Criticism of religion

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Criticism of religion questions religiosity and religions , their statements of faith, concepts, institutions and manifestations rationally or morally - ethically . It accompanies the religions through their entire history .

Main types

The criticism of other religions is a widespread form of religious self-expression , especially where a religion makes an absolute claim for one's own belief. In monotheism , where a supreme god is also the only god, other gods or images of God and the revelations assigned to them are usually criticized on the basis of one's own image of God. The history of religion has had a major influence on this form of criticism .

An immanent critique known since antiquity measures empirical phenomena of religion against the normative concept of an absolute truth in order to reject false conceptions of God and religious practices. The Christian theology distinguish the "true" from the "wrong" religion within and outside the 400 for about Christianity . This distinction was formulated especially during the Reformation as a reflective theological self-criticism in order to reform the Christian practice of religion.

In the Age of Enlightenment, modern philosophy formed a general concept of religion to criticize the hostile Christian denominations , their dogmatism and their mutual claims to absoluteness. This general term also tended to encompass non-Christian religions and world views similar to religions , thus classifying ideas of “something like God ” in a common gender. Human religiosity was traced back to a natural human ability to experience, inquire about and understand a whole that could and will develop into human reason . This rational religion was supposed to make the conflicting particular creeds serve rational purposes, to overcome them, to dissolve them or to "lift them up" into a higher self-confidence that was now completely on its own. Thus religion increasingly became an object of critical thought.

The theologian Johann Heinrich Tieftrunk used the terms “Critique of Religion” (1790) and “Criticism of Religion” (1791 ff.) For the first time as titles. Like Immanuel Kant ( Religion in the Limits of Practical Reason , 1793), he understood it as a critical examination not only of certain religious contents, but of religious consciousness as such, which should be criticized insofar as it contradicts the autonomy of reason.

Since the encyclopedists of the 17th and 18th centuries, a dedicated criticism of religion was increasingly developed as a special philosophical sub-discipline. From this, especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries, formulated opposing positions to religion in general emerged. Today, Auguste Comte , Ludwig Feuerbach , Karl Marx , Friedrich Nietzsche , Sigmund Freud , Bertrand Russell , Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre are considered to be “classical” critics of religion . With their theories they created atheistic worldviews or contributed to their development. In the modern natural sciences , the methodological principle prevailed to gain knowledge while in principle renouncing transcendent dogmas or hypotheses.

The various religious criticism of empiricism , materialism , rationalism , positivism , Marxism , psychoanalysis and existentialism aims at enlightenment, destruction and / or replacement of existing religion by trying to show its emergence from non-religious factors. Historically, these drafts also referred primarily to theistic images of God and dogmas handed down from Judaism and Christianity . In addition, they criticize every religion and also the philosophical metaphysics , which in turn delimited their reflected concept of God from personal, mythical and naive images of God.

While in the early modern period the church's claim to a final declaration of the world, in the 18th century the Christian monopoly on ethical conduct in the fire of Enlightenment criticism, in the 19th century the social function of the (still primarily Christian) religion moved to the fore critical interest. It was now increasingly viewed as a collection of methods of self-reassurance, external determination and securing power that had to be overcome and abolished.

Ancient Greek Philosophy

The Greek philosophy of antiquity had all the Western way philosophy by the concept of " Reason (λόγος Greek." Logos ) became the center of their reflection. The “why” question, born of astonishment at the cosmos , searching for its reason and meaning, is the beginning of this philosophical attitude. With this began "the dying of the gods": In all variants of the Greek spirit a criticism of traditional religion, of the myth of the world of gods, of appearances or the false being of the all too naturally given, of irrationality was possible, applied and largely formulated. Knowledge tended to stand against belief from the start . However, early Greek philosophy did not see itself primarily as a criticism of religion: Although many of its thinkers saw and described the gods and their myths as an illusion , they hardly opposed the practice of religion. Even for skeptics, critical empiricists and materialists, the metaphysical question of a world ground, the whole of the world and the meaning of being was not settled, and it preoccupied many of them centrally.

Pre-Socratic origin philosophers

The pre-Socratics looked for the source of all things (Greek ἀρχή, Arché ) not beyond the world, but in it. In doing so, they tended to demythologize Greek mythology .

The myths of Homer had " Okeanos ", the Theogony Hesiod the chaos depicted as source of all life, and which the gods. From the point of view of some critics of religion, this myth is also behind the biblical “ primeval flood ” ( Gen 1,2). Thales von Milet (around 630-560 BC) made an empirically verifiable statement out of this: He sees water as a uniform primary substance from which all other substances emerged.

His student Anaximander (around 610-547 BC) tried for the first time to derive a consistent world model from the knowledge available at the time. It comes from the idea of ​​infinite time (mythically symbolized in the god Kronos ), from eternal growth and decay, to the negative borderline concept of the limitless (Greek ἄπειρον, apeiron ): The primordial reason cannot be a known substance, since all substances are subject to change over time. It must be contained in everything without ever becoming perceptible and determinable. That excludes all positive opportunities to say something about him. This anticipated the negative theology that had been widespread since Neoplatonism .

For Anaximenes (around 585–524 BC), on the other hand, the limitless original substance must be determinable, otherwise no concrete things could arise from it. He finds it in the “air” that permeates all substances and, as a constant movement, causes their quality changes.

Pythagoras (approx. 580–500 BC) does not attribute the changes in things to a primordial substance, but to mathematically calculable laws. These are recognizable to man because the number system is inherent in his mind . With this he anticipated Plato's theory of ideas . He fought against the myths of Homer gods and taught an impersonal deity without human characteristics. But he also believed in the cyclical transmigration of souls and adopted rituals from the Apollos and Orpheus cults .

Xenophanes and Successors

Xenophanes from Colophon (570-475 BC) is considered the first ancient critic of religion. From very different ideas of God that he encountered on trips abroad, he concludes that these must be shaped by the respective believers (fragment 27): "The Ethiopians claim that their gods are blunt-nosed and black, the Thracians, blue-eyed and blond." So God intended himself to be analogous to his own appearance: With this he anticipated Feuerbach's suspicions of projection in the core. He criticizes the anthropomorphism of the myths of Homer and Hesiod, who attribute immoral behavior such as adultery, jealousy, deceit, etc. to the gods (fragment 26).

He does not argue atheistically, but ethically against false images of God and the multiplicity of gods. The natural events are not of divine origin. But “in”, “behind” or “above” all images of God, the divine can be sensed as a perfect being (fragment 34): despite all the unconscious evidence, it is unspeakable and indescribable. This unifying primal principle must be a single, comprehensive, pure spiritual being (Greek νοῦς, nous ), which is similar to the spherical shape (fragment 37). Absolute knowledge about it is impossible in the world of constantly changing things (fragment 38): “Because even if one had succeeded to an extraordinary degree in saying something perfect, he would still not be aware of it: with all things there are only assumptions . “God is inevitably limited by human talk about God.

His pupil Parmenides von Elea (born around 520/515 BC, year of death unknown) placed the concept of being (ὤν) at the center of his reflection and thus gave western philosophy its theme for centuries. He goes on thinking and closes in a classical syllogism , the non-existence unthinkable of: thinking means thinking beings, just as logical judgments in the form of declarative sentence (subject - predicate) possible. The “is” in the sentence proves the existence of the thought object. “Being” is not only an object, but also a means of thinking, indeed it thinks for itself. With this Parmenides anticipates the ontological proof of God .

Empedocles (around 483–423 BC) only ascribes being to matter that remains. Becoming is movement that acts as a force on quantitatively stable material: That was the foundation of mechanical physics . But it is impossible to explain the diversity of becoming from a single primary material. He teaches the four elements of fire-water-earth-air, which are constantly reconnecting and separating and thus creating growth and decay without ever breaking the law of the conservation of matter: This founded chemistry and refers to the law of conservation of mass . But he, too, held fast to the idea of ​​a non-material spirit world and believed in the transmigration of souls as a punishment by fate for crimes committed in this life.

Anaxagoras (around 500–428 BC) asks about the real “first moving element” of the mechanical process. He teaches solid elementary particles (σπέρματα, spermata ), which are also made up of fire and air. Everything arises from everything by mixing and separating itself anew; Properties are just mixing ratios. The more the question arises, what gives the impetus to the constant rearrangement of the particles: It cannot lie in matter, but must be spirit (νοῦς), which organizes all things meaningfully and appropriately. He saw this simple, powerful and knowing essence not as a deity, but as the finest of all substances, which is thus separated from all other substances and yet surrounds, floods and swirls around them all. Only man has a share in this being; therefore he could recognize it and rule the world of things, plants and animals. Anaxagoras was charged as an "atheist" and therefore left Athens.

