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Germans reconsider religion

Pope Benedict XVI's challenge to secularism meets with receptivity during his German visit.

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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 dead."

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 are Protestants.

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