Theater of Cruelty

The intolerance of divergence

Demokratie braucht Religion ('Democracy needs religion']
Forfatter: Hartmut Rosa
Forlag: Kösel, (Tyskland)
TRANSFORMATION / Hartmut Rosa is a central critic of modernity. He emphasizes the importance of our resonant experiences – be it with another, a work or a book – as a central part of being human.


In this 80-page pamphlet, the German sociologist and political scientist Hartmut Rosa seeks to reach a wider readership. It contains a short introduction by Gregor Gysi, a German Bundestag representative from the party Die Linke, and a lecture Rosa gave on January 17, 2022 with the same title as the current release, Democracy needs religion ('Democracy needs religion').

On the basis of his 800-page main work Resonance (2016), as well as more recent publications such as Unavailability (2019), Rosa has established herself as a central critic of modernity. His original contribution to the critique of modernity is that he links it to that of modernity time, as distinct from spatial and materially conditioned issues of division of labour, political structure and socio-economic conditions.

Rosa's understanding of modernity is related to his concept of dynamic stabilization: Unlike pre-modern societies, we have to become more efficient, faster and more productive, only to remain where we already are. Just as a bicycle needs to be in motion to keep its balance, the economy needs to keep growing to keep from collapsing. Life in modernity is thus marked, Rosa claims, by a need for control and an aggressiveness in the face of the world that also affects ourselves and each other.

Rosa believes that this aggressive existence leads to burnout, burnout. The race against time, the acceleration of modernity, does not take into account that people are resonance beings. For Rosa, the term 'resonance' captures formative experiences of encountering something outside oneself. This transformative encounter, be it with another, a work or a book, is an absolutely central part of being human. If we leave out resonant experiences and gain complete control over our own reality, we become sad and lonely. He puts this forward once again in the lecture and advocates that we need a listening heart (“a listening heart”).

Listening in the crisis of democracy

Rosa writes that he used to believe that democracy was only about making sure that as many votes as possible were recognized. But the ears, he claims, also belong democracythe sering match. Rosa makes a pun out of this point by using her favorite word: stop. With Bruno Latour, Rosa writes that "the most important thing is that I cease" ("Das Wichtigste ist, das ich aufhöre"). I, in this isolated and aggressive existence, can only cease ('aufhören') if I listen ('aufhören') and open myself to something beyond myself.

The aggressive controlAccording to Rosa, the need is visible in the crisis of democracy. Instead of listening to what dissenters have to say, we increasingly want them to shut up. Examples that are mentioned are the Americans' desire to imprison the other party ("lock her up", apropos of Trump's recent indictment); 'Brexiteers'; 'Remainers'; or the aggression between vaccine opponents and vaccine optimists in Corona Germany. Democracy's aggressive existence is understood as an extension of the intolerance we show towards ourselves, each other and nature: the intolerance of divergence.

If we listen, we open ourselves to the possibility of being changed. It is scary to allow yourself such a risk, but that is the only way something new can arise. Rosa believes that a democracy requires a listening heart to function, since it is in the exchange between your opinion and mine, which requires listening and openness, that the experience of resonance becomes possible. We must therefore be willing to think that the other has something to say to us, just as much as we want to say something to the other.

Religion and resonance

Rosa repeats a point from her previous works: Secularization – the declining status of religions in society – has its origin in the fact that we no longer experience the world as friendly. The growth and efficiency mindset, through which a tense and aggressive mode is cultivated, has made the world appear indifferent and alien. Atheism grows when we experience that the world no longer communicates with us, when the resonance experiences weaken.

As Rosa sees it, the church's central promise is that there actually is one God which invokes you, which belongs you, although he is not always available. God's omnipresence is not under our control. We have to interact with him, be to him. This relationship is not predictable, but requires us to listen as well as to express our deepest longings.

Rosa argues that the growing interest in astrology can be interpreted as an expression of such a relationship. In astrology, it is believed that the universe has a fundamental relationship with who we are. It means that the stars and the sky do not confirm everything we want, but that what happens in the universe is decisive for me and mine.

Rosa's central point is that Religionis contains reservoirs of ritual and given ways of entering into relationships of resonance. Thus, religious practice is an expression of the most central thing about being a resonant being, a human being.

So why does democracy purge religion? Rosa's answer is unconventional. Democracy's and religion's basic approach to the world is the same: Both are only possible if you listen and open yourself up to being transformed by something you yourself not have control over.

You may also like