What do the Jewish religion and Christianity have in common? Why do modern ideologies openly turn against religiosity, and how is atheism conquering Europe? We spoke with Dr. Christiaan Alting von Geusau, rector and professor of the International Theological Institute and founder of the Phoenix Institute Europe Foundation. Interview with Annamaja Csókási.
How can religious and civil legislation work together?
This is one of the most interesting questions in the philosophy of law of our time. I am first reminded of a quote about this from Pope Benedict XVI on his visit to the German parliament in 2011. In his famous speech there, he touched on something very interesting to me: “Unlike other great religions, Christianity never prescribed a legal system for states and societies based on revelation. Instead, it referred to nature and reason as true sources of law — the harmony of objective and subjective reason, which, of course, presupposes that both spheres are rooted in the meaning of God as creator.”
Why is this so important? Because the halákha, the Torah, is also a strong element of the Jewish tradition — despite the fact that the Jewish state itself allows for secularism. However, in Christian societies, this never existed. What did the Catholic Church do, for example? It continued the Greco-Roman Church and the Judeo-Christian tradition.
And the Christian and Jewish traditions, as we know, are inconceivable without each other, and this is also one of the beauties of religious history.
However, the Catholic tradition does not point to a tradition of revealed law. It prefers to turn to the causal factors of nature. In fact, all that the Catholic Church teaches is to utter in a different way what is seen in nature and reason. For me, this is the basis for understanding what a real and correct concept of law is.
What is the position of religious law on the current political and social issue of gender neutrality?
It is a natural fact that we are created as women or men — even if modern ideologies do not agree with this. And the various legal systems created by mankind have been based on this since the beginning of history. The other natural fact is that people need a community lifestyle. We cannot live alone, which is why we started to congregate in villages and later in cities. Another gift from nature is that we are all born with reason and have an idea of what is right and what is wrong. Depending on how we progress in life, some have a deeper and some have a shallower knowledge of this. But it is always there inside us, and we can better understand it by looking at the phenomenon of cause and effect. This is also a feature of the established order, and therefore, I do not see a huge need to elevate religious principles into secular legal systems. It is enough that if we want to research the root of law, we turn to nature and the created order.
Both Christians and Jews believe that objective reasons can all be traced back to the existence of God. Even those who are not religious can live and understand this order of nature.
But today, there is a real fear that “legal rules” and “emotional rules” are becoming increasingly confused in society.
What do you think about the rise of atheism in the European cultural environment?
The greatest Jewish political philosopher, Hannah Arendt, wrote about agnosticism and atheism in this capacity in her book The Roots of Totalitarianism. In her words, one of the eternal problems of the world is that the moment a society begins to think negatively about God and religious values, it derails and culminates in a series of atrocities. Her conclusion made an impression on me, as Plato had previously said: In the end, God must be the measure of everything.
I am not worried that fewer and fewer people are practicing a religion from classical European culture. It is much more worrying that materialism and militant secularism associated with atheism are hugely popular.
We live in an age in which humanity is achieving outstanding results in the field of science and technology. But when one plays God, that’s when the Holocaust happens.
Does this shed light on the fact that the development of science and technology is also a breeding ground for the spread of different ideologies?
Yes, we can see that the importance of large private tech companies is growing and they are transforming themselves into mouthpieces of ideologies. And this process is characterized by strong censorship and politicization. There is content that is allowed or not allowed on their platforms, which poses a threat to democratic societies because they tell us what to think about the world. The first of a total of three problems that arise is that the data is actually collected by social media platforms for their own state. The second is that we should scrutinize how these companies use our data and why we have no visibility on this. And the third is that
we are living under scientific and technological absolutism. If there is no upper limit, we start playing God, as I mentioned earlier, and then deeds can no longer be questioned.
And this principle rejects human dignity. There is a need for science, but not as a big and systematic collective for doubts. As soon as we begin to use science as a “factory of justice,” human dignity is damaged, lost.