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Dorothee Soelle: Teacher of God and Prophetess

Twenty years ago Dorothee Soelle warned of that totalitarian religion in North America that is in power today. She spoke of "Christo-fascism" and meant the "Christian" glossing over a capitalist system that goes along with murder, exploitation and destruction.

By Willy Spieler

[Dorothee Soelle was a great liberation theologian and prolific author of "Suffering," "The Arms Race Kills Even Without War," "On Earth as in Heaven" and "Thinking about God." Willy Spieler has long been the editor of the Swiss "Neue Wege - Journal of Religious Socialism." This 2003 article is translated from the German on the Internet,  http://www.lebenshaus-alb.de/magazin/001821.html.]

A few hours before her death on April 27, 2003 Dorothee Soelle and Fulbert Steffensky led a discussion on the theme "God and Happiness" in Bad Boll where Christoph Blumhardt once proclaimed the reign of God message of religious socialism. God was the life theme of Dorothee Soelle - in the discipleship of prophets and poets, not in the way of the scribes. The guild of "theologians" did not make it easy for her. "Writer" was the occupational title that she always chose for her writings. Nevertheless Dorothee Soelle remained a teacher of God who enabled many of us to say "God" again and experience God's name as liberation, not estrangement. This God was "red," not "dead," a "friend," not a "goddess," on the way of justice, peace and integrity of creation.


"Maybe one must have a kind of hunger for God. When this hunger is swept away through over-eating all possible nonsense, we destroy our life-attentiveness. Dorothee Soelle said in a "Neue Wege" (1/02) conversation with her and Fulbert Steffensky. What is hunger for God? Generations felt more anxiety than hunger for God. God was the Almighty who commanded people to accept individual blows of fate and collective injustice, war and misery as a "test" or "fate/providence" and "enter into heaven."

"De-mythologizing" this God in Rudolf Bultmann's sense was vital. For Dorothee Soelle, "de-mythologizing" in the sense of Auschwitz was necessary. She explained what a "theology after Auschwitz" meant. "Speaking religiously of the Lord who rules all things so gloriously was impossible. Could not God have stopped the trains full of Jews headed east?! Today I believe God needs all of us to have really good power."

Starting from God's love, Dorothee Soelle spelled out this divine attribute in a new way. If God is love, omnipotence cannot be his characteristic. The sufferings and cries of the oppressed make him a suffering, compassionate God and do not leave God cold. The "god" whom Soelle calls God "rules all things" even if not "as gloriously" as sung in a dishonest way.

As the great lover she was, Dorothee Soelle sang of God's tenderness and thereby expressed her own tenderness. She called this "theo-poetry." God is not trivialized. "If God is only nice, she is not God," Dorothee Soelle said in another dialogue (Nr 1/2000). Dorothee Soelle experienced God in the way of a mystic, open for encounters in unexpected places and without reasons. "God in the Waste Dump" is the title of a little book published in 1992 that Soelle called "Latin America's different discovery."

What does it mean "that God needs us"? In dialogue with Erwin Koller, she said: "When I love God, I can give God warmth. When I look at this world, it must seem cold to God. God needs our warmth." If God does not receive that, he must break down and come to grief as in Auschwitz: "This God who was so alone in Germany and had so few friends could not do anything. Love is not omnipotent. On the contrary this term omnipotence is destructive."

"God only has our hands," Soelle was convinced. This heresy to pious estranged ears has an influential patron who said this, the mystic Teresa of Avila.

The feminist did not want to address God as "goddess." The term was too "antiquated" to her. But she could begin a poem with "God" as "friend of humankind." The term "good power" representing a "basic feminine experience" was feminist for Dorothee Soelle. "Good power is power that strengthens others." She regarded another term "the mutuality of every relation" as feminist. Transferred to the love of God, this means people need God and God needs people (Junge Kirche 3/01).

