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No one believes old myths any longer

Lüdemann: Suit Denied

by Matthias Heinzel

At the end of 1998, at the insistence of the Confederation of Protestant Churches of Lower Saxony and in agreement with the Ministry of Science and Culture, the university authorities dismissed Lüdemann from his New Testament chair. Previously Lüdemann, on the basis of his researches, had denied key principles of Christian faith like the divine sonship and the resurrection of Jesus. In the view of the church which through the Loccum treaty with the State of Lower Saxony has a right to be involved in appointments to professorial chairs in theology, Lüdemann was no longer suited to instruct future clergy and teachers of religion. Thereupon the university hastily assigned Lüdemann a chair in a newly created discipline, 'History and Literature of Early Christianity'. A second-class academic post in a field which is not a prescribed part of any major or course of studies, this new position precludes him from reading examinations, and deprives him of an assistant, from whose research he had previously benefited. Lüdemann sued over this dismissal, but was rebuffed in two preliminary proceedings.

In the main proceedings yesterday Lüdemann emphasized several times that those of his views which had been attacked by the church were shared by a majority of theologians, but not publicly avowed: 'No one believes these old myths any more.'

In its judgment, however, the court took the same line as before: Lüdemann had manifestly renounced the faith; the theological faculty functioned in the public interest; the internal transfer was a relative matter, especially as Lüdemann's new sphere of responsibilities differed from his former position only by the dropping of the confessional tie (AZ: 3A 3193/00).

But Lüdemann will not give up: 'As a scholar I will never bow to the restrictive measures of the University of Göttingen', remarked the controversial theologian to the Göttinger Tageblatt.

Commentary by Matthias Heinzel: Pulling together in harness

Church tax collected by the state, established places in the public and legal media, religious education tied to confessions as a regular school subject? the church may be losing support in the population, but, as the Lüdemann case also shows, it is as strong as ever in the structure of the state.

One of the achievements of the Enlightenment is that science and scholarship have to be open in their results. If a discipline is not, it is not scholarly or scientific discipline, and in that case it has no place in a state university. If the church were training the next generation of pastors in its own institutions at its own expense and had abandoned any confessional tie for teachers of religion at state schools, there would be no objection to such curricular guidelines as a de facto ban on scholarly and scientific knowledge or divergent views.

In 1923, Oskar Pfister, himself a theologian, wrote: 'A science of Christian faith is no more Christian than a science of criminology is criminal.' Nevertheless, even in the twenty-first century, ministry, church, college and courts are to keep pulling in the same direction to keep a special status for theology. This unwelcome result continues to undermine the separation of church and state that is established by basic German law.

Matthias Heinzel, 16 May 2002, © Göttinger Tageblatt; tr. John Bowden.

Copyright © Gerd Lüdemann
Last updated on April 22, 2020
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