A conversation with rabbi, pastor and imam of the House of One
The architecture of the House of One is based on a new concept. What about the theology of the House of One: Is it a House of three theologies or will there be a development towards a shared one?
PASTOR GREGOR HOHBERG: One can understand the theology as an analogy to the construction, where we are trying something new: We are bringing three different sacred spaces together under one roof - Synagogue, Church and Mosque. Theologically the path is similar: We are moving into the house with our respective theology. We cannot know ahead of time, what will develop and whether or not it may be something new. Most important is to move forward with an open-minded theology, one that makes encountering and getting to know the other religions possible and gives the opportunity to include other religions in theological pondering.
IMAM KADIR SANCI: What does theology mean? Theology describes the faith, existence and perception of god and how this relationship is expressed. We have obligated ourselves to avoid religious intermingling in our relationship. That is also the way we have captured it in our charter. At the same time, we have an openness for theologies. We are not fixated on a new theology that is supposed to involve and be valid for everyone.
Theologies are also bound to dogma, distinct laws. How far can the openness go at the House of One?
RABBI ANDREAS NACHAMA: Everyone has their own world.This is beautifully visible in the architecture: everyone finds a way to God in their own tradition. At the same time, there is the connecting space in the middle, but also with the foundation and historical background on which the House of One is built there are lines of connection. In my opinion, this is not reflected in theology, but in practice. Whether a separate theology will develop, I do not know but it will develop a practice of its own, from which we will be able to tell what we can do together. We can already pray together, side by side, each in their respective tradition, and at the same time we are together not only in space but also in content. In the end, this may not be new territory we are entering, but by doing this togetherness continuously and having this common space, something is happening. What? You can't predict everything. Things will stay exciting.
HOHBERG: There are dogmas, things that have been handed down, that we deal with. But at the same time, there is always the permanent openness of questions that we cannot answer because we can never fully grasp God. This leads to ever new reflection and maybe even to new theological statements. The task that we have in the House of One, but also that theology as a whole has, is to consider the old dogmatic topics now in the horizon of religious diversity. In the 20th century, secularisaton and atheism were the horizon of theology.
HOHBERG: Now the horizon of all questions we discuss theologically is the diversity of religions, the view of our threatened creation and totality of the one earth, for which we feel much more responsibility. What does Trinity or Christology mean for us Christians, for example, when when these topics are brought into conversation with Islam and Judaism. What does climate protection or the responsibility for the creation mean, when we relate to it in the circle of multiple religions?
SANCI: There can be theologies within the House of One, but not the ONE theology. Otherwise we risk that people who attach great importance to tradition - and that is the majority of Muslims, Christians and Jews - will not feel at home with us. We have to carry the tradition into the House of One.
That is a balancing act between tradition and openness. Has the openness within your practice changed to a certain extend due to your daily encounters?
NACHAMA: I do not know, if my religious practice has changed, but I have. Within this tri-dialogue, I have come to know Islam and Christianity much better. From a Jewish point of view, the view on Christianity as well as Islam has broadened over the course of decades since the Shoah and the new beginning of Jewish life in Europe and the USA. Everyone realized that we are all living together in one world. This is a huge step compared to the situation a hundred years ago. That may be the most important aspect: the working together. Because the experience to take from the 20th century is that when one rises above others, in the end only ruins remain. That is what we are trying to do differently in the House of One. Perhaps one day society will say: the three religions are the anchor of social peace.
SANCI: The House of One has also reshaped my world of thought. There are challenging passages in the Quran. For example, it says not to be friends with non-Muslims. Why shouldn't I be friends with a Jew or a Christian? Working together in the House of One also made me think about this point and find reasons in the tradition that speak not against but in favor of friendship. At the same time, I have found more security in my own tradition.
These are very personal developments. How do you get all the people in your respective religions on board?
NACHAMA: After all, we don't live in a ghetto or different residential quarters, we may have secular, Muslim or other neighbors. We are all on a journey, no matter whether we already know the House of One from the inside or whether one only lives in this colorful city of Berlin.
Everyday encounters often remain superficial. What is it like in the House of One?
HOHBERG: Within the House of One, one is confronted in a special way with what is considered everyday life in our world, but which we can repress so well. We can think about the relation to our own and to other perspectives. The three of us have to do this especially intense, because we are building a house together. What does that mean for my faith, if there is another faith that claims just as much significance for itself. It would be presumptous of us to invent something new. Our traditions are full of treasures, narratives and stories. It is our task to form a real community in this house of diversities. Therefore, it is important for everyone to look for patterns and values within his or her own traditions that help us to reach out to the other and take the respective faith seriously. Thus, for me, two key points of a House of One-theology become visible: identity and openness.
