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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Religion in Germany (2) / Church Tax

Many people know that there is a Church Tax in Germany, but there are misconceptions about what it really is abroad.

The legal basis for this is the only international treaty out of the Nazi-Era that is still in force:

The Reichskonkordat of 1933.

In this treaty Nazi-Germany recognized the right of the Catholic Church to take taxes of its members (Nazi-Germany signed similar treaties with Protestant Churches).

This whole treaty was the try of Hitler to appease the Catholic Church who could have still formed massive resistance against his take of power in Germany. To sign this treaty was for example one of the conditions upon which the catholic centrum party [Zentrumspartei] agreed to vote for the Enabling Act [Ermächtigungsgesetz] which gave Hitler the powers of a dictator.

After the war was lost no one (in western Germany) touched this treaty for a long time. Part of the de-nazification of Germany was to strengthen Christianity again. The Churches were given for example permission to de-nazify themselves and a statuatory statement of a pastor or priest could be used to free yourself from the suspect that you were an active nazi.

Furthermore the conservatives as well as the Churches knew that they could never get a similar or better treaty without the special circumstances under which it was signed. And the modern collection of those Church taxes even goes beyond what was signed in this treaty.

The treaty gave the Churches the right to collect taxes from their members. In fact today the German state collects the taxes from the Church memebers for the Church and then gives those moneys to the Churches. (Which saves the Churches the expenses of collection)

This Church-Tax is therefor a membership fee that on the contrary to all other membership fees in Germany get collected by the state. If you don't want to pay this tax anymore you can let yourself delist from the lists of those who are members of the Church (in the German state I live in this costs once 20.45€)

I for my part have a very ambivalent opinion of this Church tax. On one side it intertwines State and Church quite massively. It also gives the German state quite good knowledge what religion her citizens adhere too.
On the other hand: It makes the Churches fat and lazy in Germany. In America churches have to convince their congregants every week anew to tithe them appropiately. This forces churches in America to act like businesses always looking what their customers want and pressuring them to constantly search for new believers and make them attend church.
In Germany a shockingly large number of persons believe that giving the Catholic or a Protestant Church each month about 5% of their income makes them Christian. The only time they might attend Church a year is Xmas. But they will still gladly pay their Church taxes. This has put every pressure away from priests and pastors to fill their churches. Whether they are preaching to 1000 or to 10 persons: As long as the "believers" don't delist they will get paid anyways.

It's not very democratic and certainly not secular, but the Church tax actually works as a very slow working, sweet, addictive and absolutely lethal toxin against religious extremism.

Just as well as religious education actually does. If the teachers of religious education get too strict and hand out bad grades students will delist from religious education and attend ethics instead to save their Numerus clausus.
As suprising as it might be: The Church tax and Religous Education are 2 of the reasons why Christianity is quite liberal in Germany.

For this reason I wouldn't even be too sad if they would also start feeding the muslim communities with Church taxes and also have them teach religous education in schools.


  1. When I went to Germany on exchange, I had to set up my tax payments for that year. Thankfully, they provided a "no religious affiliation," so (if I'm no mistaken - feel free to correct me) the money went to the state instead. I don't know if I even paid anything since I didn't work.

    But hey, if the state paying the Catholic church taxes had anything to do with the continued restoration of the beautiful Freiburg Münster, that's not all bad.

  2. No, if you aren't affiliated the money stays with you. If you aren't affiliated with the Neu-Kleinburg association of rabbit breeders you also don't have to pay their membership fee to the state instead.

    If you delist you save the money.

  3. It might be that the Church also pays the restoration of cathedrals with their church taxes. (They normally aren't all too open about what they do with their money)

    But usually the do extra collections for the restoration of Churches. (And I even paid them once 50 cents for the restoration of the Cathedral of Trier)

  4. I will say that the greatest Catholic contribution to the world are their churches and cathedrals, and your country has some of the best the world has to offer.

  5. Thankfully when I moved here I declared "no affiliation" and the money stays with me. Plus I live in atheistic "drüben". :-)

    This is nice as well because there is no competition between different churches...

  6. It's not very democratic and certainly not secular, but the Church tax actually works as a very slow working, sweet, addictive and absolutely lethal toxin against religious extremism.

    This is a really really interesting idea. On instinct alone, I don't agree - but I'm unfamiliar with the idea, let alone seeing it put into practice for 60+ years.

    I'm gonna think about it for a while...

  7. bob,
    I thought "drüben" was the Western part. We usually referred to the GDR as "die Zone", but maybe I'm too young to remember that correctly

  8. Hey Tila,

    from my students, I get the idea that it was more of a thing they both say. For the Wessies, it was "ick, over there in the dark part of Germany", and from the Ossies, it was "ick, over in the capitalist part of Germany". But I could be wrong...

