Pandemics Diary: March & April 2020

In March, 2020, I started to write on this site – and I never posted my thoughts, because I couldn’t finish them. Today, I reread the numbers I wanted to mark then: On March 24, 2020, 400.000 individuals had been counted and confirmed, and 18.000 persons had died worldwide. Among them were the old and the young, healthy and chronically ill, rich and poor, men and women and all those who do not fit into either of these categories.

On March 24, the Hastings Center published new guidelines and responses in a letter that many of us signed, although a few of us were also worried that persons with disabilities or chronic illnesses were not mentioned and cared for enough in the document ( In the following weeks, the medial ethicists joined the epidemiologists and doctors in talkshows, articles, and committee reports, all discussing triage in cases of emergency. I wrote:
As more and more people are scared and many can only think of triage anymore, here is the framework that I consider the best right now. However: every hospital and city should by now have a task force in place, and I recommend that (medical) ethics professionals are called in. This means:

1. A team is better than individual;

2. Follow the (existing) protocols – don’t reinvent the wheel;

3. Go public and be as transparent as possible.

4. Insist that your governors/mayors make decisions in consideration of justice, not privilege and special interest. Insist that they communicate with the public and are transparent.

5. Dignity, compassion, solidarity, and justice must guide us. These are not empty principles – spell them out for yourselves – have a conversation about our shared responsibility with your family, friends, …. don’t forget: when you become weak, someone else may be just a little stronger. When you are strong, someone else may need you.

The suffering and the dying came closer: it was not clear whether the US would have enough intensive care units, ventilators, and personal protective equipment. The States began to beg for help from the Federal Government.


At the end of March, the right-wing, Christian ‘s Liberty University president Falwell in Virginia had just called back  students and faculty, playing down the risks of the pandemic. And I almost forgot already: The President of the United States was pretty sure at some point in March that the hysteria would be over by Easter. We now know that the USA does not provide better help for its citizens than Belarus – a dictatorship that cannot by far be compared with the economic, let alone the political power of the US. To some, this may come as a surprise. For many, it does not. The immediate catastrophe reveals the underlying political and social catastrophe that the American citizens have either ignored for decades (if they could afford to do so) or suffered through (if they had long been left on their own by the government): the individualization and responsibilization of welfare, making everyone responsible for their own fate, although the historically grown unjust structures perpetuated unequal starting points and different means to cope with insecurities.
The libertarianism that has dominated US Republican politics for the last decades – and was only half-heartedly rejected by the Democratic Party for fear of losing donations and, as a result, losing elections, has almost destroyed the ideal that good governance is even possible. But it has not destroyed state expenses. It merely distributed it towards the wealthy who have paid less and less taxes, to the military, to surveillance technologies, to certain branches of the economy, such as the non-renewable energy sector or agriculture.
The poorer the people became due to rising  costs of living (healthcare, housing, education, childcare, precarious work) the more they were abandoned – mass incarceration, (opioid) addiction, mass loneliness and mental illnesses rose to unimaginable numbers, compared to other industrious countries. The USA was truly the country of the 2/3 of winners, and the 1/3 of losers of the overall standard of life, from cradle to grave – literally if one considers the costs for giving birth to a child, even with insurance, (around 4.300 USD) ( or a funeral (between 7.600 and 9.100 USD) (
It is understandable that everyone wants to keep one’s distance, as far as possible, from the lower one third – because in the US, once one belongs to this group (that may in fact be closer to 50%, one half of the country!), one will never have enough money to save, and never develop the self-confidence that one will be dignified. One can lose the job as in other countries, too. But in the US, one will also lose one’s healthcare in one strike. It is easy to become homeless in a few months. The society is cruel in its inclination to blame individuals for structural ills.One is better not black or brown in this country, and certainly better not a black or brown who is poor – in this case, one is not even protected by the color of the skin that protects the white man and the white woman – not from poverty, not from homelessness – but from social death. One is also better not a religious or sexual minority. The American culture clearly has a problem with religion, violence, and masculinity (, and an almost gnostic either/or thought structure.

But this is, as many have said over the last two months, really only the one side. The other side is as true: the civil society embarked on the civil virtue of care and solidarity in myriads of creative ways to cope with the lock down and Stay At Home orders that began by the end of March. The special heroism (or the longing for heroes and praise of heroism, often gets the better of people. One politician had a better solution than the triage ethicists – he considered it even a more “Christian” solution: Texas Lt. Governor Patrick called for elderly people to sacrifice their lives for the economy. Yes, the economy. It sounded like amazon’s Jeff Bezos calling for his company’s employees to sacrifice their health for his wealth, refusing to pay any sick leave or caring one bit about their safety (

A family member of an employee holds a sign outside an Amazon center in Romulus, Michigan, on 1 April.

