The University of Chicago recently completed an international survey on belief - Belief About God Across Time and Countries - and discovered that the eastern states of Germany -which comprised the former DDR - are today hotbeds of non-belief:
"Atheism is strongest in northwest European countries such as Scandinavia and the former Soviet states (except for Poland). The former East Germany had the highest rate of people who said they never believed in God (59 percent); in comparison, 4 percent of Americans had that response."
Could this be a legacy of communist rule? No, because belief in God is growing in Russia. The United States - a country that incarcerates and executes more of its citizens than any other developed county - remains a nation of believers. Americans, furthermore, have a childlike belief in a "personal relationship" with God, while eastern Germans reject that notion:
Support for the concept that God is concerned with people in a personal way ranged from 8 percent in the former East Germany to 82 percent in the Philippines. In the United States, 68 percent of people surveyed held that view.
What could explain this stubborn refusal to believe among Germans in the east? The ultra-conservative Catholic writer Martin Mosebach sees this as the perniciuos effect of Protestantism in the east Germany:
Aber tatsächlich ist es so, dass der Protestantismus, so wie er sich im Osten entwickelt hat, mit seinem Hang zur Säkularisierung fast notwendig zur Schwächung des Glaubens geführt hat. Sonst hätte der Kommunismus den Glauben dort nicht so nachhaltig zerstören können.
(But it's a fact that Protestantism - as it developed in the east - with its secularizing tendencies resulted in a weakening of belief in God. Otherwise communism never could have destroyed faith there so permanently.)
Mosebach is silent about how the child sexual abuse scandal has virtually destroyed the Roman Catholic Church in Germany. Could it be that east Germans, who lived through the terror of war and more than 50 years of authoritarian rule - first under the Nazis and then under the Stalinists - find the notion of a loving and forgiving God patently ridiculous?