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A Violent God-Image: Introduction to the Work of Eugen Drewermann




Eugen Drewermann: An English Introduction - Lecture by Prof. Matthias Beier






Matthias Beier

 Gott ohne Angst: Einführung in das Denken Drewermanns

Patmos Verlag, Januar 2010.

"Eine populäre Einführung in das Denken und das Werk Eugen Drewermanns fehlte bisher. Von den großen Bibelkommentaren bis zu den neuesten Büchern zur Hirnforschung – wie kaum ein anderer kennt Matthias Beier Drewermanns Schaffen. Er erklärt alles Wissenswerte und stellt die Querverbindungen her. Drewermanns Fundament ist ein Gottesbild, das therapeutisch, das heißt heilend wirkt, und Menschen hilft, ihre Lebensangst zu überwinden."





The Guardian Weekly, March 1, 1992:                  Drewermann - a rebel with a cause

Interview of Drewermann by Henri Tincq, first published in the French newspaper Le Monde on Feb. 18, 1992.


June 2, 2007 taz, die tageszeitung - Interview. (pdf, Acrobat required) An interview prior to Drewermann's talk at the German Protestant Church Day, a biannual event drawing about a million visitors.


God is Infinitely Greater than Any "Church.": Is the choice of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as pope good for the Catholic Church? April 22, 2005. [This essay published in "Basler Zeitung" in German at, 4/22/2005] "The problem is the Roman papacy, not the new pope.. People may not and cannot be made absolute. Otherwise everything is wrong.. This church cannot be measured by Jesus' message; it itself is the message. Rome must become evangelical to be Christian." Translated from the German by Marc Batko.


Psychoanalysis: Why Bush Must Conduct This War. Der Spiegel | 11 February 2003 | Interview with Eugen Drewermann. Posted at in English (some of the translation is inaccurate, however, and can lead to grave misunderstandings. For instance, rather than translate "If, like Bush, you fight terrorism, you only multiply misery" the correct translation would be "If you fight terrorism like Bush you only multiply misery"). Driven by fear of failure, strengthened by fundamentalist religious delusion: George Bush is obsessed with conducting an even better war than his father, according to psychoanalyst and theologian Eugen Drewermann. In his interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Germany's most controversial critic of the church takes apart the US president's psyche. (Also available in German at Der Spiegel.)


War is sickness--there is no alternative to pacifism. Feb. 5, 2002. "War itself is terror as terror is war. Terrorist groups operating extra-legally don't change this at all. The worst terrorist acts in the 20th century were perpetrated by states.. State-defined terror is often repressed or blacklisted." In this article translated from the German, Eugen Drewermann describes pacifism as a necessity, not a utopia and distinguishes true pacifism from a political pacifism where trutyh is subordinated to maintaining power. [This article originally published in: Frankfurter Rundschau, February 5, 2002 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web. The theologian and journalist Eugen Drewermann insists that absence of violence is a necessity, not a utopia.] Translated by Marc Batko.


Lying us into "humanitarian" wars. Apr. 8, 2007. From a speech against war on April 8, 2007 during the Easter march in Fretzdorf, Germany. Printed in German in the daily newspaper junge Welt. Translated by Marc Batko. Video of the speech available on indy media.

Related to Drewermann's sentiment is Leonard Cohen's song Everybody Knows. Drewermann regards Cohen's work highly and frequently quotes his lyrics.

- Cohen Leonard Lyrics


(Unless otherwise indicated, English translation from the German by M. Beier)

Overcoming fear of God and fear of each other

"Only if we first succeed to overcome the fear we have of God, is it then possible, coming from God, to overcome the fear which one human being produces in another human being." Jesus von Nazareth, 1996, p. 167.
God is love, or: against the misuses of religion

