What do secular Jews believe in?

We cannot live without faith

We have lost religion. Yet people's beliefs are as strong as ever. It just changes its shape.

Most passers-by at the Stauffacher in Zurich hardly notice the seven o'clock chiming of the nearby St. Jakob church. When it starts, they wait impatiently for the tram with full shopping bags or walk towards the after-work beer with polished shoes and mobile phones to their ears. The ringing is commonplace, it is noise like the squeaking of the trams.

Inside the church, however, you can be heard all over the place this evening. A community of two or three dozen people listens with closed eyes to the recurring blows that penetrate the church. The carillon does not mark the beginning of a service, but the beginning of a yoga lesson.

The participants sit in training pants and with bare feet on light blue rubber mats and get in the mood for the lesson. Tonight the topic is: let go. In front of them there is a mighty organ with innumerable pipes, the scene of the birth of Christ is set up at the altar, with Mary and Joseph, donkey and stable.

The organ remains silent, however, and there is no "O you merry" sounding tonight either. Instead, a musician is now playing soft tones on a tiny wooden box, an Indian harmonium. The group begins with their exercises in order to later fervently chant the mantra Om Shanti Om. Shanti stands for peace, Om is the highest syllable in Hindu metaphysics.

"Where should all the souls go?"

Jörg Stolz has a strange job. It measures the Christian faith in Switzerland or what is left of it. The yoga class in front of a Christian backdrop makes the sociologists of religion at the University of Lausanne smile, but it doesn't surprise them. He worked out a religious system of categories and placed it over Switzerland. That helps him to locate every phenomenon. The yoga participants in the church belong to the category of alternatives, he says - but about that later.

Stolz's insight, which he came to in the course of years of research, is less divine. The scientist notes: religion and spirituality are increasingly indifferent to a majority of the population. She prefers to go shopping or to have a beer after work instead of going to church.

If you ask these people about their beliefs, they will say: "Yes, I believe there is something higher." But if you poke around and ask what this higher is, it says something like: «Good question. If you want to know something about religion, talk to my neighbor, he goes to church. " This is what pride experienced in his interviews. Proud names this category: the distanced. Almost 60 percent of the population belong to it.

The distanced ones, however, are not entirely godless. They keep a back door to God open, just in case. Many distanced people are still members of their church, even if religion or spirituality no longer play a role in their daily life. They rarely go to church, with the exception of Christmas. Then they appear, by the thousands, in the masses on Christmas Night, so someone coined the term submarine Christians for them. Or they pray when they are in crisis.

According to Stolz, those who have distanced themselves have just as vague ideas about the afterlife as they do about God. “They believe in the immortality of the soul, but they still cannot really imagine it. "Many distanced people were still religiously socialized in their childhood, but they have shed religious practice.

Religion has slipped away almost imperceptibly. The religious experienced another wedding in the fifties. At that time you were still born into a religion and a denomination. Everything was predetermined, one was either Catholic or Reformed. Religion was public and sacrosanct.

The turning point came in the sixty-eighties. The younger generation no longer accepted authority, least of all the church. Instead of obedience and traditional gender roles, people demanded individualism and equality. Religion became a matter of personal choice and disappeared from the public eye. Today we don't have to do anything anymore - from a religious point of view. Visiting church is just as optional as going to the fitness center or visiting the zoo.

For the sociologist of religion Stolz, the consequences of this development are clear: the obsession with the self leads Switzerland directly into a secular age in which the back door to God is slammed shut. By 2030, a large part of the population in Switzerland will no longer engage in religious practices and will no longer have any religious beliefs. The largest category will then not be distant as it is today, but completely secular. Today the proportion of the «secular» is only around 12 percent.

Is Switzerland really heading straight for a godless future? The classics of sociology from Auguste Comte to Karl Marx were also convinced that the Enlightenment, industrialization and the division of labor automatically displaced the religious. But their theses are now getting on in years, and the religions have still not disappeared.

On the contrary: they are still very much alive. Not even the communists managed to stamp them out. And since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 at the latest, questions of faith have been back in the focus of international media. Religious societies grow, secular ones shrink.

It is also astonishing that liberal churches that make concessions to the mainstream and open up lose members, while conservative churches with strict rules and norms are gaining popularity. This can also be seen on a small scale in Switzerland, where Protestant free churches have been able to increase their membership significantly in recent years.

Today the common thesis in sociology is: Although people no longer go to church regularly, they rarely pray and reject church dogmas. But they hold on to their faith. For this, the British sociologist of religion Grace Davie coined the phrase “believing without belonging”.

Other scientists emphasize that religion has not become weaker, but has changed. Others even expect a "spiritual revolution". Ecclesiastical religiosity should be transformed in the long term into phenomena such as astrology, yoga, belief in angels and spirits, the laying on of hands or crystal healings.

