Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The East German Church and the End of Communism

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The East German Church and the End of Communism

Article excerpt

The East German Church and the End of Communism. By John P Burgess. (NewYork: Oxford University Press. 1997. Pp. xiv, 185. $39.95.)

Burgess has used a wealth of primary written and oral sources from the former East Germany to illustrate how the Protestant church there contributed to the downfall of Communism by providing a free space for discussion and thought. He shows the reader very effectively how the church's theological arsenal of the 1980's had its foundation in Barth, Bonhoeffer, and the Barmen declaration of 1934, which assaulted Nazi ideology.

The church's benevolent incursion into politics had precedents, since both Christians and Communists had resisted Hitler together. They both had different ways of interpreting the ultimate reality, but Marxist-Leninists argued that the attainment of peace and social equity was more important than the propagation of atheism and the critique of religion. The political leaders, therefore, did not need religious legitimization, and the church also was free to realize its humanistic and social-political goals. The dichotomy seemed workable until the late 1980's, when it became clear that the foundational problem threatening monolithic communism was its spiritual malaise. Humans desire truth and freedom, i.e., ultimate meaning, something alien to the sterile political culture of Soviet-dominated Europe. Into this vacuum stepped religion.

Several theologians contributed to the spiritual vision that transformed the political life of East Germany Especially representative are the writings of Heino Falcke, who has probed the anxiety that he perceived as a crisis in contemporary human experience. In his works, he asserted that contemporary materialism stressed worth in terms of "having" rather than "being. …

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