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Anniversaries are a time to look back at how the world was before the historic event being commemorated. During a recent trip to Berlin in advance of today's 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall, I asked the former East German theologian and politician Richard Schröder for his recollections of the life as a Protestant pastor before the country fell apart. He zeroed in on a fascinating aspect of the Communists' anti-religion policy I'd never heard about before. (Photo: Richard Schröder, 21 Oct 2009/Tom Heneghan)
"The Communists who took over in 1945 were trained in Russia," he told me at his home in a southern suburb of Berlin. "Their model was the Russian Orthodox Church, which focuses heavily on the liturgy. By contrast, Protestant churches have always been a wide field that included Bible study and other discussion groups. All the charity work of the Protestant churches, like their hospitals, were started by what you might call grass roots movements of congregation members. They were not started by the churches themselves. But the Communists always tried to handle us as if we were Russian Orthodox."
One way to do this was to demand the churches register in advance any meeting except their Sunday church services and the internal sessions of the church leadership. Officials were especially suspicious of the churches' youth activities, such as camping trips that included Bible study sessions. The churches refused to agree because this would have been a way to block such activities without banning them outright -- all they would have to do was fail to issue permission for the meeting. "The state made a second effort to impose this registration, but the churches decided to pay all the fines and not register the meetings. They got away with it. When the officials noticed the churches always paid the 500 mark fine but kept on holding their meetings, they stopped imposing the fine. It took a long time for the Communists to understand that the Protestant churches are a different version of Christianity than the strongly liturgical Orthodox Church." (Image: Falling church membership figures in East Germany -- purple for Protestants, yellow for Catholics/ Forum of Contemporary History Leipzig)
Communist officials also seem to have had problems figuring out the theological differences between Russian Orthodox and German Lutherans. "The Orthodox Church didn't go through the Enlightenment," Schröder said. "It maintained a sacred worship in which the miraculous, including some pious fraud, played a big role. Lenin once suggested to use the arguments of the French Enlightenment in the fight against religion. So the East German Communists did that here. They didn't know that every Protestant theology student here had already learned all these arguments. They were old hat. The state established a chair for atheism at Jena University to promote anti-religious propaganda. The professor started to read Lutheran theology and had to admit it had already had its debate with the Enlightenment. They decided to stop using simple arguments like Darwin versus creationism or that the Sputnik didn't find God out in space. They saw that didn't work."
Afghan police fired into the air on Sunday to break up a protest by thousands of people who had gathered in the capital, Kabul, to protest against what they said was the desecration of a copy of the Koran by foreign troops.
Protesters, claiming foreign forces had burned a copy of Islam's holiest book during a raid in Maidan Wardak province last week, blocked traffic in Kabul for more than an hour. A spokeswoman for U.S. and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan said none of their troops were involved in the incident and blamed the Taliban for spreading a false rumor that a copy of the Koran had been burned.
from Oddly Enough Blog:
Blog Guy, I heard milk farmers staged a big protest today. Boy, it's violence everywhere, isn't it? What was it this time? Guns, firebombs...
Milk. Dairy farmers directed milk straight from the cows, spraying it at the police.
from Our Take on Your Take:
Sometimes news events can drag on longer than a photographer plans. Just ask Reuters Honduras photographer Edgard Garrido, who has been in the Brazilian embassy holed up with the ousted President for more than 10 days. Your View contributor Edin Tuzlak has been following the story of Bosnian veterans protesting on the streets of Sarajevo for two days. Edin has managed to capture both sides, the police and the protesters, to give viewers an insight into the news event.
from Oddly Enough Blog:
Okay young man, thanks for volunteering, but do you think you have what it takes to be a pro-democracy protester here in Hong Kong?
You BET I do. I have fire in my heart!
Six Malaysian Muslims have been charged with sedition after they marched with a cow's head to protest the construction of a Hindu temple in a case that has stirred racial tensions in the country. The men were from a group of about 50 who had marched on Aug. 28 with the head of a cow, which is sacred to Hindus, to protest a plan to build a Hindu temple in their mainly Muslim neighbourhood. (Photo: Protesters stomp on cow's head, 28 Aug 2009/Samsul Said)
The incident has angered Malaysia's mainly Hindu Indians who make up 9 percent of this mostly Muslim country of 27 million people.
from Our Take on Your Take:
Sometimes pictures need to be seen big. This week's picture of soccer fans clashing with police in the Czech Republic is one of those pictures. Click here to see the full size image.
The more you look at this picture the more the details of the scene become visible - from the look of horror on the woman's face to the overturned potted plant. The soccer fan's eyes are what draw you into the frame but it is the details that keep you looking at it.