Early materialists


Democritus (460–390 BC) first taught a consistent materialistic worldview with four basic statements:

  • Nothing exists but atoms and empty space.
  • Substance is eternal and immutable. Nothing can arise from nothing.
  • All becoming is mechanical movement.
  • Nothing happens without a cause: The causal law applies universally. ( Determinism )

On this he builds his view of the world, which, for example, was astonishingly precise in anticipating modern theories of planet formation and the biological survival of the fittest (the survival of the best adapted). There was no longer any room for gods and spirits: the soul, too, was subtle and dispersed after the death of the individual life.

Epicurus (341–270 BC) gives a rational explanation for the origin of religion for the first time: its teachings are only a reflection of human ideas that do not need any external influences to explain them. The gods of Greek mythology proved to be ideal because of their anthropomorphic (human-like) traits. This criticism applies partly and indirectly - since Epicurus did not explicitly refer to it - also individual images of God from the Old Testament , which endow the personal Creator God with human characteristics and, in consciously human language, also speak of the "jealous", "angry", "repentant" and " loving “God speak.

Lactantius passes on a concise argument of an unknown skeptic against theodicy , which he erroneously attributed to Epicurus: God is either not omnipotent or not benevolent, otherwise the evils in the world could not exist.

The Roman poet-philosopher Lucretius (approx. 98-55 BC), a follower of Epicurus, provides 28 proofs of the non-existence of gods in his work On the Nature of the World . He attributes religion to human fear, which can only be defeated by "the living force of the spirit".


The sophists used enlightening rhetoric to criticize religion . Often they were trained lawyers in court or moved around as traveling teachers to educate the population publicly.

Protagoras (481-411) wanted to make "the strong weak and the weak strong" according to his own statement. He advocated a subjectivist epistemology that already seems very modern. “Truth” always depends on the viewer (fragment 1): “How everything appears to me, so it is for me, like you, so for you ... Man is the measure of all things, of being, that they are, of non-existing that they are not. ”That is why, in addition to Xenophanes, he also denied the necessity of a divine being behind all gods. Humans could not make any statements about gods at all, because in the changing world they would not have any general permanent cognitive criteria for them (fragment 4):

“However, I have no way of knowing about the gods, neither that they are nor that they are not, nor what shape they are; because there are many things that hinder knowledge: imperceptibility and that human life is short. "

He left open whether there were gods or not, because we cannot recognize them.

Even during his lifetime Protagoras was accused of transforming this need of ignorance into the virtue of purely subjective assertions and of making decisions about all knowledge by raising himself to the sole standard of all knowledge. Others do not interpret his statements as arrogant arrogance, but as an indication of a compulsion: humans have to make themselves the measure of their knowledge and actions, because initially they have no other standard. Thus Protagoras was also used for the subjective justification of positive, not absolute religion. Because every “revelation” also occurs within the human scope of perception and can only be experienced individually.

Plato and Aristotle

Plato accuses the sophists of not leading souls, but of capturing them, merely to be right and to live from them. The Platonists thus criticize the practice of criticizing religion as a trade. You yourself start from eternal, unchangeable ideas inherent or innate in human consciousness, which are also directed critically against false appearances and truth reified into myths.

Aristotle starts out against Plato like materialists and sophists from empirical perception, but proceeds to the metaphysical question of the prima causa (first cause) of all being. From there he criticizes both the common natural religion , which believes in a multitude of human-like gods, and the mechanistic and atomistic worldview that does not do justice to the variety of phenomena. His concept of the necessary, impersonal, transcendent " unmoved mover " as the world ground criticizes all original ideas that think of the divine as part of the world.

Plato and Aristotle are not regarded as forerunners of the modern criticism of religion, since this criticizes the metaphysical requirements of their criticism of concrete manifestations of religion.


The Stoa criticized with her obtained from observation of nature idea of providence (providentia dei) those conceptions of God who think a world of reason in the world separately, as a rational invention.

Poseidonios of Apamea (around 135–50 BC) is considered the founder of the Middle Stoa, who critically revised older Stoic teachings. His work On the Gods , which has only been handed down in fragments by students and successors , Cicero based his work De natura deorum ("On the nature of the gods"). According to this, Poseidonios made a strict distinction between the innate, natural religiosity of all human beings, which justified the idea of ​​something divine in reason, and the historically and socially acquired religious ideas of specific cults, which he rejected.

This form of immanent religious criticism of empirical religious practice by tracing back to natural insight into the tangible context of all world events was the rule in Greco-Roman Hellenism and also determined the later "rational religion" of the Enlightenment.


The skepticism criticized the metaphysical cosmology as the empirical Teleologie (target directionality) as human constructs, which break at the contradictory nature experience. He denies the possibility of a metaphysical inference process to prove a world reason or the meaning of the world.

The thrust of skeptical criticism is divergent so: it can God realized (as a reflection on the ground of the world) as well as deny the God experience (as a reflection on one's own experience of the world). In any case, it denies the necessity of a world ground of whatever kind (called “God”) for the world and for man. The approach of this criticism is empirical:

  • Without direct references to the existence of unearthly beings, there is no need to assume their existence. This applies to all religions that believe in gods, but especially to personal ideas about God.
  • Without direct evidence of the existence of supernatural effects, there is no need to assume their existence. This point of criticism is aimed at religious concepts of a “world force” or a “ world spirit ”, that is, concepts of God inherent in nature and history.

As a result, however, this philosophical criticism does not go beyond the general skepticism of all positive statements of faith: religion as a human encounter with an existing or imagined transcendence cannot be philosophically proven or refuted, cf. Skepticism .

Medieval conditions of origin

The Christian theology tried since the apologetics (2nd century) to compensate Christian beliefs with an empirically-metaphysical worldview. In doing so, she formulated more or less consistent basic assumptions about nature, the world and man as a whole, about their origin and future (“ redemption ”). Insofar as it thereby claimed truth accessible to general experience, this inevitably came under criticism at the level of fact-checking. Celsus and Porphyrios, for example, criticized Christianity for what they saw as unnatural and absurd claims about God, the world and man, with the aim of a more reasonable religion that was more acceptable to the educated Romans.

On the part of Judaism, polemics critical of Christianity were formulated, such as the script Nestor ha-komer .

Thomas Aquinas integrates revelation and rational knowledge of the world in a common, comprehensive system of teaching: Natural questions about the ground of the world already come to the general knowledge of a supreme being (see natural theology ), Christian faith supplements this with the revealed knowledge of who and what this being is and want. The Thomistic scholasticism was based on the geocentric view of the world , which has been considered "proven" since Pythagoras and Aristotle.

With Nicolaus Copernicus , Johannes Kepler , Giordano Bruno , Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton , large parts of this worldview collapsed and the emancipation of experimental natural sciences from the monopoly of truth of the medieval Catholic Church began. Added to this was the gradual change in the corporate social order, in which clerics and laypeople broke apart and the latter gradually acquired a higher degree of general education.

Early modern age

Partial criticism of the philosophy of religion

In his fictional Colloqium heptaplomeres (1593), Jean Bodin (1530–1596) had a Jew, a Muslim, a Catholic, a Lutheran and a Calvinist enter into a dialogue with a follower of natural religion. He criticizes the Christian dogmas of original sin , doctrine of the Trinity and incarnation . Bodin defines the existence of a god, free will, retribution for the deeds of every rational being after his death and the recognizability of natural laws as positive contents of this religio naturalis , which he prefers .

Edward Herbert (1581–1648) wrote a similar criticism in two tracts 1624 and 1645, in which he derived a natural religion exclusively from natural knowledge of truth, not from revelation documents and religious tradition. The innate ability to use general terms yields five truths: A supreme deity exists, it must be worshiped, virtue and piety are always part of it , vice and crimes are to be atoned for by repentance, there is reward or punishment after this life.

René Descartes

With René Descartes (1596–1650) the tension between philosophy and theology became more acute: This had existed since the Reformation , as Martin Luther put the belief in Christ against general knowledge of the world, abstract knowledge of God and purpose-related knowledge of rulership. Now Descartes broke the scholastic synthesis of natural theology (or philosophical metaphysics) and special (Christian) revelation also from the side of the not a priori believing thought. For the first time, the thinking subject establishes self-confidence autonomously . From the intuitive experience of the cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am.”), The concept of God only supports human self-assurance in a secondary manner.

the Age of Enlightenment


French scouts

The majority of French encyclopedists of the eighteenth century strived more than most of the English- and German-speaking enlightenmentists not only to overcome denominational disputes, but to destroy all existing religions in favor of declared atheism. They were based on the materialism of Democritus and Epicurus. Representatives of this school of thought included Jean Meslier (1664–1729), Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1709–1751), Denis Diderot (1713–1784); Claude Adrien Helvétius (1715–1771) and Paul Henri Thiry d'Holbach (1723–1789).