(N.B.: amazon saw a 26% sales increase in the first quarter, though not in profit, it was reported recently.) (

At the end of March, Hungary decided to give its Prime Minister Victor Orban full authority to keep an Emergency Law as long as he likes, circumventing the Parliament. Of course, there was an outcry – but to my knowledge, the European Union is so paralyzed that it cannot even agree to condemn this violation of every value that was once supposed to be the backbone of the Project Europe. The first victim of the pandemic is perhaps not even truth. It is clearly democratic values and principles.

Internationally, the sad truth is that countries are now competing against each other in the race to get equipment, masks, PPE, or ventilators. The global order is clearly overwhelmed. There is no international structure, no effective coordination – and the WHO is not equipped to handle such a crisis. Instead, the philanthropists in the US, such as Bill Gates, dominate the NGO support that substitutes for the lack of governance.

Mid-April was full of bad news. Not only are the numbers staggering. The “hidden places” are unbearable: nursing homes. Prisons. Detention/Concentration camps (we almost know nothing of them). Meats factories. And even the children are not spared when they are in a very special “lock down”?

At least 19 cases of Covid19 are confirmed in a Chicago shelter for Unaccompanied Migrant Children (

But then – it is also a Presidential Election Year – and this president is certainly not helping himself by talking a lot (and watching a lot of TV) – but leaving all the work to his underlings whom he will be able to blame for anything that goes wrong.
On the Democratic side: depending on where you stand, it is all about the pain and hurt that Bernie Sanders will not be the nominee. There is no excitement for the candidate. But the people who vow that they will not vote for Biden make a scandalous mistake. I agree wholeheartedly with the open letter by the “Old Left” to the “New Left” (

And then Trump can’t help himself: on twitter: “ LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE MINNESOTA,” “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” My comment: This is sick.

Intellectuals, in the meantime, all apply their own theories, be it a utilitarian ethics, a particular interpretation of liberalism, the political theory of Carl Schmitt, radical democracy, or civil solidarity movements.

In the NZZ newspaper, Giorgio Agamben demonstrates how creepy his theory has been all along: he compares the “obedience” with which we follow the Stay at Home Orders with A. Eichmann’s defense in his trial, namely that he only followed his sense of duty by deporting Jews. Agamben: you cannot defend freedom by destroying freedom.

But this is a wrong analysis: we are not destroying freedom (freedom 1, namely the right to move freely and live our lives as we like) by defending freedom (freedom 2, which is not really our freedom but rather: our life). So, while it is true that one cannot, ultimately, defend life if one destroys freedom – I disagree that this is what happens right now.

The truth is: we will all die at a certain point, and the truth is, too, that life is not an absolute right that cannot be held against other rights under any circumstances. But in the case of the Pandemic, I believe that we must be very careful – and therefore as concrete as possible in our assessments. Right now, this is a question of politics, guided by science on the one hand, and by ethics on the other (bound by law). For us, the citizens, it is a different question, because we are the agents who determine in a good part what options the politicians have.

For politicians, I believe that in this case the duty to save lives of the one group includes the duty to restrict the freedoms of an other group (they may coincide – but not necessarily).

For us, the moral agents, it is different: Claiming one’s right to freedom implicitly entails either the assumption that others are not affected by one’s actions (which is factually wrong) or the conviction that they do not matter as much as one’s own freedom (which is morally wrong).

It means that the protection of others are no motivation and no call for my own constraint. We can, of course, debate : what are the exact duties, where do they end – and where does my “freedom from duty” begin? But to me, this sounds like this, in an analogy: imagine there are firefighters who have the means to stop a burning house from totally collapsing. They work tirelessly – and put their lives at risk to save the people who are trapped in the house. They block the streets with their trucks, and won’t let anybody pass. After a while, people who cannot leave their houses debate whether it is an infringement on their freedom that they cannot go outside, because they might be at risk or become a risk for the firefighters. The work on the house takes longer than expected, and the firefighters still block the ways of the neighboring houses. The people who live there are trapped, and they begin to protest, and then to just go outside. — If the house is no longer burning, the people must not be kept from doing what they want to do and what is their right, i.e. to go outside, to protest, to ask questions, and to criticize how the emergency was handled.

To Agamben I would want to say this: our political houses are not burning permanently (although I agree that we are in a deep crisis). Yet, we – the citizens in democracies – do not always live in a state of emergency. Quite to the contrary: no matter how often the analysts or critics of Schmitt may repeat it: we do have rights, and we do have responsibilities: we are agents, not merely the addressees of laws and orders. Freedom is not only the freedom of liberalism – autonomy and the free pursuit of happiness. It is also moral freedom. And moral freedom is, first and foremost, the freedom of the other. Furthermore, however (or even: prior to the respect of freedom): moral freedom is the freedom to attend to and to respond to the other. Moral freedom is other-oriented, not self-oriented.

