What is a non-denominational church

Denominations in comparison"The Catholic Church is Cinderella"

Christiane Florin: The people's parties have lost a lot in the federal elections, the people's churches are shrinking. Is there an internal connection?

Andreas Püttmann: Yes, because overall we have a trend towards individualization and pluralization and, of course, many individual niches are emerging in the echo chambers of the Internet - and organizations that want to cover and summarize large parts of the population therefore have a harder time. But I think that there is a categorical difference because for Christianity the plausibility of its core beliefs is really declining again, while the parties represent more interests. In this respect, the church not only has this integration problem, so to speak, that the parties have, but the churches also actually have a real problem of faith. But you also have to see that in the penultimate and penultimate elections the CDU was roughly at the level where it is today. In that sense, I don't see it as dramatic now. But the SPD is in fact permanently on the decline.

Florin: Now bishops have switched off the lights in their cathedrals when Pegida and the AfD demonstrated - they did not want to provide a backdrop for the populists, that was the case in Cologne, for example, and that was the case in Erfurt. Bishops, but also lay Catholics, have literally warned against the AfD. What impact do such appeals have in view of the election results?

"You have to say goodbye to the idea that the church is setting an attitude"

P.üttmann: Well, I could answer a little sarcastically and say: The same impact as the doctrine on the pill.

Florin: That means: none?

Püttmann: That means, someone once said - I even think a higher-ranking clergyman: "The young women are standing in St. Peter's Square, cheering the Pope and they have the contraceptive pill in their handbag." So what can be said with that is that the church no longer has the strength to really change the behavior of the faithful through normative requirements to an extensive extent. So when Benedict XVI. came to Germany for the last time, there was a survey: How important is what the Pope says to you? And 58 percent of Catholics answered: not important. So you have to say goodbye to the idea that the church still dictates an attitude, especially towards a party, and the majority of Catholics behave accordingly. It no longer works like that, there is no longer enough authority for that.

"The closer Catholics are to the Church, the less they vote for AfD"

Florin: "Jesus was not a German, he was a refugee child", "the Catholic Church is a universal church." Is this basic assumption correct that Christianity impregnates anything extreme?

Püttmann: First of all, I would say: it impregnates something. You can already see that the teaching that man is made in the image of God, that there is a fundamental, equal dignity and freedom for every person, also has a formative power. I do not consider it to be a coincidence that we in the de-Christianized areas of the Federal Republic, in East Germany, where we still have 20 to 25 percent of Christians, have a particular response to national and nationalist positions that are against this universal "humanitarianism", as it is often called derogatory. So in general it is the case that the willingness to help Christian believers is also reported somewhat above average, having donated money, volunteering for others, also having trust in other people, even outside of their own religious community. So in a positive sense there is an impregnation. Of course, that always means an anti-reflex. In the case of the Catholic denomination, all surveys have shown that the closer they are to the Church, the Catholics, the less they vote for AfD.

In April 2017, Christians from Cologne demonstrated against the AfD party convention (imago stock & people / Guido Schiefer)

Florin: We do not yet have these very precise data for the current federal election, broken down on the basis of the denominations. But, with all due respect for your theses and your numbers: There are points of contact, for example when it comes to demonizing marriage for everyone or demonizing gender. There are high-ranking clergy who are also located in the Vatican who position Christianity against Islam. The distance to populist parties and positions is not the same everywhere in Catholicism.

Püttmann: Of course you have to differentiate. Traditionally there is also a right-wing Catholic movement in Germany. Those were the ones who organized in the Weimar Republic, for example, in the Catholic Committee of the DNVP, the German National People's Party. This tendency does exist, but it is a minority.

Florin: But loud.

Püttmann: It's very loud. And it also has one or two topics where it can apparently also refer to Catholic teaching. So when it comes to abortion, it's very obvious. But here the right are mainly putting forward demographic reasons and not actually the Catholic reasoning against abortion. It's the same with gay marriage. However, there are other issues - and above all the refugee issue - where the wheat is really separated from the chaff and where you can see that there are obviously two basic forms of Christianity. One regards Christianity as a mere marker of identity and a factor of order, which basically means that the Christian is superimposed on the conservative. The other basic form of Christianity is based on the Imago-Dei doctrine, namely of humans as creatures and likenesses of God, endowed with a unique dignity and freedom and also means, from a social-ethical point of view, that the entire Church's social doctrine must be based on this and therefore develop .

Well, I think that this newer ... this newer understanding of Christianity is closer to the gospel than this authoritative Ordo-Christianity, which basically only regards Christianity as a system of commandments and prohibitions, where people have to please - and then there is Christian society.

The gap runs between liberal and authoritarian

Florin: Do you consider the distinction between right and left Catholic - you have now made it yourself - do you think it makes sense?

