“And it got worse”

Dr. Andreas Puttmann © private

The year 2020 is on the home stretch. It was a year that will not soon be erased from memories. Catholic publicist Andreas Puttmann with a guest commentary on church, politics, society – and the Corona pandemic of 2020.

"Out of the chaos a voice spoke to me: 'Smile and be happy, it could be worse.And I smiled and was happy. And it got worse!" – If the visitation of a pandemic were not a deadly serious matter, this popular office adage could stand as a motto over the expiring year. Haven't we had enough problems on planet Earth and in our own country?? Climate change, devastating fires, wars, famine, flight and displacement, financial crisis, radicalization and polarization, dying democracies?

And then 2020 brings a catastrophe that no one had on the calculation: so far, about 1.8 million covid deaths worldwide, many times that number of people harmed in terms of health; in Germany, so far, already 1.7 million infected and over 30.000 deaths, about 85 percent of which, according to autopsy findings, were not just "with," but actually at died of this aggressive virus, despite early and comprehensive preventive measures. The social and financial dislocations are still barely manageable.

Trump abdicates

As might be expected, the pandemic became a litmus test for the fitness of political conceptions, social value orientations and even religious currents. The reality constructs of right-wing populist muzzlers shattered against the inexorability of natural laws.

Woe to the nation that went into the pandemic with a Trump or Bolsonaro! After all, it cost the grotesque narcissist and notorious liar in the White House the office. One of the few bright spots this year. Unimaginable what would have happened if the admirer of Putin and divider of his own nation would have been elected for another four years to the top of the world power USA.

What remains frightening: The vast majority of his party and supporters supported Trump's brazen refusal to accept his Democratic ouster. In the end, the fate of this great democracy hung by the thread of the official ethos of a handful of Republican-minded Supreme Court justices.

Bitter, too, the realization: the end of this four-year nightmare is not thanks to U.S. Christians. They again opted – especially the evangelicals, but also the Catholics – by a majority for the amoral, egomaniacal candidate, who posed with a Bible in front of cameras and reminded like no other of the "father of lies".

AfD, lateral thinkers and right-wing populists

Even our dilettante political actors from the AfD were caught cold by the pandemic. It split its clientele into a part of reality deniers who defiantly joined the "lateral thinkers" (and are partly responsible for incidence peaks and overloaded crematoria in AfD strongholds); the other part, not yet completely emancipated from reality, preferred to play it safe with the otherwise hated "mainstream" out of self-preservation interest. The party plummeted from once as high as 16 percent to mostly below 10.

And with dwindling success, the basic ideological conflict between right-wing conservatives and right-wing extremists has become more open than ever. Verfangsschutzamter did by the extension of the observation a remainder. The transition from "fermentation" to clarification between Nazis and German nationalists is also one of the positive results of this political year. But this does not mean that it would be possible to do sensible politics with the latter. Even the "moderates" are still radical and unbridled enough to make a "bourgeois" coalition impossible.

The paradox of the German right-wing populists will continue to be that they bring the Greens and SPD into government almost across the board, in the worst case even alongside the Left Party. Those who voted on the 5. Those who voted for an FDP prime minister by Hocke's grace in Erfurt on February 2 no longer need to get worked up about it.

And the other political camps?

At the federal level, a left-wing alliance continues to run up against a "glass ceiling" of 42 to 44 percent. The zeitgeist does not blow from the left, neither nationally nor internationally. The only chance for the German left would be – another paradox – a CDU leader Friedrich Merz. In his overconfidence, he wouldn't do it under chancellor either. However, most delegates at the election party conference in January are probably realistic enough to offset the 2 to 3 percent that could perhaps be poached from the AfD and FDP with a right-wing liberal candidate against foreseeable larger losses in the center.

12 percent of voters vacillate between the Union and the Greens, 8 between the Union and the SPD, and only 2 between the AfD and the Union, the Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion Research found. A Merz CDU would lose Merkel credit among centrist voters and slip below 30 percent. With her intelligence, prudence, unpretentiousness, ability to compromise, integrity, experience and, last but not least, her science-based Corona policy, the Chancellor is at the zenith of her reputation – and in pleasant contrast to the behavior of the "alpha dogs" in Moscow, Washington, London, Budapest and Ankara.

Handing Merkel's inheritance to an unreconciled antipodean with no experience in government and no team-player qualities would be even more foolish than the SPD's gyrations in rejecting its most popular federal politician as party leader and then proposing him as the best chancellor imaginable the following year. We don't even want to talk about the strategic dead end and ideological narrowing into which Christian Lindner has led his FDP.