One of the sharpest church critics at the time was François-Marie Arouet (1694–1778), who called himself Voltaire . Above all, he fought against the Catholic Church's claim to power and the alliance of the clergy with the nobility and absolutism , called for the destruction of the papacy (“Écrasez l'infâme!”) And stood up against religious indoctrination for freedom of belief and conscience. Voltaire, however, did not admit to atheism, but to deism , because he believed in a punishing God as the best basis for a social life based on moral principles ("If God did not exist, one would have to invent him."). In 1762 Voltaire had excerpts from Jean Meslier's atheistic "Testament" published without identifying himself as the editor . These passages are so full of caustic criticism in the original that Voltaire rewrote and softened them, which partly distorted their original content.

David Hume

David Hume

David Hume (1711–1776) founded in the wake of Roger Bacon (1214–1294) and Francis Bacon (1561–1626) the strict rational empiricism, which also turned against the English deists of his time. His main work Inquiry concerning human understanding (two parts, published in 1748 and 1751) was a radical critique of knowledge of all rational attempts to justify religion. It received little attention in England, but strongly influenced Immanuel Kant .

In his Essay on the Immortality of the Soul , published in 1777, Hume summed up his main views:

“It is a truism in metaphysics that the soul is immaterial and that it is impossible for the thought to belong to a material substance. But it is precisely metaphysics that teaches us that the concept of substance is very confused and imperfect, and that we have no other idea of ​​a substance than of an aggregate of individual properties that are attached to an unknown something. Matter and spirit are therefore basically equally unknown, and we cannot determine which properties are attached to one or the other. "

Just as there is no reliable distinction between matter and spirit between cause and effect of a thing. Since the sensory experience is the only source of knowledge of man is not ruled out "if the matter can not by structure or arrangement be the cause of thought." So said Hume at a stroke the long alleged fundamental difference between materialism and idealism for out become obsolete.

He tried to smash the ethical foundation of religion:

"Since every effect presupposes a cause and this one again, until we come to the ultimate cause of all things, which is the deity, everything that happens is arranged through him - and nothing can be the object of his punishment and vengeance."

Deism, which God saw as the impetus for world events that were almost mechanically unraveling, lost its claim to an ethical way of life, because nothing that happened could be independent of God's original will:

“Punishment without purpose or intention is incompatible with our ideas of goodness and justice. And no purpose can be furthered by them when the whole game is over. In our terms, punishment must be proportionate to the offense. Why then eternal punishments for temporal offenses of such a weak being as man? "

So while God's intentions for man - assuming a final judgment as a traditional religious concept - appear hidden, senseless and inhuman, Hume concluded with regard to nature:

“But if any intention of nature is clear, then we may claim that, as far as we can judge by natural reason, the whole intention and purpose in the creation of man is limited to present life ... The physical arguments from the analogy of nature speak clearly for the mortality of the soul; and they are in truth the only philosophical arguments which should be admitted with reference to this question or with reference to questions of fact at all. "

Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant

Kant (1724–1804) is not a pure critic of religion. His “ Critique of Pure Reason ” (KrV) was much more comprehensive: All metaphysical proofs of God impermissibly exceeded the categorical limits of human reason. Above all, he explains the impossibility of the ontological inference from the essence of the existence of God ( Anselm von Canterbury ), to which he traces the other proofs of God. This return is controversial. But since then, modern philosophy has been marked by a clear distance from any kind of metaphysics and sees religious patterns of interpretation of reality under the auspices of the unreal and irrational (cf. also Criticism ).

With regard to morality, which Kant tries to justify solely through reason, he grants religion a role that promotes mature human existence: Because "it is necessary that our entire way of life be subordinated to moral maxims". The peculiarity of human thinking needs an “effective cause” as well as a “corresponding outcome, be it in this or another life” (Kant 1787, B 840–841). "So without a God and a world that is now invisible to us but hoped for, the glorious ideas of morality are indeed objects of applause and admiration, but not the mainspring of resolution and practice" (Kant 1787, B 841). For Kant, the idea of ​​a god has a motivating, but not a justifying, function with regard to morality. For Kant, in the Critique of Practical Reason, God is a necessary “ postulate ” of reason, without it also having objective reality. Kant's abstract, philosophical concept of God, however, is not identical with ideas, for example, of a personal God or a God who would intervene in the world.

The moral laws and good behavior here in the world, not supernatural aspects, are the real and only purpose of religion for Kant. It was these laws, "whose inner practical necessity led us to the precondition of an independent cause, or of a wise world ruler in order to give effect to those laws" (KrV, B 846). The presupposed God should therefore not be viewed as a new object or a real being, from which, conversely, moral laws are derived. According to Kant, that would be “enthusiastic or even outrageous” and “pervert and thwart the ultimate ends of reason” (Kant, KrV, B 841). In this fatal distortion of the actual circumstances, the image of God turns from an aid to an actual purpose and good behavior becomes a mere aid to worship. According to Kant, religion can only fulfill its purpose in the world in accordance with reason if (KrV, B 847):

"As far as practical reason has the right to guide us, we will not consider actions to be binding because they are commandments of God, but rather to regard them as divine commandments because we are internally obliged to do so."

For Kant, as in negative theology, the absolute is indefinable. Wherever an attempt is made to define it, there inevitably arises disputes, contradictions and divisions about which of the many different and contradicting images and determinations of the absolute are the only true and real ones. These disputes then ran counter to morally good behavior in the world as the main theme and the real meaning of religion. Only if all images of God are therefore completely relativized to the mere and interchangeable auxiliary ideas that they are according to Kant, the religious disputes would be eliminated and the real meaning and purpose of today's religion in the world fulfilled: good and moral action also on the plane of interreligious dialogue , instead of a clash of cultures over the only true and real conception of God.

In his religious-philosophical work The Religion Within the Limits of Mere Reason , Kant called for a religion of reason , the principles of which are principally based solely on reason and not on "statutory", i.e., belief based on mere dogmas:

“The true, sole religion contains nothing but laws, that is, those practical principles whose unconditional necessity we can become conscious of, which we therefore acknowledge as revealed by pure reason (not empirically). Only for the sake of a church, of which there can be various equally good forms, can there be statutes, that is, ordinances held to be divine, which are arbitrary and accidental for our pure moral judgment. To consider this statutory belief (which is limited to one people and cannot contain the general world religion) as essential to the service of God in general and to make it the supreme condition of divine pleasure in humans is a religious delusion, observance of which is an after-service, that is, such an alleged veneration of God, whereby the true service that is demanded of himself is acted against. "

- RGV. Fourth piece. Second part: Of the after service of God in a statutory religion.

He also sharply opposed various types of religious cult such as prayers, confessions, and church services. Kant saw the only function of a religion in guaranteeing a moral way of life (tested by reason):

"Everything that, apart from the good way of life, the human being thinks he can do in order to please God, is mere religious delusion and after-service of God."

- RGV. Fourth piece. Second part. §2.

Kant rejected a religion based on revelation .

see main article: Religion within the limits of mere reason

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781) regards religion in the form of Judaism , Christianity and Islam on the one hand as a historical origin, on the other hand as a preliminary stage to be overcome to an independent religion of reason . In 1777 he also published the apology or protective pamphlet for the reasonable admirers of God by Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694–1768) as fragments by an unnamed .

The orientalist Reimarus had defended Christianity as a religion of reason against the more radical French enlightenment during his lifetime, but in this posthumously published late book, with the help of biblical criticism, he began to fight Christian theology and dogmas as priestly fraud to oppress the poor people. He attacked above all the belief in the miracles of Jesus , the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of verbal inspiration, which was also dogmatized by Protestants at the time, as a pious deception of the apostles .

Although Lessing himself did not represent a fundamentally anti-Christian attitude, his publication sparked the long- standing fragmentation dispute with representatives of Lutheran Orthodoxy , in the course of which Lessing was banned from publication. He then wrote the drama Nathan the Wise in 1779 , in which he called for tolerance and mutual respect from the three monotheistic religions and in which he erected a memorial to his friend, the Jewish religious philosopher Moses Mendelssohn . According to the ring parable , people cannot decide who will worship God in the best form.

