German soccer team shies away from cross on jersey

German soccer blogs are not a place I usually go to for a story about religion, but an interesting one has popped up on the forum of the Eintracht Frankfurt team. The team let its fans vote over the Internet late last year to pick a 2008/2009 season jersey among 16 proposed models. Despite the fans’ enthusiasm for this innovation, Eintracht has ignored the result and chosen to use the runner-up design. As the team explained on its website:

The Eintracht “cross” jerseyAfter a close examination, we have decided that the winning jersey with the cross unfortunately cannot be used because the symbol on the front has a religious background. Inter Milan, an Italian club with a long tradition, has appeared in the current Champions League competition in a similar jersey and been strongly criticised for it. So after careful consideration, Eintracht Frankfurt has gone back and chosen the second jersey, which came in a close second in the vote.

The Eintracht “eagle” jerseyThe runner-up that came out on top has what Eintracht calls “hints of eagle claws on the front and a stylised eagle on the shoulder”. The city’s coat-of-arms has a red eagle that also figures on the Eintracht team logo.

So why the change? It turns out that a Turkish lawyer (and Fenerbahçe fan) asked UEFA in December to invalidate an Inter Milan victory over the Istanbul team in the Champions League last November because the red cross on the Italian jerseys recalled the Knights Templar crusaders. Shortly afterwards, the Barcelona daily La Vanguardia reported that fake FC Barcelona jerseys were on sale in Saudi Arabia with the crossbar removed from the cross on the team’s emblem. Eintracht doesn’t mention this Christian/Muslim angle explicitly, but it takes only a few clicks to find it.

Eintracht’s fan forum erupted with comments. The main thread on the jersey is up to 1,728 and climbing, many defending the loser as simply a better design. Almost 500 fans have signed a petition against the winner. The religious angle seemed irrelevant to most of them.

Das Kapital, Catholic style

As if it weren’t enough to share a name with Karl Marx, the new Roman Catholic archbishop of Munich has now written a book called, you guessed it – Das Kapital.

Reinhart Marx/photo by Michael DalderSubtitled “a polemic”, Reinhard Marx’s book argues that “Capitalism has never triumphed so shamelessly as today,” and that “the poor are getting poorer and the rich richer,” because of global capitalism. Now doesn’t that sound familiar?

The book, which will go on sale in Germany from November 5, tackles issues such as the outsourcing of labour to cheaper countries and the effect chasing profits can have on the welfare of the workforce.

Germany opts not to ban children’s “anti-religious” book

Are German authorities right to have decided against banning a children’s book about religion which critics say is subversive and promotes atheism? The book “How do I get to God? asks the little pig” follows a little pink pig and a hedgehog in their quest to find God. In the end, the two creatures decide God would not like any of the religions.

Cover of the book “How do I get to God? asks the little pig”But what has angered some readers, including Germany’s Family Ministry, is that the priest, rabbi and mufti are all depicted as being crazy. That, argues the ministry, ridicules relgion and should not be allowed.

The ministry, which also argued the book was anti-Semitic, had tried to get it added to Germany’s list of literature which is dangerous for children. The book cover looks harmless enough, with its picture of a cute little pink pig in blue and white chequered dungarees and his hedgehog companion in Wellington boots, gazing quizzically upwards.

Is Kobia on his way out at the WCC?

The Rev. Samuel Kobia in Beijing, 21 Nov. 2006/Claro CortesOnly a few days ago, Samuel Kobia from Kenya was running unopposed for a second five-year term as general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) at its Central Committee meeting now being held in Geneva. The story seemed pretty ho-hum. Then the German Protestant news agency epd revealed he had a “digital doctorate” from a unaccredited diploma mill in the U.S. Now he’s in danger of losing his job running the WCC, the global Christian grouping of 349 churches (mostly Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox) that represent more than 560 million believers around the world. Our correspondent in Geneva Robert Evans reports he may be on his way out. The rumour making the rounds is that we may hear as early as Tuesday that he will not be there much longer.

