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East Germany world's most Godless area
Photo: DPA

East Germany world's most Godless area

Published: 20 Apr 2012 16:20 GMT+02:00
Updated: 20 Apr 2012 16:20 GMT+02:00

The former East Germany is officially one of least religious places on the planet, with more than half of people living there saying they do not believe in God.

A study by social scientists at the University of Chicago showed that the legacy of the state atheism of the formerly Soviet-controlled East was still keenly felt, with 52 percent saying they did not believe in God.

Just eight percent of East Germans surveyed said they believed in a God “personally concerned with every human being.”

The study used data from 1991, 1998 and 2008 in 30 different countries, Die Welt newspaper said this week. In West Germany just 10 percent of those asked said they did not believe in God.

Neighbouring Poland is far more religious than either part of Germany, with almost 60 percent saying they believed in God.

Author of the study Tom Smith said, “Countries with high atheism (and low strong belief) tend to be ex-socialist states and countries in northwest Europe.”

But he said Poland was an exception due to the strong influence of the Catholic Church. He described the former East Germany as “anchoring the secular pole internationally”.

The report indicated that faith was far stronger in former West Germany, where 54 percent of people surveyed said they believed in God and always had – a much higher proportion than in other developed Western European nations like Sweden, France and Great Britain.

But Die Welt said, churches are far from packed even in western, relatively pious parts of the country. It said in many areas churches were being forced to close due to dwindling congregations.

In the large Gelsenkirchen-Wattenscheid parish, the number of churches has dropped from 39 in 1990 to 29 today, and parish superintendent Rüdiger Höcker predicts the number will dwindle even further.

“We are well on the way to becoming a minority,” he told the paper.

“It’s a fate that Protestants in most regions of the country will not be spared. These days, we’re burying far more parishioners than we’re baptising children,” he lamented, highlighting the knock-on effect on church revenues and maintenance costs.

In Bavaria, Catholics are seriously disquieted by proposals to drastically reduce the number of parishes and dispense with small Liturgy of the Word services on Sundays, to be replaced with much larger centralised Eucharist gatherings.

The Church argues its hand has been forced by a lack of priests, but many parish communities have demonstrated against the move, with congregants linking hands to encircle their local church in defiance.

The fear that unites both denominations is of an inexorable decline in believers, and the validity of this concern is borne out by the statistics of the study.

In former West Germany, 36 percent of over-68-year-olds said they believed in God, compared with 18 percent of people younger than 28.

In the former East, the figure was 12 percent for those over 68, while not a single under-28-year-old surveyed said they believed in God.

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The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

16:49 April 20, 2012 by iseedaftpeople
I think that's actually a very good thing. The less religious hypocrisy and fanatism there are in the world, the better. And one does not have to believe in a god to be a good person.
17:23 April 20, 2012 by OwnerM
iseedaftpeople, I am in complete agreement with you. I think this is a great thing. :-)
17:48 April 20, 2012 by aslanleon
When people are pointing out how good atheism is for a country, it would be interesting to see what a paradise on earth those countries that practiced it in our recent past wre.
18:12 April 20, 2012 by Beachrider
I am not 100% sure, so I propose a few hypotheses:

1) Many Soviet-satellite areas lives with suppressed religious rights for years. It could take more than a generation before that effect is gone.

2) The traditional Christian religions in Germany were Protestantism and Catholicism. In the USA, Catholicism is hitting difficult times because baby-boomers struggle with the limits for divorcees AND Gen-X/Gen-Y struggle with the limits on birth control. Both are hitting the 'Catholic populations' at the exact time that poor Institution-Governance has hit a long-time high for the Church.

3) The presence of a German Pontiff from the post-WW2-era is edgy for the Christian population.

