Dare to Ask: Why don't Germans pray in public?
By Phillip Milano
The Florida Times-Union
I notice many Germans don't pray before they eat, attend church or seem
spiritual. Why is that?
Anjela, 30, Christian, Germany
In Europe, few go to church. It's the same in Australia. Most understand the
church and its stories are wonderful interpretations from the past of why we
exist. But they alone tell us little about our relations today. — Kent, 60,
Christianity to some of us is more than "stories." It is a creed, a code of
ethics and beliefs. — Jack, 57, Christian, Suwanee, Ga.
In Germany, an active religious life with prayers, Bible classes and church
attendance is a minority thing. You'll raise eyebrows if you pray in public, and
would be considered immensely odd. Additionally, church attendance has been
dwindling for decades, though people still pay their church taxes to support
charity work done by church institutions. — T., 32, atheist female, Munich
While that secularist stuff does abound in Germany and Western Europe, wide
swaths of folks remain religious. But in general, they don't air it out in
public as much as Americans might, said Jutta Ittner, a Case Western Reserve
University (Cleveland, Ohio) professor who teaches German literature and
"Here there's a church on every corner," said Ittner, who is from Bavaria.
"You can create your own church and find your own flock. But in Germany, the
priests and ministers are academics and belong to huge institutions ... so the
masses don't feel personally attached. Here, religion seems a social thing, with
lots of hugging and hand-holding. People in Germany would think they're in the
wrong movie over there if they saw that."
Low church attendance and lack of a personal connection may also be because
religion itself has been such a long institution in Germany - and suspicion of
institutions heightened during and after World War II.
"The churches weren't beacons of truth in the Third Reich ... some wonderful
religious people stood up against Hitler, but the church in general didn't,"
Ittner said. "Germans are very suspicious of any type of ideology."
Heap onto that requirements to pay church taxes and take religious coursework
in school, and you get a populace that can harbor resentment toward religion.
"With the courses, you learn about issues, but not about a personal
connection or about praying. [So you] don't get a feel for a real religious
experience. That prevents an intimate understanding. And, you don't talk about
it publicly. You'd be viewed as eccentric."
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