On the other hand, Lessing calls for the elucidation of children's beliefs, which are tied up in religious systems, in favor of a future moral humanism without a specifically biblical revelation of God (“ The education of the human race ” 1780).

19th century

Friedrich Schleiermacher

Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher

Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) tried - in the romantic countermovement to the rationalism of the Enlightenment - to bring the religious “feeling of absolute dependence” back to the educated. He sees the subjective, not conceptually comprehensible experience of infinity as a purely receptive, passive form of self-confidence that eludes any active critical access of the mind. In a certain way, he takes up medieval mysticism with its criticism of externalized forms of religion. From there he criticizes the dogmatism and confessionalism of the Protestant state churches, but does not demand any institutional separation of church and state .

Johann Gottlieb Fichte

Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) is considered the founder of German idealism . In 1792 he wrote an attempt at a critique of all revelation , which consistently carried out Kant's principles in order to then speculatively justify the self-consciousness. In this reflection of man on the basis of his self-confidence, religion comes into consideration again: idealistic reason finds its ultimate basis in the inconceivable and inalienable idea of ​​the absolute (the unconditioned).

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) tries to assert this reason also for the understanding of world history and dialectically "to cancel" the limited subjective self-consciousness - religious belief - as part of the self-development of the coming world spirit (phenomenology of spirit) . In doing so, he reasserts the work of understanding against the Romantics, the claim of truth to the whole - the totality of things that can be experienced, including human history.

While Hegel wanted to convey the necessary criticism of particular religion with its sensible meaning in a constructive way and thus preserve it, both sides soon came apart with some of his students.

Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte (1798–1857) founded after his break with early socialism Henri de Saint-Simons with his major work Cours de philosophie positive , published in 1842, the religion-critical positivism.

The basic idea of ​​Comte is that religion only exists in its phenomena and knowledge about it can only be relative, never absolute. The question of the “essence” of religion and its ultimate “cause” is therefore pointless. One can only ask about the relationship to other perceptible religious phenomena, determine their historical sequence and their similarities (history of religion ). Insofar as regularities become recognizable in this, religious studies exclude all theological and metaphysical concepts and become positive.

Comte sees these separated terms as preliminary stages of the scientific description of religion in the sense of a necessary development: The fetishism of the primitive "natural religions" consider individual objects to be alive, polytheism assumes a multitude of invisible beings as the cause of natural phenomena, theism and metaphysics reduce this Beings further to abstract forces, primal principles, natural properties and monotheism lead them back to acts of will of a single invisible divine being.

Positivism recognizes mere appearances in this, which it traces back to strict laws. From religion itself a necessary path of knowledge leads to the pure science of phenomena. Every single science goes through this development from the naive-theological to the reflected-metaphysical to the positive-descriptive stage.

Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach

Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach

The "Left Hegelian" Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–1872) applies the term coming to itself in his work The Essence of Christianity 1841 critically against religion and wants to expose it as a projection : "God" is only the one projected onto the sky Self-expression of the finite self-confidence that longs for infinity. With the idea of ​​God, man confront his own being, make it tangible as an object of his longing:

"For God did not create man in his own image, as it is in the Bible, but man, as I showed in the essence of Christianity , created God in his image."

Feuerbach developed this criticism in the subsequent editions of the work (1843, 1849) above all of the central ideas of Martin Luther's theology: The incarnation - "God becomes finite man" - is actually "nothing other than" the wrong human wish, infinite and immortal - like God - to become. He explicitly took up Epicurus' criticism of the anthropomorphism of religion as well as the three-stage law of Lessing and Comte (religion as the "childhood stage" of human development).

When man recognizes himself in God, he becomes aware of his religious yearning as alienation . By discovering himself as the producer of God, his reason, which has been misguided in religion, can be set free for humanization: man finds his true fulfillment in interpersonal love . In doing so, Feuerbach does not reject the religious element of human self-confidence per se , but wants to "translate" it and use it to shape a humane coexistence.

For Feuerbach, criticism of religion is therefore necessary in order to reveal devotion to an alien pseudo-being in the religious consciousness as a delusion-related context produced by it. Then religion would be replaceable by sensual, earthly love for fellow human beings and would tend to be superfluous. It can and must perish just like the egoism clinging to the infinity of one's own self, which seeks and finds solitary masturbation in the imagination of God.

In contrast to Hegel, Feuerbach does not aim at the knowledge of an absolute spirit, which is thought of as a-and-for-itself-being or becoming-world reason and should be and remain supra-individual, but at the final disappearance of religion in the human progress of the Humanity. This, not the individual, is in truth infinite for him. Only through love for humanity can the individual undo religious self-division; only through recognition of his finitude - for mortality is that which unites all human beings into one species - does he become capable of humanity.

Karl Marx

Karl Marx

Karl Marx (1818–1883), following Feuerbach, sees religious criticism as the prerequisite for all criticism. In his early writings, he points to the dual nature of religion:

“Religious misery is in one the expression of real misery and in one the protest against real misery. Religion is the sigh of the afflicted creature, the mind of the heartless world as it is the mind of spiritless states. It is the opium of the people . "

For Marx - as for Feuerbach - the ambivalence of religious consciousness is an expression of a fundamental lack in social life and can express itself both as a protest against misery and as an escape from misery into an illusory intoxication. In both, however, there is a fundamental inability to uncover its true causes and to deal with them in practice. For Marx, religion, like other ideologies, is a “perverted consciousness” that creates social conditions, but which only contrast them with the abstract counter-image of an unreal, better world.

However, this consciousness can only be abolished and replaced by a truly human consciousness of reality with the practical upheaval of those conditions that constantly produce new illusions about themselves in order to persist (MEW I, p. 379):

“The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the requirement of their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusions about one's condition is the demand to give up a condition that needs the illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in the germ the criticism of the valley of woe, of which religion is the halo. The criticism of heaven is thus transformed into the criticism of the earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics. "

That is why Marx also criticizes Feuerbach and Hegel's purely individualistic approach, which is tied to idealism, and contrasts them with his famous 11 “ Theses on Feuerbach ”, which culminate in the 11th thesis:

"The philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways, it depends on changing it."

From there, Marx goes now to the Critique of Political Economy, so to analyze the on lawful exploitation based class society over. He criticizes those critics of religion who do not take this leap and work on the outward appearance of religion. With the overcoming of capitalism , he expects, religion will also lose its apparent necessity and - like the state , whose social ferment it is - will “wither” in a classless society.

The Marxian criticism of religion is therefore not an end in itself, but serves revolutionary humanism (MEW I, p. 385):

"The criticism of religion ends with the doctrine that man is the highest being for man, that is, with the categorical imperative to overturn all relationships in which man is a humiliated, enslaved, abandoned, contemptible being."

Max Weber

Max Weber

Max Weber (1864–1920) responded to Marx with a more humanistic and historical approach: He sees religion in the form of European Protestantism as a pioneer of modern capitalist industrial society. Johannes Calvin's “wage ethics” contributed to an ascetic attitude of renunciation and to postponing the immediate satisfaction of needs. This enabled the introduction of industrial production methods, the production of surpluses and the realization of added value in the new mass production. Unlike Marx, he sees it not only as a negative element of class rule, but also as an element of progress and greater intellectual freedom for the individual .

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) attacks the image of man shaped by religion as part of a comprehensive cultural philosophy in order to open up a space for new self-determination for people. He tries to determine the function of religious rites, beliefs and values ​​on both an individual psychological and a societal level. This often includes criticism of religious values ​​and priestly institutions. Nietzsche sees it as the task of future science to analyze previous religions, morals and world views; against this background, future philosophy must set new values.

Nietzsche sees the Christian faith in Europe in decline (“ God is dead ”). Christian morality annuls itself (also in its own philosophy), with belief in one God all previously believed values ​​would devalue. In decadent modernity, the Christian-Occidental tradition reveals itself to be essentially nihilistic . Nietzsche is looking for an answer to this impending “European nihilism”, in which he fears a “self-diminution of man”. His references to new values ​​(“ Will to Power ”, “ Eternal Return ”, “ Superman ”, restoration of the Dionysus cult ), especially given in Also Spoke Zarathustra , remain comparatively unclear.

In his later days Nietzsche focused his criticism on the core of the Christian message ( The Antichrist ): He saw in Christianity a barbaric weakening of all noble qualities of man. Christianity, beginning with Paul, preached a hostile slave morality , so that Nietzsche can only imagine the upswing to a higher human existence as a total shedding of Western Christianity with a “ revaluation of all values ”. The following sentence at the beginning of his Antichrist can serve as an example of his ethical reorientation: "The weak and failures should perish: first sentence of our human love. And they should be helped too."