Püttmann: Yes, it is true, although I would say: Politically, the main line of intersection today is not so much right versus left, but authoritarian versus liberal. It is not for nothing that Mr Gauland praises Sahra Wagenknecht on a talk show after 20 minutes and says that everything she said is true. Of course, the extremes touch. In this respect, I believe that in Europe we now have a culture war, liberal versus authoritarian. But there is some congruence with this old divide between left and right. Right-wing Catholics tend to have more authoritarian attitudes and left-wing Catholics - now in the spirit of the Left Party - hardly exist anymore.

Florin: Your book is called: "How Catholic is Germany?" Why is it even important to know how Catholic Germany is? Even more so in the year of the Reformation anniversary?

Püttmann: Yes, first of all, religious beliefs influence our thinking, feeling and acting more than we believe. There are very deep, existential impressions and convictions that are then also communicated culturally, even to those who may not even go to church themselves. And if you know that religion also has an attitude-shaping and action-orienting power, then it naturally makes scientific sense to ask about it. And since the Catholics are viewed somewhat suspiciously and critically in Germany, as we know from surveys ...

Florin: … Is that so? From which surveys do you know?

Püttmann: Yes, there are surveys where, for example, you should express your trust on a seven-point scale, so 1 would mean: no trust at all; and where the Catholic Church with 27 percent, i.e. more than a quarter of the population, has a pronounced, deep mistrust in front of it. The Evangelical Church is much less distrusted, only half as much at this level. Then, of course, as someone who is always interested in balance, you have the impulse to rehabilitate the Cinderella, the denominational Cinderella a little here and to brush against the grain in the Reformation anniversary year and to try a small, Catholic performance show. Hans Conrad Zander once said about his denomination, the Catholic one: "We'll come right behind Hare Krishna and Scientology." It's not that bad.

Florin: Before we get to the individual findings that you describe as an exhibition, one more fundamental question: Do you know exactly that people behave this way and that because they are Catholic? Or is it not also possible that they behave like this even though they are Catholic?

Püttmann: Of course, behavior is always based on an equation of several variables, on different influences and dimensions of life. It is very difficult to infer causalities from correlations in the day, but you have to take into account that religion had a very formative force - and that for centuries in our country - and that the data differences that you see, too can be made quite plausible. However, never in the sense that one neglects: A statement about everyone is not a statement about everyone.

The life protection gene

Florin:So what are they like, the Catholics? What is the most surprising finding?

Püttmann: So it is surprising that, although Catholics, as we know from electoral research, are more conservative, they also vote more conservatively and tend to be on the side of the state when it comes to internal security, all measures such as veil searches, internet surveillance and various measures of police repression. But if you ask about the death penalty for terrorists, felons and rapists, then the Catholics are the group that most contradicts the death penalty. So this built-in life protection gene, which we know from the subject of abortion, is also evident in a subject like the death penalty, where one could say: Well, otherwise they are a little more religious and conservative, who knows. If you look at the US, how do Christians feel about the death penalty? This life protection gene can be seen very clearly here among Catholics in Germany. For the classic questions, such as abortion and euthanasia, some of the church names Catholics have answers that differ by 30 percent from the answers of others. That is an important point.

Andreas Püttmann breaks a lance for German Catholicism in his new book (private)

And then one generally sees in the case of legal obedience, in the loyalty to the Federal Republic of Germany, for example in the great floods of resistance in the 80s, retrofitting, Wackersdorf et cetera, that they have a more unbreakable trust in the justice of the state legal system and the police officers also have more want to help with clashes between demonstrators and police officers, more affirm the monopoly of force. Here the Catholics are somewhat more obedient to the law. Not in the case of clandestine crime, everyday crime, tax evasion, insurance fraud, etc. You can see that those who are close to the church of both denominations answer a little more law-abiding than those who are distant from the church and those who are not denominational. But there is no such denominational difference. And even in surveys, even in the 1950s, Catholics were more often of the opinion that the best time was unfolding in the Federal Republic of Germany in this century. You also remember the "Liberation Day" in May 1945 as the day of the actual liberation and not of the "defeat". In other words, the identification with this state, which was also facilitated by Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl, two Catholic chancellors, which can also be seen quite clearly in the figures.

"How she staged it, I found that worthy of criticism"

Florin: In your book you have an example of the relationship between church and state, or in this case also pope - state, namely: Angela Merkel, Federal Chancellor, has the then German Pope Benedict XVI. criticized for seeking reconciliation with the Pius Brothers because one of the bishops of these Pius Brothers was a Holocaust denier. It is now a criminal offense in Germany to deny the Holocaust. Why are you criticizing a Federal Chancellor for insisting on the law in this case?

Püttmann: So first of all it's about the setting. It was a press conference with a Muslim dictator, Nazarbayev, from Kazakhstan. Since, as the German Chancellor, quasi from Berlin, shouting at a Pope, there are historical previous events, so that I would say: The Chancellor should not have remained inactive, but precisely because Joseph Ratzinger himself is far above suspicion of anti-Semitism and it is yes obviously there was also a glitch in the preparation of this decision in the curia ...

Florin: ... The Chancellor didn't have to know that. So she can still criticize.

