This is the continent where some leading thinkers are talking
about a "post-Christian Europe." And this is the country of
philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who infamously quipped, "God is
So some may be surprised at the receptivity in Germany this week
to visiting Pope Benedict XVI's message: Europe needs to rethink the
thesis that secularism and economic progress go hand in hand.
Coincidentally, some of Europe's stalwart secularists are
challenging the idea that religious reasoning inevitably retreats
from the public sphere as countries modernize.
Germans themselves are modeling a growing acceptance of
religion's role in shaping society:
* Head of state Angela Merkel - the daughter of a Protestant
minister - this month renewed calls to include a specific reference
in the EU constitution to Europe's Christian heritage.
* There are more theologians in the German parliament than in any
other Western parliament, including the US Congress. And when the
last government cabinet was sworn in, nearly every member - instead
of the usual 50 percent - opted for the religious version of the
inaugural oath, according to Karsten Voigt, coordinator of German-
American relations at the foreign ministry.
* In a recent survey gauging the perceived credibility of
different professions, pastors were ranked in the Top 5.
* German students must take either ethics or religion classes,
though Berlin recently made ethics compulsory, and religion
optional. Mr. Voigt reports that "more and more" high schoolers in
the state of Brandenburg are opting for religion too.
* Church attendance is no longer declining, and in one state the
number of young churchgoers is going up, says Voigt.
Approximately two thirds of the 82 million citizens are church
members. About 26 million are Roman Catholics, and a similar number
"Germany is a place where one can imagine a rethinking of this
stultifying secularism and the moral relativism" prevalent in much
of northern and western Europe today, says George Weigel, an
American biographer of Pope John Paul II, and the author of "The
Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God."
"German public life has a kind of intuitive sense in the wake of
WWII that you can't have a world without moral reference points, or
you get you-know-what," Mr. Weigel explains.
He points to the recent shift of Juergen Habermas, one of
Germany's foremost philosophers, as evidence of the potential for a
rethinking of the public role of religion. A professed secularist
who has spent nearly half a century arguing against religiously
informed moral argument, he made some arresting statements in his
2004 essay, "A Time of Transition."
"Christianity, and nothing else," he wrote, "is the ultimate
foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the
benchmarks of western civilization. To this day, we have no other
options [to Christianity]. …