What is a secular humanist church

From free thinker to humanistThe Church of the Non-Denominational

"Buy what the cartels accuse you of, read what the censors allow you; believe what the Church and Party command you. Trousers are currently worn on average. Freedom not at all."

The journalist and writer Kurt Tucholsky took his liberty at the beginning of the last century and made his own thoughts. Joachim Kahl, who was once a free thinker and is now a member of the Humanist Association of Germany, does the same.

"You could say a free thinker is a free spirit, a person who does not allow himself to be patronized by authorities, especially religious-ecclesiastical, but uses his own understanding, his own reason, to make his sense of worldly and other things. "

"To be free in religion"

There have probably always been such free thinkers in the literal sense of the word, lateral thinkers in the protest sense. But they first organized themselves in the 19th century. A growing educated middle class and exciting scientific discoveries run together against church walls. For the first time, free thinking is systematically allied against church and faith, explains Andreas Fincke, student pastor in Erfurt, who dealt intensively with the history of freethinkers during his time as a speaker at the Evangelical Central Office for Weltanschauung questions.

"Of course, there are traces of atheism in the history of the West, even in Greek philosophy, so to speak. But things really only got really interesting at the beginning of the 19th century with religious criticisms, those of the established churches and religions, one could say more concretely , also a certain piety practice and also certain dogmas of the church, think of the virgin birth and the like. And they say we want to be free in religion beyond what the churches dictate to us and there were first the free religious, the They had such beautiful names as friends of light who distanced themselves from what they saw as a very rigid religious system. "

The free religious in those days believe in God but reject the churches. You want to be free in religion. The freethinkers go one step further on this path: into a life without God. The German Freethinkers Association was founded in Frankfurt am Main 135 years ago. The Gotha writer August Specht formulated his definition of free thinking in the opening speech:

"It is simply the tireless search for the pure truth on the basis of the safely recognized laws of nature and in the light of sound reason that unites us theoretically. This must be the bond that wraps around us as a community or holds us together and our falling apart into individual fragments or atoms prevented. "

"With the free thinkers, a worldview appears for the first time that says that life, society and people would generally be better if they abandoned religion in principle. The free-religious had not seen it that way."

Ludwig Büchner, brother of the writer Georg Büchner, published his book "Strength and Substance: Or Basic Features of the Natural World Order" in 1855. At the founding meeting of the German Freethinkers Association, around 700 people in attendance elect him, the doctor, scientist and philosopher, as its first president. Büchner's book becomes the bible of freethinkers, the bible of a materialistic world order. By 1904 there were over twenty editions. In "Kraft und Stoff" (Strength and Substance), Büchner primarily processed the theses of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. They shake the worldview of his contemporaries.

Contemporary portrait of the German doctor and philosopher Ludwig Büchner (1824-1899) (picture alliance / dpa / Bifab)

The message that society is biologically and historically homemade is comparatively light fare. But that man should not be the crown of creation, but the accidental result of natural selection, that was difficult to digest for contemporaries at the time. Man is suddenly naked and thrown back on himself. According to Darwin, there is no such thing as a "higher sense". That turns the old world upside down. But the free thinkers find their feet.

Modified Darwinism

To this day. Richard Dawkins, the well-known and notorious evolutionary biologist of the British Isles, came to the fore with his book "Der Gotteswahn" exactly ten years ago, and he repeatedly invokes the theory of evolution in a modified Darwinian sense. And from there, of course, there is a strong anti-religious or at least religious-critical impulse.

The British zoologist, evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins (picture alliance / dpa / epa efe Foersterling)

Most of the free thinkers at the time also saw themselves as Darwinists. And they have their spiritual beacons in Ludwig Büchner and the zoologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel, which should show them the way out of the idealistic age into enlightened self-determination.

