Not your Grandma’s Religion

Photo taken in September, 2011

One of my blog readers recently had a “culture shock” moment. He’s a nurse, and he was filling out a patient questionnaire with a German woman. When he asked her religion, she became upset. What went wrong?

Religion and society interweave in very different ways in America and Germany. For instance, in America, we don’t put Christian art on our government buildings or in our streets. But Germany has been Christian for centuries, and all the photos today are examples of public Christian art. St. George, in the one above, is on Saarbrücken’s city hall! And most German holidays are Christian in origin.

Although the German constitution guarantees religious freedom, it doesn’t guarantee the separation of church and state. German tax forms ask for religion and levy a surcharge on those who declare one that goes to the church of their choice. Germans who don’t pay this have no right to an official church marriage or funeral.

Photo taken in September, 2011

Nevertheless, many Germans today aren’t what we would consider religious. They don’t attend services. They view religion as something important to the elderly, particularly since clergy are called to the dying. And they view us Americans with some concern because we often go to church weekly and get involved in issues like whether “under God” should be in our Pledge. That seems to Germans to border on fanaticism.

We Americans, who view religion as a personal choice and a matter of personal identity, are usually proud to proclaim our religion. If we don’t have a religion, we’re usually proud to proclaim that too. We know the government won’t get involved. But that’s not true in Germany.

Photo taken in October, 2011

So, back to the German patient. What did she hear when asked, “What is your religion?”

1. “I’m getting into your business, with possible financial consequences.”

2. “You look like a granny to me.”

3. “You look like you’re dying.”

4. “This may be a factor in arranging your funeral.”

No wonder she got upset!

Here’s an approach that might have worked better:

“This hospital has chaplains who are happy to visit patients. Would you like a chaplain to visit you? If so, which religion?”

Photo taken in October, 2011

To read my latest blog posts, please click on the “Green and Pleasant Land” logo at the top of this page. Photos taken between September and November in various cities in Germany. Text and photos copyright Clare B. Dunkle.

This entry was posted in Churches and religion, Daily life, Folk traditions, Public art. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Not your Grandma’s Religion

  1. tanita says:

    Since I’ve been living in Scotland for the last four years, I find that there are MANY people who view Americans with concern because they practice or don’t practice religion, but are okay with talking about it. I forget that the queen is the head of the church, and that there’s a national religion, and … all of that. It creates some tiny cultural missteps at times… my friends in Great Britain, when first we met, expected me to be fanatical because I am religious. It was disconcerting.

    I very much enjoy lurking around these posts! Such beautiful photography as well.

  2. Clare B. Dunkle says:

    Thank you heaps, Tanita! And I enjoy lurking around yours too. I loved loved loved the “here right now” sweater. We all need one of those, don’t we?

  3. tanita says:

    I’m hoping to get it embroidered on a hat. Or perhaps just my office chair… :)

  4. Clare B. Dunkle says:

    I’m thinking of making it my screen saver!