I, for one, am therefore horrified by Agamben’s comparison. The respect for the other and the concern for the danger that they are confronted with is enough motivation to adjust to the rules of the lock down.

Those who are hit by the secondary effects – losing their jobs, their business, their home – can rightly demand of others – and the state – to be cared for, too: in their emotional, social, and economic situation. Moral freedom includes solidarity. It is not merely a set of rules that are obeyed or resisted.

I do agree with Agamben, however, on another point: we need to do much better than letting people suffer alone and, in the extreme, even die alone. We must find ways to accompany the ill. And we must bury our dead.
But neither of us is an “Antigone” – and the dead we mourn and wish to bury are not kept from doing so by a “Kreon” who is interested only in keeping his power. He prohibits the burial of a political enemy whom he deliberately dehumanizes. To compare the quarantine and isolation measures with this context, is as dangerously misleading as the comparison with Adolf Eichmann’s disgusting excuses for his crimes against humanity.

“Ich weiss, dass es immer Leute geben wird, die sich erheben und antworten werden: Das durchaus schwere Opfer sei im Namen moralischer Prinzipien dargebracht worden.”
“Sie möchte ich daran erinnern, dass Adolf Eichmann – offensichtlich in gutem Glauben («buona fede») – nicht zu wiederholen aufhörte, dass er, was er getan hatte, aufgrund seines Gewissens getan habe, um dem zu genügen, was er für die Gebote der kantischen Moral hielt.”
“Eine Norm, die besagt, dass man auf das Gute verzichten müsse, um das Gute zu retten, ist ebenso falsch wie die, welche verlangt, dass man auf die Freiheit verzichten müsse, um die Freiheit zu retten.”

By the end of April, many of us are feeling the fatigue. We are exhausted. And yet, one “story” after the other reveals the catastrophic disaster. The USA has now 1 Million identified cases. 60.000 people have lost their lives. Illinois mourns more than 2000 people who have lost their lives. The curve may get flatter – it just does not go down yet.

Some say, the economy cannot stay closed for much longer. Small businesses are losing the battle. Indeed: they are people too, and their lives, too, are at risk. 30 million people have filed for unemployment within the last 2 weeks (

And yet: I believe in the data and the facts that we make matters only worse if we give up (and go out) too early. I am therefore All IN with my fellow Illinois brothers and sisters, and urge us to practice self-care, because we or others  may not be able to survive the disease. Let us practice solidarity and stand with our neighbors. Let us practice our moral freedom: to reach out to others before claiming something for us that may indeed be our right.

And let us laugh – together, if possible, connected in our physical distancing that is by no means a social distancing: watch Governor Pritzker talking to the penguins:

NO: we do not swallow disinfectants.
And the truth is the truth: We cannot afford to listen to the President: he does not care about the people, no matter what he says: he does NOT care, because he does not ACT in the interest of the people. He has no humor, no empathy, no courage (he is AFRAID of germs but not of a deadly virus, because it does not suit him politically?!), and he certainly has not the competence to govern.

He does have what many demagogues have: the sadistic sense for the weaknesses of his declared “enemies”. He goes after them, because he cannot tolerate weakness – it reminds him too much of his own weakness. He cannot stand neither sickness nor death. And that is exactly why the pandemic scandal will take him down as president.

At the beginning of the month of May people are clearly losing their minds. Protests in multiple states against the Lock Down policies seem to be far too organized to be the spontaneous local or regional protest. Protestors in Michigan State enter the state house with guns, which is legal in that state. For once I agree with Jennifer Rubin who blames the Media for not playing Hardball with the Republicans ( I tweet:

“Could anyone imagine Black Lives Matter protesters, armed to the teeth and shouting disgusting comments about a Republican female governor, without the media demanding comment from Democrats?” – right question. Imagine. Imagine!
This has been a hack of two months 2020. If this is a marathon as some claim, we certainly have not trained for it. But I wonder whether we are not better off with prophetic words, calling us to take this moment to acknowledge the moral crisis we have been in for a long time now. The prophets urge us – but they also encourage us: there is always the possibility to turn around and seek light where there seems to be only darkness.
I wish we can see that there is no “turning around” without connecting the rebuilding of the economy with a revolutionary, radical Green New Deal – one that connects the climate crisis with the justice crisis.