  9. tilia -

    Do/did you use 'die Zone' in reference to GDR or the eastern part of Berlin?

    I'm not familiar with the phrase 'drüben' as well (in reference to anything 'west').

  10. I know that there was the phrase:

    "Wenn's dir nicht passt geh doch nach drüben" in western Germany

    "If you don't like it, go to 'drüben'"

  11. laof,
    that's exactly what I'm not so sure about anymore. I think it was both. Haven't had much to do with East Berlin, while we have relatives in Thüringen. That's what we called "die Zone".

  12. tilia -

    I know this is rude normally (to ask a woman her age), but if you could let us know for reference - how old are you?
    Perhaps just an age group:

    a.) 25 or younger
    b.) 25-35 yrs. old
    c.) older
    d.) still none of my business.


  13. laof,
    I wouldn't remember much, if a was below 25. And if I was older than 35 I should be ashamed of remembering so little.
    So I don't say too much if I admit it's b) ;)

  14. tilia -

    Such diplomacy in your answer! LOL.

    Thank you.

  15. I've done some extensive in-depth research on what happens with church taxes and who pays for restoration efforts; among other things I have read the complete most recent Bavarian state finance record.
    The results in short:
    - the state has the obligation by law to provide the finances for restoration and maintenance of churches, monasteries and clerical teaching institutes
    - the church decides independently how to allocate their expenses, and no obligation to make their decisions and financial reports public
    - extensions, connected infrastructure and additional decorative work to existing buildings are usually paid for by voluntary donations, and additional state funds as decided by local authorities (in a Catholic county, it is therefore very likely that the local government will allocate funds for church renovation and extension, taking the money from the general tax account)
    - about 10% of church tax income (about 9 Billion Euros yearly) is spent on public social services, the rest is saved or spent for administration and internal community work
    - church-carried social institutions are financed 80-100% by the state and independant operators
    - purely church-internal interests receive about 6 Billion Euros a year additionally
    - tax allowability of church taxes withholds about 3.5 Billion Euros a year from the state and federal government, which is more than the total amount the church spends for social purposes
    - the state pays for elite faith schools, which are doing well enlistment-wise because there are less foreigners
    - in some states, specific professions such as midwife are only taught at clerical institutions, meaning that being an unbeliever or of a different faith negates your chances of learning that job (they can reject your application on faith grounds)
    - churches have more than doubled the number of employed priests since the 80s, in contrast to the constantly diminishing membership base (not surprising since they're not paying the salaries, nor the pensions)
    - in former East Germany, the churches took over some of the formerly nationalized institutions, forcing the employees to enter the church or let go of their job (CJD, the German YMCA for example)
    - the subsidiary principle mandates the government to hand over operations of social institutions to other organizations. Incidentally, this principle was developed and written by Catholic theologians under the Catholic chancellor Adenauer.
    - the state is still required to pay the churches millions based on thousands of different law titles
    going back more than two centuries. These were originally issued to recompense the churches for secularisation (nationalization of church property - including property that the churches had originally acquired through forgery of documents, witch hunts and inquisition).
    - church assets in property and monetary wealth are larger than any private business in Germany

    According to church law [§1], parents must have their child baptized within the first few weeks of life, lisitng the child as a church member and future tax payer. That this membership will thereby be made known to the state and the employer is problematic in itself (has also been criticized by the EU). Foreigners seeking employment in Germany must declare their affiliation of faith and will be taxed accordingly (regardless of their wish to continue supporting their church at home).

    When following public discussions about church taxes, one thing becomes obvious: church officials and employees routinely obfuscate and state evidential falsehoods, which can be easily refuted with the accurate data.
    One example is this discussion. The publisher has included some factual commentary in brackets after the discussion was done.
    Given that most of the data is independantly researcheable, I can only conclude that some routine mendaciousness is going on. The churches make statements to the public that are false, relying on the confident assumption that most people will trust them and not check. And sadly, especially church members, they trust and parrot false assertions in support of false assumptions.
    A few false beliefs of them:
    - church-run hospitals are paid for by the churches
    - the number of church entries is rising
    - East Germans are flocking to the churches in droves
    - the number of people marrying in church is rising, especially among young people
    - baptism has nothing to do with church taxes
    - employess of tendency firms (firms run under religious confession) have equal rights (fact is that leaving church will legally warrant a layoff, as is being an unmarried parent or homosexual)
    - church-run hospitals and kidergartens would close down if church taxes were abolished (ignoring the fact that the public pays for them 80-100% as mentioned above)
    - everyone has an equal right to apply for a clerical kindergarten (day-care) membership (technically correct, but ignores the fact that this application can be rejected on faith grounds). applications of parents of other faiths will only be accepted up to 20%, and only if the maximum number of children isn't met.


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