All because of a phony Ph.D? No, there’s a lot more where that story came from. The epd also ran a scathing interview with Lutheran Bishop Martin Hein of Kassel, the top German on the WCC Central Committee, in the run-up to the meeting. He made it abundantly clear that the German Protestants, who contribute one-third of the WCC budget, had lost patience with Kobia. Here’s a taste of what he said:

The WCC takes stands on everything. The World Council of Churches does not have to be a little United Nations.”

German family ministry slams “atheism for kids” book

Cover of the book “How do I get to God? asks the little pig”Is this book too subversive for children to read? How do I get to God? asks the little pig looks like a typical children’s book, with a cover drawing showing a cute little pig gazing skywards. But the subtitle hints there may be something different inside. It reads: A book for all those who don’t want to be fooled. This is a book about atheism for children, a “Dawkins for kids” as one reviewer dubbed it.

The book tells the story of a little pig and a hedgehog that go looking for God. They meet a priest, a rabbi and a mufti, all of whom are portrayed as crazy. More on that below.

Germany’s Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth wants the book placed on a list of literature deemed dangerous for children. Not just because it is atheist but, the ministry said, because it mocks religion. “In the book, the three great world religions Christianity, Islam and Judaism are scorned,” it said in its application for putting the book on the danger list. “The distinctive characteristics of each religion are ridiculed. Especially the Jewish faith is slurred by the portrayal and characterisation of the rabbi.” Further on, it clearly says that the portrayal of the “mad rabbi” and the details mentioned about Jews make the book anti-Semitic.

Pope Benedict stumbles again over someone else’s quote

Students protest against Pope Benedict at La Sapienza University in Rome, 15 Jan 2008/Dario PignatelliPope Benedict’s decision to scrap his planned speech to Rome’s La Sapienza University after protests by professors and students there is the second time he has stumbled publicly because of his old professor’s habit of enlivening lectures with quotes from other sources that function as rhetorical straw men to be knocked down.

In this case, the protesters branded Benedict as anti-science because of comments he made in 1990 about Galileo. Discussing the famous case, he quoted a passage in which the unconventional philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend defended the Church for forcing the legendary Italian scientist to recant his view that Earth circled the sun. Benedict described Feyerabend as “agnostic-sceptic” (certainly not a compliment from the Vatican’s former doctrinal watchdog!). He characterised Feyerabend’s stand as “much more drastic” than another defence of the Church’s view offered by the “Romantic MarxistErnst Bloch. In fact, Benedict said he cited these two views to illustrate “the extent to which modernity’s doubts about itself have grown today in science and technology”.

Pope Benedict lectures at the University of Regensburg, 21 Sept 2006In his ill-fated speech in September 2006 at the University of Regensburg in Germany, Benedict quoted Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus (1350-1425) as saying that Islam was a violent and irrational religion that had been spread by the sword. In this case, he did not make clear right away whether he agreed with these words or not. Many Muslims assumed he did and rioting — sometimes bloody — broke out in the Islamic world. The Pope later distanced himself from the quote, without apologising for using it.

Lutheran pastor who helped topple East German communism to retire

Leipzig protest march on October 9, 1989The peaceful revolution that toppled East German communism had roots going back to a prayer. The weekly peace prayer meetings started in 1982 in Leipzig’s Nikolaikirche (Church of St. Nicholas) became a rallying point for dissidents later in the decade. By September 1989, participants leaving the church defied the Stasi and arrest threats to march publicly against the government. On October 9, the protesters feared a “Chinese solution” — i.e. a bloodbath like the one in Beijing the previous summer — but marched anyway out of the Lutheran church and around the city. When the massed security forces did not fire on the marchers, who by then numbered 70,000, the protest movement began to lose its fear. The opening of the Berlin Wall followed only a few weeks later.

Christian Führer has just told the New York Times he will step down in March as pastor of the Nikolaikirche when he reaches 65. Führer was a co-organiser of the peace prayers during the 1980s and the protest marches in 1989. He was also a courageous source for us journalists trying to cover the protests there in September and October of that year. The Stasi had closed Leipzig off to foreign reporters and would turn us away on the autobahn before we could even reach the city. Führer took calls from our East Berlin office on his crackling (and bugged) phone line and kept us informed of the growing numbers of participants at his prayer services, the arrests outside his church and the marchers who succeeded in protesting publicly.

