A new Kulturkampf

I sense the possibility of an unintended new Kulturkampf in Germany; this time it's definitively not driven by the government. The Kulturkampf was a political conflict of the 1870s especially in Prussia, which established a secular state once and for all, established the separation of church and state and broke many clerical privileges such as the definition of who's married and who's not. 

The horrible English Wikipedia article on Kulturkampf suggests strongly that it was a huge discrimination and prosecution campaign against the Catholic Church, while the German Wikipedia article on Kulturkampf is seemingly about an entirely different series on events (and quite in agreement with what you can read in most German history books about the period).

Kulturkampf: A contemporary caricature
For example, the German wikipedia article mentions how actually the Catholic Church in person of its pope attacked freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. An early supposed discriminations was a law that forbade to incite violence and unrest with sermons. 
Well, in the end the Catholic Church lost (Prussia was predominantly Protestant anyway) and the result was that both the Catholic and Protestant church (each one in German; we don't have thousands of church organisations) agreed on deals with the state which did indeed include some privileges. Religious teaching in schools and the ability to piggyback contributions to the church on the income tax are among these. Rather little changed since. 

This may have come to an end. To date, there are two issues that question the relationship of church/spirituality and state:

(1) Religiously-motivated mutilations of children

Many citizens, especially certain lawyers, medical doctors and certain judges, have run out of patience with the excuse that mutilation of newborns shall be legal because of a religious necessity. This affects primarily circumcision, but it could and appears to creep forward towards questioning the legality of socially accepted piercings (for an earring) in regard to under-16 children. It's certainly unnecessary to detail how the pro-mutilation people reacted.
So far the conservatives appear to attempt to fix the issue by building the privilege to excuse newborn mutilation with religion into German criminal law. It appears this move may be too slow, for the government may face a popular majority against such a jurisdiction already.
Interestingly, the pseudo-Muslim mutilation of young girls in parts of Africa was never tolerated and occasionally damned in the German public. I guess few people who agitated as if we could change such customs in Africa expected us to turn against the forms of mutilation that were so far socially accepted in Europe.

(2) Blasphemy

Unknown to many Germans (until recently), there are indeed two law paragraphs against blasphemy in the German criminal code, and both appear to be questionable. One is directed against provocations that can disrupt the civil peace (§166 StGB), while the other (§167 StGB) is outlawing the disruption of a mass. 
Both appear to be almost entirely unused, and it has been noted that §166 is in practice not used to protect Christian faith from libel because Christians appear to be too relaxed for reacting in a way that constitutes a breach of civil peace. The paragraph is probably from a time when this was not expected. This 'relaxed' behaviour points out that it's not so much the provocation as rather any violent or otherwise illegal reaction that's the real problem - and accordingly, the so far faint demands for getting rid of §166 may gain some steam and succeed. It would certainly be a victory for free speech. 

§167 is very redundant because usually such events happen in a building and it's illegal to enter or stay in foreign property against the will of the owner or a representative thereof (§ 123 StGB). 
The Russian "Pussy Riot" group was sentenced to two years in prison (or rather a labour camp) for such a transgression and this was quite universally damned as out of proportion in Germany.
Guess what? Maximum sentence in §167 is three years in Germany. Maximum sentence in §123 is one year, and in its more stern cousin §124 StGB (meant against a mob entering a building) two years.

I suppose that §167 StGB is totally out of sync with modern Germany and will not stand public scrutiny if the press decides to finally pay some serious attention to it.
A deletion of §167 StGB because of redundancy would be a gain for civil liberties as well, at least for the simple reason that any restriction means a loss of freedom (and this one appears to be totally redundant).

It appears that while Protestant and Catholic churches are long since at peace with German secularity (which doesn't keep them from having and voicing a political opinion on certain issues, of course), the relations with other faiths may change in this decade in favour of more liberties and less strange privileges.
On the other hand, there's a movement that pushes for a deal with moderate Muslims similar to the deals with the two big churches; help them finance themselves (which could in effect reduce foreign influence, especially from the Gulf region) and provide a public school and thus necessarily constitution-tolerant alternative to purely private religious teachings. The moderate Muslims in Germany don't appear to be able to get their act together and form some body that could actually sign such a deal, of course*.