From Eugen Drewermann, Der sechste Tag: Glauben in Freiheit, Band 3 [The sixth day: Free faith, Vol. 3]. Düsseldorf: Walter, 1998. Pp. 15-18 (my translation):
“Was the 20th century an age of misused religion? Surely it was. But was it ever different? How many wars did not the God of the Bible already command his chosen people? To how many massacres did he not call in the Christian West his ‘faithful’ in the battle against all the nonbelievers, heretics, critics, and wizards? ‘Coercion’ and ‘conversion’—were both not the prize and the goods for which one sold ‘faith’?
It was and continues to be a mistake, an obsessional neurosis of religion, to turn the attitude of a timidly risking trust into a system of official church doctrines, the utterances of an ‘infallible’ teaching office, or the fixed formula and form of an allegedly divine knowledge. Theodore Reik’s insights on Dogma and Obsessional Idea point to the ever-present danger in any religious administration, which believes it can and must, in God’s place, teach, evangelize, indoctrinate, manipulate, and organize humans (Glauben in Freiheit I, pp. 161-173).
It was and continues to be a grave error to turn questions of human existence into matters of teaching, and then to elevate the ‘teachers’ themselves as officials of an office ‘led by the Holy Spirit,’ whose ‘bishops’ in turn, according to the original meaning of the term, pit themselves as ‘overseers’ (Episcopes) and carriers of feudal ‘privileges’ against their own ‘believers.’ This all means not to ‘believe’ in God. It means instead to replace God with human whim. It means to reduce God as creator of the world to the local idol of a particular religion, region, nation or denomination. It means to confuse the universal with the particular, to misuse what unites with what builds exclusive units, and to splinter the human factor into the inhuman.
Not only the messages of many of the ancient Jewish prophets such as Amos, Jeremiah, or Deutero-Isaiah, but especially the heart of the message of Jesus stood against this ever possible backslide into the superstition of power and into the religious ideology of one’s own tribe or culture or group interest. The man from Nazareth literally, that means: existentially, proceeded from God so that he could refute the fear in the human soul on all levels by means of the trust in an absolutely good, hence kind power in the background of the world. To heal humans in all aspects of their self-destruction, to humanize the interactions with each other through the practice of groups and congregations, to bind the exercise of political power to the interests of the poorest and weakest, and to relieve humans from their guilt—even in the area of the logic of money- and business matters—that is what Jesus meant by ‘faith’ in God. On the individual level therapeutic, on the social psychological level integrative, on the political level revolutionary, and on the financial level making friends rather than enemies—that was the way Jesus tried to remove in the name of God layer by layer the destructive power of human history. What happened here is labeled ‘redemption’ from ‘original sin’ in church language. But what the man from Nazareth wanted, appeared to him as the vision of a realm of God on earth, which he in his person deemed tangibly near.
Was he mistaken? According to church doctrine he was. The kingdom of God, it knows, has ‘not yet’ arrived. But Jesus himself knew the basis of all the excuses: everything that the logic of overcoming-fear-through-spreading-fear always seemed to offer in the competitive battle for the substitutes of a true life: success, power, and money, would simply crumble. He knew probably, too, how quickly the interests of throne and altar, of Roman power and Highpriestly impotence would unite against him in order to relegate such a program of change in and of everything to a mere disturbance of the peace, to a dangerous because illusionary rebellion. Despite this, he considered it his duty not to shy away even from fear of death, even from complete failure, and to place himself as a person with his desire completely into the hands of God: God would know, God would ‘correct’ it… That was his ‘belief.’
Anyone who tries to live as he believed it possible, nay, absolutely necessary, will need to walk with him between Good Friday and Easter through ‘death,’ through ‘limbo’, in order to begin her live anew once more under the sign of freedom instead of coercion, self-determination instead of alienation, and kindness instead of violence.
In Jesus’ sense, everything depends on God really ‘existing’. If he does not exist, then everything can just continue to run as it always has. ‘God,’ if we still did want to speak of him, would then be nothing but a euphemism for all possible forms of traditional, ritualized, and conventional hypocrisies and double-dealing, an instrument for deception and ceremoniousness, a mere projection for the purpose of the repression of drives, other-directedness, and though control.
Or: God really ‘exists.’ Then everything that we are is grounded in the unconditional original gift and affirmation of our existence.
Then it makes no longer sense to cut someone else’s throat because of what he ‘owes’. Then it is ludicrous to build barriers in the name of God which culturally, religiously, morally, racially, or legally divide people from each other rather than to see and respect them as belonging together.
Key here is especially that the question of God was never a theoretical one for the Jew Jesus. Hundreds of years before he appeared there were in ancient Greece heated and stimulating debates over whether gods really existed or not. A man such as Socrates famously was executed because he did not believe in gods but declared, with Anaxagoras, the sun a stone (Platon, Apology, 26b-27e). For a man such as Jesus, however, the problem of ‘atheism’ in the Greek sense never existed. Whether God ‘really’ ‘is’ or not was decided for him simply by asking whether and how he affected the lives of people. This is a point which we should never lose sight of ahead: whenever someone in Israel spoke like the ‘fool’ in Psalms 14:1 or 53:1 that “there is no God,” then he is not a ‘fool’ for denying the existence of God, but because he lives as if there were no God who would see or notice how he lives. In Hebrew God is a power whose reality lies in the fact that it is able to order the human heart. And the achievement of the man from Nazareth consisted essentially in the fact that he recognized only love as this ‘ordering power’ of the human heart,—not the observation of external laws, not the ritual of the priests, not the tradition of the scribes, but only love. He called love God—a light without darkness (1. John 1:5).
The reason for this seemed simple to him. Only one who believes in love is able to live love. The reverse is true as well: only who lives love shows that she believes in love. For a man like Jesus it ‘existed’ because it gave him everything he needed for life.
Any translation of this ‘faith’ as lived existence into a theoretical ‘believing as true that …’ sinks below the level at which the ‘existence’ of a ‘faith in God’ was located for Jesus. It will be the main challenge of this 3rd volume of Free faith (Glauben in Freiheit) to portray the consequences of such a lowering of the religious energy in the transitioning of the message of Jesus into the world of Hellenism (no doubt with its often ingenious nature philosophical conceptions) and, on that background, rethink the spiritual malaise of our time. By raising the question of God basically as a question of the possibility of love, the problem poses itself all the more concrete and poignantly: How can one still believe in love in this world?
This question only seems ‘modern.’ In reality, it already pervaded Jesus’ life. Still, after 2000 years of church teaching we can no longer simply call upon it. If we want to save from the church-based faith, which failed due to its dogmatism, what the man from Nazareth in his kindness and humanity wanted to say for the redemption of humans, then we have to start all over again. Point by point we need to dissolve the confusions of the church-bound image of God in order to be able to believe Jesus his faith in God again.”

