Religion in Berlin - English

The House of None

By Alexander Görlach24.03.2015Culture and Society

A single house of worship for a common God? In the capital of atheism? Berlin proves that its ambitious projects extend well beyond new airports and hosting the Olympics.

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Right in the heart of Berlin, on the very spot where the Saint Petri Church used to stand, a new temple dedicated to the monotheistic religions, the “House of One”, is in the works. In the enlightened city of the Prussians and in the spirit of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, the reasoning goes that religion should educate on values and morals rather than split hairs and foster dogmatic quarrels. The planned project of the “House of One” does exactly that in an objective and invigorating way. With the Prussian church having lost its relevance, the German Protestant church is taking the lead in the project. The Jewish community has enthusiastically pledged its support. Only the Muslims are still hesitant.

All together under the same roof? Latest polls reveal that Muslims perceive their religious faith as superior to others. This is not only haughty with respect to the fact that we are unable to understand God with any degree of certainty, it is also a perspective that fuels conflicts within our societies. If I strengthen my identity through religion and use my perceived superiority to place myself above my fellow citizens, then I will never be able to adhere to societal norms that are not in line with my religion. But polls are tricky. The wording of questions matters, and a specific answer to one doesn’t preclude a contrary response to another.

The fact is, that it remains yet unclear who in Berlin will spearhead Muslim participation in this particular project. The same goes for the Catholics, who have so far declined to participate. So before jumping to conclusions about stubborn Muslims, one should first take a look at the Papists.

Atheism without formative power

To some extent, our pluralistic society is forcing this building onto the religious communities. Berlin isn’t renowned as the capital of atheism without reason. Due to its communist past and concomitant restrictions on religion, the area surrounding Berlin has a relatively small Christian population – in some places, it is well below 10 percent. At the same time, the education and welfare sectors would crumble without the involvement of the church; there is a volunteer for every full-time worker (paid incidentally in part through church taxes) in these sectors. There is no other group that actively contributes as much to cohesion and solidarity in the city than the church. When it comes to shaping our society, atheism is completely powerless; opposing plenty, but never supporting anything. Thank “God”, this religious grouping was not given space to articulate its views.

We cannot know absolute truths when it comes to God; we can only believe. Orthodox followers of all three Abrahamic religions refer to their respective holy writings and claim that God has spoken to them through these texts. But none can offer proof, and they shouldn’t attempt to. That there shall now, figuratively speaking, be an empty room in the middle of the house that is open to all, hints (probably unintentionally) at the fact that if God exists, he is always larger than we could possibly imagine: the God of Jews, the God of Christians, the God of Muslims. This is the essence of the “House of None”. And behold: It was very good.

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