I am sure that other reasons exist, but these are hypotheses...
18:15 April 20, 2012 by starsh3ro
if religion is still being taught, it is by no means because its ideas still convince us, but simply because some of us want to keep the lower classes quiet. quiet people are much easier to govern than clamorous and dissatisfied ones.

they are also much easier to exploit.

religion is a kind of opium that allows a nation to lull itself into wishful dreams and so forget the injustices that are being perpetrated against the people. hence the close alliance between those two great political forces, the state and the church.

both need the illusion that a kindly god rewards—in heaven if not on earth—all those who have not risen up against injustice, who have done their duty quietly and uncomplainingly.

that is precisely why the honest assertion that god is a mere product of the human imagination is branded as the worst of all mortal sins.
19:40 April 20, 2012 by Jerr-Berlin
Good for the "East Germans"...smart folks...
19:58 April 20, 2012 by johnny108
"highlighting the knock-on effect on church revenues and maintenance costs." Showing that kind of concern over material goods might not be helping....
20:01 April 20, 2012 by Hans Tuga
I think the right question is: Why is west germany so religious even if people don't go to churches?

Simple, fear. While comunists persecuted any dissent, even atheists not belonging to the comunist party, in west germany the same nazi-catholic-ltherian structures where preserved by the americans and the english to fight agains comunism...

After the fall of the wall, who was really liberated? the east from all persecutors.. Not west where all continues to be business as usual...

Free yourself, german man!
20:01 April 20, 2012 by Englishted
@starsh3ro

Well wrote.

Both give us the promise of jam tomorrow,but sadly tomorrow never comes.
20:24 April 20, 2012 by wood artist
@beachrider

Although I can't speak for Germany, and I'm not a Catholic, I think the major issue for Catholics in the US is that they simply see the church as being utterly out of touch with reality. It's not the "lack of faith" that's driving people away, it's the hypocrisy.

The church teaches, or claims to teach, things that it continually demonstrates it does not believe itself. The world-wide revelation of priestly abuse has certainly affected some in Germany too. In the US, something like 80% of Catholics don't agree with, or follow, the church's dogma on contraception and family planning. Recently the church has been at the forefront of the Gay Marriage debate, clearly injecting itself deeper and deeper into the secular government, and claiming "freedom of religion" to fight against laws that allow that very freedom. They are seen by many as trying to force their views upon others in places such as the provision of health care for non-religious employees.

I believe that world-wide, people are "discovering" that you can live true to the ideals of Jesus without belonging to a specific church, and that is the ultimate fear of religion...that the people will suddenly wake up and discover that their relationship with "God" doesn't require somebody telling you what to do every moment.

wa
20:46 April 20, 2012 by JAMessersmith
Congratulations East Germany!

If it wasn't for all of the hippies here, I'd like to think Southern California might one day take home the honors.

But, let's think about it, we've got an entire smorgasbord of pies in the sky to choose from, including a Kabbalah Center, and a Scientology Temple.

And who could forget all of the cults we've spawned? From Charles Manson to Jim Jones, we're actually pretty high on the list of religious nutbaggery now that I think of it.

But hey, at least it's not Alabama. Could be worse... much, much worse.
20:49 April 20, 2012 by wolfgang60
I think it¦#39;s better for a person not to beleive in GOD , if they are living full of lies and deceiving other people so that they have things in life houses, cars, some material things that other people paying for them so that they can have roof above their head. I call it lifetime conning . So forget church and GOD.To make a show that they got all this things from their own sweats and hardsworks but some people knows the truth, they are only making their show worst in the eyes of GOD and to the people who knows the truth.
21:00 April 20, 2012 by Navigator_B
The DDR was an officially atheistic state but I'm not so sure that religion was suppessed there very much. Priests and pastors had more freedom of speech than the rest of the population, for example the current German president Gauck who was a civil rights campaigner. Also the Leipzig pastor Führer gave sermons to thousands of people and organised marches against the state. No other political activist would have been allowed to do that.

The East Germans now live in a country where religion plays a part in many ways. The state collects taxes on behalf of the churches. Church bells ring out at high volume several times a day all over the capital city. Priests were allowed to get away with raping children for many years. The biggest political party has the word Christian in its title. It's considered a big issue whether Islam is part of German society, as if the question of personal religion beliefs have any relevance in public life.  

