Religion in Australia and Germany

Gosh, you’ve already got ten billion responses! I’m from Australia, but I live in Germany. I don’t know what anyone else in these countries have said, but I’ll just give my impressions, limited though they may be. (Self disclosure: I am the most devout agnostic you will meet, but I most decidedly reject the description of “atheist” no matter how broadly you wish to define it; I’d sooner go back to church. Otoh, I was brought up predominately in the Catholic Church, but also at the local Baptist Church, which was liberal enough not to have the slightest problem with the idea.)

So: I live in Germany, but I’m familiar with Australia. A majority of the Germans I know are quite educated and used to dealing with us expat types.

In Australia, I don’t think church attendence is that high as a proportion of people. However, when I’ve been into a (Catholic) church (not in a long while!), they’ve usually seemed quite or completely full, so I guess it’s high compared to expectations. I’ve been into a church in Germany once, and it was almost empty.

When I first came to Germany, I was shocked that the government wanted to know my religion. Then normal people turned around and asked me. In Australia, people just don’t talk about it—well, maybe with your very good friends. In Germany, it seems to be an early topic to discuss. In Australia, I can count the number of conversations I’ve had that mention personal religious belief on one hand, I think. In Germany, I couldn’t possibly do that. (But I reiterate that there’s many people here I talk to that aren’t German.) Despite that, I can hardly imagine anyone, here or there, saying “We’ve been praying about that” or “I was reading the Bible the other day, and …”; no-one’s religious, but in Europe they all want to know if you are.

In Australia, pollies seem to tell the truth. Some of them are maybe a little scared to say that they believe. “Agnostic” maybe means “I’m believe in God, but I daren’t say that aloud”. Despite that (or because of that), we have at least three political parties that the media associates with conservative Christian groups (the Christian Democratic Party (evangelical, I think), Family First (pentocostal/AOG), and the Democratic Labor Party (Catholic/prolife)).

I have two brothers and two sisters. Most of my friends from primary school had families of similar size: but I went to a Catholic school. I’ve since grown used to the idea that smaller families are “normal”, but I don’t have good enough bearings to answer the question.

In both Australia and Germany, the dominant belief system is atheistic or nontheistic secular materialism. In Australia and this part of Germany, the largest religious grouping is Catholics, but Australia has a very strong cultural influence from “high church” Anglicanism, a fact most people fail to recognise because they have no interest in religion. (Anzac Day, a secular holiday with almost the same force as Good Friday has to Christians, is the best example. Actually, even better because it’s been the subject of different jurisdictions disagreeing about when to celebrate it in the event that it clashes with a weekend or, ironically, Easter. Germany has absolutely no equivalent.)

I have noticed no trends. My parents and relatives are more religious than my peers and this makes any judgement about trends difficult if not impossible to make.
With your permission, I feel like a digression on holidays is warranted.

Australia has a different relationship with Christmas, I think, than most (post)Christian countries. Christmas and Easter remain major holidays, and nobody, no matter their religious or political convictions, would have any problem wishing someone “Merry Christmas” in late December, and it’s much more common for people to criticise the “war on Christmas” (if they’re religious) and the “war on the war on Christmas” (if they’re not). We are, you see, influenced by America in all of our political discussion—our national elite are much more used to being loyal to empire than to country.

Most public holidays only give employees the right to extra pay (altho office-type work and schools take the day off), and they’re commuted to the following Monday if they fall on the weekend. But there are three-and-a-half that are additionally “no trade days”: Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Anzac Day morning (until 1pm). These no-trade days aren’t commuted, so on the 25 Dec most shops are closed no matter the day. Its interesting to note that these three days are religious—Good Friday is purely religious—and the half-day apparently owes its character directly to “high church” Anglicans in Brisbane and Melbourne. Following the devasting Victorian bushfires in 2009, there was also almost a liturgical service that shows a certain influence from Catholicism and high-church Anglicanism. I have no knowledge about whether a similar “national day of mourning” will follow this year’s floods and cyclones.

In (this part of) Germany, most public holidays are Catholic holy days of obligation. All of them, as well as Sundays, see every single shop closed. This is incredibly annoying! In any case, no-one really cares about most of the holidays. They like having a day off, but don’t even necessarily know what the point is.

As well, both countries (tmk) are happy to give public money to religious institutions. Some people don’t like this, but I think the notion of separation of church and state demands it must be permissable.  Hm, that reminds me: a lot of people in both countries think that “separation of church and state” means “an individual should not be able to contribute to political discussion if they have religious convictions”. Many people don’t realise it’s possible to oppose euthanasia, abortion and gay marriage on non-religious grounds.

I think despite the fact that most Australians don’t really seem to be Christian, and the fact that issues like euthanasia and gay marriage look precariously likely to be legalised, culturally speaking Australia is still more of a “Christian” country, and Germany a “post-Christian” (liberal) one. But I don’t speak Germany nearly so well enough for my impressions to be anything like reliable.

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About Felix the Cassowary

I am a Cassowary of the species Casuarius victoriensis. I blog about pens I find lying around.
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