Püttmann: ... Yes, but she was able to find out. One had the impression that she was trying to put herself on a mood a bit. In the matter itself, towards the Pius Brothers, any criticism is really appropriate. But how she staged it, I found that worthy of criticism.

"Cultural Protestantism as a compromise"

Florin: Angela Merkel is the daughter of a Protestant pastor. In the last federal government there were a lot of Protestant Christians, as ministers, significantly more than Catholics. Interestingly, no member of the federal government was non-denominational either. Now under your aspect of the exhibition: What is going wrong for Catholics in terms of elite recruitment if they can no longer make it into the federal government, in contrast to previous legislative periods?

Püttmann: If you look at the CDU politicians who were ministers in the federal government and then add the parliamentary group chairman and the general secretary, i.e. the ten most powerful CDU politicians at federal level, then we had nine Protestants and one Catholic - Peter Altmaier. It is true. There seems to have been something like a Protestantization of the CDU. I have to say, however, because it is often brought up against Angela Merkel in this way: some Catholics also shot themselves out of the running.

As a Catholic in the last cabinet in a lonely position - Chancellery Minister Peter Altmaier (dpa / picture alliance / Michael Kappeler)

Florin: Christan Wulff, for example?

Püttmann: Christian Wulff, for example, Annette Schavan, Mr. Röttgen spoiled Ms. Merkel during the election campaign through unfortunate statements ...

Florin: And that has to do with the denomination?

Püttmann: No. But I just want to explain why there is no systematic removal of Catholics from politics by an evangelical chancellor. So the Catholics have to ascribe that to themselves. However, I make one caveat: I believe that in a situation where atheism - or, so to speak, non-denominational status - is growing, a liberal cultural Protestantism, as it were, as a historical compromise between Catholic Germany and atheistic or non-Christian Germany is most likely to be acceptable. It is perhaps no coincidence that our Federal Presidents, with the exception of Lübke and Wulff, were all Protestant. From a consensus perspective, Germany is still a more Protestant country with an anti-Catholic undercurrent. The Catholics have been in the majority again since 1997, but that hasn't changed much.

"Talking about differences benefits the dialogue"

Florin: Anti-Catholic undercurrents, I would now like to turn that around and say: Perhaps there is also an anti-Protestant current, not so much under the surface, but quite obviously this week. The German Catholic bishops are currently meeting in Fulda for their autumn plenary assembly. And the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainer Maria Woelki, made sure that there was not too much harmony before the meeting. Namely, he pointed out the differences between the Catholic and Protestant Churches and also said that there was actually far too much rapprochement or hug in the year of the Reformation. Why this emphasis on differences?

Püttmann: As I know and perceive Cardinal Woelki, it is not an anti-ecumenical sentiment, but the wish not to completely ignore real differences over the demonstrative hugs. Personally, I also believe, for example in relation to Islam, that expressing differences is more useful for dialogue, in the medium and long term, than just emphasizing commonalities.The points that Woelki addressed, for example in relation to marriage and family or bioethics, we have denominational differences, which are actually also visible in empirical social research. Catholics, for example, are a little more of the opinion that a child needs the mother in its first years of life, they are more strongly against adultery, they are more strongly against prostitution.

Florin: But you also show in your book that there was, let me say, a Protestantization of the Catholics at the grassroots level. That they have moved towards positions of the Evangelical Church on many points. Isn't that a luxury debate in the face of an ecumenical shrinkage?

Püttmann: Yes and no. So, you are indeed right that Catholics in Germany have been in close contact with Protestantism for a long time. If you compare our Catholicism with Polish, for example, you can see considerable differences, and not only for the negative, but perhaps also for the positive. You can also see with some questions, for example with gay marriage, where the official position of the Catholic Church was clearly against, that the Protestants were 78 percent in favor, the Catholics 70 percent, so that there was no longer a particularly big difference was.

Florin: So why do you have to emphasize the differences right now?

Püttmann: Because precisely by naming differences, one also makes it clear: Even as Christians together, we have not yet reached the end of knowledge on many issues. And this whitewashing of differences ultimately serves no one.

Florin: I would like to come back to what you said about the political role of Christians. You said earlier that the dividing line is actually no longer between right and left, but between liberal and authoritarian. Is that perhaps even the sharper dividing line than the one between Evangelical and Catholic?

Püttmann: Yes. So in general, I have to say something about it anyway, churches are close, Catholics and Protestants in their sociological profile closer than church close and distant within the same denomination. So, so to speak, the outstanding thing is really: the more seriously someone takes their faith and practices it in a community of believers, the more clearly one recognizes correspondences in their political, ethical thinking and acting. And the denominational difference is only secondary. So that is, so to speak, the good ecumenical knowledge. But that doesn't make it completely irrelevant. And as long as that is the case, you can talk about it.

Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.

Andreas Püttmann: How Catholic is Germany ... and what does it get out of it? Bonifatius Verlag. 240 pages, 16.90 euros.