It is about a new philosophy of life based on science and freedom of conscience. These free thinkers mostly come from upper class families. Many hold fast to non-ecclesiastical forms of religiosity. Albert Dulk, spokesman for the Freethinker Community in Stuttgart, spoke of a free-thinker religion in a lecture in 1884:

"Yes, we need religion - because it alone gives the cognitive image of the whole, of the unity of life, of the universe, which we cannot grasp with our understanding, only with our feelings, with our feelings for the world. But religion, the determining authority, the highest truth common to all people, which makes it a power, a right, a truth for all - not a religion of individual covetousness and superstition, but of common sense and the highest education, not of hate, but of love for people Equality and fraternity. The religion of free thought, the religion of freethinkers - our religion. "

"Aggressive against the Churches"

The religion of the freethinkers has a hand-carved railing. People should be better off without God and Church. But what exactly should the true, good and beautiful then be - and how is it expressed in life? The doctor of theology and philosopher Joachim Kahl from Marburg says:

"For me that is a weakness of the term in terms of content, since it basically only leaves a purely formal freedom in thinking and what is now being thought open. And there is a bon mot within free-thinking milieus: It is not important to think freely, but to think correctly. "

In the 19th century there was a constant struggle to find the right one. The world was spinning fast back then: science, industrialization, ideas for life reform and the formation of a strong working-class culture with political parties set the pace. And everyone thinks they are thinking and doing the right thing. The competition also drives bourgeois freethinkers out of the study and onto the streets.

"They positioned themselves relatively quickly. They also achieved astonishing membership figures. There are various reasons for. They also acted vehemently, if not to say aggressively, against the churches. They drove through Berlin in a horse-drawn carriage, advocating weeks of leaving the church , that was pretty serious. "

At that time there were numerous free-thinking groups and small groups. In general, however, the movement in Germany is essentially based on three sources: the rationalist criticism from the English and French Enlightenment, a radical criticism of religion as represented by Ludwig Feuerbach, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, and a scientific materialism.

Freed from religion as the "opium of the people", man should free himself from his vale of misery. The free thinker movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries are looking for the world and not the hereafter, wanting to improve the here and now. Religion and state should be separated, denominational schools abolished and belief declared a purely private matter. At the time, Friedrich Engels described the goal in a polemic:

"When society has freed itself and all its members from bondage by taking possession and systematic handling of the entire means of production, when man no longer just thinks but also directs, then the last foreign power that is now still in the will disappear Religion reflects. "

Not master or servant

There is only a good and true life without God and Church. In short, this is the freethinking disenchantment of the world. The freethinkers only succeed in this because they do not get stuck in protest against the church, capital and the military. They also stand for a new, scientifically and democratically composed view of life with its own culture and with its own passage rites, such as the birth celebrations, the youth celebration, the funeral at the grave or the celebration of the winter solstice. Ulrich Klan, teacher and member of the Freethinker Association in Wuppertal:

"I found a text here from an old youth party in Hamburg in 1924. They chose the slogan:" We want to be a flame, to liberate the world, we want the highest law, not master or servant, we want our life to one thing give, everyone should become a whole human being on earth. "That sounds almost religious, but it is actually without God. It was actually a special educational movement to criticize religion. The children received a well-founded education as to why this offer is made in the first place and to which roots it supports itself. There Bebel was read, there Marx and Engels were read, but also poets of the Enlightenment. "

The German Freethinkers Association reached its peak in 1932 with more than 650,000 members in over 2,000 local groups. At that time he became the most powerful ideological opponent of the churches in Germany - and not just because of his thoughts, but also because of his deeds. In addition to the passage rites, there are lectures and educational events, a kind of club life and also very tangible, material advantages for the members, explains the theologian and pastor Andreas Fincke:

"There are very banal reasons for this, because before '33 freethinking was associated with a death insurance. Death insurance means that in the event of death you got a few marks for the deceased husband to pay for the funeral. And that is the seat in life which brought many members to the freethinkers. So people also thought a bit pragmatically. "

Freethinkers have also advocated cremation since the middle of the 19th century. Expensive tombs are for Christians and wealthy citizens. Free thinkers let themselves be burned and their ashes scattered into the world.

The heyday of the German free thinkers in the Weimar Republic is short - and their fall deep.

Andreas Fincke: "You got caught in the split that is so typical of the labor movement in the 20th century, namely the split between communists and social democrats, so you could say those who were loyal to Moscow and those who were more organized in social democracy and who then fought each other. That weakened them immensely. "

Free thinkers under National Socialism

But National Socialism gave them the fatal blow. Even before Hitler came to power, President Paul Hindenburg banned the Freethinker Association by emergency decree in May 1932.