Who was Jesus?

„Despite all the historical doubts regarding the accuracy of the traditions in the Bible, there are a few basic facts which are indisputably historical: Jesus was a prophet, and as such he wanted that we would live only as people inspired by and enthused about God. Jesus was a poet, and as such he wanted that we regain a language of faith and prayer that would make us free and honest before God and humans. And he was a therapist. As such he wanted that we never speak of God other than ways than those that heal human wounds.” Jesus von Nazareth (Glauben in Freiheit, vol. 2), 1996, p. 13.


Drewermann in Montreal, Canada (first North America visit)

Article on the first visit by Drewermann to North America. The University of Montreal, McGill University, and the Goethe-Haus of Montreal invited him in October 1997 to several lectures. This article appeared July 1, 1998 in Catholic Insight. Note of caution: The Catholic authors in this article make numerous false claims and try to paint Drewermann as someone who throws out the baby with the bathwater, that is, that he would reject all dogmas while, in truth, he only rejects the Church's dictatorial and moralistc interpretations of these symbolic texts. 


Embodying Hermeneutics: Eugen Drewermann's Depth Psychological Interpretation of Religious Symbols. By Matthias Beier, Ph.D. (author of A Violent God-Image: An Introduction to the Work of Eugen Drewermann). This paper will present Eugen Drewermann's attempt to deepen the study of psychology and religion in two directions: into the direction of the evolutionary roots of religious symbols and, at the same time, into the direction of the intricacies of self-consciousness. For Drewermann, the symbolic texts and actions of religion essentially function as remedies for human anxiety. His "archetypal hermeneutics" of religious texts presupposes Freud, Jung, and existential psychologies, but goes significantly beyond their theories. It focuses around the question of how religious symbols answer to the three dimensions of human anxiety: the biological, the psychological/social, and the existential. In the face of the inevitability of death, existential anxiety raises biological and psychological/social anxieties to absolute levels. Religious symbols are understood as images which are based in evolutionary and ontogenetic history and which can become eternal images by means of which these existential anxieties can be calmed. By grounding the nature of archetypes in evolutionary history, Drewermann quite literally tries to embody hermeneutics and to pull it down to earth from a realm of speculative, intellectual abstraction. Central tools for such a hermeneutics are the experiences of archetypal images in dreams and of the deepest feelings that all humans share in common.



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