Since the reign of Frederick the Great in the 18th century, Berlin has held the reputation at a city of tolerance and enlightenment. When Hitler rose to power in the 1930s, Berlin counted among the German states least in favour of the despot’s accession. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the vote of the Catholic Party, the Nazis might have been consigned to the dustbin of history. For the Prussians were opposed to all forms of fanaticism. Unlike Ireland the separation of Church and State is a sine qua non for the Germans, and in particular the Berliners. However, it now looks as though the light of reason could be coming under threat from the murky forces of ignorance and superstition. A highly organised group of religious fanatics called Pro-Reli have been campaigning indefatigably over the past year to have segregated religious education introduced in Berlin’s state-run schools. In 2007, the Berlin government introduced ethics as a compulsory subject for all secondary students from 7th grade onwards. The subject covers questions dealing with moral, cultural, political, religious and philosophical issues. The aim of the course is to furnish students with the capacity to think for themselves, as the ability to reason is a prerequisite for a fully functioning, pluralist and democratic society. The Pro-Reli campaign has now secured enough signatures to its petition to force a referendum on this issue.
The Pro-Reli phenomenon is yet another indicator of the intransigence and growing power of religion in secular societies. This religious recrudescence would seem to contradict Europe’s claim that it has evolved to a fully secular civilisation. The problem becomes deeply complex when one considers the heterogeneity of this religious resurgence. While the Christian churches have happily been on the verge of distinction in France, Britain, Germany and Ireland-though to a lesser extent -other religious groups are on the march. Islam, for example, is alive and well and is rapidly spreading throughout Europe. Muslims are no threat to European civilisation, provided, or course, they do not insist on infringing our impeding our secular institutions. The problem with Islam for the most part is its refusal to accept a secular society. Turkey is perhaps one of the few exceptions in the Islamic world of a country with a modern, secular constitution. Yet Turkey’s secularists are also fighting a kulturkampf( a cultural struggle) with rising Islamism. Berlin’s religious front is quite heterogeneous with Christians, Jews and Muslims all insisting that their children’s rational capacities be neglected in favour of mythological indoctrination. By living their lives according to the dictates of the relatively ignorant authors of the scriptures, they will, miraculously no doubt, become better citizens.
In a tolerant society one should allow freedom of religion. It should be tolerated in the same way we tolerate pornography, gambling and excessive drinking; they are not so harmful provided they are kept under control. But one should not allow religion to dominate civil society. If the Pro-Reli group have their way, a new generation of Berliners incapable of thinking for themselves will be the result. This religious indoctrination could have disastrous consequences for cultural integration. It is not surprising the three dominant religions of Europe, Christianity, Judaism and Islam all blossomed in the deserts of the Middle East. It is because the desert is the easiest place to forget about the world! These elaborate narratives are the three great sources of ignorance, intolerance and tyranny in Europe’s history. In short, they are the three great frauds of humanity. The problem for atheists, agnostics and free-thinkers is that they are not organised in groups like the churches. Ergo they do not make enough noise. The religionists, on the other hand, are vociferous and highly organised. They push pamphlets and propaganda newspapers through our doors, and in countries such as Ireland where philosophy is a foreign word to most, they infiltrate the media through their lay spokespersons. I don’t need to mention who they are. You’ve all ready heard, seen and probably even read them. Ireland’s obsequious mentality, nurtured by centuries of Catholicism, means that a regression towards religious education in Berlin is likely to be used by right-wing religionists in Ireland to promote the continuous role of the church in our out-dated education system. If the religionists have their way in Berlin, it will be a triumph for irrational right-wing politics and a disaster for any functional multiculturalism.The very fact that Berlin of all cities is actually having this debate is another sign that a counter-enlightenment movement is gathering ground in Europe. Champions of multiculturalism, tolerance and reason, be vigilant and be heard!