The US Military Strike in Syria was Unjustified

There is no doubt that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime and a horrific act of aggression against one’s own citizens. It must not be brushed over lightly. But: the only institution to deal with this is the UN, and the member states should finally see to it that the Security Council is reformed. Here the “enough is enough” comment is apt.
But international law is international law: I think the article below captures well what is at stake regarding international conflicts: International law does NOT allow for military strikes as ‘warning’, ‘response to beautiful dying children’, let alone as retaliation to regain one’s own emotional stability – and it certainly prohibits military actions to lift domestic poll numbers or support of one’s policies. Which of these motivated the strike? It does not matter, because: Motivations for actions are not the same as reasons for actions – and the reasons are a much bigger problem than the motives we might want to speculate about:
1. There was NO justified reason for this strike; it does NOT help a single Syrian citizen. Apparently, Assad used his power for another Chemical Weapon (Chloride) attack yesterday, Friday April 7, 2017 – while US TV celebrated Trump for having “finally” become “presidential”.
2. The strike was not authorized – neither nationally nor internationally (see article below for details). Period. War authorization procedures have been set up exactly for these cases, and one may wonder whether the US Administration even has a clue about the fine-print of international law.
3. The strike was strategically not prudent, because it risks another escalation in the region. People ask: where is the policy strategy? – There is no strategy other than showing off: “here, we are also players in the game”. I am not surprised that McCain and HILLARY CLINTON backed the strike: both stand for a politics that sees the US as a strong military power that is justified to intervene in conflicts if it serves its own vision of the world order – and justified even in cases that contradict international law.
4. The confusion of motives and reasons is common. And yet: it makes the US president dependent on TV images and TV coverage, and dependent on his emotional ‘gut’ reaction to media images. While we are all, at least in part, prone to the coverage and the images we receive through our media, most of us are not politicians, and we don’t have all the experts in the world at hand to check and balance and distinguish short-term from long-term policies and prudent political decisions.
5. The turn (or historically: re-turn) to politics as (mere) demonstration of power is Machiavellian at best, autocratic at worst. As long as there is a Parliament/Congress that has power and authority, it has the duty to speak out against this unauthorized and therefore illegal military action of the US president.

The Making of a President

As is well known, Donald Trump started his political career with the racist campaign questioning the citizenship of US President Obama, aimed at delegitimizing him, gaining the attention of the media, and gathering anti-Obama groups behind him. The “birtherism” campaign was based on a deliberate, intentional, racist lie – but it proved to be an effective instrument of political propaganda ( seen Jan 12, 2017).

Now that he will be the President, Trump is confronted with questions about his own legitimacy, and one does not have to wait long for him to cry out, on twitter and elsewhere: “fake news” or “witch hunt”. But there is a difference between lies and unverified allegations. Maybe the dossier will turn out to be unverifiable. Maybe someone used it to please his client. Maybe the sources knew less than they pretended to know. Maybe. But there is a difference between a lie that could be debunked in a second and allegations that are scrutinized by the FBI – after some time of ignoring Trump’s campaign, President Obama took the unusual step of releasing his birth certificate in April 2011, a move that demonstrated the racist underpinning of the whole operation (you can only be a legitimate president when you do what whites force you to do, namely, show your id or certificate??). The FBI will probably release its findings on the dossier in the coming weeks.

Until then … Trump will not do anything to help the public understand what was going on. And this is troubling.

While the published dossier about the Trump campaign’s alleged collaboration with Russia entails unverified information, it raises all kinds of serious questions concerning the inner circle of Trump’s campaign. And these questions are not at all new.

Right now, however, the US public seems to be more appalled by the circumstances of the release of the information and the detail on a compromising sex video the dossier claims Russia may use in the future as a potential blackmail, than by the broader political content of the dossier. And it certainly does not help that Trump shuts down journalists and news organizations during a press conference: reporters are prevented from asking important questions, and as a consequence, there is no reporting of the questions that were not asked.

Below is a summary of the dossier that I have prepared, mostly for myself, because I was not satisfied with what I could read in the news about the dossier – I thought I should read it myself, now that it is available. But independent of the details which need to be examined by Congress and the FBI, there seems to be enough common ground between Russia and Trump on two major issues: first, energy cooperation between Russia and the US, and second, lifting of sanctions. Both issues, of course, are interrelated. The two issues seem to have been the major objectives Russia had in their alleged support of the Trump campaign – in return of the favor, especially the policy change concerning the sanctions, Trump may have graciously accepted the support of Russia to win the election. It does not really matter what President Putin might have thought about Trump – whether he was delighted about the ‘common interest’ or just calculating his next moves. It does not matter whether Trump was doing the same. What matters – and what we do not yet know – is whether and how the Trump campaign collaborated with Russian agencies, perhaps even the Kremlin, to win the presidency.

