Be Good, for Goodness Sake!

30.01.2011

detektor.fm’s Daniel Winter offers an opinion piece on Germany every Sunday, in English. This week, he imparts a little moral guidance.

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The Kölner Dom, one of the most famous German churches. Foto: Sascha Schürmann / dapd.

They dictate how you should live your life on a day-to-day basis, from how you are to have sex, to when you should (or, perhaps more to the point, shouldn’t) work. They decide on your behalf whether your actions are just or unjust, and if you step out of line they promise you a future of torture and pain. They follow a contradictory and, at times, malicious leader, who (according to them) kills on a whim, whether a new born baby or humble old lady – though no-one has ever seen him. And if you want to be a part of their group, you have to pay for the privilege.

About 67% of Germans identify themselves as belonging to some kind of Christian church, with the figure being far higher if you include other religions in the mix too. Yet, I get the feeling many of these people have simply inherited their parents’ religion, regardless of their own belief; a Eurobarometer Poll of 2005 showed 47% of people definitively believing in God.

My personal views on religion might be clear to you already from my introduction. I am an atheist, born and raised. In my opinion, there is absolutely no proof of the existence of God, and not a scrap of justification for following a religion. You can be good without God, and atheism itself is 100% guilt free! Amazing, isn’t it, that millions of people seem to blindly follow a deity which they have never seen, never encountered in any kind of scientifically provable way? Some would say that the only reason for religion’s current success in Germany, and other countries, is that it provides a kind of ontological security – feeling comfortable and ‘cocooned’ (as the sociologist Anthony Giddens put it) about your self, the world and your future.

But regardless of my personal opinions on religion, it seems that it is something that permeates German culture to a great extent. Those who subscribe to certain religions must pay a church tax, about 8% or 9% of their income tax. Religious leaders are often consulted for their opinion in moral debates in the news. Every city, town and even many small villages have their own churches. German history owes a lot to composers of music dedicated to God and religion, such as George Frideric Handel, the composer of Messiah, and writers, such as the reformer Martin Luther – ironically both born in what is now the Bundesland with the least amount of Catholics and Protestants in Germany, Saxony-Anhalt.

Furthermore, the provision that shops may not open during the time of the main church service in any given area is written into German law, albeit with adjustments made on the level of individual Bundesländer.

As Luke says in the Bible: „For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.“ Keep this in mind as we turn our focus to the recent paedophilia scandals in the Catholic Church.

Pupils at a Catholic school in Berlin were sexually and/or physically abused on a number of occasions in the 70s and 80s. These victims are known to the Catholic Church, but despite this, they had to demand compensation, rather than being offered it. This week, their hopes of being recognised by the Church were fulfilled, though their expectation for €82,000 per abuse victim wildly exceeded the value of the Jesuit school’s offer. Whilst I imagine many of the perpetrators are breathing a sigh of relief, the statute of limitations on prosecution of these crimes having ran out years ago, the only recourse open to these innocent abuse victims is compensation from the Church. The very same Church they and their families contributed to with their hard-earned salaries for decades offered them each a miserly sum of €5,000. A paltry amount, considering that German churches collect over €8 billion in tax money annually. It seems €5k is the amount it takes for an organised religion to atone for years of abuse.

Despite the great art, music, literature – in my humble opinion, religion is a destructive force. Whilst at its best it comforts and guides people, at its worst it betrays people, presses guilt on them, lies to them and cheats them. We should be good for the sake of goodness, for the sake of ourselves and of those around us – not for God. The sooner Germany realises this, the better.