Analysis: Germany still divided - by faith

By UWE SIEMON-NETTO, UPI Religion Correspondent
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GURAT, France, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- As the German saying goes, there was only one thing the Communists accomplished in their part of the country - driving out God. More than a dozen years after reunification, the Easterners are as godless as before, according to new survey commissioned by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which is close to the opposition Christian Democratic Union.

Only 20 percent of the Easterners believe in a personal God and 24 percent in some sort of higher power; in the West, the corresponding figures are 30 and 40 percent, giving the Transcendent a substantial majority. Almost 60 percent of the Easterners - but only 23 percent of the Westerners -- told pollsters they never prayed.


Yet there is still some memory of the Christian past in the formerly Communist Eastern part of Germany, which used to be Lutheran heartland. Almost half its people are familiar with the Lord's Prayer, which is still known to 76 percent of the Westerners.


These results show the enduring success of the systematic persecution of Christianity in more than four decades of Communist rule in what until 1990 was called the German Democratic Republic. Christians were rarely allowed to attend university; they were forbidden to attain senior ranks in the civil serve, become military officers or executives in the usually state-owned enterprises.

Many fled, and of those who stayed behind, a majority dropped the faith of their fathers and mothers. As irony will have it, though, churches provided a safe haven for the predominantly secular opposition groups that toppled Communism peacefully in the fall of 1989.

Still, although 39 percent of the Easterners claim that they are "not at all religious" - compared with a mere 13 percent of the Westerners - church officials report that those who remained faithful tend to be more active in their congregations and attend services more diligently than their Western cousins.

In some parts of Eastern Germany, especially Saxony, ministers are observing an increase in the number of regular worshipers, though not members. But for the time being, this seems to have little impact on the attitudes of the general public. Of the Easterners, a whopping 70 percent reject the Christian worldview that man is God's creation. On the other hand, 57 percent of the Westerners believe this.


Germany, the most populous nation in the European Union, has a population of 82 million, of whom roughly 66 million live in the West and 16 million in the former Communist East.

Germans are outwardly much less religious than Americans, yet roughly half still affirm basic Christian tenets, such as a belief in the resurrection, the Trinity, the divine and human nature of Christ, and the Judgment at the end of history. Again, this does not apply to Eastern Germans, two-thirds of whom reject these traditional statements of faith.

Like their American counterparts, the German pollsters noted a somewhat "consumerist" approach to faith, especially among Western Germans. As evidence they cite the fact that 67 percent bemoaned a general disregard for religious truths, while only 27 percent stated that they themselves based their lives on faith.

In another analogy to the U.S. situation, Germans do not like a politicized church; nearly two-thirds informed the pollsters they were against the churches' attempts to influence government decisions. This is a significant result for Germany, where especially the state-related Protestant denominations - judging by their pronouncements -- often seem to care more about penultimate than ultimate matters, more about ethics than about God.


But this is not what the people want, according to the survey. In the opinion of 98 percent of Germans, it's the churches' job to organize religious services; their next most important task is pastoral care (96 percent). At a time when German forces are increasingly operating in faraway danger zones such as Afghanistan, Cambodia and the Horn of Africa, military chaplaincy has taken on a greater significance than before; 72 mentioned it as an important charge of the church.

In what appears to be a further similarity to America, the local church, as opposed to the denominational hierarchy, is becoming more and more important to Germans. While two-thirds professed not to know the names of their bishops, an equal percentage stated they were personally familiar with their pastor, and an astonishing 54 percent added they desired more and deeper discussions with him or her.

Again, only 33 percent wish for clerics to opine politically, while 69 percent want to discuss personal and 56 percent religious topics. This parallels a general trend in Germany away from the "political clergy" of the post-1960s era to a more theologically and pastorally focused younger generation of ministers.

This change comes not one moment too soon, for there is mission to do among the upcoming generation. While a majority of today's Germans still approves of Christian symbols, such as crucifixes, in public places, and the reference to the name of God in the preamble of their country's constitution, the young are drifting away from their ancestral faith.


Sadly, the report remarks, Western and Eastern Germans, aged 16-24, are drawing closer in unbelief. Only 61 percent of young Western and Eastern Germans can recite the Lord's Prayer; only 30 percent consider themselves religious. The standard-bearers of the specifically Christian faith, the report notes, are the middle and older generation in the former West Germany.

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