One may argue that at least one big US oil company, namely, Exxon Mobile, was and is very much interested in the ‘energy cooperation’ with Russia – it has invested 500 billion USD in the Russian oil company Rosneft to drill in the Arctic, a business deal that was stalled when the sanctions against Russia were put in place in 2014 as a response to the Russian annexation of Crimea. Rex Tillerson may or may not become the Secretary of State for the US – with the nomination of the former Exxon CEO, Trump has already demonstrated that he is willing to pave the way for the energy cooperation that Russia was looking for all along. Of course, Tillerson is no longer the CEO of Exxon, the only company he ever worked for; but it is hard to believe that from one day to the other, he can forget everything he believed in for the last four decades. It is much more likely that he will work on the energy cooperation with Russia – because the President and he think it is in the national interest of the US.

Under the presidency of Obama, the drilling in the Arctic, as any further investment in non-renewable energy sources, has come under scrutiny for environmental reasons. Exxon Mobile, of course, only recently admitted it had suppressed its own scientific reports that established knowledge on climate change – on Wednesday, January 11, 2017, however, a Massachusetts Judge ordered Exxon to hand over the reports from the last 40 years (, seen Jan 12, 2017).

Under the Trump presidency, energy independence rather than climate change and transformation to renewable energy will drive the energy policies. The question is what role the relationship to Russia plays in this scenario, what role American companies will play, and how all this relates to Trump’s relationship with China. This does not only concern the trade agreements, his company’s investments, or the one-China policy – it may also concern the US-China climate change agreement.

How does this all relate to the dossier? Well, it’s all in there. So, before we (re-)turn to the Hearings, let’s not forget about …. Conspiracy  ….

As of June 2016, the secret dossier entailed the following, published by buzzfeed on January 10, 2017” ( (seen Jan 12, 2017). I have summarized what I consider the main points in the dossier for those who don’t have the time to read it – if there are mistakes in the summary, they are mine:

Document (2016/080):

Source A:

  • Kremlin feeds the Trump campaign with material on H. Clinton

Source B:

  • this activity was supported and directed under the auspices of President Putin.
  • Knew that there was a Dossier on Hillary Clinton as kompromat.

Source C:

  • Putin’s motive is more domestic than US-oriented: he promotes his plan to create Nova Russia, the 19th century Russian empire.

Source D:

  • is from the inner circle of the Trump campaign; s/he organized some of Trump’s trips to Moskow and admitted the collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russia. S/he also reports the ‘Golden Shower’ allegations (hiring of two prostitutes to urinate on the bed in the Ritz Carlton Hotel).

Source E:

  • confirms this story.

Source F:

  • female staffer of Trump, confirms this story.

Source G:

  • confirms the dossier on H. Clinton, handled by Pesklov, under direct instruction by Putin. It has not been published and not handed over to Trump.

Document: Cyber-Crimes (2016/086)

Concerns the operations on foreign governments, banks, and companies – often using persons in the countries whom one can blackmail or coerce to collaborate, or persons of Russian descent.

Document: Further collaboration Trump campaign and Russia (2016/095)

  • exchange of information between Trump campaign and Russian intelligence – including information on Russian oligarchs who live in the US and using moles to hack the DNC

Source E:

  • points to Paul Manafort and Carter Page as involved in the collaboration
  • points to a welcome distraction from Trump’s China deals by way of Russian news and disinformation campaign, while Putin welcomed distraction from Ukraine.

Document (2016/094)

Concerns secret Kremlin meetings attended by Trump Foreign Affairs Advisor Carter Page. The Clinton dossier is used as bargaining chip:

What do the Russians want? First: energy cooperation; second: lifting of sanctions against Russia over Ukraine. What do they have? Compromising material on H. Clinton (and Trump).

Document (2016/096)

Source reveals contacts between Trump group and Kremlin for the last 8 years – going back as far as 2008 when Trump was a private citizen and entrepreneur only. Contacts concern information on Russian oligarchs who live in the US.

A Russian emigré close to the Trump campaign reveals concerns in Russia that the hacking scandal on the DNC could run out of control.

Document (2016/100)

Source reveals growing concerns about backlash over DNC hacking (August 2016).

Document (2016/101)

Source reveals intentions to target US youth, and engaged in funding trips to Moscow of Lyndon Larouche, Gill Stein, and General Flynn (August 2016).

Document (2016/102)

Source reveals unrest in Trump campaign over Russian interference

Document (2016/136)

Kremlin insider Source reveals a conversation with a friend about clandestine meeting of Trump lawyer Cohen with Kremlin insiders in Prague, in August 2016, Kosachev (head of Foreign Relation Committee) may have attended the meeting. The objective was to ‘clean up the mess’ over reports that Paul Manafort had been involved in relations with Ukraine former president Yanukovich.

Document (2016/105)

reports of meeting between Putin and Yanukovich about payments to Paul Manafort, and concerns about these in the aftermath of Manafort’s resignation from the Trump campaign.

