Among post-communist countries, Eastern Germany has the lowest level of church affiliation and an unexpected persistence of rituals devised during the communist period as a substitute for Christian ones.
However, this may be changing: in various parts of the former communist region of Germany as the Jugendweihe, or “youth consecration,” has experienced a decline of 50 percent or more in the year 2005. The Jugendweihe was supposed to replace traditional Christian confirmation for teenagers. Many people had expected it to disappear along with the communist regime, but it has proved surprisingly resilient: over a few decades, the practice had taken root and probably reveals a need for rituals at various points of one’s life also among secular-minded people.
The Jugendweihe is sponsored today by several secular organizations. But in 2005, the demand for the ritual declined by 50 percent in Berlin and even by 60 percent in Thuringia, reports the German Protestant monthly Materialdienst der EZW (June). It is true that there has also been a decline in the demand for Christian rituals, but not in the same proportions. While the downward trend is probably connected in part to a lower birthrate, this does not explain the sharp decline.
One should be cautious before offering hasty interpretations, writes Andreas Fincke in Materialdienst. There are indications of a religious renaissance to some extent, and more families may begin to turn to Christian rituals. Maybe the decline of secular rituals just means that they had not become strongly rooted after all. Fincke suggests that Christian churches should carefully monitor such developments, but at the same time be aware that the decline of secular rituals will not necessarily benefit Christian ones.
(Materialdienst der Evangelischen Zentralstelle für Weltanschaaungsfragen, Auguststrasse 80, 10117 Berlin, Germany; http://www.ezw-berlin.de)
— By Jean Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)