Some free thinkers are fighting underground against the Nazi regime. Its chairman, Max Sievers, was beheaded in January 1944 in the Brandenburg-Görden prison.

After the war, the Freethinkers' Association did not create a real new beginning, says the Marburg theologian, philosopher and freethinker Joachim Kahl:

"I explain it to myself that after the fall of National Socialism the Christian-occidental vaulting was so strong that a really secular, secular and non-religious world and human interpretation hardly got any chances. That actually only happened in the wake of the 1968 movement reactivated, but that didn't exist in the early years of the Federal Republic. "

In addition, there are wing struggles between a Marxist and a social democratic part and a backward-looking ideology of the free thinkers:

"They were always like an ideological sect, one could almost say. It probably has to do with the fact that the free thinkers were not up to date. They fought the old battles. With anticlerical theses they no longer lure people out from behind the stove . "

New start after the war

After the fall of the wall, the German free thinkers experienced another brief spring, because atheism and socialism were at home in the GDR - free thinking, however, probably only in niches.

As early as the early 1990s, there was a dispute about true free-thinking. There is a split. The Humanist Association Germany is founded, which sees itself as a further development of free thinking. Joachim Kahl, who co-founded the association in Hanover in 1993, explains that he wants to offer the growing number of non-denominational people a voice and ideological home:

"Freethinking is not dead, but it is becoming increasingly obsolete, it is becoming obsolete, it is getting a sectarian aftertaste, which on the other hand is regrettable. Because the ideal of free thinking is indispensable, but not enough. The churches and the Christian religions and now of course that Islam still need fundamental criticism. And the Humanist Association faces this without exhausting itself. "

Joachim Kahl calls his philosophy of life secular humanism, which he published as a book under the title "Secular Humanism - A Philosophy for Our Time" a few years ago.

"For me, the concept of atheism is integrated. But that is not the primary thing. The primary thing is that it is a non-religious, philanthropic interpretation of the world. This is an extension, because in the concept of humanism this anti-religious fixation is and is removed the human problems in all their deep dimensions, which are not only of a intellectual kind, but also of an emotional and spiritual kind are in the process of being suspended. "

Like the freethinkers 135 years earlier, the Humanist Association tries to provide an ideological orientation for the growing number of non-denominational people in this country. Their path leads through a kind of secular diakonia. In Berlin and the surrounding area, the Humanist Association today has around 1,000 employees in day-care centers, advice centers and hospices. And they have achieved for Berlin and Brandenburg that the subject of life studies is on an equal footing with religious education. But the humanists are best known for their youth celebrations.

'We want the privileges of the churches for ourselves too'

Like the free thinkers, humanists are against any closeness of state and church, explains Andreas Fincke:

"Religious instruction, the state collection of church taxes, theological faculties, Christian pastoral care of the Bundeswehr - the Humanist Association says: We want to abolish this, but on the way there we are all demanding these privileges for ourselves. And we are referring to Article 4 of the Basic Law, which does not differentiate between religion and worldview. So it can also be refinanced a bit from the public purse and thus does something that classic freethinkers would have rejected. "

But do non-denominationalists even need a roof over their heads today?

"There are people who need it and there are those who don't need it, who say, I put my own worldview in order. But there are also understandably people who are overwhelmed by the present and are irritated and mentally and ideologically , also need spiritual suggestions. And the Humanist Association is happy to help. "

"Weakness as an expression of insignificance"

With a model that the freethinkers formulated in other words, but similar in content, even 135 years ago. The German Freethinkers Association has hardly any members and is hardly heard. The Humanist Association is growing primarily as a service provider. It almost seems as if the old and new freethinkers are sick today with freedom itself. Perhaps the opponent is missing, as once the strong churches, on which the freethinking or humanistic spirit could sharpen itself. In this respect, the theologian Andreas Fincke wishes:

"So in a certain way it would be almost more gratifying for the churches if the freethinkers were fresher, bolder and more potent, then that would also show that people rub themselves more into religious and spiritual questions. The weakness of these groups is an expression of a largely irrelevant factor and from the church's point of view that is the worrying message of the whole thing. Hundreds of thousands of them turn away every year, bored. They step out in silence, they don't slam the door again, they just go. "