Document (2016/111)

Sources report some Policy decisions in Russia linked to the interference in US election, mainly intended to scale down the activities (September 2016).

Document (2016/112)

Concerns relationship between Putin and the alpha group, with two men, Fridman and Aven, providing information on US.

Document (2016/113)

Sources reveal bribes paid by Trump to persons in St. Petersburg through intermediary companies. Persons who could testify to this have been silenced so that Trump’s activities will be difficult to prove. (Sept. 2016)

Document (2016/130)

Source reveals activities of disinformation on Clinton, but disappointment over the effect of the hacking of DNC. The Trump support operation was moved to the Russian presidential administration in the fall (October 2016).

Document (2016/134)

Source reveals information on a secret meeting between Rosneft President Igor Sechin and Carter Page, deliberating about energy cooperation and and sanction lifting.

Source reveals the role of lawyer Michael Cohen. (October 2016)

Document (2016/135)

Source reveals Michael Cohen engaged in ‘cover-up’ activities concerning Paul Manafort’s role in Ukraine, and Carter Page’s role in exchanges with Russia. Source states that neither time nor place of meetings between M. Cohen and Kremlin figures are exact because of security barriers.

Document (2016/166)

Source reveals information on the meeting of Cohen and Russian partners about payments to hackers and cover-up operations, and ‘contingency plans’ in case of a Clinton presidency. They name the company XBT/webzilla as spreading viruses, plant bugs etc. against Democratic Party leadership between March and September 2016.

Diary of an Impatient Mind

Sunday, November 27, 2016.

In my hometown in Northern Germany: bird flue outbreak this week forced the first farm to kill 19.000 turkeys. If its two neighbor farms are affected (not clear yet), more than 90.000 animals must be killed. (

gefluegelpest, cloppenburg © Focke Strangmann/dpa

Checking some older emails, from the beginning of November: FDA has found 10 times the concentration of glyphosate in US honey bees compared to the threshold set in the EU. Yet. Monsanto – who uses glyphosate in its ‘Roundup’ herbicide, told us for some decades that GMO will reduce the use of herbicides, not increase it.  (

And of course, every day in my thoughts: Standing Rock. We allow big oil companies to build yet another huge pipeline that not only puts the Missouri River water in North Dakota at risk – it also continues business as ‘it always was’. Which means: exploitation of soil, natural resources, and complete reification of animals for food production.

No – this has not always been our way of life. And if we are worried about job losses to automation in rural America – and yes, we should be concerned about this because the ‘old’ jobs will not return – why do we not begin NOW to imagine a way out.

Is it really unimaginable to switch to smaller farming again? Is it unimaginable to rebuild local communities not only around churches but also around newly envisioned farms and community centers as spaces to create hope in the future? What if small towns re-built their own farmers’ markets, even some tourist business on sustainable farms? Libraries, even if it started with the libraries-on-the-go? Why not think of getting back to really small business – but smart, sustainable, creative? If they needed some subsidies – or micro-credits that have worked well in any country facing the same problem as rural America – why don’t we, in the bigger cities, not work together with these communities?

Can we not start outreach programs? There is so much of what I call ‘experiential knowledge’ that we can all learn from. I don’t think we can wait for big business to create this narrative. And no: I am not just a Green, a Romantic, a Yesterdayer – although I am proud to be all that with respect to how we relate to our environment. I am looking at report after report on environmental disasters. I am looking at economic gains (they don’t reach those who would need some more bucks in their pockets). In the US, there are 358 mega-rich families. 20 families own 50% of all US wealth. They use their wealth for gaining political power. Lauren Langman calls this a plutocracy. So – these guys won’t tell us to go back to smaller units. They are not interested in community-building. They probably consider the human, animal, plant, and natural resources loss through accidents a collateral damage. In my hometown, however, some of the farmers may lose everything they have relied upon.

In North Dakota, one accident will destroy the water supply for the Native American Nation living there for decades. Not to speak of the wildlife etc.
In Iowa, Sioux Honey Association Cooperation is sued because they advertise their honey as 100% pure – which they cannot guarantee, now that the FDA found glyphosate in their honey.
And here is my big BUT of the day:

Community re-building must resist returning to the cultural values of the past. This is where white Christianity enters the room: No – we do not want to return to the white patriarchal family. We have lived through its violence, both personally, physically and emotionally, and structurally.

But unless we have an alternative that creates real hope, liberation, and a future that is worth fighting for, we will not win the fight on cultural values. 

Christian values are about de-centering power structures and re-centering them around justice for all. Liberation. Metanoia or transformation to an always possible new beginning. Transforming violence into peace. Standing with the anawim, the outcasts of society. Building something new, a society in which those who are poor are blessed, those who fight for justice are blessed.

