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Icy Times: Interview with Friedrich Schorlemmer

"Since money is obviously addictive, society must be concerned that people with much money are treated for addiction, a legally prescribed withdrawal treatment who cannot bet enough..Love is the highest, love is not only realized in direct relationships. There is also love in structures..By turning and uniting with others, structures can be produced in which love becomes possible." translated fr German
Icy Times

Interview with Pastor Friedrich Schorlemmer

[The following interview originally published in the newspaper DIE WOCHE, January 3, 1997 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.asamnet.de/~riedenek/vilstalb/schorlem.htm.]

[Since 1978, Friedrich Schorlemmer has been a pastor in Wittenberg. Co-founded of the East German (DDR) civil rights movement "Democratic Awakening", he changed to the SPD of the DDR in 1989. Since 1992, he has been a director of the Evangelical Academy in Sachsen-Anhalt. In 1993 the author of several books received the peace prize of the German book trade.]

DIE WOCHE: Mr. Schorlemmer, your new book "Icy Times" (Eisige Zeiten) is an outburst against the social coldness in Germany.
Friedrich Schorlemmer: In my experience, the social reprisals and everyday relations are connected. I exaggerate this as follows: When another's condition does not concern me at all, our relations freeze up... When the gap enormously expands between those lying on park benches and those at the bank asking how they can best invest their money, the political peace in this country becomes fragile... Everyone only asks how he can manage. This has immediate effects on the relations of people to one another. I describe Germany as a land of high-class coolness...

D.W.: We are not so high-class.
F.S.: "Cool" existence is still the highest maxim. We live in a "your problem" society. My daughter told me when she tries to speak with anyone at the university about a difficulty, the answer is usually "That is your problem". Everyone doesn't bother with the problems of others and we become lonely. The main problem of freezing up is loneliness...

D.W.: What is the origin of isolation?
F.S.: This is different in the East and West. In the West there are institutions, associations, parties and churches in which an individual can freely join with others. These are breaking up today. In the East, there were collectives. Then there were niches. The church was such a niche like many circles of friends. Now the collective is gone and the niches are dissolving. Hollow spaces are... to be filled with cynicism. The more young people here have no perspective any more, the stronger is the tendency to criminal and violent energy.

D.W.: What can counteract this?
F.S.: I don't have any conclusive answer. The politically responsible don't give these questions the attention they deserve. They merely do financial-political patch-up jobs. We need a public discussion about the consensus of our society. For example, there is a wealth that is immoral in my opinion. The state becomes impoverished and heavily indebted while vast capital accumulates in private hands.

D.W.: You are a man of the church... Why doesn't the institution church succeed more today in filling the psychic emptiness?
F.S.: The church shares in the crisis of all institutions like the unions for example. The churches are part of the system that comes from the day before yesterday, from the time before the historical turn of 1989 whose consequences we could not foresee.

D.W.: What should the church do?
F.S.: The most important thing for us in the church is to form alternative communities in the midst of this society. We need something like secular cloisters, not people who withdraw from the world but who say we are a community where we live differently.

D.W.: What could be the guiding values of this counter-model?
F.S.: The genesis of a culture of astonishment about life seems primary. Living is wondrous. Out of that grows something like compassion that I regard as most important, compassion with the human creature who suffers... When I know the wondrousness of life - in an autumn leaf or the 2nd movement in a Brahm's violin concerto -, when I am really touched by this and don't say that mother Sophie can do this better - then I feel a thankfulness for life. I can hear, I can see, I can taste. Where thankfulness exists, these enormous claims don't arise. Thankfulness is the mother of a modesty that liberates us from this claimant culture that breaks us.

D.W.: The consumer society is against modesty.
F.S.: This society is degenerate from inside out, rotten through and through. We live in a tra-la-la society, a comedy society. The tra-la-la is the Christmas tree and the comedy, Harold Schmidt and the whole practical joke... I am not a prophet of doom or disaster. I'd like the roots to be unearthed from which we can live. However at the same time we should ask: Who is responsible that our world is disheveled, for example everyone who regards concrete as more important than trees...

D.W.: What is the most important virtue for you?
F.S.: The saying "Blessed are the meek", that is those who have the courage to be gentle in a world that only emphasizes power and force, is most important. This meekness involves bravery, level-headedness and charity. Delight in being good is opposed to delight in being bad or evil...

D.W.: Do we live in a heartless society?
F.S.: According to a slogan, "one cannot afford a heart". What a dreadful remark! One can never "afford" a heart; one has a heart. The heart can atrophe and harden. We can and must break through this hardening and freezing up.


"The Social Contradictions Intensify"

Interview with Pastor Friedrich Schorlemmer

[This interview originally published in: Monatsreport, April 10, 1997 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.hintergrund.com/m049705.]

