Church criticism

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Church criticism deals critically with church institutions .

Basic types of church criticism

Church criticism is a special form of religious criticism that specifically targets institutionalized faith. It is practiced both from within ( immanent criticism ) and from outside the church ( external criticism ). With the immanent criticism it can be observed that

  1. Although it is initially unpleasant, it also gives opportunities for church improvements,
  2. some criticism is seen as a tolerated contradiction and is partially accepted,
  3. others, however, are seen as authoritative (i.e. institutionally sanctioned) or even as heresy .

Church criticism can be analytically classified according to its specific subject: both the ideologies represented by churches as a whole or in part are criticized, as well as the interpretation of the central writings and principles. The implementation of these ideologies in and through the political / social institution of the church , as well as the immanent claims of the represented ideology and the institution of the church on the individual and society, affecting both adherents and non-adherents of the specific church, also become objects of criticism . Actions by members of the clergy in their ecclesiastical function are also criticized, as well as actions of the institution of the church as a whole externally. The divergence between church doctrine ( dogma ) and life practice is also criticized .

Sanctioned immanent criticism arises where a deviation from the norm that is jointly recognized as binding for the institution is identified and sanctioned . The criticism is directed against representatives as well as their supporters. Such sanctioned, institution-immanent criticism can be found in early Christian records.

In the history of the immanent criticism of the church, there have repeatedly been calls for more liberalism as well as calls for more radical and fundamentalist interpretations and their implementation in various churches.

Finally, controversial criticism is exercised by those who specifically represent different norms, or who exercise a general criticism of norms, religion and society . Thus, among other things, the above-mentioned criticism was and is exercised by representatives of Enlightenment philosophy, as well as by representatives of liberal secularism and / or anti-clericalism .

Well-known figures of church criticism include:

External criticism

Immanent (internal) criticism

Church, religious or ideological criticism was often seen by churches in socio-political positions of power as an occasion to censor, suppress, persecute or otherwise punish critics (internal and external) as witches , heretics or unbelievers . In the Catholic Church for over 1500 years a binding list of writings that contradicted the Church's teaching and censored by the Church on this occasion as endangering ideology and institutions, or even banned or destroyed when the Church was in great power (see Index Librorum Prohibitorum ). Criticism of such practices falls under both the “institutional critique” and the “ideology critique” category.


Internal criticism is part of the ecumenical councils of the early church, which formulate increasingly binding statements of faith ( dogmas ), a process that goes hand in hand with the criticism of dissenting opinions, which leads to the condemnation of heresies . The persons viewed as heretics claim for their part to be the “true church”. See the Marcionites , Ebionites , Novatians, etc.

Sharp external critics were among others. a. the satirist Lukian of Samosata , who criticized the Christian brotherly love and willingness to martyrdom in the novel About the Death of Peregrinus (around 170) and the philosopher Celsus , who in 178 directed his work The True Logos against the absurdity of the Christian faith, which he at the same time rejected the Accuses imperial cults as well as conscientious objection . The most comprehensive church criticism was written by the Neo-Platonist Porphyrios († 304) with the 15-volume book Against the Christians .

In the 2nd century the Gnosis , striving for a higher spiritual Christianity, directed its criticism of the church against the “excessively anthropomorphic belief in God” as well as against the idea of ​​a revelation of God in Christ as “time-bound” and “outdated”.

Church criticism on an interreligious level arose since the 8th century from the encounter of the Eastern (image-worshiping) church with Islam , which raised the charge that the representation of images stood in opposition to the spiritual character of cult and the prohibition of images in writing.

From the 12th century onwards, various sects , for example the Cathars and Waldensians , appeared as elementary church critics in word and deed. Most of the Cathars split off, e.g. B. the Albigensians , represented a dualistic worldview in which they saw the Catholic Church and the Old Testament as the work of the devil , themselves as the new divine order. The Waldensians, however, placed their emphasis on the biblical tradition; they wanted to strengthen the lay preaching , consolidate the common reading of the Bible and represented a more radical ideal of poverty.

Social criticism of the church came with Arnold von Brescia against the feudal papal church combined with the demand for poverty and itinerant sermons. It is similar with the enthusiastic, millenarian prophethood , which had a strong root in the Reformation and in Thomas Müntzer one of its most prominent representatives. This gave rise to demands that later took shape in the critical approaches of Puritanism and Pietism .

In the 15th century, the Latin Church made the first criticism of the Church for translations of the Bible in the national language. Between 1380 and 1393, followers of John Wyclif translated the Vulgate into English, creating the first complete English translation of the Bible. In his writings, Wyclif repeatedly criticized that the Catholic Church was moving further and further away from the Holy Scriptures. His followers, called Lollards by the people , traveled through the country as traveling preachers and received a lot of encouragement from all social classes.