As a Christian, I know where to go and where to look: first and foremost, I have multiple biblical narratives – experiences with power, experiences and narratives of strengths and weaknesses, of collaboration and resistance, of errors and ever-new beginnings. I have the story of Jesus Christ.

I have the tradition of prophets. I have my Catholic tradition of subversives of their societies, those who spoke up to those in power, to violence, to murder, to oligarchy (not everyone, but many of these bravest men and women were later  called the Saints of the Catholic Church- such as Oscar Romero). I have the civil rights and human rights defenders such as Martin Luther King. I have Dorothy Day and Dorothee Soelle. I have thousands and thousands of individuals who came before us. Who stood up, and who created something new. This is my tradition, this is the Christian tradition, a counter-tradition worth fighting for.

Christianity for the Curious: Why Study Christianity

By: Hille Haker, Loyola University Chicago

Curiosity, common sense holds, drives the sciences rather than the humanities: how can we better understand the world we live in? How can we make the best use of our knowledge about nature, develop technologies and explore what is unknown to us? But the humanities, too, start with curiosity, albeit with a slightly different turn to their questions: why do we exist, and what gives meaning to our life? These questions guide our academic journeys, leading us into the foreign worlds of the natural world, individual lives, cultures, histories, social structures and institutions, and more. The study of religion is part of the humanities, orienting us in our question how we can and ought to live. However, religions also articulate the boundaries of any of our worldviews, challenging us to go beyond them, to transcend our reality to this other reality that we call the Divine. Curiosity for Christianity is therefore a good motivation to begin your study.

As a scholar of Christianity you will become an explorer of foreign languages, foreign worlds and histories, and this journey will never come to an end. You will encounter many courageous persons, past and present, from all over the world, committed to their faith. You will hear and read stories full of wisdom, wit, humor, and human drama. You will see the architecture, the books, paintings and sculptures, all rooted in the same curiosity – and awe – that drives your own studies. You will examine the poetic force of people who put into words and images what ultimately cannot be grasped. You will meet community leaders and politicians both in history and in the present who are the voices of the Christian tradition. As a scholar of Christianity, you will dive into a world that embraces much of what human culture offers. As is the case in every study, not everything will be as exciting as you expect, and the study of Christianity demands, apart from curiosity, discipline and openness to multiple disciplines Christian theology is aligned with. You may not become as wealthy as some of your peers may, but as a person, you will be more than enriched. Speaking in the words of my institution, a Jesuit University, you may be transformed as a person in order to transform the world: transform it into a place of less injustice, less hate, and less despair for those to whom justice, love, and hope matters most. In short: you will study Christianity not only as an intellectual matter, but also as an existential journey; and it matters that you have chosen to become one of the scholars in Christian theology.

Rather than explaining what the study of Christianity entails – you will learn that from booklets, websites, and program descriptions, let me tell you a bit from my own journey: I am a Catholic Christian, and I became a scholar of Catholic theology in the 1980s. Furthermore, I have specialized in the discipline of ethics, more specifically moral identity and agency, bioethics, social ethics, literature & ethics, and feminist ethics. I am a woman of German nationality, wife and mother, and friend of several people who live in different parts of the earth; they are gay and straight, of different ethnicities and national backgrounds, Christians and Non-Christians.

But as important as it is to introduce myself, however superficially, to you, I want to convey that in and for Christianity, ‘identity does not matter’. For the disciple St. Paul states, right at the beginning of the formation of the Christian communities, a central insight of the Christian faith you will come to study: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Letter to the Galatians 3:28)

In our world that is shaped not only by our social identities that give us a sense of belonging but also by an identity politics that labels, shames, and discriminates people because of certain characteristics, it is important to understand what it means to say that all these categories do not matter because we are ‘one’ – united, that is – in Christ. As a student and/or scholar of Christianity, you will examine a statement such as this. Perhaps you read it as a statement that ultimately places Christianity before any other ‘identity marker’, rendering this particular identity superior to the others, thereby entering one of the most contested debates of inter-religious dialogue? Or you may read it as a call for attention never to forget our common humanity, regardless of our particularities. Becoming a scholar of Christianity, you will be enabled to participate with your own voice, your own experiences, and your own convictions in the reflection and the discussions of what Christianity means – and should mean – in today’s world.


What we strive to learn, what kind of person and/or scholar we strive to become is personal and in part existential. So here is some more of my own motivation: I studied Christian theology, because I wanted to know – not only intellectually but existentially – what it means to commit myself to the Christian faith. I was fascinated by individual life stories of men and women who would not give in to the many occasions and structures of injustice, oppression, violence, and all the different kinds that may well render people hopeless. These were individuals who would fight for their faith, but fight with words, with love, and passion. I learned about their struggles with and in their own lives, learned about their struggles with God. Having engaged in a human rights organization, I also wanted to know why – and when – one’s political and/or religious passion may turn into a destructive, violent, desperate fight. Non-violence, I learned, might not always be possible in a world that is driven by war, genocide, or terrorism. And yet, peace and justice, and justice in peace is what we need to strive for as disciples of Jesus Christ.

