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Sat Sep 22, 2012, 09:32 AM

Eastern Germany: the most godless place on Earth

East German atheism can be seen as a form of continuing political and regional identification – and a taste of the future

Peter Thompson
guardian.co.uk
Saturday 22 September 2012 06.00 EDT

They are sending missionaries to eastern Germany. A recent study called Beliefs About God Across Time and Countries found that 52.1% of people asked whether they believed in God identified themselves as atheists. This compared with only 10.3% in western Germany. Indeed, the survey was unable to find a single person under the age of 28 in eastern Germany who believed in God. Obviously there are some – I think I may have even met some once – but the survey was unable to find them. On the face of it this is an extraordinary finding and it is something that needs some careful explanation.

Different reasons are adduced for the absence of religion in the east. The first one that is usually brought out is the fact that that area was run by the Communist party from 1945 to 1990 and that its explicit hostility to religion meant that it was largely stamped out. However, this is not entirely the case. In fact, after initial hostilities in the first years of the GDR, the SED came to a relatively comfortable accommodation with what was called the Church in Socialism. The churches in the GDR were given a high degree of autonomy by SED standards and indeed became the organisational focus of the dissident movement of the 1990s, which was to some extent led by Protestant pastors.

In addition to an accommodation with religion, the party also deliberately created alternative poles of integration for the population. Young people were brought up in a highly ideological atmosphere and were required to undergo a so-called Jugendweihe – a sort of atheist confirmation. Interestingly, this ceremony has survived the end of communism and many young people still voluntarily enter into it. Equally, especially under Eric Honecker in the 1970s and 80s, an attempt was made to create a sort of "GDR patriotism", in which figures from Prussian history such as Frederick the Great were put back on their plinths in East Berlin and integrated into the Communist narrative of the forward march of history. Martin Luther, Thomas Münzer and other figures from the Reformation were also recruited into the party.

Another factor is that religion in eastern Germany is also overwhelmingly Protestant, both historically and in contemporary terms. Of the 25% who do identify themselves as religious, 21% of them are Protestants. The other 4% is made up of a small number of Catholics as well as Muslims and adherents of other new evangelical groups, new-age sects or alternative religions. The Protestant church is in steep decline with twice as many people leaving it every year as joining.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2012/sep/22/atheism-east-germany-godless-place

I never heard of Jugendweihe.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jugendweihe

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Arrow 20 replies Author Time Post
Reply Eastern Germany: the most godless place on Earth (Original post)
rug Sep 2012 OP
TlalocW Sep 2012 #1
AlbertCat Sep 2012 #2
cbayer Sep 2012 #3
dimbear Sep 2012 #8
cbayer Sep 2012 #9
dimbear Sep 2012 #10
onager Sep 2012 #4
muriel_volestrangler Sep 2012 #5
Odin2005 Sep 2012 #19
dimbear Sep 2012 #6
cbayer Sep 2012 #7
muriel_volestrangler Sep 2012 #11
cbayer Sep 2012 #12
muriel_volestrangler Sep 2012 #13
cbayer Sep 2012 #14
muriel_volestrangler Sep 2012 #15
cbayer Sep 2012 #16
muriel_volestrangler Sep 2012 #17
Odin2005 Sep 2012 #18
rug Sep 2012 #20

Response to rug (Original post)

Sat Sep 22, 2012, 11:34 AM

1. I hardly think East Germany is the MOST godless place on Earth

I had a college professor who would almost wax poetically about Asian exchange students who came from certain places, who were never exposed to any kind of religious thinking, calling them wonderfully pure atheists, and he enjoyed seeing their expressions when he started explaining Christianity and other religions to them.

TlalocW

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Response to rug (Original post)

Sat Sep 22, 2012, 11:56 AM

2. The whole universe is godless...

.... because he doesn't exist.

Now as to places on this planet that have gotten out of the yoke of ancient superstitions.....

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Response to AlbertCat (Reply #2)

Sat Sep 22, 2012, 12:04 PM

3. He has spoken and He has not stuttered.

Thank you. We can probably just shut this group down now.

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Response to cbayer (Reply #3)

Sat Sep 22, 2012, 05:49 PM

8. The noises people hear when they have tinnitus aren't real.

I don't want to stop studying tinnitus on that reasoning.

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Response to dimbear (Reply #8)

Sat Sep 22, 2012, 05:52 PM

9. Of course they are real. Just because others can't hear it does not make it less real.

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Response to cbayer (Reply #9)

Sat Sep 22, 2012, 06:12 PM

10. Real in the same sense God is real. Not real in the sense a brass band is real.

Still deserving of some attention.

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Response to rug (Original post)

Sat Sep 22, 2012, 12:46 PM

4. The Czechs might argue with that

A recent poll found that only 33.6% of Czechs belong to a religion and only 11.7% attend services once a month or more. That's the lowest rate for any country in Europe aside from Estonia.

Roman Catholicism is the traditional religion of this region, but people aren’t giving it much attention. They see it as a religion of oppression and there aren’t enough priests to meet what little demand there is for them — it isn’t uncommon or one priest to have to travel to nine parishes to celebrate Mass.

