Germany

Why Eastern Germany Is The Most Godless Place On Earth

More than two decades after its political reunification, Germany continues to be divided along religious lines. Christianity still holds a fair amount of sway in the West. Not so much in the East, where two thirds of the population – young and old – are d

Clouds gather over a church in Dresden, Germany (basterus)
Clouds gather over a church in Dresden, Germany (basterus)
Matthias Kamann and Gernot Facius

BERLIN -- Bad news for all those who'd hoped Christianity might make a comeback now that the Cold War-era German Democratic Republic (DDR) is becoming an ever more distant memory. Atheism, according to a new study, is very much alive and well in the eastern part of Germany.

The statistics are most striking among those under 28 years old: more than 71% of eastern Germans in this age group say they have never believed in the existence of God. That's nearly as many as in the 38-47 group, of which 72.6% are non-believers.

What the figures mean is that in eastern Germany, very young people are on the same wavelength as people from the middle generation when it comes to belief in God. The political transformation of former East Germany, in other words, hasn't had much of an effect on people's ideas about religion. While there are somewhat fewer atheists among young adults aged 28 to 37, where "only" 63.6% say they've never been believers, those in the following generation are at least as non-religious as their parents.

In a recently published study called Beliefs about God across Time and Countries, researchers working with sociologist Tom W. Smith of the University of Chicago, showed how belief in God has changed over time.

The researchers did not produce their own data, relying instead on results of the International Social Survey Program (ISSP) that – in 1991, 1998 and again in 2008 – researched the degree of religiosity in Christian-influenced countries around the world, from Australia to Israel, Russia to Cyprus.

Because results for Germany were divided into East and West, it emerged that former East Germany was by far the most atheistic region on the planet. There, 52.1% of those asked agreed with the statement: "I don't believe in God." In West Germany, by contrast, only 10.3% felt that way. In Russia, the United States and the Philippines, the results were 6.8%, 3% and 0.7% respectively.

Approximately 46% of East Germans surveyed described themselves as atheists, compared to 15.3% of the Dutch and 4.9% of West Germans. In Italy, only 1.7% saw themselves that way. In eastern Germany, the trend actually strengthened over time: between 1991 and 2008 the number of atheists increased by 3.4% while during the same period the number sank by 11.7% in Russia.

The mark of modernization

A comparison of generations around the world shows that virtually everywhere, atheism is much more pronounced among the youth than it is among people ages 55 and more, thus showing the considerable influence that modernization has had on religious belief. In Poland, for example, 79.3% of those over 68 believe in God, as opposed to only 58.4% of those between 28 and 37.

The only exception is Israel, where belief is God is markedly more pronounced among young people. This could be related to the immigration of non-secular Jews to Israel, but the study's authors also think that it is partially due to a growing split along Jewish and Muslim religious lines. Under conditions of competition and separation, religious belief comes to have greater meaning for one's sense of personal identity, they write. Religious competition of that sort is virtually nonexistent in eastern Germany because so few Muslims live there.

Researchers found other reasons for atheism in the former East Germany, not least the deep mark left by the National Socialists and the Communists. But they also point to the fact that many Slavic and non-Orthodox communities present in the area since the Middle Ages were nonreligious; that the secularization movements during the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) were particularly strong in the states of Thuringia and Saxony; that the resistance of most DDR dissidents to the church was not seen, unlike the way it was perceived in Catholic Poland, as specifically religiously motivated.

The present study shows that Germany as a whole occupies a middle position on the atheism scale, as the belief in God in West Germany is still very strong – much more so than in neighboring countries like the Czech Republic or France, for example.

It also shows that serious belief in a personal God -- as opposed to a sort of diffused spirituality or esteem for religion in general -- is declining significantly in Europe.

Atheism, a "key challenge" across Europe

Thies Gundlach, a vice-president of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), told Welt Online that the East/West Germany comparisons weren't relevent. "We have to recognize that the issue of belief in God is the key challenge of all churches in Europe," he said.

For University of Erfurt theology professor Eberhard Tiefensee, "if East Germany is a missionary country, then Christian teaching must address not other religions but a stable, non-religious milieu" – a milieu that has proven highly resistant to missionary movements of any stripe.

Tiefensee sees no cause for resignation, though he admited that "all those attempting to change the status quo whether they're calling it a mission, evangelizing, or neo-evangelizing, have to bear in mind just how wide the divide is between them and those they're addressing." "They must never lack respect for them, and they must make their goals transparent, without trying to hide their own weaknesses," he added.

Hubertus Schönemann, who heads an Erfurt-based German Bishops' Conference working group on missionaryism, reports some success with initiatives such as the "Celebration of a New Life Phase" as an alternative to what is known as Jugendweihe, an East German initiation ceremony when 14-year-olds are given adult status. Other successful initiatives include an evening service to celebrate Christmas on the day before the Christian holiday, and a service for couples in love on Valentine's Day. Schönemann cautioned, however, that interest in such events shouldn't be mistaken for proper belief in God.

Read the original story in German

Photo - basterus

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never.

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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