‘Religionless culture’ in Poland

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Benno Jacob, Katharina Staritz and Edith Stein, what is the legacy of these four theologians for us? This was a central question during a discussion at the Edith Stein House in Wroclaw. About twenty participants discussed on 13 December 2012 about how the Lutheran Bonhoeffer, the Jew Jacob, the evangelical Staritz and Catholic Stein looked at culture. How did these thinkers, who were all born in Wroclaw (Breslau), view the relationship between culture, society, civilization and religion?
Starting point was Bonhoeffer’s idea of a ‘religionless culture’. God is being abused, when people use Him as a rag to simply brush away the consequences of human ignorance, moral defects and worries. Such an abuse, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) wrote, was religion (as opposed to faith). Katharina Staritz (1903-1953), pastor of the Magdalakerk in Wroclaw, opposed the Nazi culture that was based on exclusion. As one of the first Evangelical female pastor, she had experienced herself what it was like to be the exception to the rule in the German Evangelical Church. From Benno Jacob (1862-1945) the participants learned how religion and culture in fact coincide. Culture means that people can live a dignified life, if they follow the Ten Commandments. Edith Stein (1891-1942) wrote, among many other things, about the right of women to pursue an academic career, which was still not common in her days.
During this meeting, it became clear that culture is generally seen in two different ways. In an exclusivist mode – main question: Who does and who does not belong there? – or in an inclusive manner – culture is in principle open to everyone. Drawing inspiration from their own religious traditions, Bonhoeffer, Jacob, Staritz and Stein pleaded for an inclusive culture. Today, however, Polish reality is more complex than that. The Lutheran pastor Dawid Mendrok, for example, explained that in his Church women cannot become a pastor, because it is something unacceptable in the specific Polish context. The fact that only men can decide on how to resolve the issue of women ordination needed no further explanation.

This meeting was the third of the cycle Four Theologians from Breslau, which is being organised by the Wroclaw Foundation House of Peace together with the Edith Stein Association, the Polish section of the Bonhoeffer Society and the Wroclaw Protestant and Catholic theological schools. The meetings are led by the Dutch-Polish theologian Edward Skubisz. Communicantes supported this initiative.