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Missing the Connecting Link

, Missing the Connecting Link, eTurboNews | eTN
Image courtesy of msandersmusic from Pixabay
Written by Max Haberstroh

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Major crises and calamities have always been threats to people’s lives, often interacting with man’s inclination to arrogance, ignorance, violence, megalomania and hedonism. These properties, providing the background of the human drama, can create arch-types, mostly fictive notorious characters who epitomize their influence on individual and collective action. One of them is ‘Faust’, as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe called his drama. It depicts Faust’s fate as a failed usurper distorting the idea of freedom to sheer arbitrariness and despotism. His life was patched up with good intentions yet ended in a disaster.

Nomen est omen: While some countries use the term “Freedom Day” to celebrate the alleged retreat of COVID-19, taking more or less drastic steps to facilitate the everyday lives of their virus-torn citizens, Travel & Tourism celebrates the launch of an annual “Global Tourism Resilience Day” at the World Expo in Dubai. As a matter of fact, it is peace that has a lot to sustain to prove resilient these days. The backdrop is a threatening war in Europe – and the idea is freedom.

Faust cherished the ‘idea of free people’, as we do. In fact, however, our ‘idea of free people’ today seems jeopardized from many sides. This has to do with the ever-worsening Russian-Ukrainian-NATO conflict – but not only.

Particularly in the wake of defeating COVID-19, we have found ourselves being increasingly taught about dos and don’ts, nurturing a perceived tide of interference in our privacy. The buzzword is ‘control’, epitomized and driven to the utmost during this year’s Peking Winter Olympics, to keep COVID at bay, contacts curtailed – and critics silent.

As a matter of fact, Goethe’s ‘Faust’ could provide the inspiration: Whereas life in Faust’s ‘paradise’ is characterized by his constant efforts to close dangerous gaps through enforced control, our present world’s menacing imprint includes illegal electronic surveillance and criminal hackers’ constant efforts to abuse security software gaps in our computer networks.

Systems may lose their function, as ideologies have lost their sense.

 It has become more and more obvious that political and business megalomania and hypocrisy in grand style have their real share causing the present multifaceted European and global crisis.

Societies need rules to fair-play – and players to stick to them: We have realized that without ethics there is just chaos. Ethics, however, reduced to a moral set of instructions on how to fairly organize mutual relations — have they often not been felt too ‘bloodless’ to stick to? It may sound strange, but if we refer to Bill Clinton’s statement on economics, it comes more to the point: “It’s our Faith, stupid!” Whoever may like it or not, ‘religion’ is meant, the basis and original inspiration of our culture, and for many the first – or last – emergency exit in utmost danger.

“The 21st century will be religious, or it won’t be”, said French politician and intellectual André Malraux. Take it as an analysis for sociologists, a consolation for enlightenment-wary philosophers, or a through pass for religious institutions like, for instance, the Church: Was Malraux right?   

Today we would ask: How can that be, with the Church in Europe and North America in decline, obviously having failed to clarify and defend the essence of Christian religion? Is there a correlation between secularization and conditions that advanced technology and economy brought about? Or is it the dust of questionable dogmas that is hard to remove, as ‘Zeitgeist’ ideologies have shown equally hard to resist, while internal scandals of sexual abuse send all of us in a state of shock? Too many negative headlines have played a crucial role in an increasingly negative public perception of the established Church.

While we are facing a seemingly unstoppable leakage of denominational adherence, namely in Europe, controversies between religious institutions and believers who have stayed faithful, have become rampant. There has been a traditional consensus that people in poorer countries, especially in Africa, have a stronger adherence to religion since its promises of Paradise provided them enough consolation and force to bear their difficult earthly destinies.  

The vigilant observer, however, gets aware that there are counter-movements, too, in Europe and especially beyond, namely in Asia, China and the Middle East, in Russia and other former communist countries, but also in Latin America, where economic and technological progress seems to go quite well with spirituality, and world religions, particularly Christianity and Islam, are in stiff competition with each other, or even within their own denominations.

Reasons for an increasing demand in faith and spirituality are complex.

Our search for orientation of life and our need of guidelines that secular ideologies and the hackneyed prospects of materialism cannot provide; our desire for equity, accountability, communality, solidarity, friendliness and – time: time to retreat, reflect, create, socialize – perhaps last but not least …”that kind of peace the world cannot give you” (after John 14:27).

‘Religion’, derived from the Latin ‘relegere’ – to consider, take care – actually means returning to the origins of the message of salvation as a spiritual guideline for a peaceful life. Most of it, however, is that we feel that there is something out there beyond our own capability to fully understand and to master, and which insinuates our ‘genetical’ element to seek for a purpose higher than ourselves. Is it a kind of ‘God’s gene’ that is inherent to us? — Why do people gather, praying, laying flowers and lighting candles on the site of a terrorist attack? Is it only to show empathy? Or also to give a sign of consolatory hope that there will be eternal life in the other world? We can stand many things, but uncertainty we can hardly bear. Indeed, when it comes to the point, believers or non-believers, agnostics or atheists, do not all of us badly miss the ‘connecting link’?