Such topics are still in political backwater and bound to lose public attention within weeks, but they could resurface again and again and some legislative action about these issues is politically unavoidable in the long term. There's certainly some potential for improvement in regard to civil liberties here and it's nice to see that the society is indeed interested in progress and not satisfied to stick to the late 20th century forever.

*: The handful of extremist Muslims in Germany (small groups of loudmouths and other idiots of the same category as neonazis, only even fewer) on the other hand can rather expect their organisations to be outlawed due to criminal and counter-constitutional activities.



  1. I take it you are against circumcision for babies

    1. I think it's an as stupid idea as to pierce a hole for a nose ring or to split the tongue of a newborn.

      At the same time, I think it's fine to allow 16 year olds to allow a doctor to do a piercing, circumcision, tattoo or even FGM. That's old enough to decide for themselves.

      Their decision may be stupid, but its theirs. That's life.
      A newborn getting mutilated is a very different thing. Parents have the duty to protect their newborn, and a circumcision is a violation of this duty in my opinion.

      Moreover, the state has to protect its citizens and guests. This duty extends to protect a child against its parents if necessary, as documented in other laws.
      An imaginary friend and his rules should not be an excuse to the state.

    2. Let's say some animist shaman tells German authorities that to do this
      to a newborn is a religious necessity.

      Should our authorities permit a doctor to create these scars on a newborn?
      The decisive difference to circumcision is that the cultural acceptance varies. Said acceptance has apparently changed.

  2. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-08-20/declining-circumcision-rates-in-u-s-raise-disease-risk.html

    Read this to give you another way of looking at it. "Declining Circumcision Rates in the US raise disease risk".

    1. 313 $ savings?
      Seriously, I don't need to ask a German judge to know that you get much more in damages when you sue someone who did cut off ANY part of you without your permission.

      The damage is not proportional to the supposed benefit.
      Even if it was, it would be quite irrelevant unless the benefit exceeds the damage by very much.

      Russian doctors can heal drug addiction by freezing a part of the brain. The costs saved if this was applied to all addicts? Huge.
      Acceptable without consent? No way.
      May I remind you that we have banned corporal punishment for all crimes in Europe and consider this an advance of humanity and our civilisation?
      Doing bodily harm (that does not heal almost perfectly) to people is without permission of the person affected only acceptable with a medical need that weighs heavier, i.e. surgery, or with an emergency situation (such as police shooting someone, which almost never happens in Germany).
      So much for the quick summary of the arguments that stand behind the rejection of mutilation in Germany.
      The country is divided, but a majority is contra mutilation now. Cultural justification to mutilation has run out. We're no longer tolerating this stuff for mere cultural reasons. The pro arguments are much weaker than the contra arguments without culture weighing in on the pro side.

      This is a democracy; sooner or later the majority will rule on topics.
      So far, the poll result is about
      56% contra
      35% pro

      The Merkel government may try to swim against the current as it does so often, but Merkel is known for doing a U-turn in such cases sooner or later.

  3. A secular state can be just as oppressive as a religious state. Minority rights and freedom of religion must be upheld. If the majority is unchecked then how is that really different than an unchecked autocrat?

    "As I argued in this week's Church Times, one of the most familiar modern mistakes about faith is that it is something that goes on in your head. This is rubbish. Faith is about being a part of something wider than oneself. We are not born as mini rational agents in waiting, not fully formed as moral beings until we have the ability to think and choose for ourselves. We are born into a network of relationships that provide us with a cultural background against which things come to make sense. "We" comes before "I". We constitutes our horizon of significance. Which is why many Jews who consider themselves to be atheists would still consider themselves to be Jewish. And circumcision is the way Jewish and Muslim men are marked out as being involved in a reality greater than themselves.

