It’s common knowledge that if you want to have a pleasant evening with friends, don’t talk about politics or religion. Well last night Ariane and I went out for a drink with 5 of our co-workers (a minor celebration as our company broke even in April) and the subject quickly turned to politics and religion. The good news is that we still had a pleasant evening and even though we didn’t all see eye to eye, we had a really good open discussion. As most of the people at the table were a good 25 years younger than me I was really impressed at their attitudes. It was a little disarming and I couldn’t properly fill my traditional role of grumpy old man – they were all so reasonable and articulate. The young aren’t what they used to be.Politics and religion are, in my opinion, too closely linked in Germany. There are two reasons for this. First, I am an atheist. Second, when I got my first ever pay slip back in 1991 there was a deduction on it called “Kirchensteuer” – church tax. I vaguely remembered Frau Hesse, the company payroll clerk, asking me what religion I was. I told her that I didn’t have a religion but she insisted that I must do. Was I christened, was I catholic? I eventually told her that I certainly wasn’t catholic so she put me down as protestant. The next thing I knew, I was having some of my wage deducted for the church. I couldn’t believe it. I immediately set about getting to the bottom of this and it turned out I could opt out of the church tax. So of course I did and thought nothing of it.
Over the years I found that more and more people I knew, who I didn’t consider religious were still “in the church” and paying their tax every month. There must be quite a few still doing this because the catholic and protestant churches in Germany raised 10 billion Euros through the Kirchensteuer last year! Because you have to actively “opt out”, lots of lapsed christians just let it run on. There are also rumours that you will struggle to get a Kindergarten place for your kids if you’re not in the church and various other little obstacles which may in later life be laid in your path. I think this is disgraceful. I mean – who’d have thought that a major religion would fund itself based on a fear of future consequences? Aaaah. I forgot – that’s how it works.
Anyway, yesterday we weren’t talking about the few Deutschmarks that I had inadvertently paid 25 years ago. We were talking about whether we should employ a muslim woman who wears a headscarf. The overall opinion was very quickly – if she’s good for the job, then yes without hesitation. And that’s what we’re going to do – her interview is in a couple of weeks. We then moved on to politics and especially the new coalition government in our state (Baden Württemberg). We are going to have the first Green / Black coalition (I wrote about coalitions here: Coalition Fever ). The Green party got the largest share of the vote thanks to their pragmatic and eminently sensible leader who has lead a Green / Red coalition for the past 4 years. Traditionally the Greens have been an ally for the more left wing SPD party but they are now treading new ground with the CDU (Angela Merkel’s party) as their traditional ally is crumbling. I am quite optimistic about this Government – it seems that both coalition partners have realised the electorate don’t want to see endless party posturing and just want to see things getting done. The post-coalition-negotiation press conferences were not the typical “we got what we wanted” boasting but very sobre and almost apologetic. I was listening to politicians from both parties on the radio today and was pleasantly surprised by the humility. I suppose the recent rise of the right-wing AfD has put the willies up them so now they are behaving sensibly. Refreshing – and such a contrast to the Trump/Clinton nonsense.
We all had a good dinner and a few drinks yesterday evening. We talked about religion and politics and went home without falling out. Times change. Next time we are out I will have to really spice things up by claiming that all four of England’s goals in Wembley 1966 were clearly over the line. Now that will start a fight.