Martin Luther , Ulrich Zwingli and other reformers criticized the indulgence trade with which people were sold the remission of sins, as well as the fact that the Bible could only be read in incomprehensible Latin . The believing Christian could neither confirm nor refute the claims of the priests on the basis of the Bible. In the 16th century, as a result of the criticism of the Western Church, protected by rulers, the Reformation came about : This resulted in the formation of the Reformed , Lutheran and Anglican churches in addition to the Roman Catholic .

In the 19th century, the time of drastic escalation of social contradictions, the internal criticism of the church did not go beyond beginnings and thus encouraged external criticism. The atheistic or agnostic ideal of humanity, based on the one hand on human rights and on the other on Enlightenment and idealism , directed its critical claim against the church, which found expression in the formula "[religion] is the opium of the people " ( Karl Marx ) . In the eyes of the critics, the church did not appear to be able to cope with social problems. Accordingly, the population resort to the means of the church to indulge in illusions or to be deceived by a social class.

Søren Kierkegaard accused church Christianity of failure. Real Christianity can be found outside the church.

Ludwig Feuerbach wrote in his "Thoughts on Death and Immortality" in 1830 that religion is exclusively a self-reflection of people. God is only an invention of man in order to achieve perfection. God is only a projection of the human mind. Friedrich Nietzsche saw this in a similar way and emphasized the fundamental difference between the teachings of Christ and those of the Church. In contrast to Kierkegaard, however, he no longer valued “real” Christianity, but only saw it as another form of decadence .

Today's criticism of the church is part of a continuous, constantly changing tradition. Two patterns of criticism can be formulated in a very simplified way:

  • fundamentalist criticism, which as immanent criticism follows the pattern of heresy
  • Enlightenment criticism, which as external criticism finds the most consistent expression in Nietzsche.

A prominent figure of the latter since the second half of the 20th century is the German historian, religion and church critic Karlheinz Deschner , who has published a number of works on this topic. Among other things, he is the author of the criminal history of Christianity . This ten-volume, very extensive work, which criticizes the behavior of Christian communities and churches with reference to many verifiable sources, illuminates a period from the beginnings of the Old Testament to the beginning of the 18th century in historical sequence. In other works, such as B. "With God and the Fascists", Deschner criticizes the support of fascist systems and individuals by the churches. The points of the enlightenment-progressive criticism, which is presented below, are almost entirely represented by Deschner.

The early Christian defenders of large church positions are referred to as apologists , their company as apologetics (dt. "Defense"), an expression which also names the late and baroque scholastic discipline, which within the framework of a natural theology arguments for the plausibility of religious and especially Christian beliefs and forms of life, especially in the course of denominational disputes, also formulated arguments for and against specifically Christian and specifically Catholic or Reformation positions and at the latest since the 14th century tried to show external reasons for credibility. Since the middle of the 20th century, the term “apologetics” for such a discipline has been replaced by fundamental theology in large parts of the German-speaking area . In the case of considerable differences in fundamental theological approaches, what is at least largely in common is that the sometimes polemical-aggressive orientation of classical apologetics has been overcome and instead attempts are made to develop more integrative options: for example, many fundamental theologians admit that atheistic positions are not per se irrational.

Current criticisms

Roman Catholic Church

For example, the Roman Catholic Church is accused of:

