Religion versus ethics in Berlin

April 23, 2009

Koran studiesBerlin’s referendum on religion lessons in schools poses fundamental questions about how to foster inter-faith tolerance and the relationship between church and state in Germany, as Reuters reported.

The Pro Reli campaign wants to change the capital’s law to allow pupils to choose between faith-based religion lessons and an ethics course. Berlin, with its long secular tradition, is one of the only German states not to have compulsory religion lessons but a wider ethics course instead.

The main argument is whether children who spend hours at school learning about their own faith have a stronger moral foundation and end up being more tolerant of other religions than children who have a broader education in ethics.

The Pro Ethik campaign says it is wrong to split people up according to their faith at school as it can breed divisions. They say ethics classes should instil children with a strong set of values and a good understanding of other religions. Some people also warn that religion lessons in Berlin’s schools would result in a predominantly Christian agenda.

However, one professor of religion, Harmut Zinser, argues that by learning about several beliefs, pupils can get confused as they are not presented with a single, coherent set of norms.

“It puts ethics on the market and in that respect it achieves the opposite of what it sets out to achieve,” he said.

Then there is the cultural argument. Christianity is part of German history, literature and culture. Students who have no knowledge of the bible will find it hard to understand their heritage — take Goethe’s Faust, for one.

In addition, some Muslim groups in Berlin who have long called for Islam lessons, back the Pro Reli campaign. They say mainstream lessons for Muslims at school could help fight radicalisation which can result from unregulated Koran lessons in mosques.

In western Germany, the relationship between church and state was consolidated after World War Two to try to strengthen values in a people shaken by the horrors of war and Holocaust. It was then that most states introduced compulsory faith-based religion lessons. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, most former communist eastern German states also have religion courses.

Is that model, more than 60 years old, still suitable? Which model do you think works best to boost tolerance?

5 comments

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berlin begs the question “from whence do these ‘ethics’ derive?” – obviously, from some religious souurce, which may be objected to by muslims, jews, and serious christians (vs those who attend state churches). the issue is not tolerance of other religions, but tolerance of people who hold different religions to yours; failure to distinguish this is to doom any tolerance project to failure

Posted by jd | Report as abusive

In Christian countries, there is tolorance to non Christians. But non Christian countries have no tolerance to Christians. It’s now time for Christian countries like Germany to assert its rights and preach the Gospel of Christ to all its people Christians and non Christians alike. The gospel of Christ which is love must be learned by everyone. That is a universal teaching which must be proclaimed.

Posted by daniel rosaupan | Report as abusive

I don’t think public schools should teach either an ethics class or a religion class (unless it be a world religions class). Like JD says above, most ethical systems are tied tightly to religious tenets, and it is very difficult to parse out moral teachings from religious teachings. As a Christian, my morality stems from my religious beliefs, which were taught to me by my parents and by religion classes from my church. What I am wondering is what has happened that parents and religious authorities have abdicated their responsibilities to their children with regard to moral and ethical instruction? Far too much is put on teachers and schools today–they are struggling with teaching students writing and math. If anything, what I would like to see is arts, music, and physical education returning to the curriculum. Here in the U.S. these aspects of schooling have been deeply cut. There are few parents who can afford arts and music education outside of the classroom, where the responsibility for religious education can and should be paid for by religious organizations.

Posted by Denise | Report as abusive

Ethics and religious education should be solely the responsibility of parents and religous authorities, unless the parents want to enroll their children in church schools. Public schools have enough on their plate. I’d much rather see schools adding more arts, music, and physical education to their curriculum. Is there any evidence that ethics courses have created a more ethical or moral culture than not? I live in a highly Catholic part of Louisiana (one of the only places in the U.S. where they are actually building church schools), and I can’t see any evidence that all of the church going and moral education has done anything to increase religious tolerance or honesty (mostly it has bred ignorance about other religions, superstition, and stereotyping).

Posted by Denise | Report as abusive

Christian education is the only medicine to the moral breakdown and greediness in our society. Instead of teaching or should I say, indoctrinating the Children to accept same sex marriage, abortion, condoms and the like,it would be for the best interest of Germany to teach the young generation about the teachings of Christ. There is an increase of religious intolerance since people in the world doesn’t know the commandments of God particularly in loving thy enemies. People especially in the west are now becoming perverts and trying to impose their views by considering as a civil right same sex marriage, abortion and other host of wicked things and those who disagree with them are therefore bigots! They seem to forget that since time immemorial, it has been a universal dogma of all creeds in the world (except satanism of course) that same sex marriage is a perversion and abortion is a crime. Anti Christians are the ones who are spreading unfounded hostile and deceptive remarks against Christianity, one example of which are the four false accusation against Pope Benedict XVI on his Regensburgh remarks, La Sapienza Remarks, the lifting of the excoomunication of SSPX and condom remarks in Africa where if the critics were only knowledgeable on the Christian teachings, these could have been avoided. Worse, they are trying to reinvent the society by legislating policies which are contrary to public morals and is highly offensive to the majority of the people in the guise of civil rights. What they failed to consider is that civil rights must not be a pretext to do evil and wickedness.

Now, I just wanna ask those who oppose Christian education in public schools, what social teachings of Christ which is unacceptable to all people of different creeds? Do you know of Christ’s teachings which is detrimental to the society and therefore not good to be incorporated in the curriculum of public schools? Just asking.

Posted by Daniel Rosaupan | Report as abusive