With his thesis on secularization, the Swiss sociologist of religion Stolz stands a bit across the landscape today. But that doesn't bother him. «I rely on empirical data. This shows that religious and spiritual beliefs are declining in Switzerland and in the western world. "

Of course there is also an esoteric scene in Switzerland. Proudly summarizes them in the category of alternatives. Their share is a good 13 percent. They believe in the law of karma, in contacts with angels, cosmic energies. You do not think of God as a person but as an energy. Some of them were sitting in St. Jakob recently and sang Om Shanti. But pride does not give them a prominent role.

Pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago

But pride could be wrong here. Esotericism and spirituality have made their way into the mainstream in recent years. Also in Switzerland. In the past, esotericists could be recognized by necklaces with crystal beads, today it is completely normal to read books about the power of light or Zen Buddhism for dummies.

It is no longer socially frowned upon to arrange your furniture according to Feng Shui principles, to consider a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela or to run bare feet over the fire according to the shaman's custom, regardless of which denomination you belong to or whether one believes at all.

The esoteric departments in bookshops have become huge, as has the range of pilgrimages to places of power. Spiritual shopping is accepted and shows that many yearn to experience a higher dimension. These new forms of belief are non-binding, if something doesn't suit you, you jump to the next until it's right for you.

These trends also shape the churches. Not only those who like to experiment like the Church of St. Jakob, but also the Zurich Grossmünster. According to the pastor in charge, Christoph Sigrist, fewer people sit in the service on Sunday than before. But more and more people come on weekdays when no one is preaching the gospel in the pulpit. In the last ten years the flow of visitors to the Grossmünster has doubled, to 650,000 people a year.

A large part come because of the music, the art, the colors or the quiet. "In our modern age, music, aesthetics and silence are the new gateways to faith," says Sigrist. He saw the signs of the times. «Sigmar Polke's windows in the sunshine make you forget time and yourself. They make it possible to perceive the religious vibrations in the church, »he says.

The music, classical concerts and choral singing had a similar effect. "I know some bankers, atheists, who come to my church at lunchtime to experience the peace and quiet for a short time and to forget their stress," says the pastor. The church suddenly becomes a place of power for them too.

If the windows by the German artist Sigmar Polke were installed in the Kunsthaus and not in the church, could they also trigger religious vibrations? Or would they not simply give the viewer a few moments of happiness in which they can forget themselves? "I define them as religious vibrations," says Pastor Sigrist. "An agnostic defines it as atheistic spirituality or as transcendent, or he simply says: "

A non-religious future is unthinkable for Sigrist. "The religious feeling belongs to the human being, just like social action and reasonable thinking." It does not matter that religious feelings are sometimes a little diffuse. That's what Sigrist says as a pastor and theologian.

However, evolutionary biologists are currently trying to support the thesis that humans are “homo naturaliter religiosus”. Using basic psychological patterns, these scientists show that humans cannot help but believe in something higher. He tends to attribute natural phenomena or puzzling events to the actions of superhuman beings in order to be able to cope better with environmental influences. Religions explain the inexplicable, and that helps.

With Jörg Stolz, such theories just shake their heads. «Sexuality is innate to us. But religion is a phenomenon that is taught to us by those around us. Religion is like a language that changes and is constantly reinterpreted - and that can be lost. " So pride sticks to his thesis. We are slowly unlearning the language of the religious.

But what can we expect in a secular age? "An awareness of what is missing". That was the title of an essay that the philosopher Jürgen Habermas once wrote for the NZZ. In it he told how he attended the funeral service of the Swiss writer Max Frisch in 1991, who was an agnostic during his lifetime. Frisch had insisted that the funeral service be held in St. Peter's Church in Zurich; at his behest, however, without a pastor and blessing.

Habermas wrote that Frisch found the non-religious forms of burial embarrassing. With his choice of the church he had shown that secular modernity could not offer an appropriate ritual for religiously coping with death. The sacred was missing.

Individualism makes you depressed

«Secular life has holes», says the philosopher and atheist Alain de Botton. For example, he couldn't believe in religious dogmas, but he loved Christmas. As a rational being, however, he could not celebrate the birth of Christ. He therefore calls on atheists to introduce rituals and hold meetings; similar to church calendars, they should structure people's lives and strengthen the feeling of togetherness. But rituals cannot simply be conjured up. Otherwise they appear empty and, as Habermas writes, embarrassing.

The consequences of a purely worldly life can already be observed today. Although individualism brings great freedom, it also places all of the responsibility on the individual. If you no longer succeed in your job or family, you run into problems. Individualism is one of the reasons depression and other mental illnesses are rampant. This trend is likely to become more pronounced in the secular age.

This can be remedied by psychotherapy or - to be precise: religious and spiritual practices. All religious practices - as Ulrich Schnabel writes in his book "The Measurement of Faith" - serve to become aware of the limitations of the ego, to transcend it and to abolish it in favor of a more all-encompassing reality. In other words, they help us get off the ego trip. If we are actually heading into a future without religions, we have several reasons to reintroduce them.