The FAZ has an interesting interview with Klaus von Dohnanyi about his father Hans von Dohnányi, who was an important member of the anti-Nazi resistance. Hans von Dohnányi was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 and was executed - along with his brother-in-law, the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer - in April 1945, just days before the collapse of the Third Reich.
When asked whether the current generation would have the same courage to resist tyranny as his father and the others in the anti-Hitler resistance Klaus von Dohnányi answered as follows:
Ich weiß nicht, ob die heutige Generation so tapfer wäre wie die Generation, die nach 1933 Widerstand geleistet hat. Wird eine solche moralische Kraft heute noch vermittelt? Und kann man Anstand lernen? Die Demokratie kann die Fundamente nicht schaffen, auf denen sie steht, so etwa schreibt Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde. Braucht diese Kraft vielleicht doch eine transzendente Substanz? Etwas, das nicht rational zu erschließen ist? Wenn es in den zehn Geboten heißt, du sollst nicht töten, dann heißt das eben, du sollst nicht töten! Wenn Sie aber die zehn Gebote nicht kennen, dürfen Sie dann aus „guten“ Gründen töten, wie im materialistischen Sowjetsystem?
("I'm not sure that today's generation would be as brave as the generation of the resistance after 1933. Is such a moral force even mediated today? Can a person be taught decency? Democracy is not capable of creating the foundation required for such a stance - as Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde writes. Doesn't such a powerful motivation perhaps require a transcendent substance? Something that can't be completely explained rationally? When the Ten Commandments declare Thou Shalt Not Kill, that means simply you should not kill! If however you are ignorant of the Ten Commandments then there may be "good" reasons to kill, like in the materialistic Soviet system.")
By referencing the Ten Commandments Klaus von Dohnanyi seems to be referencing Christian faith. The younger generation seems to have drifted away from organized religion, as evidenced by the empty pews in German churches. He seems to imply that this absence of religious faith would result in cowardice in the face of evil.
Surely Klaus von Dohnany's father knew the problem with this point of view. Under the the NS-Regime and the "Deutsche Christen" movement the Protestant -and to some extent the Catholic Church - had become a perversion of Christianity - with a dejudicized Jesus.
By chance I happen to rereading Bonhoeffer's Letters & Papers from Prison, where he talks extensively about his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnányi and mentions visits by Klaus and his siblings. In the preface to the American edition Bonhoeffer holds the Church accountable for not resisting the NS-regime.
"We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?"
The Church had failed. In response Bonhoeffer came to advocate a "religionless Christianity" that would embrace an unmediated "true discipleship" of Jesus:
"Only the one for whom the final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all these, when in faith and sole allegiance to God he is called to obedient and responsible action: the responsible person, whose life will be nothing but an answer to God’s question and call."
So perhaps von Dohnanyi's pessimism about the younger generation is unwarranted. Plenty of people have left the traditional religious institutions asking themselvs "are we still of any use?" But they could still embrace an Ethos that is aligned with that of Bonhoeffer and others who resisted Hitler.