Faith and secularism today

18:45 Uhr
theaterforum Kreuzberg, Eisenbahnstraße 21, 10997 Berlin

500 years ago Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. We use the occasion to invite you to two timely debates.

Session 1: Does Luther still matter? Religious conscience and individual liberty

Time: 17.45 – 19.15

On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, unwittingly starting a process that would in great parts shape Europe as we know it today. It is an oft-noted irony that the Reformation paved the way for secular modernity, despite the intentions of its leaders.

But recent developments seem to suggest a reaction against both modernity and many of the core values closely associated with the Reformation itself. For example, critics today seem more likely to assert the view that the Reformation divided Europe and caused countless religious wars than to celebrate a legacy of religious toleration. As fears over hate speech have grown and new laws have been introduced to curb what people can say, Luther's violent language against Turks and Jews is more talked about than protecting freedom of speech for all.  Some commentators have even placed battles on the football terraces of northern Europe and anti-immigrant protests by the AfD in eastern Germany in the tradition of religious sectarianism that they say is a legacy of the Reformation. Ironically, today it is often immigrants who care more about religion and, by implication, safeguarding religious conscience. Meanwhile those that we might expect to celebrate the legacy of Luther are today often found advocating bans on the burqa and controls on religious attire.

One consequence is that the official celebrations of the Reformation have been so ecumenical and open that they have been accused of verging on the banal.  Are the celebrations symptomatic of a society that no longer believes in the struggle for truth and convictions? Or do they show that Europe has learnt its lesson and finally overcome religious sectarianism? Is there a message in the reformation that relates to contemporary expressions of individual faith - such as the Muslim headscarf, or even the burqa?

The reformation amounted to far more than Luther's 95 theses, as the famous discourse on free will between Martin Luther and Erasmus of Rotterdam shows. So in our 'multicultural' times what can we learn by reflecting on the Reformation? What does individual conscience and free will mean today and what value should we accord to them?


  • Professor Joe Friggieri, professor of philosophy, University of Malta; poet, playwright and theatre director
  • Pauline Hadaway, writer and researcher; author, Re-imagining Titanic, re-imaging Belfast and Policing the Public Gaze
  • Alan Posener, journalist, former opinion editor, Die Welt; author, Benedict's Crusade: The Attack of the Vatican on Modern Society
  • Dr Andreas Rauhut, pastor in training, protestant church Berlin-Brandenburg; research associate University of Johannesburg, Department of Philosophy

Session 2: Truth, fiction and belief in secular times

Time: 19.30 – 21.00

What is the truth? The question of what we should believe has become complicated in recent years as the debates about ‘fake news’ and the ‘lying press’ (‘Lügenpresse’) show. Although our society has become more open and enlightened, we can hardly claim to live in an age that has overcome all prejudices and fears. History and modern sciences have discredited many of the most backward ideologies. In our internet age, we are no longer confined to a few newspapers or a limited number of books (or even just the Bible) to make sense of the world. But this new freedom has also been accompanied by new insecurities.

Some say we suffer from ‘information overload’, which makes us unnecessarily worried and insecure. Has our world become more dangerous, or do we only feel more scared because we are better informed about possible dangers than our parents’ generation was? Then there is the problem of contradictory information. Science offers us many precious insights, but anyone who wished to organise his or her life around scientific evidence would quickly run into problems. Is coffee good for us or not? Which parenting style is best for a child’s development? It would also be naïve to believe that all the evidence presented to us is true. In April, Die Zeit ran an interesting article about statistics, surveys and mathematical projections. The article, titled ‘Can this be true?’, exposes some of the ‘statistical lies or half-truths’ presented to the German public in the past few years – including statistics on the number of prostitutes, jobs replaced by computers, patients killed in hospitals or nursing homes, people living in poverty and people wishing to abstain from driving cars.

With all the evidence and information offered to us, we still need to make decisions based on our own rational reflections, combining both factual knowledge and moral thinking. Can ‘fact-checking’ help us or is the obsession with evidence misplaced because it leads to a ‘tit-for-tat’ interpretation of statistics? Sometimes we hear that there is no such thing as an absolute truth, but would abandoning the attempt to find commonly agreed truths leave society rudderless?


  • David Bowden, associate fellow, Institute of Ideas
  • Tillmann Prüfer, editor, DIE ZEIT
  • Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics, Institute of Economic Affairs; editor, Nanny State Index; author, Selfishness, Greed and Capitalism
  • Nadja Vancauwenberghe, editor-in-chief, publisher of EXBERLINER magazine
  • Dr Theresa Züger, associated researcher, Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society




Freiblickinstitut e.V.,, Contact: Sabine Beppler-Spahl, bepplerspahlfreiblickinstitutde, Tel: 030 4409292