Maybe if religion had been more suppressed in the east and less part of the establishment in the west, East Germans would have been more sympathetic to it. 
21:02 April 20, 2012 by Bruno53
Well, why are you Germans complaining? Here in the USA we have a large number of phony Christians saying they "believe in God" and yet support more wars, more massive cuts and subsidies to the poor, and favor big business. We got a Republican candidate, Mr Mitt Romney, a Mormon, favoring more tax cuts to the superich. Wish we here in the USA had that large amount of atheists and agnostics. Oh, I happen to be an atheist, too.
21:21 April 20, 2012 by TheCrownPrince
Seems to me like an island of sanity then.
21:29 April 20, 2012 by NEUEVILLA
It is nature for evil men to do some good:

It takes religion to make good men do evil.
21:33 April 20, 2012 by bramblebush
What?! They don't belive in Eric clapton? He's alive I tell you and he's god!
00:01 April 21, 2012 by bugger
Good!

Godly good!

Good, and even better!

I do not care about Ossis, but let people believe in their disbelief everywhere!

This is the opposite of living in the current U.S. of A. which was so different in the 70ies when there was a place for everyone. Even (HA HA, even ) the "non-believers".

NOW, you are a weird and despicable outsider if you do not spit on Darwin and believe in "creationism" (WHAT THE HELL is that? I have never even heard this word at the university. Cretinism? LOL !)

Religion belongs home behind your personal closed doors like your sexual preferences and favorite positions.
00:16 April 21, 2012 by yuri_nahl
Google "priest's vestments" . You will see that a reasonable non-motheaten priest's uniform costs $1,000. So when you watch the religious propaganda channel, every one of the religious galoots is sporting an evening gown which sort of flies in the face of Christ's celebrated poverty. If you take a casual glance at the Vatican, how much is it worth? $50,000 per square meter? Just a guess. But the point is: there is a lot of dough to be made in the religious racket. Ever hear of the "Vatican Bank Scandal"?!

That one bishop from Cicero , Illinois could not leave Vatican City, because the Italian police were waiting for him outside. !

I predicted the great resurgence of religion in the "Former Soviet Union". I mean, if a cheezy plain priest outfit costs $1,000, just think of the price of those psychedelic Russian Orthodox priests suits.

Think of it...the worlds greatest salesmen, marketing a non-existent product for 2,000 years! And making a mountain of cash doing it. No wonder religion tumbles out of the closet any chance it can get, selling mumbo jumbo to people trying to buy a ticket to heaven. Wearing rock-star outfits!

I'm thinking of getting a good used priest's cape to wear daily. I mean, you only have one opportunity to make a dramatic entrance, and I just don't have the courage to go around carrying a cross.
00:17 April 21, 2012 by Logic Guy
Well, there is simply far too much design, thought and consciousness in the universe, for there not to be a God. Things can not exist without influence. This is the basic, fundamental law of science. There is absolutely no way around this reality.

"Humans will always have a need for a Moral Compass, otherwise they are likely to act on whatever thought enters their mind, regardless of how toxic and destructive it might be." AD

I have studied and read about numerous concepts, ideologies and religions.

And I can honestly say that Christianity, a life based on the ways of Jesus, does offer an extraordinary number of benefits. Combine the ways of Jesus with The Psychology of the Spirit of God, and you will literally get perfection.
03:52 April 21, 2012 by swissjalapeno7
to each her/his own.
10:27 April 21, 2012 by cptlager
>In West Germany just 10 percent of those asked said they did not believe in God.

Anyone else get the feeling that this is a wrong statistic, or a typo? Later on, it says:

>In former West Germany, 36 percent of over-68-year-olds said they believed in God, compared with 18 percent of people younger than 28.

That's a massive discrepancy.
13:04 April 21, 2012 by ChrisRea
@ Logic Guy

"Humans will always have a need for a Moral Compass" - too bad that Christianity and specially the Bible preach against human values. Religion playing a lesser role in society shows that humankind is growing up and leave the dark past behind.
13:55 April 21, 2012 by Joseph Thomas
@ Logic Guy------Thanks

I may be one of few to notice that Logic Guy's post is one of the few posts NOT to project ridicule or judgement.

While many Christians live against human values, Christ's teachings are the ultimate of eternal human values of a love fewer and fewer people are grasping because of the insanity of today's world. The world would be an awesome place just merely if the stance was in that direction. No one is perfect, not even close. There are "kind" atheists, but I have found at least the same level of arrogance and hypocracy among them and poor treatment of others. You have to get to know an individual before you judge them, but once you get to the point of judging them, you've realized you've duped yourself into falling into the trap of judging them.