Jesus myth and radical criticism

David Friedrich Strauss was one of the first to publicly advocate the thesis that a historical event was not mythically painted over in the figure of Jesus, from which the liberal life of Jesus research was based, but rather more radically he thought that a myth is the garment of History has been thrown over. According to Strauss, traditions such as the virgin birth , which can only be found in Matthew and Luke, are a mythical-poetic legend. The entire depiction of the evangelists is interspersed with sagas and legends and is thus largely unhistorical. While other Leben-Jesu researchers tried to use the "deduction method" to extract a "historical core" from the Gospels by deleting legendary features, it was above all Martin Kähler , William Wrede and Rudolf Bultmann who made the Gospels useful as sources for discuss historical contexts completely.

The question remained, however, of explaining the origins of the New Testament and Christianity from the “Christ myth”. As a result, some representatives of the Jesus myth investigated in more detail from which previous mythologies early Christianity could have arisen. Charles François Dupuis and Constantin François Volney were the first to formulate the thesis that Jesus of Nazareth was not a historical person, but a symbol for the solar myth and his existence on earth depicts the winter phase in the solar cycle. Furthermore, they showed close parallels to Hinduism and the Persian religion.

With the development of the historical-critical method in historical studies and its application to the Bible, an in-depth text analysis became possible and it was found out that many Bible fragments and the like. a. Almost literally resembled ancient Egyptian sources. The classic dogmatic assignment of authorship and the time frame of the writing were also questioned using historical-critical methods. The Tübingen School under Ferdinand Christian Baur came to the conclusion that 10 of the 14 Paul’s letters ascribed to Paul were evidently pseudo-epigraphs . Bruno Bauer , Arthur Drews and supporters of the Dutch school of radical criticism even concluded that all Paul’s letters are false and that Paul himself may not be historical either.

20th century


Sigmund Freud founded psychoanalysis around 1900 with a claim to scientific methodology. He sees religious ideas primarily as an expression of unconscious processes and explains them from infantile dependence. Religious people see God as a father figure that he needs in order to hand over responsibility for a self-determined life. Belief in God is an illusionary satisfaction of the regressive infantile desire for security, security and authority .

Freud identifies this image of God with the superego as that part of the psyche that performs the normative suppression of the instincts, especially the sexual instinct . As an internalized morality, it can create feelings of guilt and lead to neurotic self-division. Psychoanalysis therefore tries to uncover the individual's own hidden desires and to take away part of the feelings of guilt acquired in early childhood socialization .

The sublimation of instinctual energy Freud sees not only negative, but as the drive for major cultural achievements of man. He was skeptical of culture ( The discomfort in culture ) and did not expect religion to be undone ( The future of an illusion ). An argumentative refutation of God and an active fight against religious forms of expression was not his concern, but the individual integration of superego, ego and id in a mature adult self-acceptance that enables a free ability to make decisions in all areas of life.

Freud's student Wilhelm Reich tried to combine psychoanalysis and Marxism ( Freudomarxism ) and thus to better understand the social need for religion. He sees the modern sex neuroses as the result of a millennia-old cultural masochism , which in the form of religions and other ideologies of suffering shapes the human willingness to submit to social power and violence structures. He sees the possible overcoming of this obsessional neurosis in the free development of natural sexuality as an essential part of personality development. Thanks to his close friendship with Alexander Sutherland Neill , Reich became a popular role model for anti-authoritarian education in the 1968 movement .

Bertrand Russell

The mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell advocates a consistent, scientifically based rationalism in his famous essay Why I Am Not A Christian (1927). The basis of religion is fear - of the mysterious, of defeat, of death. Fear is the father of cruelty and so it is not surprising that cruelty and religion have historically gone hand in hand. The conception of God arises from an ancient oriental despotism , which is unworthy of free man. The world does not need religion, but a fearless perspective and free intelligence.

Logical empiricism

Authors who feel committed to the tradition of logical empiricism (the early Ludwig Wittgenstein , Rudolf Carnap , Alfred Jules Ayer and others) criticize the religious language, the sentences of which are largely meaningless to them. Meaningful sentences are either purely analytical sentences and thus tautologies or empirical- synthetic sentences that can in principle be verified through experience . If a sentence does not belong to either of these two classes, then it is a pseudo-sentence, i.e. H. neither true nor false, but pointless. Since the sentences of religion, insofar as they use expressions such as “the absolute”, “the absolute spirit” or “God”, are neither tautological nor verifiable, they too have to be denied any meaning.

The representatives of logical empiricism do not deny that the search for an ultimate reason for the world and life may be emotionally understandable. Recourse to a deity does not explain anything, however, since it does not lead to hypotheses that can be successfully applied to the facts.

Critical Rationalism

Karl Popper , the founder of Critical Rationalism , viewed the effect of the Christian religion positively in principle: Man owes “numerous goals and ideals [of his] Western culture, such as freedom and equality, to the influence of Christianity”.

Hans Albert , who, in contrast to the agnostic Popper, is an atheist, sees a general problem in what he sees as the fundamentally "dogmatic" character of religions. Religious statements accordingly lay claim to a final justification , which refers to certain “insights” and “revelations”. Albert rejects this as an arbitrary termination of the justification procedure, which serves to “ immunize the conviction in question against all possible objections ”. In contrast, he sets the "principle of critical examination"; With this one has "the prospect of getting closer to the truth through trial and error - through the experimental construction of testable theories and their critical discussion on the basis of relevant points of view - without, however, ever reaching certainty". This means a " fallibilism in relation to any possible instance", i. H. one could not exclude from any instance such as "reason, intuition or experience, conscience, feeling, a person, a group or a class of persons, for example officials" that they are wrong. This "insight that all certainty is self-fabricated in knowledge [...] and is therefore irrelevant for the apprehension of reality" calls into question "the cognitive value of every dogma".


Jean-Paul Sartre advocates “atheistic existentialism ”. For him, God is nothing but a threat to human freedom . The first step of existentialism is to bring every person into possession of what he is and to let the complete responsibility for his existence rest on him. In L'existentialisme est un humanisme he formulates:

“Even if there were a god, that wouldn't change anything; that is our point of view. Not that we believe God exists, but we think that the question is not that of his existence. Man has to find himself again and convince himself that nothing can save him from himself, if it were also valid proof of the existence of God. "

The German existential philosopher Karl Jaspers , on the other hand, advocates an "existential interpretation" of religion; H. an examination of the transcendent in relation to the individual. He refers to the "authoritative people" in the order of their importance: Socrates , Buddha , Confucius and Jesus . He criticizes the belief in revelation in favor of a philosophical belief which the individual must develop and which does not bring with it any promise, but only self-responsibility.


Ernst Bloch criticizes dogmatic Marxism in its attempt to abolish religion through revolution. On the other hand, he represents the moment of utopia that transcends any rigid form of rule. He finds this unfulfilled potential for hope again in religion ( atheism in Christianity , the principle of hope ).

The philosophers of the Frankfurt School also see vulgar Marxist rationalism critically as a kind of "religion" that prescribes absolute knowledge about the goal of human society and thus only establishes new one-dimensionality and rule (Herbert Marcuse: The one-dimensional man ).

Agnosticism, relativism and eclecticism

A widespread attitude today regards the existence of a “god” as neither provable nor refutable ( agnosticism ). In the tradition of Kant, she sees metaphysical questions that aim at a transcendent reality as meaningless questions, since the answers would lie beyond human capacity for knowledge: for example Emil Heinrich du Bois-Reymond'sIgnoramus et ignorabimus ” (Latin “We know it doesn't and we will never know ”).

Just as widespread is a postmodern relativism , which grants each person their individual form of religiosity and largely dispenses with the question of truth . Similar to Hellenism at the turn of the ages, this corresponds to a new revival of religious currents, which are no longer defined by the major world religions, churches and beliefs, but rather select elements from them ( eclecticism ) and with pagan motifs for syncretism and pluralism also in the Connect look at the deity.

This can be found today mainly in esotericism , but also in more non-religious directions. What they have in common is the demarcation from the traditionally monotheistic religions, which often combine a belief in a single universal God with an absolute claim in their teaching. The philosopher Odo Marquard , for example, intends to “praise polytheism ” (in: Abschied vom Prinziplichen, 1981), in which he describes the monomyth of Christianity as the first historical accident. He counters this with the blessing effect of religious pluralism (cf. also Jan Assmann ).

