Religious Trends in Germany

As in most Western countries, Germany has a growing number of people that are turning away from organised religion but some would argue that the reasons in Germany are different and may be more financial than spiritual.

Downtown Frankfurt at night, Germany. © S.Borisov - Shutterstock.com
Downtown Frankfurt at night, Germany.
© S.Borisov – Shutterstock.com

“In Germany you have to register where you live with the local community and if you check a box that says you are Catholic or Protestant or Jew then the state automatically levy’s a church tax which is passed on to the church or synagogue that you belong to,” said Dr. Albrecht Fuess, a professor at the Philipps University of Marburg, Germany.

Fuess believes that the special rights given to the churches under their “corporation under public law” (PLC) status which allows religious organisations to tax their members could be a factor in people officially disassociating themselves with specific religious groups and cautions that it does not necessarily imply that these people have turned away from religion.

“It is too easy to say that people who leave these churches are atheists but you can’t generalize.  Many of them will still attend mass from time to time,” Fuess said.

Rabbi Marcel Marcus who grew up in Germany and presently lives in Israel thinks that this is less of an issue with the Jewish community of German decent.

“Because it is a minority there is a stronger feeling of solidarity, of belonging to each other, or looking out for each other,” Marcus said.  “You grew up knowing that you were Jewish which meant first of all that you were not part of the community that persecuted you and therefore you could not stop being Jewish.”

Marcus does see a similar reluctance to pay religion tax among Israelis that are settled in Germany.

“There are a great number of them and they come from a country where nobody pays any tax on religion.  It may be paid indirectly so they are not even aware of it.  They can’t see any reason nor do they have any understanding why they should start paying it in Germany,” Marcus said.

Not all religious organisations are automatically given PLC status, and the state bases its decision to grant PLC status based on group’s permanence, size, and indication that it follows constitutional law and fundamental human rights.

Until recently this status had been given only to the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish religious communities by the German state.

Downtown Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber is a well preserved medieval german town, and a UNESCO heritage site which attracts over 2 million visitors every year. © Perati Komson - Shutterstock.com
Downtown Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber is a well preserved medieval german town, and a UNESCO heritage site which attracts over 2 million visitors every year.

© Perati Komson – Shutterstock.com

That changed last April, when the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Hessen became the first Muslim community to be granted PLC status in Germany.  Fuess said “it would be interesting to see how many Muslims will join organised Islam” once Islamic organisations all have the same right to tax their members.

Muhammad Ilyas Majoka, the national general secretary for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Germany has no concerns about Ahmadi Muslims turning away from their community for financial reasons.

“Ahmadi Muslims view the ability to make a financial contribution to the community as a blessing.  The biggest punishment for someone who breaks the rules of the community is that their financial donation is not accepted,” Majoka said.

He pointed to the fact that under PLC status a community is not required to get state help to collect money from their membership and says it is an option that the Ahmadiyya Muslim community chose not to avail.

“We do not need a tax office to collect money from our members,” Majoka said.  He said that more importantly what PLC status does for Muslims in Germany is that it gives us a seat at the table when discussions are taking place with governmental bodies on issues that affect the community on a wide range of issues.

While financial issues may have an impact on religious affiliation in Germany many other factors come into play and the growth in the religiously unaffiliated is also attributed to the reunification of Germany in the 1980’s.

“I wonder if communism is somehow surfacing in the form of secularism,” Dr. Greshon Greenberg, the author of three definitive bibliographies of religious thought and the Holocaust and a professor at American University in Washington D.C., said.

“You do have this deep tradition of anti-religiosity coming out of the communist era,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg worries about the growth of secularism in Germany especially in light of Germany’s history.

“In my opinion as long as you have some religious overlay to a state or community – some decent religious authority whether Christianity, or good Islam, or good Judaism it places a cap on human autonomy,” Greenberg said.

Cologne, Germany  Crowded shopping street. © William87 - Dreamstime.com
Cologne, Germany
Crowded shopping street.
© William87 – Dreamstime.com

He said the Germany of Hitlerism or Nazism was an outburst of this human autonomy from the early philosophers to Friedrich Nietzche and that “there is something scary in the growth of secularism if it is an assertion of autonomy.

Fuess agrees that the reunification of Germany has played a role in the secularization of the German state.

“In Germany we have the special case of East Germany which was communist.  In that time people left the Church because within communism the church was not seen as something you have to belong to.  And even after the unification, in contrast to Poland, Russia or Hungary, people in Germany did not go back to the church,” Fuess said.

He attributes this to the fact that religion is not connected to German nationalism and said whereas in Poland the Catholic Church was prominent before and it is again, in Germany the religious situation was very much divided between Protestants and Catholics.

“In order to be a real German citizen you do not have to belong to a specific church.  So there was no need for these people who were not within a church organisation to go back to the church,” Fuess said.

A recent report by the Pew Research Center supports the fact that a large percent of people in Germany are unaffiliated with any religious community.  The 2014 religious diversity index report shows that almost one fourth of the German population is unaffiliated.

The report also shows another phenomenon and that is the growing number of Muslims in Germany.

Today Germany is home to over 4 million Muslims making it among the top – 10 countries with the largest number of Muslims living as a minority population. Almost 6 percent of the German population is Muslim.

The number of Muslims living in Europe is projected to exceed 58 million by 2030, an increase of 28 million since 1990, and Muslims are expected to make up 8% of Europe’s total population, according to a report by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The country with the largest Muslim population in Europe is Russia, at 16 million in 2010 and expected to exceed 18 million by 2030.  But while a majority of European Muslims will continue to live in Eastern Europe, according to the 2011 Pew report titled ‘The Future of the Global Muslim Population,’ it will be Western Europe, including the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Germany and Italy, that is expected to have the biggest increase in the size of its Muslim population.

“I have lived here for 23 years and I see a change with the new generations.  German society has become very open and the government is showing a lot of initiative to counter discrimination and prejudices,” Majoka said. He is optimistic about the future of Muslims in Germany and grateful for the religious freedom the state gives to its citizens.

In his recent tour of Germany, the worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at and fifth Khalifa of the Promised Messiahas, Hazrat Mizra Masroor Ahmadaba, spoke about importance of religious freedom and integration.1

“There should be no compulsion in religion. Jews should be able to practice their religion freely; Christians should be able to practice their religion freely and Muslims likewise. However where the interests of the country are at stake then all citizens should work together for the betterment of the nation. That in my view is true integration,” his Holiness said.

And when asked what  his message was for Germany his Holiness replied, “Our message is of peace, affection and brotherhood. I would say that each person should appreciate the qualities and good points of one another, rather than seeking to identify their flaws and weaknesses – because this is the way to build love in society.  If I am to summarise my message in one line I would say ‘look at your own weaknesses, before you look at the weaknesses of others’ because in this way you will come to love and appreciate other people.”2

 

Endnotes

1. Huzoor’s Tour of Germany, June, 2014, A Personal Account by Abid Khan

2. Huzoor’s Tour of Germany, June, 2014, A Personal Account by Abid Khan

 

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