[The Wittenberg theologian Friedrich Schorlemmer, co-signer of the Erfurt Declaration and author of the book "Icy Coldness" (Eisige Kalte), deplores the "coolness culture", the coldness between people in Germany. In his book, he describes Germany as a society whose most important value is the money value. Germany is a land of elegant coldness and naked rejection of all who cannot pay. In an interview with the Erfurt newspaper "Our New Newspaper" (Unsere neue Zeitung, UNZ), he urged a resolute control of capital.]

UNZ: In your book "Icy Times", you describe the situation very exactly. Is your signature to the Erfurt Declaration the practical consequence of your reflections? (The Erfurt Declaration insisted that property obligates and the rich cannot flee from social responsibility.)
F.S.: The Erfurt Declaration summarizes what I developed in the book. In the book I use another language than in the Erfurt Declaration. Public declarations reflect the language of many signatories. Altogether my book is a commentary on the Erfurt Declaration and was written before the Erfurt Declaration.

UNZ: You describe social coldness as the "consequence of a culture that regulates its relations more and more through money". What should be the focus of attention in society and how is that possible in a market economy?
F.S.: I don't belong to those who demonize money. In a modern economy we cannot manage without money. Everyone does something and must receive a payment for his or her effort. What is wrong are hardened disproportions between the poor and the rich. When some do not work any more because they have enough money, when the money begins to work and performance is no longer the prerequisite for having money, when money becomes independent and people begin to serve money, when they let money work for them instead of creating work and working themselves - I regard that as perverse.
On the other hand, money is also a possibility for dealing with the wealth of society so that the weak, sick, poor, persons on social security or disabled are not kept out of the human community and become human rubbish. The needy must be helped.
We may not become a maintenance society in which performance plays no role.

UNV: Still no one voluntarily renounces on money.
F.S.: Since money is obviously addictive, the society must be concerned that people with much money are treated for addiction, a legally prescribed withdrawal treatment for people who cannot bet enough. This legislation is possible in a rich country.
Economic efficiency, social peaceableness and ecological sustainability are all connected. Whoever sees only one point is a dreamer. Economic effectiveness must be assured so that social compatibility and ecological sustainability can be guaranteed. Democracy is the attempt to come to a kind of overall consensus, not only to balance the different interests. I'd like to cooperate in that over-arching consensus, not to a division of society.

UNV: In one passage we read: "Disproportions between the poor and rich become unbearable in a way that threatens to confirm all the early prognoses of Karl Marx." Can you explain that in more detail?
F.S.: The social contradictions intensify so that many are very poor and a few are very rich which can lead to a revolutionary uprising. Marx expected that the uprising would be organized. Today it would be destructive, I believe. To that extent Marx is not confirmed. People may see no other choice any more than the use of force. That would be intolerable.
Modern capitalism cannot cope with a revolution or socialist revolution. In my opinion, capital that is becoming independent and democracy must be decisively controlled. My main point is that popular rule does not mean the rule of money. The rule of money may not be skillfully veiled as though no other possibilities exist. One cannot serve two masters. An itinerant preacher once said: God or money, God or mammon.
The reduction or fixation on the Euro is also fixation on mammon... If the Euro is made hard, the social state may go by the boards...

UNV: "Sharing needs courage", you say. That is a very realistic alternative for millionaires, managers and officials. But what about the people who have courage but barely enough for life? Doesn't the readiness to share also depend on what can be shared?
F.S.: Yes, obviously. When one possesses something - this begins in a child's room - one has power and the other is down on his luck. I could also be down on my luck. A structural egoism is planted in us humans. When we see that it is good for us when it is good for others, we will be happy.
A little courage is necessary for sharing. When I help, I will also be helped. This basic confidence is vital. There are people who have nothing to share and who must be given something. The poor are not morally better because they are poor.
The question is: If the poor were rich, would he share? That is the long-term work facing us. I remain a pastor to do this work. Only a courageous self-knowledge can help in venturing into a humane society, not a moral self-righteousness. The danger of always following Darwinian principles, the right of the stronger, is unmistakable. A society first becomes human when a person becomes a helper to another person. Whoever loses his heart loses human existence.
Being good presupposes the experience that someone is good to me. I hear many people say "No one gives me anything!" The experience of "being helped by a gift" releases the power of thankfulness. If one has that and not only a massive claim, one becomes more open for others. The social conscience develops from an internalized sympathy that needs structures in politics. This social solidarity first develops when personal sympathy exists.

UNW: "Because injustice is rampant, the love of many will grow cold" (quotation in Matthew). You add: When love grows cold, it is ice-cold between people. Only one who does not abandon, who does not give up love, has a future. What unites the present?
F.S.: The present.

UNW: Is love enough?
F.S.: Love, I believe, is the highest. Love is not only realized in a direct relationship, in very personal affection. There is also love in structures. That is an experience that we make in theology. When I assumed that love is also something with effects in politics, in love for people, then love can be everything. This is connected with the very beautiful realistic saying from the New Testament: "Love your neighbor as yourself". This means that you may also affirm yourself.
Only one who is clear with himself can turn to others and unite with others to produce structures in which love becomes possible.

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