Scientific worldview

See also science and religion

The view that religion and science harmonize with one another is often held by devout scientists, including Arthur Peacocke , John Polkinghorne and Francis Collins . According to Stephen Jay Gould , who described himself as an agnostic, religion and science do not contradict each other, as both cover different areas (" Nonoverlapping Magisteria ").

In contrast, scientists like Steven Weinberg , Richard Dawkins and Norman Levitt (1943–2009) consider theism and science to be fundamentally incompatible, since they would make completely different statements about the universe. It is not possible to have a theistic and a scientifically oriented worldview at the same time without suppressing discrepancies. The conciliatory attitude of institutions such as the US National Academy of Sciences is essentially strategically motivated to induce moderate believers to accept scientific findings such as the theory of evolution . The American physicist Victor Stenger is of the opinion that religious beliefs such as eternal life , reincarnation , the effectiveness of prayer , body-soul dualism , miracles and creation are not only empirically unfounded, but have been refuted by science.

For Alan Sokal , most religions can be classified as pseudosciences , similar to astrology and homeopathy .

Recent literature critical of religion

Since 1945 authors from various fields of science have taken up existing approaches that are critical of religion and deepened or updated them, some also in personal form.

In 1968 the theologian and philosopher Joachim Kahl pleaded in his book Das Elend des Christianentums for a “humanity without God” (subtitle) in the context of the existentialist “God is dead” theology of the 1960s.

The psychoanalyst Tilmann Moser described his religious socialization in the book God Poisoning in 1976 , but came up with “a tolerable image of God” in the follow-up work.

Uta Ranke-Heinemann's rejection of the biologically interpreted virgin birth was discussed in the press in 1987. She was of Franz Hengsbach withdrawn on 15 June 1987 because of their appeal to a Ratzinger quote the theological institute. Your criticism of Catholic teaching went beyond this topic.

Herbert Schnädelbach sparked a debate on May 11, 2000 with his criticism of the mea culpa declaration by John Paul II . In the following contributions he defended the enlightenment of theology as a “pious atheist” and presented the “new” atheism as a denominational danger because of its scientific narrowing. The psychologist Franz Buggle described in his book Because they do not know what they believe because of the Bible questionable and contradicting commandments as an unsuitable basis for ethical orientation and also criticized some newer theologians like Hans Küng .

Karlheinz Deschner has written a comprehensive criminal history of Christianity that lists numerous crimes committed by church representatives in order to expose the inhumane effects of church power politics and the hypocrisy of Christians of all epochs up to clerical fascism .

New Atheists ” such as Sam Harris ( The End of Faith , 2004), Richard Dawkins ( Der Gotteswahn , 2006), Daniel Dennett ( Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon , 2006), Christopher Hitchens ( The Lord Is Not A Shepherd - How Religion poisoned the world , 2007) and Michel Onfray ( We need no God , 2006/2007) criticize every form of religion as irrational superstition and advocate a world dominated by reason and understanding.

The ethnologist Pascal Boyer tried in 2004 ( And Mensch created God ) to underpin Feuerbach's projection thesis in terms of brain physiology: A certain module that processes sensory impressions easily leads changes in the environment back to living beings and leaves unclear perceptions of supernatural actors such as gods or ghosts arise.

Andreas Kilian interpreted religion in 2009 as a biologically selected, non-logical level of argumentation in order to be able to better justify and enforce individual egoism towards others.

In his book "Magical Thinking", Thomas Grüter points out constituent elements of magical thinking in religions.

Criticism of religion in Jewish and Christian theology

Biblical cult and social criticism

The human endeavor to bring oneself into harmony with “higher powers”, to condense them into images of God, to oppose one another as objects of worship, to claim collective veneration for it and thus to secure relations of domination, is subject to sharp criticism in the Tanakh , the Hebrew Bible .

The prohibition of images as the flip side of the first commandment (see Ten Commandments ) prohibits the people of Israel any images of God and their worship. This is directed not only against foreign gods, but above all against the tendency to dispose of YHWH's being and to use him for human purposes. The prophecy of Israel criticized this striving since its inception, particularly in view of the religious and political leaders of God's people. She relates the criticism above all to the desire for a king as with other ancient peoples ( Samuel , 1 SamEU ), syncretism ( Elijah , 1 KingsEU ), exploitation by priests and the royal court ( Amos ), the cult of sacrifices and lawlessness in the name of the YHWH faith ( Isaiah 1.11–17  EU , Hos 6.6  EU ), alliance and armaments policy with an appeal to God ( Isaiah ), the willing prophets of salvation employed at the temple ( Jeremiah ) etc.

Since the fall of the two partial kingdoms (586 BC), biblical historiography has reminded us of the recurring failure of God's people and their religious leaders, who did not wait for God's self-communication, but created unauthorized images of God and thus conjured up disaster for everyone: for example in the story of the golden calf ( Ex 32  EU ).

In the depiction of the creation of the world designed in Babylonian exile , the memory of the exodus from slavery , which was justified by the ideology of the god and the king, is reflected: the world that can be experienced is de-goded, the Babylonian astral deities are depotentated as "lamps" and waypoints for humans Gen 1.14 ff.  EU ).

Reformatory criticism of religion

Since the Reformation , Christian theology has seen criticism of its own religion, Christianity , as one of its main tasks. Martin Luther placed the self-communication of God in the person of Jesus Christ as the standard of criticism , as he is attested above all in the writings of Paul as a suffering and risen one (according to Romans, Galatians and Ephesians) and therefore not to be invented by humans and can be established on: all historically grown religious traditions, the entire church apparatus, the scholastic synthesis of faith and knowledge and the “whore reason”, which can be misused for the most varied of purposes. He did not only apply this to Catholicism , but also as a constant review of all-Christian theory and practice and an incentive for church reforms with an external social impact (ecclesia semper reformanda) .

Enlightened theology

The Kant student Johann Heinrich Tieftrunk (1759-1837), a rationalist Protestant theologian, responded to Kant's fundamental criticism of metaphysical thinking with his own drafts of a religious criticism of Christianity, especially Protestantism. For him, as for Kant, the yardstick was reasonable self-determination: religion becomes an object of criticism if it violates this postulate. Religious consciousness is criticized in general in order to enlighten it about itself and to examine it for its practical reason - the contribution to human coexistence. Religious external determination is described as a self-deception of reason - not a “priestly deception” - which actually submits to its own as a foreign standard. In carrying out this self-enlightenment, what is reasonably valuable in religion should be consciously appropriated and thus preserved.

Karl Barth

After the New Protestantism had withdrawn in the 19th century to empirical religiosity, the subjective experience of God and the progress of civilization that had to be ennobled by morality, Karl Barth renewed the Reformation approach after 1918, positively responded to and led the criticism of religion and ideology by Feuerbach and Marx Christologically through them ( Church Dogmatics I / 2, §17: God's revelation as the abolition of religion ). God reveals himself in Jesus Christ in complete contrast to human religion. In Jesus' death on the cross, God shows his true nature: with this he uncovered all unauthorized striving for a synthesis between God and man as sin . Religion appears in this mirror as a human work that never leads to God, as self-power and denial of the true God who is capable of suffering and death for human beings.

In 1938, Barth referred this criticism particularly to the Protestantism of his presence, which was allied with secular powers of nation, race, and state and adhered to special confessional ownership, but denied and overlooked God, who suffered and died with the Jews.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's thoughts and actions revolved around the leitmotif: “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” The answers he found and exemplified challenged conventional Christianity, its religious forms of expression, its anachronistic apologetics and political alienation and finally left it all behind.

As a pacifist , Bonhoeffer criticized the non-binding nature of the ecumenical movement and the nationalistic ties of its member churches, which were incapable of a simple, common, suffering-ready, unmistakable witness of peace against the impending world war that nations could not ignore (speech in Fanö 1937). As a participant in the conspiratorial resistance against National Socialism , he exercised the sharpest self-criticism on behalf of the discouraged Confessing Church , concerned with maintaining its own existence and failing towards the victims of the Nazi state (confession of guilt, 1941). In the last months of his life he said goodbye to the occidental model of Christianity as a religion that the "mature world" simply does not need.

Each of these criticisms was, for him, a painfully discovered, inevitable response to the challenge of following Jesus in the present. His book Succession begins with the sentence: “Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church.” For him, an offer of salvation reduced to sermons and sacraments that served as an excuse for doing nothing and indifference to the need of one's neighbor was cheap: a “faith” without self-criticism ( Repentance ), without appropriate action, without willingness to suffer and to take responsibility for others.