I grew up in post-World War II Germany, and I felt the burden of my country’s 20th century history, namely the Holocaust, which is a burden of remembrance and responsibility for any German of my generation. One of my life-questions as well as an inquiry of my scholarly work became exactly this: how can I live responsibly, aware of what is happening around me? What does it take? Asking this question, I realized that I not only needed a community (or several and different communities) who were willing and able to ask critical questions together with me, but I also realized that I myself needed to give reasons for my faith. At the beginning of my studies I did not know yet how important this would be, but one verse in the bible has become an important reference point for me since I reflected it for the first time: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Petrus 3,15). Not just: reasons for your faith, but reason for the hope that you have!

Christian theology gave me a perspective, a lens to understand the question of truth, love, justice, and of a situated interpretation of the Christian faith. I engaged these questions in theology and philosophy, and also turned to the study of literature, or to the sciences. I would not too quickly draw a line between the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’ in my studies; and up to today I am convinced that the Ignatian spirituality expresses this universal approach to Christian theology aptly, articulated in one simple phrase with enormous ramification for the study of Christianity: “Finding God in everything”. In other words: if the Christian faith centers on the human person, in all possible relations to fellow humans, fellow creatures, plants, rocks, water, air – all that is mentioned so meticulously in the creation story or, in the near-inversion of creation, namely the story of the flood, then I, too, must attend to anything I might encounter as finding God in it. Christian theology has taught me to look at all human experiences and human culture with respect and awe, and it demands not to look the other way when human action and life is not beautiful, not peaceful, and not admirable. The study of Christianity, this means, will lead you to the highest and the lowest capacities of human agency. The division between right and wrong, and good and evil, I have learned painfully, however, does not necessarily match with the division of the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane’, or between believers and non-believers.

Oberpfarr- und Domkirche (Berliner Dom), Berlin

Obviously, research and scholarship in Christianity has changed over the last decades – fields that were marginal when I began my journey have entered the curricula of many universities: new approaches were introduced to my own denominational studies, Catholic theology, as well as to Christian theology in general: the post-Holocaust ‘new political theology’ of Johann Baptist Metz and liberation and feminist theology have emerged, Christian theology was contextualized and re-interpreted in the critical appraisal of late and/or postmodern, post-colonial, or political theology. My own field of expertise, ethics, is also in a process of being reframed, mostly in the name of ‘Christian Ethics’ or ‘Theological Ethics’, including both traditional sub-disciplines of Moral Theology and Social Ethics. Furthermore, new ethical issues have emerged over the years, such as global justice questions & poverty, international law, and ecology; bioethics and ethics & new technologies; or business ethics & corporate social responsibility.

Today, you will need to become not only the interpreter of Christianity but also the ‘trans-lator’ of it: carrying the ‘good news’ over to anybody who may be open to it, while attending to his or her own context, language, or culture.

In some parts of the world, this means interpreting Christianity in view of a secular culture that has established organizational structures in politics, culture, and education that function independent of any religion – with the effect of a level of illiteracy in matters of religion unknown to any culture before us. This secular approach may well feed the illusion that policies are value-neutral whereas religions are partial. But as St. Paul’s statement stresses, partiality is (or at least should be) already transcended in Christianity – the only partiality upheld is the “option for the poor”, as a reminder of the Gospel’s ethics: it is those who are left behind throughout history and at the present time who are most urgently in need of love, justice, and hope, and if actions demand priorities, they are the first to be attended to.


In other parts of the world we see, however, efforts to re-interpret the relationship between the state and religion/church by way of religious politics – and these efforts are also not necessarily conducive to peace and tolerance, especially when the conflation of religious and political power lead to the silencing of dissenting voices. The study of Christianity reinforces a discussion, rather than a solution once and for all, of this tension between religion and politics, between the church and the state, and the role of religion in politics, society, or the overall culture of the 21st century.

You will take part in this local, national, international, and global endeavor. We, the scholars, need you and your work, because you are the future of Christian studies. Your community needs your work, because it will need your expertise. And those who are desperately waiting for the world to be transformed so that there is hope for them, too, they need you most of all. You may start your study motivated by your own curiosity – but you may well end up being ‘set on fire’ – inspired and determined, with knowledge and passion.

This article is published in: Kishor Vaidya (ed.): Why Study Christianity (Christian Studies), The Curious Academic Publishing (ISBN 978-1-925128-27-7), 2014.