Christian Führer, 2 May 2006/Fabrizio BenschLeipzig opened up after the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, but plainclothes Stasi agents still haunted the meetings and marches. Courage outweighed fear at a prayer service I attended early that December, but Führer still ended it with an appeal to the participants not to let themselves be provoked into violence. They streamed out and marched around the city, calling for reunification with West Germany.

Vatican daily has Jewish historian comment on Bush and Auschwitz

Apologies aren’t easy, especially for the infallible.*

President Bush visits Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, 11 January 2008During his visit to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, President George Bush saw aerial photos of the Auschwitz death camp taken by American planes during World War Two and was quoted as saying: “We should have bombed it.” This presented an interesting challenge to the Pope’s daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. Critics have long accused Pope Pius XII of failing to help Jews during the Holocaust and his successors of failing to say mea culpa in apology. German-born Pope Benedict heard the same in May 2006 after he avoided the issue during a visit to Auschwitz. So how should the Vatican daily report what looked like an indirect apology (the first of its kind?) by the U.S. president?

The Sunday edition showed the way. L’Osservatore, a once-bland broadsheet livened up under its new editor Giovanni Maria Vian, invited the Jewish historian Anna Foa to write a front-page commentary on “The Missed Bombing” (text in Italian). She writes: “A president of the United States, George W. Bush, has admitted publicly what many historians and a part of public opinion have been saying for years: that in 1944, the Americans should have bombed Auschwitz.” Foa noted that, as early as 1942, information about the death camps had reached “the Red Cross, the neutral countries, the Holy See, the chancelleries of the Allies. Many of these reports were not believed at the time. But in 1943, all governments knew.

Pope Benedict enters Auschwitz death camp, 28 May 2006/Pawel KopczynskiBombing Auschwitz could have slowed or stopped the slaughter there, especially of the half a million Hungarian Jews deported in the summer and autumn of 1944, but the Allies did not do it. Not because bombing would not be useful, Foa writes, but for “a more general reason: saving the Jews did not have priority in the overall management of the war.” Bombing the train tracks leading to Auschwitz or even the gas chambers themselves “would have broken the silence that settled over the death camps, given the war an incomparable ethical motivation and forced all of Europe to know” what was happening there.

Another Marx criticises capitalism

Archbishop Marx gestures during a visit to the cathedral of Munich-Freising, 6 Dec 2007His name is Marx, he’s an outspoken German and he criticises capitalism. But he’s not who you might think he is. Reinhard Marx wants German companies to stop giving their top managers hefty salaries and focus on more than profit margins. So far, comparisons with Karl Marx stand up. But then there’s his job. Reinhard Marx has just been named as the new Roman Catholic archbishop of Munich.

The Bavarian capital is Pope Benedict’s old diocese, one that usually earns its archbishop a cardinal’s hat after a few years in office, so Marx is clearly an up-and-coming figure in German Catholicism.

“It is ridiculous that when businesses publish bad figures or sack staff or miss their profit targets a manager can still be given a golden parachute,” Marx, currently the bishop of Trier, says in a German radio interview. Trier is Karl Marx’s birthplace but the two men are not related.

Germany on collision course with Scientology

Scientology in HamburgGermany has sought to nurture tolerance as a national characteristic since World War Two, but it doesn’t stretch to the Church of Scientology. A new Forsa poll shows 74 percent of Germans think Scientology should be banned. The survey comes hard on the heels of a declaration from federal and regional ministers that the movement is unconstitutional. That announcement, the culmination of a row with Scientology dating back to the 1970s, opens the way for a possible ban.

Germany is not alone in refusing to recognise the Church of Scientology as a religion, but it goes further than many other countries in its rejection of the body. It see Scientology as a cult masquerading as a church to make money, a view Scientologists reject.

Agents of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a kind of German FBI, are already gathering information on Scientology and a whole chapter is devoted to it in the intelligence agency’s 2006 report. It describes the movement as having a “totalitarian character” because it seeks to exert control over its members. But the agency is not sure the government will be able to get enough evidence to ban it.