Eugen Drewermann, a theologian and therapist, has an interesting approach: “… For somebody who in the desert is dying of thirst, thirst is the proof that there must be water, even if at this very place there is no water far and wide. However, since there is thirst, this shows irrefutably that there must be water, since if water did not exist there would be no thirst. The analogy concludes that there is God, since we can think of him – otherwise such a thought would never come up; and our yearning for infinity shows that we have come from infinity and will go to infinity.”

Nonetheless, in the meantime we face the very worldly conditions of interdependence:

Following the political philosopher Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde’s famous dictum that the way we are living together, “is based on conditions that the liberal, secularized state cannot guarantee”, we understand that these conditions, depending on the imponderable and arbitrary decisions of others, may profoundly vary from our own life concept.

The so-called ‘Diogenes Paradoxon’ (Paul Kirchhof) provides an (admittedly extreme) example: If a vast majority of our population decided to live as spartanic as the legendary Diogenes in his barrel, this way of life, although absolutely conform with our constitutional rights of personal freedom, would be disastrous for our economy, alarming for our birth-rate (!) and fatal to our privileged lifestyle. Aware of depending from our environment to a large extent, we realize wealthy people’s willingness, usually expressed in the second half of their lifetime, “to give something back in return for what they have gotten earlier”. This is obviously a blunt denial of notorious Ebenezer Scrooge, the misanthropic moneylender and protagonist in Charles Dickens’ novel ‘A Christmas Carol’.

Are we inspired by a sense of ‘community’ that directs our good thoughts and acts both to ourselves and to others?

What hint lies in the message: “…Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40)? Is it the challenge of the inseparable love for both God and people that provides the more cohesive groundwork for people to cooperate? Do we need to switch to spirituality, as purely reasoning about pros and cons, including ethical considerations, seems not to be enough?

To substitute spiritual cohesion that is based on religious belief, by a liberal community spirit based on ethical taboos may seem like the ‘more modern’ way of seeking a higher purpose. The pivot is Freedom, after all, that we enjoy so much, despite its contradictions and challenges like “the invisible hand of the free market” (Adam Smith) – challenges that Freedom alone cannot meet. Hans Magnus Enzensberger so ingeniously summarizes this dilemma, using the plight of traveling: “Tourists destroy what they are looking for by finding it.”

How to get out of such a Freedom-inherent ‘circulus vitiosus’, without losing Freedom at all? To be sure, the ecological state of large parts of our planet and its social implications justify serious questioning on how to get back to balancing our economic demands, social well-being, and environmental carrying capacities – all the more than Tourism has its uncontested share!

In view of the disastrous effects of environmental pollution and destruction, and glooming scenarios of climate-change impact, we are afraid of ecological calamities, economic downturn and social unrest. A threatening loss of control over increasing migration waves from war-torn countries makes us concerned to lose our own cultural roots.  A widespread temptation to resign may be understandable, but pulling ourselves together, we agree: This must not happen, for “it’s our Faith, stupid!” And it’s Religion – identified as the way we express our spiritual Faith.

There is the other side of the same medal: Simultaneously to the downfall of Religion here and its revival elsewhere, there has been an increase in turmoil, attacks, terror and war, worldwide. Maliciousness enjoys the neighborhood of virtue: When holy zeal mingles with an unholy pretext, Religion, actually determined to be the guardian of peace, is the vehicle easy to be abused as the formidable combat wagon of our Faith! If it were not serious enough, we could be talking about a remake of Hieronymus Bosch’s ‘Narrenschiff’ (ship of fools) that keeps us afloat incessantly.

“No risk, no fun”, as the circus clown wisely says.

Connecting Faith with fire: It warms our room or burns our house. If we accept the words ‘wonderful’ or ‘marvelous’ as applicable for amazing people and things they have accomplished, we understand that great works and deeds are often preceded by people’s strong Faith in their big, purposeful dream, often linked with God. After all, it’s the work that concludes to its creator, and it’s Faith ‘that shifts mountains’.

Religion – actually the ‘brand’ of Faith – can be powerful “as a counterweight to the State, devoid of which the European idea of freedom is unthinkable” (Wilhelm Röpke, Civitas Humana). Used or abused, Religion is either the essence of our culture or the cradle of our barbarism. Who believes in nothing, believes in anything? If we take God’s vision for ourselves as His individual ‘soul-mates’, and make it ‘our cause’, Religion may indeed provide orientation, an open-minded identity and a healthy identification with the True, the Beautiful, the Good – words that sound like John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ metamorphosed to the sparkling message of Paradise … Regained!

