Where Are The Evangelists?
Over a half-century ago, in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, the Christian Democratic Union was founded in Berlin. Garnering great favour from the Allied powers and managing to unite several political factions within Germany, the Union espoused Christian values and a committment to govern according to religious social teachings.
Today, the CDU remains the largest party in government. Yet, although its official platform is relatively unchanged and its leader, Chancellor Merkel, claims that it has never let go of its "core principles," the relevance of its Christian platform seems rather hard to grasp.
What is the role of religion in German politics? From an international perspective, one could surmise God is relatively silent during elections here.
The evangelical vote hardly exists here in the sense that it does in the United States. Unlike Europe, as secularisation evolved in America it brought with it a reactionary lashback from certain segments of society there. Religious activists began to fight the tide, under the belief that the way of life which they held dear was being actively threatened.
This has resulted in the strange situation in which certain politicians in the States, a country which prides itself on its religious freedoms as personified by the separation of church and state there, make mass and deliberate appeals to religious voters. Its hard to find a Republican who isn't God-fearing, or who opposes gay marriage without citing the Bible.
Meanwhile in Germany, where the word "Christian" appears in the names of not one but two political parties currently in goverment, the legalisation of gay marriage is favoured by 76% of the population, and political figures seem rather hesitant about bringing up their relationship with God.
Chancellor Merkel, a Christian Democrat, held her office in government for over seven years before stating that religion is a vital part of her life. Responding to an online question from a theology student, she claimed that "belief is a framework for my life that I consider very important." During her election campaigns, she was considerably quieter on the topic.
Is the "C" in CDU merely a relic of a bygone era before secularisation and reunification with the largely atheistic East Germany took place?
Or is religion quite secure here? After all, the dog that feels the smallest often barks the loudest. Could religious rhetoric be sparse in German politics simply because religious commentators do not feel the need to make any noise about themselves?
Indeed, the voracity and volume of politico-religious groups elsewhere in the world is often very much fuelled by a sense of threat, which simply does not exist in Germany.
Religious groups in countries with a history of war and strife in which religion played a strong role carry with them a legacy of siege mentality, and often the citizens within these regions make strong connections between personal identity and religious affiliation.
Likewise, people on one side of tensely polarised political factions, such as the Democrat-Republican dynamic in the States, tend to fear that their opponents on the other side are actively out to get them.
Quite possibly, religion does not excite the passions of German political observers because neither the non-religious nor the religious in Germany see each other as mutually threatening. Consequently, people just don't feel the need to make a fuss over it.
After all, Christian democracy as a political platform is followed quite unswervingly by the CDU. Support for a welfare state and regulation of the markets; a belief that the individual is not supreme but rather exists within and has duties to a larger community; an emphasis on human rights; an adherence to an evolutionary rather than revolutionary development of the state; are all beliefs Merkel's party endorses and claims it derives from Christian social doctrine.
All this passes without much ado from the atheistic or secularistic segments of society. This is hardly suprising. 34% of Germans have no registered religious affiliations, and in former East Germany only 5% of people attend church services weekly, making them one of the least church-going peoples in the world. The numbers of followers of the Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations here have been consistently falling for the last decade in the aftermath of revelations of child abuse scandals with religious groups.
With such statistics, why would the non-religious here feel threatened by the religious?
So, while one could look at German elections and ask "where are the hyped-up, fire-blazing evangelists?" it could well be that religion has not made an exit, but that it has a privileged, quietly secure position in German politics.