Already as a young person Eugen Drewermann (ED) followed his own conscience and not an external authority, be it the state, church or tradition. He new: “I would never learn how to kill people on command. (…) I would never let myself be harassed by following orders. I would never delegate responsibility to some drill sergeant. I was antimilitarist (…) by nature.” This was in the 1950s when the rearmement of the Federal Republic of Germany was on the agenda. Already back then ED was in contradiction with the Catholic Church and Pope Pius XII, who had written in a Christmas message in 1955 that a catholic citizen was not allowed to have conscientious objection to military service.
ED became a Catholic priest with the idea of helping people, to accompany them on their way to themselves and to maturity. This exactly brought him in conflict with the Catholic Church and its dogma: “I had the illusion to believe that the existing institution could only profit from becoming more human. To this I wanted to contribute and I did not know that those who dare undertake it are jeopardizing the power of the Church by liberating people, that strict obedience to the Church and individual maturity were mutually exclusive options.”
I first noticed Eugen Drewermann as a peace activist when I was watching videos about the monday demonstrations for peace in Germany. There was this modest man who spoke in Berlin in December 2014, his way of speaking and his words, the combination of a radical political analysis with human feelings, resonated with the hearts and minds of the people listening to him. That I did not know who this remarkable man was is testimony to my limitations, but it was also the beginning of an interest in the ideas of ED that has only grown over time.
For Drewermann war is the sum total, the consequence and the cause of all the evil that human beings can do to each other. As long as it is with us, this world is out of order and it needs healing. But how? (Drewermann 2001. Jesus von Nazareth. S.12).
Not with morality and pointing an accusing finger, he says, but with a therapeutic attitude of understanding, empathy, openness, and love. Drewermann tries to follow the example of Jesus, not the alienated Jesus of the Church, but the Jesus who wanted to show us that there is a power that sustains us, protects us, so that we need not answer violence with counterviolence, terror and fear with more terror and more fear, a power that puts trust in each of us and allows us to believe in ourselves and to try to become whole as a person and as society. This is not to overpsychologize, says Drewermann, but on the contrary, the idea is to find in the humang being the pivotal point from which the existing world can be unhinged and turned towards a new and better world.
In my view this points to the revolution which we actually need: to transform the “old human being” into a “new human being”, to change the personality structure and correspondingly to change the structure and dynamics of society, to move away from following the commands of others, which are interiorized in our super-ego, towards following the commands of our own heart and our own conscience, to liberate us from heteronomy and to learn to act in accordance with the individual person each of us is and becomes, creating a free society of mature individuals.
The experience of war and death and fear marked Drewermann for life. He talks about the bombs that destroyed his village and neighborhood, about the rearmement of the Federal Republic of Germany, about the German army again waging war abroad, in violation of the German constitution, the Kosovo war being a breakthrough made possible by the Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and the Social Democrat Chancellor Gerhard Schörder.
From a conscript force the German Bundeswehr has been transformed into a professional army. It is part of an aggressive war machine called NATO, which serves capital and the global hegemonic interests of the United States. ED talks about the propaganda it takes to recruit soldiers and to prepare the soldiers and the German or any population for war; this happens by dehumanizing an imagined enemy and by “Hitlerization”. He points to the systematic effort of the German government to make a still reluctant population get used to the idea of Germany being at war again. One expression of this spirit is the headline of the Spiegel 47/2006 saying “Germans must learn to kill!“, another the many aggressive speeches of the German President Gauck.
War and death is business; the causes of war are produced by the military-industrial complex. “A vampire can only subsist by sucking blood. The industrialized military machine can only subsist by waging war.” However, to conduct war with individuals is impossible; to make a soldier, individuals have to be massified and depersonalized. Drill turns individuals into zombies, which have learned to switch off their own feelings and to simply obey orders instead. Killing is not an individual act, it is an institutionalized act that enables soldiers to feel alive in the act of killing as part of a bigger body. Soldiers killing in war is not considered a crime, it is service to the fatherland.
ED talks about several missed opportunities for peace, above all in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when Russia under Gorbatshov proposed the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and NATO and the creation of a new peace order: “There was then the vision, which would have been possible for Europe, to unite Eurasia from Vladivostok to Barcelona and Lissabon, as an economic union, the whole Eurasia, exactly that, which Russia had in mind and what would have been good for the West, was of course the nightmare of the Americans. It is exactly this, which should be prevented by the expansion of NATO to the East, thwarted now by TTIP, the new free trade zone, and which should also be boycotted in the Ukraine.” There is much evidence that the United States consider nuclear war feasible again and they prepare for it. This is very dangerous and the pressure is mounting; it could boil over any time. Paradoxically those who do not want this at all are those we declare to be the warmongers and aggressors: Putin’s Russia.
Where is Gods place in this rather gloomy picture of reality? Drewermann answers, I think, that the human capacity to wage war has been created by evolution, not by God. To explain nature we need science, not religion. Religion is needed as a contrast program; it tells us that we don’t have to behave like chimpanzees, we don’t have to follow our animal instincts which evolved long ago. Just like we can learn how to be a soldier and kill, we can learn how to be human and not kill. We must die, but we must not kill. War is not a fact of nature, it is the result of social organization. “(…) it is fear, that brutalizes people. When people are in fear, they are able to do anything to save their life. Then the most terrible things become thinkable, above all in big groups. Then there is no individual any more, all that remains is a collective struggle for survival.”
What God wants is written in 1 John chapter 4: God is love. And that is the whole sermon of Jesus, the power of God consists in nothing else than to love people so that it helps them and does them well. Everything else that contradicts this can safely be dismissed as a will that is not divine. The only way in which God really speaks in our heart, never from the outside, is the desire for love and its fulfilllment. And what happens in this way between people, is carried by God. (Eugen Drewermann. Radio Bremen, Redefreiheit, Gehorsam, 31.10.2015)
ED does not believe that people are evil. But fear can change people and then we have what the bible calls the old human being, which counters aggression with more aggression, and only the strongest survive, that’s the heritage of evolution. The message of the new testament is completely the opposite. Trust in God is the background for understanding Jesus and why he was able to deal with the suffering of people without fear of making mistakes and without fear of the authorities. We must learn not to have fear; based on fear peace policy is impossible; but today with the war against terror having fear is standard, we must prepare, we must control the whole world, because of our fear. However, we must not be afraid at all, because this kind of fear suffocates freedom. Where there is fear, there is no freedom. Freedom is based in trust and in the identity of the person with himself or herself. To act freely we need a reference point of trust, which helps us to overecome our fears. Otherwise fear of the others will prevent us from doing what our own conscience tells us to do.
It is not possible to create an aggressive economic system in the form of deadly competition in capitalism and then to have peace. Capitalism is definitively incompatible with freedom, says ED. Globalized capitalism needs war in order to control trade and natural resources; this will not happen voluntarily. However, we cannot continue like this; we must replace the war option with the option of negotiating; freedom is a condition for having a future.
What Jesus deems possible in the Sermon on the Mount, that we would no longer need to lie, to use violence, to accumulate wealth, to brag and trample on others; that peace bringers would be those who disarm themselves unilaterally, those who know their own limits and recognize their own wretchedness, those who practice compassion and are open to understand others, and those who embrace this world with a pure heart. For ED these are not only promises, but preconditions which help us imagine what humanity could be.Back to Eugen Drewermann