Theologians have only differently interpreted God. It is up to us to change the dominant idea of God. The power- and rule-conditions of this earth must end with the end of the power- and rule God. God comes to himself in free, come-of-age, non-estranged persons. Soelle's de-mythologization goes beyond Bultmann. "Hunger for God" becomes longing for a better world. In our stories of successful life, we continue the revelation. "Liberation theology calls it `rewriting the Bible' which is a hundred times more valuable than exegesis with its subtleties" (NW 1/02).


In an article on "radicalism," we read: "The great themes of the mystical radicals were possessions and the unpropertied, violence and nonviolence, ego and selflessness" (NW 20/94). Dorothee Soelle was convinced this radicalism could not be limited to individual ethics. Even if charity is radical, it remains a half-matter when it does not question and fight the dominant conditions. In the introduction to the volume "Christians for Socialism" (1975), our friend wrote: "The really merciful one bangs his/her head against a brick wall on the property- and social structures of society."

Dorothee Soelle joined the question of socialism with the question of God. At that time she wrote the much criticized sentence: "If the radical critical sentence `God is dead' is understood as opening up new possibilities of liberation, the way is not far to `God is red.'" This sentence may sound somewhat colloquial but proclaims what is crucial. God wants persons to become subjects of their liberation. God is with those who stand up for this liberation.

In the meantime the remaining socialists in Europe have become a tiny little group "Christians for Socialism." "But," Dorothee Soelle said in our NW dialogue, "I still plead for justice and not only fairness. "Justice" is one of God's names in the Hebrew Bible that she "refused to abandon."

The winner-sentence of Margaret Thatcher that there was "no alternative" to the system of neoliberal profit maximization was opposed to Soelle's life theme ["There is no alternative" (TINA)]. At a Political Night Prayer in Hamburg on November 18, 2001, Soelle spoke of the "TINA-syndrome" and said "we all suffer in this sickness. This lack of alternatives thinking has harmed us more than our many skin allergies." She supported global justice movements like attac. She saw the alternative in the development that was impossible according to neoliberal ideology. This "marvelously simple sentence" - "The world is not for sale" - agrees with the Jewish-Christian tradition."

"Mysticism and Resistance" was not only the title of Dorothee Soelle's 1997 main work. Both were joined in her life. In one of her last interviews to Kipa, she said "strength arises out of introspection that relates us to this earth and gives us power to bring about changes."


"Auschwitz did not end with Auschwitz. That was the lesson." The Vietnam War made Dorothee Soelle into a pacifist that she remained all her life: from the protest movement and sit-in blockade against stationing medium-range missiles in Mutlangen to the crucial No against the Iraq war. The first Political Night Prayer arose under the motto "Vietnam is Golgotha." "The bombs are falling now," she said in a 1981 speech at the Evangelical Church Day: "The war waged by the North against the South is already staged in armaments and is not the preparation for a military conflict in the future. The bombs that we make here are falling now on the poor" (NW 10/81).

Twenty years ago Dorothee Soelle warned of that totalitarian religion in North America that is in power today. She spoke of "Christo-fascism" and meant the "Christian" glossing over a capitalist system that goes along with murder, exploitation and destruction. The harsh words can be found in "Mysticism and Resistance" (NW 10/83).

This "Pax Americana" prompted her last resistance. Like the emperor at the time of the "Pax Romana," Bush jr. demanded "absolute obedience and unconditional solidarity" to ensure the growing prosperity of the rich in his country. The terror attack of September 11, 2001 was "the best thing that could happen to this emperor." Now he feels "justified or authorized" to strike against evil in the name of the good. She protested on an action day against the Iraq war in October 2002 and continued: "The Empire needs oil. It needs pliable vassals, not allies. We Europeans should resist. We are allies with those who rise up against Bush & Co."

Dorothee Soelle ended her last address in Bad Boll with the words: "May this earth be preserved. Whether I am still here is not important to me." That there are persons who "go inwards" in Dorothee Soelle's sense, fight and love is important for this earth.

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