His ethics (1940–1943) was a comprehensive rejection of any virtue ethics based on timeless ideals, norms and principles and of the Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms : traditional thinking in two spaces - here the evil world, there God's inaccessible beyond Opposite world, here the lazy compromise with this world, there the equally lazy pseudo-revolutionary hatred of the existing - miss the reality into which the concrete command of God places the Christians here and today. The simple existence of Jesus Christ in the suffering neighbor uncovered the wrong fronts of the present: “Worse than the evil deed is evil. It is worse when a liar tells the truth than when a lover of the truth lies; worse when a hater of people practices brotherly love than when a lover of people is overwhelmed by hatred. ”In order to save the neighbor and to testify to human rights in the face of the total domination of evil (in the form of the Nazi state), the Christian is under Circumstances forced to break all Ten Commandments .

His prison letters (April to August 1944) to Eberhard Bethge contained open questions, sketches, aphorisms and visions aimed at a comprehensive departure from all religious forms of Christian belief and a move towards a " non-religious Christianity ":

“The time when you could say anything to people through words… is over; likewise the time of inwardness and conscience , and that means the time of religion in general. "

Each keyword stood for a variant of Protestant theology: word communication for Lutheran orthodoxy , inwardness for Schleiermacher's romantic "feeling of absolute dependence", conscience for Albrecht Ritschl and Wilhelm Hermann's neo-Kantian moralism. In contrast, Bonhoeffer foresaw a future without religion:

“We are approaching a completely religionless time, people can simply no longer be religious as they are. The foundation of all of our previous 'Christianity' is being removed, and there are only a few last knights, or a few intellectually dishonest ones, with whom we can religiously 'land'. "

The "religious landing" meant the conventional apologetic method of showing a border area in human thinking and feeling in order to convey "God" there and make it plausible:

"The religious speak of God when human knowledge is over or human powers fail - it is actually always the deus ex machina [God from the machine] that they deploy - either for the pretense of solving unsolvable problems or as a force in the event of human failure always taking advantage of human weakness or at human limits. [...] "

The religious way of speaking of God is "on the one hand metaphysical, on the other hand individualistic": This referred to Catholic Thomism as well as to the Lutheran doctrine of justification . Both miss the situation of today's man, who no longer see and shape his world under religious auspices. The process of enlightenment and secularization is irreversible:

"So I want to point out that God is not smuggled in at any last point, but that one simply recognizes the maturity of the world and of man ... We cannot be honest without realizing that we have to live in this world - ' etsi deus non daretur '[even if God did not exist]. Belief in the resurrection is not the solution to the problem of death. The beyond of God is not the beyond of our knowledge! ... God is in the middle of our life on the other side. "

Bonhoeffer found this insight precisely in the Gospel :

“God himself forces us to realize this ... [the irreversibly mature world] The God who is with us is the God who leaves us ... God lets himself be forced out of the world to the cross, God is powerless and weak in the world and precisely and only in this way is he with us and helps us ... not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness, his suffering! ... The religiosity of man points him in his need to the power of God in the world, God is the deus ex machina. The Bible directs man to the impotence and suffering of God; only the suffering God can help. In this respect one can say that the described development towards the maturity of the world, through which a false concept of God is cleared up, clears the view for the God of the Bible, who only gains power and space through his powerlessness in the world ... "

Precisely because Bonhoeffer believed in the presence of Christ in this world, “religion” for him was an escape from reality into an imaginary hereafter. This was not aimed at a new, "more modern" interpretation of the Bible for atheists, as was later undertaken by the God-is-dead theology , but at a completely different Christian way of existence:

"Jesus does not call to a new religion, but to life."

With that he dared a first answer as to what a future testimony to Christ might look like in a world that is de facto religious and godless. Only the suffering for others is realistic, while renouncing any religious egoism and any secret missionary intent. During the Nazi era, the Church had proven to be incapable of

“To be the bearer of the word of reconciliation and redemption for people and for the world. That is why the earlier words must become powerless and fall silent, and our Christianity today will consist of only two things: praying and doing what is just among people. ... every attempt to help it [the church figure] to develop new organizational power prematurely will only be a delay in its conversion and purification. "

The future church must give all property to those in need right from the start. The pastors would have to live exclusively from the voluntary gifts of the congregations, possibly from an ordinary profession. They must constantly and fully participate in the social tasks, "not ruling, but helping and serving". Only in this way could Christians show people what a life in Christ means and act as examples.

Theology after Auschwitz

Under this catchphrase, v. a. theologians also made considerations critical of religion, for example Dorothee Sölle . The theodicy problem has also been exacerbated by Auschwitz ( pars pro toto for the Shoah ), for example with Günther Anders , for whom God is always someone who has allowed Auschwitz.

Within the Catholic Church, the theologian Karl Rahner has considered an anonymous Christianity , i.e. an apostasy from religion born out of the legitimacy of doubt, which, contrary to the formula extra ecclesiam nulla salus, could be holy (see also Second Vatican Council ).

See also: Hans Jonas

See also


Ancient criticism of religion
  • Franz Eckstein: Outline of Greek Philosophy . Hirschgraben-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1974, ISBN 3-454-75600-6
  • Gebhard Löhr: Criticism of religion in Greek and Roman antiquity. In: Georg Stadtmüller , Jan Assmann , Herbert Franke (eds.): Saeculum. Volume 49/1. Alber Verlag, Freiburg / B. 1998, ISSN  0080-5319
Texts by classical critics of religion
Christianity criticism
  • Karlheinz Deschner (ed.): Christianity in the judgment of its opponents . Max Hüber, Ismaning 1986, ISBN 3-19-005507-6
  • Karlheinz Deschner: The rooster crowed again. A critical church history. Goldmann, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-442-72025-7
  • Karlheinz Deschner: The fake belief. A critical consideration of church teachings and their historical background. Knesebeck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-89660-228-4
  • Karlheinz Deschner: criminal history of Christianity . Vol. 1-8. CD-ROM version, digital library, Directmedia GmbH, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-89853-532-0
  • Gert von Paczensky : Crimes in the name of Christ. Mission and Colonialism . Orbis-Verlag, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-572-01177-9
  • Franz Buggle : Because they don't know what they believe or why one can honestly no longer be a Christian. Alibri-Verlag, Aschaffenburg 2004, ISBN 3-932710-77-0
  • Edgar Dahl (Ed.): The doctrine of doom: Fundamental criticism of Christianity. Goldmann, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-442-12590-1
  • Mary Daly : Beyond God the Father Son & Co. Departure to a philosophy of women's liberation. 5th expanded edition. Women's offensive, Munich 1988, ISBN 3-88104-154-0
  • Joachim Kahl: The misery of Christianity or the plea for humanity without God . Rowohlt, Reinbek 1993, ISBN 3-499-13278-8
  • Alfred Lorenzer : The Council of Accountants. The destruction of sensuality. A criticism of religion. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1992, ISBN 3-596-27340-4
  • Goel, SR (1996). History of Hindu-Christian encounters, AD 304 to 1996. ISBN 8185990352
  • Shourie, A. (1994). Missionaries in India: Continuities, changes, dilemmas. New Delhi: ASA Publications.
  • Swarup, R. (1992). Hindu view of Christianity and Islam. New Delhi: Voice of India.
Critique of Buddhism
  • Brian A. Victoria: Zen, Nationalism and War. , Berlin: Theseus-Verlag, 1999. ISBN 3-89620-132-8
  • Werner Vogd: The empowered master: A systemic reconstruction using the example of the Sogyal Rinpoche scandal , Heidelberg: Carl Auer, 2019
Historical-sociological criticism of religion
  • Günter Dux : Epistemological criticism of religion. Think what is irrefutable. In: Christian Danz, Jörg Dierken, Michael Murrmann-Kahl (Hrsg.ff): Religion between justification and criticism. Perspectives of Philosophical Theology. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-631-53882-0
  • Hermann Lübbe : Religion after the Enlightenment. Fink, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-7705-3941-9
  • Carsten Jakobi, Bernhard Spies, Andrea Jäger (eds.): Criticism of religion in literature and philosophy after the Enlightenment. Mitteldeutscher Verlag, Halle / S. 2007, ISBN 3-89812-374-X
Psychoanalytic criticism of religion
Language analytical criticism of religion
Rationalistic criticism of religion
  • Hans Albert : Treatise on Critical Reason. 4th edition, Tübingen 1980
  • Hans Albert: The misery of theology. Critical examination of Hans Küng. Alibri-Verlag, Aschaffenburg 2005, ISBN 3-455-08853-8
  • Hans Albert: The religious belief and the religious criticism of the Enlightenment. Limitations on the Use of Reason in the Light of Critical Philosophy. In: Journal for General Philosophy of Science 37 (2006), pp. 355-371. ( Text online )
  • Karl Popper : The open society and its enemies. 6th edition, Munich 1980
Scientific criticism of religion
Criticism of fundamentalism and criticism of Islam
Christian theological criticism of religion

