Religion versus ethics in Berlin
Berlin’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?