How do you justify this path for yourself as a Christian?
HOHBERG: For me as a Christian, I find the motivation for this thinking in the person of Jesus. He lived as a Jew from birth until death and at the same time remained open beyond the boundaries of his religion to include others. This is especially visible in his meal practice, which culminated in the Lord's Supper. The encounter with you and our three congregations has led me to finding a new position on this point. The Holy Communion has always had a grand, welcoming gesture to me. With the experiences of the House of One, it has now become even more. It vouches for the Christian identity and at the same time grants a welcoming openness. We give thanks to God in our tradition and then distribute what he gives us, opening the meal to others. This is the eucharist, inclusive core gesture of Christianity.
With this opening of the Holy Communion you are reaching the limits within your own church.
HOHBERG: Yes, that is sensitive. The Lord's Supper is at the center of being a Christian, at least from a Protestant and Catholic point of view. But there is a great willingness to deal with the fact that the world is changing and that it is not uncommon for people of different denominations, as well as other religions or agnostics, to come together in church on Sunday morning and want to hear and accept the invitation to all people. The House of One demands the conversation as well as further thinking about this development.
What about Islam or Judaism: What role can the House of One play as a mediator between tradition and present time?
SANCI: One has to try to maintain the balancing act between identity and openness. That is the educational responsibility. At the same time, one wants to grasp the spirit of the time and move people there. That is the social or theological responsibility. Too often the Imams or responsible theologians lead people into a dilemma. They live in today, they have the current reality before their eyes. If they want to practice their religion, they are relegated into the past. This schizophrenia is tremendously exhausting. The idea of openness is addressed not only to those friends with a different faith, but also to the people of one's own religion. One should look ahead, recognize the realities of the times, but at the same time stay true to the core of the religion.
NACHAMA: The great classics like Maimonides only make sense in the light of their time, when it was necessary to write these texts, to transform old images into new ones. This will also be the case today. We will only know in 50 or 100 years from now who redefined and rewrote this in my or your tradition. Jewish perceptions of faith are everchanging, so do the so-called Orthodox ones. Of course, there also are some things that have remained unchanged. But in the end, however, everything is in motion.
SANCI: Time is the best exegete. How can one include secular people into the theological reflection?
NACHAMA: I am not sure if the secular world is actually that secular. In the so-called real existing socialism, for example, there were youth consecrations or the "Ten commandments for the New Socialist", that modeled religions. Many of the secular world, people of Jewish as well as other background, seek out the synagogue, church or mosque on certain holidays or at certain points in their lives, such as marriage or the birth of a child. In conversations with secular people, you often come to points where you realize that we do share similar values.
HOHBERG: I can easily relate to that. It's true that we are surrounded by a predominantly secular soyiety in Berlin, but that is not a monolithic block. There are the agnostics and atheists, with whom we have a lot in common, because they deal with religion and try to find their own interpretation of the world. But we also work together for peace, justice and climate protection. Religion has diffused into society. Not so much in the traditional institutions, large churches and congregations - in Islam and Judaism it probably is similar. This diffuse religiousness,which many people perhaps live out through meditation, yoga, classes in mindfulness or other ways, demonstrates how deep the desire for questions regarding the meaning of life is.
Which group does the House of One not reach so easily?
HOHBERG: People who have no questions, not about being themselves, about what constitutes being human, not about the meaning of life. The Catholic theologian Tomás Halik calls them apathetics. Conversations are difficult here.
SANCI: I see three areas: First, the understanding of god; second the religious practice; and third, interpersonal relationships. On the first point, secular does not equal atheist. It can mean people who believe but have no religious practice. There can be a connection there, but it doesn't have to be. With atheists, the first two points lack a connection. In the end, however, we always have one area with all other worldviews where there is overlap: the interpersonal. This area should not be underestimated. We stand for equality like any reasonable person. We have so much in common that we religious people share with the secular and atheist world. We are in the same boat, we can work together.
How can that succeed?
NACHAMA: An example: the Federal Constitutional Court has just ruled on the Berlin law on the rent cap. I couldn't help but think of the Jewish concept of the Jubilee Year. That says that every fifty years, property is dissolved and redistributed. That's laid down in the part of the Bible called the Torah. So we could draw on biblical concepts to answer the question, 'Who actually owns the city?' Not to implement them one-to-one, but as an example of thinking about housing differently. If we face the questions of the time in this way, we also get into conversation with people who perhaps have nothing to do with spirituality.
HOHBERG: That is a wonderful idea that shows that there are incredible treasures of experience within our respective traditions. These experiences are cultural resources.