. The Protestant and, more recently, the Catholic Church must be very careful not to lose sight of heaven because they are more dedicated to politics than theology. Alexander Kissler brilliantly described and rated this development in the NZZ on October 11, 2020.

The particularly flexible ones, such as the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD), if they do not, as almost always, turn to politics and political science rather than theology - at least publicly avoid this dilemma by not even discussing it or it wipe off the table without further ado.

God punishes God - and saves

Just as embarrassing as it is typical and, at least outwardly, as unbroken as the Torah fundamentalists' quote from the council chairman on the EKD website: «The Lord is my shepherd, I will lack nothing.» (Psalm 23: 1) That helps Panic and overreaction. It is the best prerequisite to do the right thing now to avoid dangers for the future. " At the end of May 2020, both churches in Germany declared: "God does not punish, but God saves." Both the Old and the New Testament often prove the opposite, and Jesus' death on the cross was anything but a "salvation", physically and earthly, other than metaphysically.

While the second Corona wave began to sweep over Europe, Pope Francis presented his theology-remote and intellectually poor encyclical with the appeal to brotherhood, which is so sympathetic in itself. This has long been found poetically perfected in Schiller's “Ode to Joy”, musically supplemented and with almost “divine” violence at the end of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Unlike the Pope, no one expects a position on the if-then dilemma of the faithful any more than in the past.

You can turn it around as you want: The if-then premise (at least) of the three monotheistic religions has been proven empirically refuted, and not just since Corona. There is no such causality. At least - verifiably - not in this world, and nobody knows the hereafter. Not even those who arouse terrors of hell.

We are at the beginning

Hopefully or perhaps there is the "good Lord", but there is no way from the church, the synagogue or the mosque to him. Neither the rabbi nor the pastor nor the imam know what God thinks, directs and wants. Empirical evidence is legion. If anything, then everyone has their own individual God experience. The literal fulfillment of the religious laws obviously does not lead to God, but the effort to live according to the spirit of the divine laws does.

This means derived from the through and through traditional, religion-conforming image of God: the everyday endeavor of the church, synagogue, mosque and the individual to achieve a higher degree of humanity than quasi-divinity. This includes unconditional pastoral care, affection, consolation towards people, help of any kind without any if-then. Arguing immanently religiously, higher humanity is namely divinity - regardless of how one imagines God, whether he exists or not.

We are at the beginning. "In the beginning" is how the Book of Genesis begins the account of creation. It says there that God needed six days for creation and rested on the seventh. The future will tell how long it will take to re-create the synagogue, church, mosque and everyone else. Will it then be: "In the beginning there was Corona"?

Michael Wolffsohn is a historian and publicist. From 1981 to 2012 he taught at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich. His book “Tacheles. In the struggle for the facts in history and politics »published.