"This Easter will be a litmus test for faith dance, faithfulness to the faith, Christian attitude and sense of social responsibility," the journalist Andreas Puttmann is convinced. Why? Read his guest commentary.
In times of crisis, character reveals itself, they say. Especially when institutional supports and social habits that serve as handholds and guardrails in the lives of individuals fall away. This also applies to the Corona-related week-long lockdown of publicly accessible church services, now even at Easter. A kind of "business interruption" for the church. It is a litmus test for faith dance, faithfulness, Christian attitude and sense of social responsibility.
Watching Easter on TV or the Internet?
The INSA Institute, commissioned by idea, asked about the intention to "watch a church service on the Internet or television on Easter". Two-thirds of the representative respondents said they did not want to do this, 12 percent did not yet know, 5 percent did not specify. Only 15 percent of the population declared their intention to attend a service on the highest Christian festival in this way: one in four Catholics, one in five state-church Protestants and just under half of Evangelical Free Church Christians. In the new federal states, the figure is 14 percent, hardly less than in the old ones, which have been "folk church" for much longer (16 percent). Among party supporters, CDU/CSU voters (26%) are most likely to want to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on their TV or computer, followed by SPD supporters (19%) and Green supporters (14%). Only then come the alleged defenders of the "Christian West" (AfD: 12%), just ahead of left-wing (11%) and FDP (10%) supporters.
In a 2019 "Chrismon" survey, 23 percent of Germans still said they attended a church service at Easter. Already this was not even half of the church members. If one takes into account the difference between declared intention and actual implementation, it becomes completely obvious how much Christians in Germany have become a minority in the meantime. The Catholic Church, shaken by scandals surrounding the Pius brothers (2009), sexual abuse (2010), Bishop Tebartz-van Elst (2013) and the devastating findings of the MHG study (2018), as well as by constant criticism of its supposed backwardness in matters of church structure, power and morality, is no worse off than the more "modern" Protestant church, at least as far as the number of people leaving and participation in church life are concerned. And the free church members, who are regarded as particularly pious and "practicing," are surprising, with only 49 percent willing to follow a church service broadcast in the media because of the ban on meetings.
People also go to church because others do
Decades ago, demoscopists already pointed out that participation in church life owed not only to individual piety, but also to a "group dynamic process" (Renate Kocher). People also go to church because others go, whom they like to meet there. This puts into perspective not only the church attendance figures of the past, which are impressive from today's point of view, but also the current church attendance figures. For although the social convention of attending church services has long since fallen in Germany, it continues to exist in the microcosm of manageable congregations, communities and circles of friends. In this respect, it is not surprising that the willingness to celebrate Easter go is not transferable one-to-one to the decision to attend a service at home turn on.
Of course, from a Christian point of view, understanding does not mean justifying. In the age of mass communication and digitalization, the vast majority of us are accustomed to seeking community with other people through the media. So it should not be difficult to see Jesus' promise from Matthew 18:20 ("Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them") also realized in participation in a television or Internet service. Hearing the Word of God and having it interpreted, seeing and participating in the ancient paschal rites of the church, even "spiritual communion" as a form of inward connection with Christ, his invitation into one's own heart – all this is possible for Christians on Easter 2020 as well. Those who feel no longing for this and would rather attend no service at all on Easter than one broadcast by the media should ask themselves about the motives for their interest in the service. The fourth chapter from John's first letter could serve as a basis. In the image of God that appears here, Jesus is not bound to the sensual experience of receiving bread and wine. Communion with sisters and brothers in the faith is not only experienced in the pew, singing praises from hundreds of throats. Nothing against wellness feelings in the church room, but to make them the beating criterion for the value of an encounter with God and the neighbor on the feast of the resurrection probably has more to do with worldliness than some critics of the outwardly quiet Easter 2020 want to admit.
Comparison of church and supermarket
The culture warrior tone adopted by some Christian publicists against the regulation of worship practices agreed between the state and religious communities in the Corona Crisis does not speak for them. Their pose of defending the faith is hollow, their slogans of resistance and comparisons of churches with supermarkets may be convincing at first glance, but on practical and concrete examination they stand up neither to the dictates of reason nor to those of faith. They are apparent plausible. Theoretically and in individual cases, it would perhaps be possible to celebrate church services with two meter intervals and mouth protection, perhaps even including a resourceful kind of communion distribution without the danger of infection with the potentially deadly virus. But what commandment of God should be satisfied by this spasm, what grace be imparted that the risen Lord does not know how to bestow anyway?
"Deus semper maior", the ever greater God cannot be captured by our categories of thought, one would like to shout to spiritual hucksters and spinners who want to prove their dogma that the body of Christ cannot kill by hook or by crook against the reality of nature. Have they missed the reports that religious meetings in South Korea and France contributed significantly to the spread of the highly contagious Covid pathogen?? How can one miss "protest" and an "uprising of pastors" and defiantly shout "Open the gates!! We celebrate resurrection!"(Birgit Kelle) after a meeting of the free church "Portes Ouvertes Chretiennes" made the city of Mulhouse a coronavirus cluster in Alsace? How should crowding in front of places of worship be avoided when admission is restricted? How should it be monitored that religious services actually take place with as little risk as is imagined?? Should state overseers also be present in mosques and synagogues and, if necessary, intervene in a disruptive manner?? Or should the secular state not treat all religions equally and allow only Christian worship services, as some submissions hardly concealedly suggest?? What example would the churches set for other social associations if they claimed exceptions for themselves or signaled: "Go ahead! Is everything exaggerated!"?
Special celebration under the horror of the pandemic
It is disturbing when standard-bearers of Christianity, who otherwise advocate the protection of every human life – even the unborn, the weak, the threatened – talk glibly now, of all times, when tens of thousands have already died agonizingly of covid and millions worldwide threaten to follow. Completely abstruse is the attempt to put democratic politicians in the proximity of dictators: "The 'ban (!) of church meetings' (Merkel) is inadmissible. What neither the brown nor the red dictatorship managed to do, we can do it," Peter Hahne said. Believers who have lost all moderation and appear self-pitying or verbally radical abandon the Christian message to implausibility: "If one violates the basic demands of reason, our religion will be senseless and ridiculous" (Blaise Pascal).
Instead of bringing the undifferentiated, divisive, incendiary style and self-centered logic of the populists into the Church, the opposite is to be done on this particular Easter amid the horrors of the pandemic: to bear witness with appropriate seriousness, grief, humility, empathy, creativity, and theological intelligence that God is a "friend of life" despite illness and death. And that the church does not simply "do its own thing," insisting on its systemic relevance, but also lives and works as a "domestic church" and by proxy through countless sacrifices of the Mass – transmitted and not transmitted by the media. But above all, as the Council emphasizes, it stands in solidarity precisely now "with the whole human family": "The joy and hope, sorrow and anguish of the people of today, especially of the poor and afflicted of all kinds, are also the joy and hope, sorrow and anguish of Christ's disciples. And there is nothing truly human that would not find its echo in their hearts" (Gaudium et spes 1). How Christian Easter 2020 will be in Germany depends this time in a very special way on each individual believer, on his or her individual vocation to be a paschal person.
To the author: Dr. phil. Andreas Puttmann is a political scientist and freelance journalist. He lives in Bonn. His main topics are political and ethical questions of principle, sociology of religion and church politics.