Just as it's myopic to think there is not life on other planets, it's myopic to think there is no spiritual reality outside the cause/effect chain of physics (which will always require a non-physical Origin). God's existence doesn't depend on what percentage of people believe it, just as if there is life on another planet, its existence doesn't depend on our level of belief in it. Actually read the words of Christ, and sit in the joy of non-judgement and peace. The people I know who do this regularly have helped others and have brought peace to countless people. "Christians" who have harmed others badly, have not done this.
18:24 April 21, 2012 by Redwing
Best news for a long time.
19:17 April 22, 2012 by bernie1927
I find it strange, but when we were little we all believed in the tooth fairy, and the Easter bunny, and the stork and the sandman and Santa. It took some years and some growing up but, finally, we managed to put all these wonderful fairy tales aside. Isn't the belief in a personal and benevolent God just another one of those tales? Isn't it a bit arrogant that we believe in "our" God as the only right one, when there are thousands of different ones around? Can't we just realize that our brain is not - and will never be - able to solve the riddle of the chicken and the egg? If you were to try to explain mathematics to a dog, he could never understand it and, maybe we have a design limit as well? Why not let it go at that and try to be a good person on your own!
20:39 April 22, 2012 by ChrisRea
@ bernie1927

When talking about brain and belief in God, one should note the recent scientific research on the matter. Short extract:

"...the participants with more significant injury to their right parietal lobe showed an increased feeling of closeness to a higher power."

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/20/god-spot-in-brain-is-not-_n_1440518.html
06:04 April 23, 2012 by BerlinFritzy
Sirs:

The abandoned or secular use of former church buildings in Germany is, indeed, a reflection of the people's loss of faith. Could this decline of faith and abandonment of God be the result of the centuries of mis-interpretation and perversion of Christianity in the West, especially in its Protestant forms? In contrast, could the reason for the revival of Holy Orthodoxy in Russia be that Orthodoxy comes the closest to the truth in its teaching of the Christian dispensation?
07:55 April 23, 2012 by losenot@facebook.com
It is true the church has let the people and God down, but that does not negate the fact that God exists. As the scientist have gone further and further in their discoveries they have come to a conclusion that God exists. For example the way the planets are arranged, there is a pattern that shows that somebody designed it, including the measurements between every planet that shows that somebodý did the measurements, simply they have come to the conclusion that somebody very, very intelligent, very, very big, with the mind that surpasses mankind did the job. You may not go to church, but dont wait until you die to believe in God, when you find him there. Again I would refer you all to the amazing story of a girl who died for 23 hours. check U-tube " Angelica Zambrano- Prepare to meet your God". God bless you all !!!
14:33 April 25, 2012 by Jeffvm
>the legacy of the state atheism of the formerly Soviet-controlled East was still keenly felt

... or they are simply smart and not willing to be bullshitted into a specific dogma once again.
18:18 April 26, 2012 by brnskin2010
We have a lot of unbelievers commenting.....i understand your skepticism regarding a creator especially in Europe...because NO everybody is not chosen to know Yahweh as he really is an actually exist...same as eternal life being a GIFT(we all know what a gift is, unmerited favor)....if you are one that Yahweh has not chosen 2 reveal himself to...I KNOW AND SEE WITH AN EYE OF UNDERSTANDING WHY.....I have no sympathy for your spiritual darkness, but I do have empathy......and thank you father you have chosen me and manifested your purpose to me.....im just waiting for his universal revelation to go home...would anyone want to remain n this life or bring offspring in this world with all the works of the flesh man portrays on one another.......just sayn
11:07 April 28, 2012 by trevor999
Marx was right about one thing: Religion is the opiate of the masses...
00:50 May 19, 2012 by AltSchwabinger
Just a coincidence that eastern Germany also has the largest percentage of communists and neo-nazis.

Strange that despite after 70 years of virulent persecution by those kind, humane, progressive, enlightened, humanitarian atheists in the Soviet Union, Russia is today one of the more religious countries in the world. Maybe we can learn something from them.

Two centuries ago, Benjamin Franklin asked. "If men are so wicked, as we see them now with religion, what would they be if without it?" Two centuries later, the great Russian author, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in effect, answered Franklin's question by observing, "Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened." . . . . But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous [communist] revolution [of 1917] that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened."
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