  • She is undemocratic
    • because the parishes do not choose their pastors themselves and
    • because the pastors of the parishes do not elect the bishops.
  • The dogma of the infallibility of the Pope in matters of faith is arrogant and high-handed.
  • You discriminate against women, u. a. since she does not admit them to the priesthood.
  • After the Catholic sexual morality in particular was controversial for a long time , since the 1990s the sexuality practiced by some Catholic dignitaries, in particular the sexual abuse of children , has been criticized in the Roman Catholic Church . According to a study by the John Jay Center of Criminal Justice in New York, commissioned by the United States Bishops' Conference , there were 10,667 cases of sexual abuse allegations against 4,392 priests between 1950 and 2002. However, not all allegations were well founded. Apparently, this is not a phenomenon limited to the USA, since similar events, albeit not to the same extent, were known in Ireland and Austria as well as in Germany. To make matters worse, numerous priests, whose offenses had become known to their bishops, were not removed from the priesthood, but merely transferred to other parishes, where they again abused children. Sexual abuse of minors is less common within the church than outside and therefore more of a society-wide problem, but the violation of the churches' own moral claims is particularly serious.
  • The demand for same-sex lovers to completely renounce their sexuality is rejected by many people, because homosexuals also have a right to live out their sexuality (see also: Homosexuality and the Roman Catholic Church ). Human closeness and security mediated by love relationships are not denied them by the Catholic Church; according to official church teaching, sexual satisfaction outside of marriage is just as little intended for homosexual people as for heterosexual unmarried people. The state, legal recognition of homosexual couples during the last 15 years in many western industrialized countries led the Catholic church leadership in Rome to massive criticism in the respective states ( civil partnership law ). The handling of homosexuals within the church is also criticized.
  • The rejection of condoms because of their effectiveness as a contraceptive leads to the spread of diseases, especially AIDS .
  • In her history she has repeatedly shown herself to be intolerant and violent, for example through the persecution of Jews , pagans and heretics . Karlheinz Deschner's extensive criminal history of Christianity is a contemporary example of this criticism . This criticism sometimes culminates in the accusation of the church of being the "largest criminal organization in history".
  • The church would contradict an assumed Christian poverty law . In Germany, priests are paid in the same way as civil servants with a comparable training level ( higher service with entry requirement completion of a university degree or comparable). B. parish pastors are paid according to the grades A13 and A14 and bishops according to the grades B2 to B11 , both are in a permanent employment relationship under public law. The church trades in stocks and owns real estate. This criticism goes back centuries, see Kierkegaard , Savonarola .
  • The church as an employer discriminates against people of different faith and non-believers. With around half a million employees, the German Caritas Association is one of the largest employers in Germany. According to tendency protection, only those who formally belong to the church are allowed to work there. The anti-discrimination law applies only to a limited extent to the church. Due to the labor law of the churches , labor rights are also much more restricted than in the private sector. Private affairs of employees such as B. Abortion , divorce and remarriage reasons for dismissal, which according to the European Court of Human Rights violates the respect for privacy .

Furthermore, the exclusion of remarried Catholics from communion (see Communion # Roman Catholic Understanding ) is criticized.

Protestant churches

Even the Protestant regional churches united in the EKD are not spared criticism. If doubts about faith and individual anger at clerics also play a major role, this criticism usually comes from a different camp. In contrast to the criticism of the Roman Catholic Church, which is often voiced by advocates of liberalism and free-thinking , by communists , left-wing parties / groups and homosexual people, the objections to the Protestant churches mostly come from Evangelicals and (Protestant) fundamentalists . The main points of criticism are aimed at the increasing adaptation to modernity:

  • Sexuality before and outside of marriage is no longer criticized clearly enough.
  • Practicing homosexuality is no longer rejected as sinful, even though the Bible clearly describes it as a sin.
  • The ordination of women is not compatible with the Bible and the traditions of the church.
  • Abortion , perceived as misanthropic , is increasingly tolerated.
  • Divorces from pastors are to be criticized, because they have a role model function in the parishes.
  • Remarriage after a divorce is unbiblical.
  • The ecumenical movement is called a " return to Rome understood" and therefore is contrary to the teachings of Martin Luther .
  • The interpretation of the Bible by many theologians is too influenced by the “ zeitgeist ”.
  • The church contradicts the Christian poverty law . In Germany, a simple priest / pastor earns as much as a student councilor at a grammar school and a bishop 10,500 euros / month, both of which are employed by public law. The church trades in stocks and owns real estate, etc. This criticism is centuries old, see Søren Kierkegaard , Girolamo Savonarola .
  • The church as an employer discriminates against people of different faith and non-believers. With around 400,000 employees, Diakonie is one of the largest employers in Germany. According to the tendency protection, only those who formally belong to the church are allowed to work there. The anti-discrimination law applies only to a limited extent to the church.

Political criticism

The close connection between Christian churches and the government of various empires (Rome, Byzantium, Russia, England, parts of Germany, etc.), as well as the secular exercise of power by the Roman Catholic Church, in many cases led to essential parts of Christian ethics being implemented for reasons of power politics leading churchmen were ignored.

Most of these closely linked churches also benefited financially from the prevailing conditions. This often led church leaders to condemn and not support social reform. Most of the social activities in Christianity were initiated not from above but from below, often against the wishes of church leaders.

Criticism of churches as social institutions

Both the Catholic and Protestant churches are criticized for their so-called self-portrayal as social institutions. According to this, the churches try to justify their existence or the collection of church tax, especially among those parts of the population who are not religiously convinced, with the argument that they represent important social institutions in a world determined by economic constraints. In fact, however, the corresponding institutions of the churches are also geared towards economic principles and also deny their employees the means that were created in the social market economy to protect against exploitation. Due to the special position of the churches under labor law , there were no collective agreements , there was a ban on strikes , there was no acceptable staff representation and no opportunity for co-determination. Currently, however, there is a tendency in German jurisprudence to give churches less leeway for religiously motivated job requirements outside the preaching-related area.