    This, however, is a complete anathema to much modern liberal thought that narrows religious and ethical language down to the absolute priority of personal autonomy and individual choice. Liberalism constitutes the view from nowhere. Liberalism has no sense of history." -

    ""For everyone in the government it is absolutely clear that we want to have Jewish and Muslim religious life in Germany," said Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert. "Circumcision carried out in a responsible manner must be possible in this country without punishment."..."Circumcision represents the basis for belonging to the Jewish community. It has been practiced for 4,000 years and cannot be changed," said Goldschmidt." -


    Since people value different things, the cultural stuff matters. One man's progress is another's backwardness. It is not like the parents hate their childern. They care for them as much as any other parent cares for their kids. I do not doubt that they would give their own lives to protect their child without a second thought.

    “If there were a vaccine that reduced HIV infection, genital herpes and warts, penile cancer, cervical cancer and bacterial vaginosis, it would be promoted as a game changing intervention, and all physicians would encourage their patients to get it,” said Aaron Tobian, a health epidemiologist and pathologist at Johns Hopkins and senior researcher on the study. “The difference is this is a surgery with very minor complications, and it also has a cultural tone to it." from link in my last post. If you get HIV or some other problem that is going to affect you alot more than $313.

    I have a feeling we will just have to agree to disagree on this.

  4. I wrote a lot about the ridiculously low difference in infection rates and so on, pointed out how little 4.4 bn divided by 310 million really is etc.
    But in the end, your whole line of argument about health hazards is a complete dud without such details.

    I stated clearly that I think it's fine to circumcise a 16 y.o. with his permission. So all the health-related hazards from 17th year are really not in any way related to the outlawing of mutilation of newborns.
    Furthermore, we don't weight humans like that.
    We would not mutilate 10,000 adults without their consent to save a single life. Our culture is a t a point where the majority does not want the state to tolerate the mutilation of individuals against their will. Period.
    About the rights of the minority thing:
    More about that later.

  5. If the majority of Germans were ok with it would you support it?

    Late here I'll have to do the minority rights post later.

  6. As much as I like your ideas and analysations on military topics, I consider your political thoughts as immature and superficial.

    Please don't take this as an offence, just as a hint, that the majority of your readers doesn't want to read about your personal political opinion, but about your musings about military theory.

  7. Mauretanier; it's of little value to defend sovereignty against foreigners if you're not free under non-foreign rule. The rights you enjoy domestically are the only real reason to care about national security.

    Tim; majority rules. I would probably be part of the minority then and dislike how majority rules, but it would be legit.

  8. Not everyone thinks circumcision is cruel, many doctors in the US see nothing the least bit wrong with it. Forcing another culture to accept something just because the majority thinks it should be that way seems wrong. That is all I have to say.

  9. If you like it or not - that's democracy and rule of law.

    I bet I can easily find examples of supposedly culturally-justified activity that you would not want to tolerate, despite your statement above.

    How about this: An 'arranged' marriage between a 9 y.o. girl and a 50 y.o. man. As your new neighbours.

    Does your cultural tolerance extend to this? I have an almost unlimited supply of ammo in this case...

    Besides, doctors in the US are irrelevant. The blog post was clearly about developments in Germany.
    The rejection of boys circumcision by the German medical doctors association has no weight in the U.S. either, after all.

  10. "The rights you enjoy domestically are the only real reason to care about national security."

    If they don't enjoy the right to freedom of religion then why should the care either?

    Now I am done with this post as well. I've said all I think is useful.

  11. "If they don't enjoy the right to freedom of religion then why should the care either?"

    People have freedom of religion, they just can't excuse crimes with their religion.

  12. Tim:

    It's not about freedom of religion in this case, ie the freedom to practice your religion. The child has not freedom to decide if he/she wants to be circumcised or not, it's the decision of the parents (and it's not their faith/body at stake here)