Beneath the surface of relative stability, the Federal Republic also appears more open to incursions of political unreason than it might prima vista appear. This is supported, for example, by the INSA findings that 29 percent of Germans (in the East even 35%) are afraid that the amendment to the Infection Protection Act will undermine democracy in Germany; only a slight majority (52%) do not share this fear. The years-long likening of democracy and dictatorship by right-wing populist agitation has contributed significantly to such misperceptions of motives and constitutional processes.

Distrust is sown in the fight against democracy, because its most important resource for cohesion in pluralism is trust: in the common rules and the fundamentally honest intention even of political opponents. Let's not kid ourselves: Even if the political fringes did not continue to grow in 2020, the future of German democracy is not ared. Abusive behavior and unparliamentary propaganda antics by members of parliament and the encroaching guests they bring in are symptoms of progressive brutalization, not only in the subcultures of Internet forums and social media.

And the church?

In addition, there are disturbing international signals: the rise of democracy movements in Belarus, Hong Kong and Venezuela, which leaves little hope; the brutality with which Erdogan, Putin or the Mullah regime in Iran are getting rid of their opponents; the renewed war in the Caucasus; Islamist and right-wing extremist acts of terrorism, as in Vienna, Paris and Hanau, but also in the U.S. and Africa; illegal push-backs of refugee boats even through democratic states; and the continued grinding away at the rule of law in Poland and Hungary. It is still unclear whether the EU "rule of law mechanism", which has been achieved after all, will prove to be effective against this.

And the church? Here, too, the "And it got worse" would unfortunately fit in 2020. Yet, in my impression, it has done well in the pandemic. The Leopoldina praised "the two large churches" as "particularly rule-compliant institutions with regard to the observance of corona-related distance and hygiene requirements".

I experienced the pastoral creativity in the parishes as great: large churches with spiritual stations for Advent and "give-aways" for home that can be walked through with a lot of distance; waterproof welded religious impulses on street lamps with QR codes that lead to church websites; video miniature sermons on Sunday sent by priests via Whatsapp, ethical orientations by Christian scientists on the pandemic problem of "triage," attractively designed television services and much more.

I had anxious questions less about the supply than about the actual demand. Because the spiritual water table in the country continues to sink. Nominally, half of the country is still Christian, but according to surveys, only a quarter of Germans still celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. And if church convention and sociability fall away for a longer period of time, the faith life of individuals often does not keep its promise. The pandemic-related "business interruption" for large parts of congregational life could cause worship attendance to plummet even beyond the pandemic.

Add to this the theological polarization, already described in the 2019 Annual Review here, between "modernizers" who increasingly apply secular, democratic (and Western European) standards to their church, and those who want to turn "the church into a museum piece or the property of a few" (Pope Francis), feeling they are the "holy remnant" even though they quite unholily look down on and lash out at others – and not infrequently stray into unholy political alliances that also discredit their religious cause. These two poles of German Catholicism are – even in the episcopate – hardly capable of talking to each other, even if the "Synodal Way" made an honorable attempt to do so.

Wading in the abuse mpf

Another factor was the persistent wading in the mire of abuse, coupled with and amplified by clumsiness in communication, fickleness, appropriating dealings with victims' representatives and, on the other hand, the efforts of some critics to drive in stakes for their own church-ideological march through with the clarification.

Most horrifying in 2020 were the findings in the diocese of Speyer about an almost gang-like organized sexual abuse of home children by priests and politicians, to whom nuns are said to have fed the victims from the children's home, with the participation of a former vicar general. And that is from 1963, before the "sexual revolution". With all the dirt that one already knew about: This shocked once again violently. Even the most ardent defender of all the good that has always happened through the ministry of the Church and continues to happen today in many places and unspectacularly, is in danger of becoming demoralized and doubting the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church.

Where then does "resilience" come from, mental resistance, the ability to survive oppressive life situations without lasting, debilitating impairment? For the Christian through anchoring in the spiritual foundation, in the testimony of the prophets and in Jesus' teachings and deed of love on the cross, as reported by the gospels. "For strong as death is love… Mighty waters cannot quench love, nor rivers wash it away" (Song of Songs 8:6-7), not even rivers of slurry of human wickedness, licentiousness and sin against fellow man in the Church.

One can perhaps compare the Catholic today, repelled by scandals and pathologies of religion, to Sisyphus. How he rises every morning in the determination to help build the work of love, to carry his stone high and to offer the best possible resistance to the (ab)inclination to evil – first in himself. "The fight against summits is able to fill a human heart. We must think of Sisyphus as a happy man," said Albert Camus. In this sense: Here's to a better, happy, beneficial 2021 in the Christian community and the civil community!

Dr. Andreas Puttmann

To the author: Dr. phil. Andreas Puttmann is a political scientist and freelance publicist. He lives in Bonn. His main topics are basic political and ethical ies, sociology of religion and church politics.

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