It is also criticized that only a fraction of the church tax is used in the social field. Social service providers receive only a marginal part of the church tax - for example, at the Diakonisches Werk this is only about 3.8 percent of the total financing compared to state subsidies of 82 percent, a further 10.8 percent from donations and membership fees as well as other own resources of 3.4 percent. In total, only 13.1 percent of the church tax revenue in the Protestant Church is used for social work, in the Catholic Church it is 16.7 percent.

Reaction of the churches

Due to the diverse criticism and the very different expectations of the churches, adjustments are constantly being discussed within the church. There is always a threat of a schism in the reform-oriented camp on the one hand and a growing decline in membership on the conservative side on the other . In addition, the attitude of the Catholic church leadership on the question of office is increasingly burdening the parishes in western countries, as they can no longer meet the requirements of the parishes by the public, church members and bishops due to the shortage of priests .

Benedict XVI. (at that time still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) pointed out in his book Salt of the Earth that the Lutherans had fulfilled all demands of the church people 's movement with regard to women's ordination , contraception , celibacy and remarriage of divorced people, but therefore the solution of the problem (as in today's time the church does Christian faith) have not come closer, although not the church, but ultimately the individual must live Christian faith. In relation to the individual and assuming a philanthropic Jesus, with this conception an approach to Deus caritas est is obvious.


For classics of atheism or apologetics or the early Christian apologists, as well as natural theology or fundamental theology , and for general representations of church history, see there.

Web links

Internal church criticism

External criticism

more links


  1. We are Church. Goals and demands . Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  2. Hans Küng : Infallible? A request ; Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Vienna 1980.
  3. Oliver Das Gupta: Dispute over Mixa's statements: "2000 years of disdain for women" . Interview with Uta Ranke-Heinemann in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on February 23, 2007. Accessed on September 6, 2011.
  4. Women in Catholic Church discriminated against ( memento from September 5, 2012 in the web archive ); Article on from May 18, 2011. Accessed September 6, 2011.
  5. David Berger: Homosexuality in the Church: “I mustn't be silent any longer” ( Memento of November 28, 2011 in the Internet Archive ). Frankfurter Rundschau, April 23, 2010. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  6. Church wants to terminate the lesbian educator . In: Süddeutsche Zeitung , June 15, 2012. Accessed June 15, 2012.
  7. Also the Roman Catholic. Church must allow condoms to prevent HIV / AIDS ; "We Are Church" press release dated November 29, 2008 for the 20th World AIDS Day on December 1, 2008. Retrieved October 9, 2011.
  8. On the accusation, quotes from the same, its justification, accusations in this regard and their success, see picture blog: "Criminal Organization" ; 7th / 8th February 2006
  9. A lot of money for God's blessing, accessed on September 7, 2012
  10. ^ Catrin Gesellensetter: Employer Church. No trace of charity . Article on Focus-Online from January 7, 2010, last updated on September 9, 2011. Accessed on October 9, 2011.
  11. a b Achim Killer: Employer Church. Employees in God's hands . Article on Spiegel-Online from September 23, 2009. Accessed September 6, 2011.
  12. Church terminates the educator after swapping partners . In: Die Welt , March 21, 2012. Retrieved March 22, 2012.
  13. Labor judges overturn chief physician discharge . In: Spiegel-Online , September 8, 2011. Retrieved October 22, 2011.
  14. Hansjakob Stehle: "We are the church people" . In: Die Zeit, issue 29/1995. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  15. Thomas Witzel: More and more people leaving the church. One parish less every year . In: Frankfurter Rundschau, April 20, 2011. Retrieved October 9, 2011.
  16. Barbara Hans, Christian Wiesel: Christian Fundamentalism. Church of Extremes . In: Spiegel , February 5, 2009. Retrieved October 9, 2011.
  17. Wolf Schmidt: Pastor about Evangelicals: “Evangelicals are massively intimidating” . Interview with Kathinka Kaden in the taz from March 1, 2009. Retrieved October 9, 2011.
  18. ^ Church as an employer. The main thing is a Christian . In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , December 24, 2012. Accessed December 24, 2012.
  19. Horst Herrmann: The Caritas legend. How the churches market charity ; Rasch and Röhring, Hamburg, 1993; ISBN 978-389136-328-7 . International Federation of Non-Denominational and Atheists eV (IBKA): Abolish privileges of the churches in Germany!