As a matter of fact, the triad of the True, the Beautiful, the Good is a classic ideal which for a long time has given its imprint on the cultural and artistic concept of our culture. It may also give the ethic values of our ‘enlightened secularism’ their higher purpose, and Faith – a face’.

There is our strong belief flaring up in ourselves that our ‘higher purpose’ is to create the better variant of something, if we stand up as individuals, bundling our energies to strengthen our community and share our own culture with others, without surrendering it, though. We are Christians, Muslims, Jewish, Buddhists, Hindus, or other, and it’s up to each one of us to express solidarity, whether to set our religious ‘brand’ in front or behind our spiritual mindset.

In Western cultures, separating religion from the state was well founded long ago; we all know about the wars and terrors that the abuse of religion has caused – then and now – under the pretext of self-interest and power-play, displaying the labels of ‘divine right’, ‘laicism’ or ‘ideology’. Alas! While preachers of hate still keep raising their unbearable voices, the messengers of tolerance are not missing these days. However, tolerance only works, if mutually practiced and not left mutilated to indifference. A kind of readjustment seems necessary here and there.

Readjustment requires a compass, a set of basic values, anchored like preambles to our personal conviction or spiritual Faith that may give us confidence, trust and serenity – even in times of COVID and other fateful imponderables. In ‘Civilization – the West and the Rest (2011),’ Niall Ferguson writes: “Maybe the ultimate threat to the West comes not from radical Islamism, or any other external source, but from our own lack of understanding of, and faith in, our own cultural heritage … … [It is posed] by our own pusillanimity – and by the historical ignorance that feeds it.”

The saber-rattling between ‘the West’ and Russia over the Ukraine shows nothing less than Europe’s failure since the early 1990s, to convince a then chaos-affected Russia that rather than being regarded as part of “the rest”, this huge country is geographically, culturally and in terms of 85 per cent of its population an essential part of Europe, as embattled Ukraine is. Alas, disguising political trickery with a pusillanimous tiptoe diplomacy over the years, we need not wonder about the outcome: Without principles, their transparency and stringent implementation, and the convincing willingness to impose them, all doors will be open for adversaries whose response to fuzzy diplomacy is a coherent strategy.

It could hardly be worse these days.

As during the past years and months ignorance has met arrogance. Islamists and China, although in a politically distant alliance, will wait – and see how allegedly Christian nations will get out of their mess. Continued talks between the antagonists may have provided – and still provide — a spark of hope, giving some credit to Mephisto’s enigmatic statement in Goethe’s ‘Faust’ drama, that even crooks may be ”Part of the Power that would Always wish Evil, and always works the Good”. The fear that the quote may not turn the other way round is real: that we may have always wished the good yet having worked the evil instead. History does not repeat itself but gives us a lot to learn how to prevent ourselves from repeating the same mistakes.

Today’s well-meant and largely successful attempts on ‘History Channel’ and other media, to put History, Culture and Arts on the agenda of public perception may be considered as a promising start to what school education has terribly failed to convey: a sharpened conscience of our historic failures, a healthy consciousness of our assets, and the capability to find the ‘connecting link’ between past and present, and an outreach to future.

Fear, or ‘Angst’, is no solution – on the contrary! It is prone to end up in depression, affecting our peace of mind and making our hearts ill. It has nothing to do with the requirement to stay alert, knowing well that more than calculability and ‘reason’, Faith may dive deeper into our soul, breeding emotions of love or hate, empathy or indifference. Faith and religion are no antipodes to knowledge and science. Both aspects are complementary, if we put their respective features of transcendence and evidence on a peer-to-peer level. Intellectual or emotional attempts to deny or bypass this fact are in vain, leaving behind the ‘missing link’ – to both our own culture and a fulfilled life.

It is up to us to start finding the ‘connecting link’: in a winning spirit, with an open heart, clear words and a smiling face reflecting our living ‘soul’ – the little extra spice to life, yet the greatest treasure at all of hospitality and Travel & Tourism.

Travel & Tourism may be certainly good to create understanding and empathy. The irony is that Tourism as a truly ‘peacekeeping force’, having proven powerless, has to cede such a pretension to politicians who, after a failed diplomacy, would entrust their armed forces with ‘keeping peace’. What an Orwellian irony – and a Faustian tragedy!

If Immanuel Kant is right to say that the only “truly good thing without limitation” is the good will, then we might better understand the angles’ choir over Jesus’ birthplace: “Peace on earth to the people of good will!” This slightly amended quote from Luke 2:14 prevails in general, but especially in times of the pandemic and war risks. We may say that good will means nothing if not followed by the good deed. Although true, good will may at least allude to “that kind of peace the world cannot give you.” It looks as if exactly this message is prone to create resilience, hope and confidence, converting the ‘missing link’ into the ‘connecting link.’


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Max Haberstroh

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