According to psychiatrist Libor Growsky: "I’m a nonbeliever. It’s connected to our history. Religion limited the freedom of the people. I don’t see a difference between the Communists and the Catholics. They each want people to comply with their ideals... "


http://atheism.about.com/b/2006/02/15/czech-republic-most-atheist-country-in-europe.htm

That article is from 2006, but it is still being updated with comments:

(56) lukova says: June 2, 2012 at 12:36 am:

I’m Romanian and lived in Czech Republic for a few years. Was a bit shocked at the beginning to note that you can’t attend an Easter Mass, etc., but shortly I understood that Czech nation does not need religious stimulus to manifest their genuine spirituality, great conscience and love for life. They are an example nation and sadly I had to tell many Romanians (90% declared God believers?!) that I would prefer see them live their life to the Czech spirituality and intelectulality rather than going to church to buy their conscience with some fasting and prayers…


One thing that impressed me about Prague was the number of bookstores, many selling foreign-language pubs. I even found one bookstore that specialized in military, aviation and automotive books; it was called "Napalm."

Also loved the Museum of Communism. They have a lot of fun re-tooling the old "Comrade Worker" posters:



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Response to onager (Reply #4)

Sat Sep 22, 2012, 05:37 PM

5. They were in the same poll; 39.9% said they didn't believe in God

http://www.norc.org/PDFs/Beliefs_about_God_Report.pdf

(which was 2nd). It should be noted that China was not polled, however.

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Response to onager (Reply #4)

Sun Sep 23, 2012, 09:49 PM

19. I would love to visit Prague some time.

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Response to rug (Original post)

Sat Sep 22, 2012, 05:46 PM

6. East Germany is very economically disadvantaged vs. the rest of the country.

Perhaps this part of the population, disappointed in its desire to move to the west, is merely clinging to its guns and irreligion.

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Response to rug (Original post)

Sat Sep 22, 2012, 05:46 PM

7. I've never heard of Jugendweihe either.

Forced atheism is no better than forced religion, imo.

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Response to cbayer (Reply #7)

Sat Sep 22, 2012, 07:56 PM

11. What 'forced atheism'?

The nearest I can see to that, from any links in this thread, is one version of the pledge under the old communist regime, which mentions "our great humanistic ideals". But since that also says that "even young people with a denominational commitment were expected to take part", it's not forced atheism; you might liken it to including 'under God' in the US pledge.

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #11)

Sat Sep 22, 2012, 08:11 PM

12. Sounds forced to me:

Young people were brought up in a highly ideological atmosphere and were required to undergo a so-called Jugendweihe – a sort of atheist confirmation


It was specifically designed as an alternative to confirmation in a country that was invested in promoting atheism.

While it does not specifically address theism at all, the intent seems pretty clear to me.

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Response to cbayer (Reply #12)

Sat Sep 22, 2012, 08:28 PM

13. Except that 'sort of atheist' seems to mean 'secular'

if you look at the Wikipedia description; and religious confirmations were still allowed, including for people who went through the Jugendweihe ceremony too. It was started in 1852, by secular societies. The GDR took it over in the 1950s. An alternative is not 'forced'.

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #13)

Sat Sep 22, 2012, 08:32 PM

14. OK, won't call if forced, but ceremonies like this in communist countries

are often not optional.

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Response to cbayer (Reply #14)

Sat Sep 22, 2012, 08:36 PM

15. I looked up Angela Merkel's father, since he was a pastor in the GDR

and noticed that Wikipedia says she didn't go through this ceremony (but was confirmed). Whether that put her at a disadvantage, I don't know.

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #15)

Sat Sep 22, 2012, 08:40 PM

16. Interesting.

I wasn't aware of this kind of ceremony at all until I read this. The most obvious conclusion I could draw was that this led to higher rates of atheism than seen in many other places, but clearly it did not erase theism.

As to Merkel, what kind of disadvantage could she have encountered by not going through the ceremony?

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Response to cbayer (Reply #16)

Sat Sep 22, 2012, 08:57 PM

17. Well, an authoritarian state like the GDR would note it on her record

and might mark her down as 'unconformist' or something, if it was usual to go through it whether theist or atheist. She got her PhD, so she wasn't excluded from society or anything.

It sounds like the kind of ceremony that some atheists like Alain de Botton have been calling for. Whether it leads to higher rates of atheism, I'm not sure. If some people turn to religion because they want some form of coming of age ceremony, it could make a difference, but I haven't heard of people giving that as a reason for being religious (consciously, anyway). It also sounds less common since unification, but the rate of atheism is increasing, so its effect may not be noticeable.

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Response to rug (Original post)

Sun Sep 23, 2012, 09:46 PM

18. One of the few good things to come out of Soviet domination.

I believe the Czechs are almost as secular.

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Response to Odin2005 (Reply #18)

Sun Sep 23, 2012, 10:11 PM

20. If you consider atheism by compulsion to be a good thing.

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