Web links

Portal: Atheism  - Overview of Wikipedia content on atheism
Wikibooks: Criticism of Religion  - Learning and Teaching Materials
Wiktionary: Critique of religion  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Criticism of Religion  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Single receipts

  1. Günther Rohrmoser: The criticism of religion in the 19th century and its overcoming in Martin Heidegger's thinking , in: Jörg Baur: The inevitability of the religious and the inevitability of the gospel: criticism of religion as a theological challenge ; Munich 1972, p. 57 ff.
  2. Reinhold F. Glei : Et invidus et inbecillus. The alleged Epicurus fragment in Laktanz, De ira dei 13: 20-21 , in: Vigiliae Christianae 42 (1988), pp. 47-58; Arthur Stanley Pease (Ed.): M. Tulli Ciceronis De natura deorum. Libri secundus et tertius , Cambridge (Mass.) 1958, pp. 1232f.
  3. after Hans Joachim Kraus: Theologische Religionskritik , Neukirchen-Vluyn 1982, p. 116
  4. ^ Helmuth Vetter:  POSEIDONIOS from Apameia. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 7, Bautz, Herzberg 1994, ISBN 3-88309-048-4 , Sp. 856-857.
  5. ^ Friedrich W. Kantzenbach: Religious Criticism of the Modern Age. Goldmann, Munich 1972, ISBN 3-442-80012-9 , p. 7
  6. ^ Friedrich W. Kantzenbach: Religious Criticism of the Modern Age. Munich 1972, p. 9
  7. ^ Friedrich W. Kantzenbach: Religious Criticism of the Modern Age. Munich 1972, p. 9f.
  8. Hans-Walter Krumwiede (Ed.): Church and Theological History in Sources , Volume IV / 1: Neuzeit, Neukirchener Verlag 1979, ISBN 3-7887-0583-3 , p. 111 ff.
  9. For example, in Karl Marx : "The criticism of religion is the prerequisite for all criticism.", On the criticism of Hegel's legal philosophy (1844). Introduction, MEW 1, p. 378, e-Text .
  10. Ernst Aster, History of Philosophy pp. 340–342
  11. Ludwig Feuerbach: Lectures on the essence of religion , Leipzig 1851, XX. lecture
  12. ^ A b c Karl Marx: On the critique of Hegel's philosophy of law. Introduction 1843–1844, in Karl Marx / Friedrich Engels works. Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1976, Volume I, pp. 378-391 online
  13. ^ Nietzsche, Friedrich, AC I, 2
  14. Uwe Swarat, The historical Jesus research and its dogmatic implications, In: Volker Spangenberg and André Heinze (editors), The historical Jesus in the field of tension between faith and history, 2010, Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, ISBN 3374027598
  15. ^ Weaver, Walter P. (1999). The Historical Jesus in the Twentieth Century, 1900–1950. Trinity. pp. 45-50.
  16. ^ Van Voorst, Robert E. (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 7-11. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 .
  17. ^ Ferdinand Christian Baur: The so-called Pastoral Letters of the Apostle Paul (1835) . Kessinger Publishing, 2010, ISBN 1-166-87305-6 .
  18. ^ Ferdinand Christian Baur: Paulus, the apostle of Jesus Christ. His life and work, his letters and his teaching . Mug u. Müller, 1845.
  19. ^ Arthur Drews (author), Hermann Detering (editor), The Denial of the Historicity of Jesus in the Past and Present, Verlag G. Braun, 2016
  20. ^ Eduard Verhoef, Willem Christiaan van Manen: a Dutch radical New Testament scholar, Hervormde Teologiese Studies 55/1 (1999), 221-227. (New Testament Abstracts 44 [2000], 19), PDF .
  21. ^ Karl Popper: The open society and their enemies , Vol. 2, 6th edition Munich 1980, p. 336
  22. ^ Edward Zerin: Karl Popper On God: The Lost Interview ; in: Skeptic 6/2 (1998)
  23. see also: Wikibook study guide Hans Albert: Criticism immunization strategies
  24. See Hans Albert: Treatise on Critical Reason , 4th ed. Tübingen 1980, pp. 34–36
  25. JP Sartre: L'existentialisme est un humanisme, German: Is existentialism a humanism ?, Ullstein, Frankfurt 1989, p. 35
  26. Karl Jaspers: Die authoritative Menschen, 8th edition, Piper, 1997, Munich, 1980, p. 26 u. 80
  27. ^ See for example Philip Kitcher: The Many-Sided Conflict Between Science and Religion. In The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Religion, pp. 266-282. Blackwell, Oxford 2005, ISBN 0-631-22128-X
  28. Jerry Coyne : Truckling to the Faithful: A Spoonful of Jesus Helps Darwin Go Down. April 22, 2009.
  29. Victor Stenger: God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God does not Exist. Prometheus, Amherst 2007, ISBN 1-59102-481-1
  30. ^ Alan Sokal: Pseudosciences et postmodernisme: adversaires ou compagnons de route? Odile Jacob, Paris 2005, ISBN 2-7381-1615-9
  31. ^ Joseph Ratzinger: Introduction to Christianity (2nd edition) Munich 1968, page 225 or Uta Ranke-Heinemann: Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven. Catholic Church and Sexuality from Jesus to Benedict XVI. Heyne (expanded and updated new edition), Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-453-16505-2 , pp. 565f.
  32. See in particular Uta Ranke-Heinemann: No and Amen. My departure from traditional Christianity . Heyne, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-453-21182-0 .
  33. Herbert Schnädelbach (The time May 20/11, 2000): The curse of Christianity
  34. Wolfgang Krebs: Plea for a questionable religion. On Herbert Schnädelbach's contribution Der Fluch des Christianentums ( Memento from September 19, 2012 in the web archive ), ZEIT No. 20, May 11, 2000, pp. 41–42; Documentation of the controversy THE CURSE OF CHRISTIANITY
  35. ^ Herbert Schnädelbach: Religion in the modern world. Lectures, papers, pamphlets. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2009, ISBN 978-3-596-18360-9
  36. Andreas Kilian: Egoism, Power and Strategies. A traditional form of untruth, so that you always have the last word. Sociobiology in everyday life. Alibri, Aschaffenburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-86569-047-0
  37. Home of Dr. Thomas Grueter
  38. Thomas Grüter: Magical Thinking. How it comes about and how it affects us. Scherz, Frankfurt am Main 2010, ISBN 978-3-502-15158-6 , p. 31 f.
  39. Martin Luther: Preface to the Epistles of James and Jude (1522). WA DB 7, 384-386
  40. Martin Luther: Preface to the New Testament (1522). WA DB 6, 2-10
  41. ^ Johann Heinrich Tieftrunk: Attempt at a criticism of religion and all religious dogmatics, with special regard to Christianity. Berlin Journal for Enlightenment No. 6 (1790), pp. 167–220; Censorship of the Christian Protestant concept of teaching according to the principles of criticism of religion , 3 volumes, 1791–1795. Depicted by Friedrich Wilhelm Kantzenbach: Criticism of Religion in the Modern Age. Introduction to their history and problems. Wilhelm Goldmann, Munich 1972
  42. ^ Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Resistance and surrender. Letters and notes from prison. Edited by Gremmels / Bethge / Bethge. [= Dietrich Bonhoeffer works. Eighth volume.] Gütersloh 1998. p. 403.
  43. ^ Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Resistance and surrender. Letters and notes from prison. Edited by Gremmels / Bethge / Bethge. [= Dietrich Bonhoeffer works. Eighth volume.] Gütersloh 1998. p. 407.
  44. ^ Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Resistance and surrender. Letters and notes from prison. Edited by Gremmels / Bethge / Bethge. [= Dietrich Bonhoeffer works. Eighth volume.] Gütersloh 1998. p. 533.
  45. ^ Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Resistance and surrender. Letters and notes from prison. Edited by Gremmels / Bethge / Bethge. [= Dietrich Bonhoeffer works. Eighth volume.] Gütersloh 1998, pp. 533-534.
  46. Eberhard Bethge: Bonhoeffer , rororo Bildmonographien 236, ISBN 3-499-50236-4 , pp. 118–126