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Imagine No Religion

Edgar Dahl is spokesman for the German Society for Reproductive Medicine. He is the editor of Giving Death a Helping Hand: Physician-Assisted Suicide and Public Policy and an anthology on the philosophy of religion.

blankEver since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, West Germans as well as East Germans are regularly polled on their stance toward religion. When asked whether they believe in God, most East Germans simply respond by saying: “Nope, I’m perfectly normal.”

This reply must come as a shock to most Americans. After all, it implies that there is something “abnormal” about a belief in God. As if they had been brought up reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, East Germans do indeed consider religious folks to be odd, bizarre, or even insane.

Being born in East Germany myself, I can easily relate to this attitude. In contrast to what a lot of Americans seem to think, we have never been raised to be hostile toward religion. Actually, it was much worse: we have grown up to be totally and utterly indifferent toward religion.

On Sunday mornings, when American kids went to church, we went to the cinema. I still remember enjoying Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra and Anthony Mann’s The Fall of the Roman Empire, or laughing out loud while watching Blake Edwards’ The Great Race or Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot.

One day—I must have been around ten years old—I was late for Jean Delannoy’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame starring the fabulous Anthony Quinn and the beautiful Gina Lollobrigida. Disappointed to have missed the screening, I went home, passing the St Paul’s Cathedral. Given that I had some extra time on my hands, I decided to sneak into the church. There were about 15 or 20 people in there, mostly in their 60s or 70s. The musty smell, the morbid paintings, and the bleeding savior nailed to a cross made me anxious.
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