Johannes HEINRICHS, Das Recht Nicht zu lügen: Der Ex-Jesuit im autobiografischen Interview über sexuelle Heuchelei, Staatskirchentum und die akademische Diskurskrankheit. Berlin: Europa Buch, 2023. Paperback. 497 pp. 19.50 Reviewed by Peter C. PHAN, Georgetown University, DC 20057.
For a scholar as widely published as Johannes Heinrichs, who has authored more than forty hefty books, to remain largely unknown to the English-language readership is a lamentable lacuna. So far, only two books of his have been translated into English, one of which is Integral Philosophy: The Common Logical Roots of Anthropology, Politics, Language, and Spirituality (2021); unfortunately, it has not attracted much attention. The lack of translation of his works is but one reason for his relative obscurity in the English academic world; another reason is that, as the subtitle of the above-mentioned book indicates, Heinrichs’s vast and erudite thinking traverses several disciplines, which make for difficult reading, and does not lend itself to easy exposition and systematization.
With Das Recht Nicht zu lügen, Heinrichs makes good use of the privilege that accrues to one who has led a relatively long and highly productive life (b. on September 17, 1942), that is, to write an autobiography to recount the major turning points of his life and above all, to describe the development of his thinking on various subjects. Rather than writing a straightforward chronological first-person narrative of his life, Heinrichs uses the interview format to unfold his life story. The book opens with an exchange of letters between Heinrichs and his “spiritual friend” (Geistesfreund) Korai (pp. 15-28), who we learn in footnote 8 of chapter 2 is Korai Peter Stemmann, co-author of their book Das Enneagram in Coaching, Beratung und Training (2015). From the book’s title, which is taken from Albert Camus’s famous saying “Freiheit ist das Recht, nicht zu lügen” (Freedom is the right not to lie), it is clear that Heinrichs plans to tell in his autobiography the unvarnished truth about sexual hypocrisy (in the Catholic Church), the (German) state-church system, and the sickness of the academic discourse.
Heinrichs’s autobiographical account is divided into nine chapters, each dealing with a phase or an important aspect of his life. Chapter 1 recounts his childhood in Krupp-Stadt Rheinhausen (today West Duisburg) during World War II, his family, especially his twin sister Luise, and his elementary and middle school education. Chapter 2, in which Korai Stemmann appears for the first time as an interviewer with questions for Heinrichs, narrates the author’s high school education up to the Abitur, his adolescence with precocious interests in literature, philosophy, theology, and the arts, his psycho-sexual propensities (homosexuality or bisexuality?), and his decision to enter the Society of Jesus. Chapter 3 narrates his early life as a Jesuit, providing a detailed daily schedule (pp. 128-129) that would be familiar to anyone who was a member of a religious order in the 1960s, his long and passionate amitié particulière with a certain fellow Jesuit named Urs, with whom in the evening of July 20, 1969, he had a physical encounter during a swim in the buff in the Ammersee under a full moon (pp. 146-158). This physical encounter made such a deep and lasting impact on Heinrichs’s psychological and spiritual makeup that he still remembers it in vivid detail over 50 years later.
Chapter 4 recounts Heinrichs’s theological studies at the Jesuit institute Sankt Georgen, his doctoral work at the University of Bonn with a thesis on Hegel’s logic in his Phenomenology of the Spirit, his study of modern Hebrew in Jerusalem (where he had a romantic liaison with a Palestinian young man named Ali), his ordination to the priesthood on July 14, 1974, and his stay in Paris, where he began developing his theory of lived self-reflection. Chapter 5 covers Heinrichs’s various academic and pastoral activities, in particular the publication of his two collections of poems (Dialogic für Ohr and Auferstehung des Ungesagten) with the help of a certain Sara, who confessed to being in love with him, and his struggle with his decision to leave the Jesuit order, which he did finally on September 24, 1981, after an internal spiritual decision already made in July 1977. Chapter 6 describes the various academic positions he occupied after leaving the Jesuits and his disappointment at what he refers to as “the institutional and spiritual corruption of university philosophy” (327). Chapter 7 deals with Heinrichs’s relationship with women. Chapter 8 relates his teaching and lecturing activities in Berlin where he came to know Rudolf Bahro, a famous political resister, and important scientists such as Peter Plichta, an expert in chemistry, physics, and mathematics, and where he developed his interest in ecology and politics (democracy in particular).
So far, Heinrichs’s autobiographical narrative might be of interest more to German readers, who might be familiar with the scholars and religious people he mentioned, than to those outside the German ecclesial and academic environments. Chapter 9, however, may pique the latter’s interest as Heinrichs discusses his research and publications. To date, he has authored a total of eighteen philosophical volumes: six on philosophical semiotics, five on social philosophy, and seven on various philosophical themes, the most important of which is the comprehensive exposition of his philosophical thought system, the above-mentioned Integral Philosophy. Here he expounds his epistemology based on implicit self-reflection (Selbstbesinnung or Selbstbezüglichkeit: implicit self-reference); his philosophical anthropology of body-soul-spirit, which he relates to the Indian seven-chakra anthropology; his social philosophy of democracy constituted by fundamental values and four spheres of basic values (world views, ethics, religions, spirituality), culture, politics, and economics; his semiotic theory of action; his semiotic theory of language; his semiotic theory of art; his religious philosophy; his ontology; and his metaethics.
The 10th and last chapter presents Heinrichs’s retrospective and prospective glance at his work and its possible impact on the future of the world. The book ends with a lengthy appendix (453-497) in which Heinrichs summarizes his intellectual journey which, he notes, despite its many twists and turns and institutional ruptures, possesses great continuity.
How will Heinrichs’s autobiography be received by English readers? No doubt, people who are familiar with his philosophical corpus (mostly German scholars) will be interested in finding out the “real person” behind it through this at times remarkably frank autobiography. For non-German readers who are not familiar with his writings, many of the stories he narrates and the persons he mentions along the way will likely remain foreign and will not tell them much. Nevertheless, the book is still very enlightening if they try to read at least his Integral Philosophy. They will understand when and how Heinrichs develops his comprehensive philosophical vision, especially his self-reflection system, and will come to appreciate his stature as one of the most productive and interdisciplinary minds in contemporary German idealism.