When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.


Money And Faith, A Match Made In Heaven?

A German exodus from the church may be chalked up to a small bookkeeping change to federal tax rules. It begs some big questions.

Money And Faith, A Match Made In Heaven?
Matthias Kamann

BERLIN — Money and faith are two sides of the same coin. If you don't believe it, have a look at the newest figures of people leaving the Catholic Church. The real reason as to why 218,000 German Catholics left the Church in 2014, and probably nearly as many Protestants, can only be explained by the changed direct debiting of church tax, as part of the capital gains taxing procedure. Quickly after having been informed by their bank of this new process, people realized that they would have to hand over part of their profits from their financial investments.

Although this is not a new policy per se, and the amounts due are relatively low, the automatic changes in reporting seem to have prompted many to leave the Church — their religiosity being apparently decided by their bank statement. It isn't much different than 2013, when the spending sprees of Catholic Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst came to light, and a wave of faithful left the Church.

But it is not in itself unseemly to think of money when thinking of God. The Bible is an economics text after all: Abraham's rich cattle herds, Joseph's stock supply economy in Egypt, asking for our "daily bread," Jesus' attacks on the moneylenders' practice or separation of property as practiced by the earliest Christians. Tales of credit, material loss, savings, earnings and sharing of profit.

The Reformation was born from the indignation caused by the Church selling indulgences. Nowadays, Pentecostal churches in emerging nations are attracting people with their promise of well-being and affluence.

If religiosity really is so closely connected to material thinking — not to be confused with materialism — one has to concede that the crisis in Christianity is steeped in material aspects, when thousands leave the Church due to a few tax-related euros.

We should think harder about this, instead of simply lamenting Germany's loss of faith and lack of spiritual awakening. How exactly is this rebirth supposed to happen when all these tricks have been played before?

Pope Benedict XVI tried to apply dogmatic conservatism and failed. Pope Francis is banking on philanthropic openness, but more Catholics than ever are breaking away from the Church. The softer and more liberal Protestant Church is likewise unable to prevent people from leaving, while the gospel-preaching Evangelists are also beginning to admit to the limits of their success.

It thus becomes clear that one has to investigate more tangible, material causes rather than questioning people's devotion. Even here, financial aspects have a role to play. The still remarkably high number of people entering the Protestant Church, circa 50,000 people a year as opposed to only 10,000 in the Catholic Church, is due to the fact that many new entrants are welcoming the socio-economic commitment that the Protestant Church displays — and they are therefore willing to support this by paying taxes.

Yes, people think of money when they think of faith. And the diligent mass-goers of Berlin's affluent bourgeoisie, who only recently started to give their children such exquisitely Christian names such as "Theodor" or "Leonore Anna Maria," are most likely not opposed to material thinking. They do not only consider Christian "values" in a vacuum, but alongside other social factors.

[rebelmouse-image 27089246 alt="""" original_size="800x628" expand=1]

Berlin Cathedral — Photo: Ralf Roletschek

And yet, their sense of religious economics seems to be flawed. On the one hand, they pay ever closer attention to their running costs, asking themselves "why should I give money to the Church when my taxes already pay for most of the welfare, social and charitable expenses?" Never mind the 500,000 million euros of subsidies for the Church provided by the State. But it truly becomes unbearable when investment income of savings are targeted, especially because these investment incomes are already causing more than enough trouble.

Fighting for survival

Many of our ancestors were not devout, but churches had a social relevance for them — even though that relevance may not always have been of a pleasant nature. This religious relevance still comes into play today, at momentous life events such as the birth of a child, a wedding, funeral or illness. In everyday life, however, it has lost its significance.

It is difficult for the Church to reclaim its place in the world in times when other large and powerful entities are also fighting for survival. In light of this, why aren't more parishes utilizing the potential of their premises and see themselves as "neighborhood-agencies?"

Parishes grow when they pay attention to what their people need and what everyone can do, may it be picking up children from school, growing vegetables in a community garden or providing assistance on care for the elderly. More often than not, the Church lets the State or other non-profit associations take care of their supposed Christian social work.

Nationwide, only the Church choir is available as an activity network. But why not supply homework support or carpools? Why not provide information on religiously important questions? There are myriads of intelligent theologians, but when people want to learn how Christianity developed from Judaism, they turn towards TV documentaries or the Internet for the answers.

It may be that people think these topics are not likely to be openly discussed in church settings. But more to the point, few people would associate their church with truly useful or enjoyable social gatherings — and this is exactly how the Church can again become important in our lives.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


What's Spoiling The Kids: The Big Tech v. Bad Parenting Debate

Without an extended family network, modern parents have sought to raise happy kids in a "hostile" world. It's a tall order, when youngsters absorb the fears (and devices) around them like a sponge.

Image of a kid wearing a blue striped sweater, using an ipad.

Children exposed to technology at a very young age are prominent today.

Julián de Zubiría Samper


BOGOTÁ — A 2021 report from the United States (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) found that 42% of the country's high-school students persistently felt sad and 22% had thought about suicide. In other words, almost half of the country's young people are living in despair and a fifth of them have thought about killing themselves.

Such chilling figures are unprecedented in history. Many have suggested that this might be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sadly, we can see depression has deeper causes, and the pandemic merely illustrated its complexity.

I have written before on possible links between severe depression and the time young people spend on social media. But this is just one aspect of the problem. Today, young people suffer frequent and intense emotional crises, and not just for all the hours spent staring at a screen. Another, possibly more important cause may lie in changes to the family composition and authority patterns at home.

Firstly: Families today have fewer members, who communicate less among themselves.

Young people marry at a later age, have fewer children and many opt for personal projects and pets instead of having children. Families are more diverse and flexible. In many countries, the number of children per woman is close to or less than one (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong among others).

In Colombia, women have on average 1.9 children, compared to 7.6 in 1970. Worldwide, women aged 15 to 49 years have on average 2.4 children, or half the average figure for 1970. The changes are much more pronounced in cities and among middle and upper-income groups.

Of further concern today is the decline in communication time at home, notably between parents and children. This is difficult to quantify, but reasons may include fewer household members, pervasive use of screens, mothers going to work, microwave ovens that have eliminated family cooking and meals and, thanks to new technologies, an increase in time spent on work, even at home. Our society is addicted to work and devotes little time to minors.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest