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Is Non-White, Non-Christian Germany Still Germany?

Hugely important -- though disturbing -- questions posed by Germany's political struggles

Speaking of Germany, here’s an interesting piece from Foreign Policy characterizing conservative politics in that country as “a Christian civil war.”

It begins by saying that Angela Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU),

was founded after World War II by men and women who vowed to protect the Christian character of the German nation and Europe as a whole, but it has always held an on-again, off-again relationship with white nationalists.

The reason, according to the piece’s author, Noah B. Strote, is that the CDU’s founders were based in the more heavily Christianized western part of the country, and they saw eastern Germany as more open to “Asiatics.” It’s a powerful charge, and I have no way of knowing whether or not it is true. But I’ll assume that it is. Anyway, Strote points out that the CDU’s postwar leader, Konrad Adenauer, was a Catholic who attended mass faithfully. Subsequent leaders have been less and less pious. Angela Merkel is the least pious of them all, Strote says. More:

But the chancellor’s lack of piety appears not to have bothered the more conservative members of her Christian party — until she made the decision in 2015 to allow hundreds of thousands of non-Christian, non-white refugees from the Middle East into Germany. It was only at that point that many began to jump ship in favor of the new rival Christian conservative party, Alternative for Germany, which had been founded two years prior.

The founders of the AfD took their name from a phrase Merkel used in 2013, “There is no alternative,” when arguing in support of the German-led bailout of the Greek government, which she said was necessary to maintain the economic integrity of the European Union. While signifying its nationalism and Euroskepticism, the word “alternative” pulls double duty as a description of the party’s goal to become the true guardian of Germany’s — and Europe’s — Christian identity.

Despite disavowal by a majority of the country’s bishops, several influential Catholic and Protestant theologians have come out in favor of the AfD or urged their listeners and readers to take their arguments seriously. The manifesto of their organization, “Christen in der AfD,” calls for a strengthening of religious consciousness in public education and warns that an evaporation of Christian identity would “endanger nothing less than the foundations of our system of state and of our civilization.” In this it sounds like a document from the Adenauer era, except that the demographic threat it identifies comes not from Eastern Europe but from North Africa and the Middle East. “The AfD is the new CDU,” supporters were quoted saying at a recent rally.

Here’s where it gets especially interesting:

Although the AfD (like the CDU) came out against last summer’s successful gay marriage bill, its top candidate in the upcoming election, Alice Weidel, is lesbian. The important thing is optics. Weidel is raising two young children birthed by her white Swiss German partner. And the AfD’s party chief, Frauke Petry, is an attractive 41-year-old mother of five white kids — a powerful contrast to the childless Merkel, the “refugee chancellor” whom they implicitly cast as a traitor to her race and religion.

The AfD is eager to show that Merkel and the CDU will not dare to fight for what it has always claimed to value: the conservation of a Christian Germany and Europe. And in doing so, they are exposing the tension inherent in the CDU’s program: the repressed assumption that the maintenance of a certain type of ethnic majority is necessary for that project. The AfD claims it is no more deserving of the “white nationalist” label than the historic CDU upon which it is modeled.

I strongly recommend going to the Christians In The AfD policy statement page (if you’re browsing with Chrome, hit the translate button) to get the full picture. Here is how it begins (the translation is Google’s):

In a liberal and secular democracy, the state is largely neutral to the religious opinions of its citizens. However, this does not mean that the religious views and the religious life of its citizens are ultimately meaningless. In fact, the opposite is the case. In a frequently cited statement by the state-lawyer, Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, the following is said: “The liberal secularized state lives on preconditions that it can not guarantee itself” (“Böckenförde-Dictum”). The rules of the democratic basic order is therefore merely “technical” and is intended to ensure by law that the majority of the population expressed in elections can be reflected in laws and ordinances.

In this respect, democracy is less decisive in determining the technical rules governing decisions, but rather the moral foundation on which the citizens make their decisions. Without this moral foundation, democracy can lead directly to barbarism.

We believe that God created man in his own image and also endowed with the freedom of the will and the understanding. Man is therefore free to choose for or against God, for or against the good. He has an inestimable dignity which can not be touched by his fellow men and is independent of sex, religion, race or personal life. The “equivalence” of man before God, however, also means a fundamental equality of rights and duties against the power of the state, which represents God’s authority, and also in the inter-human relationship, irrefutable rules apply to arbitrariness.

The influence of Christianity was decisive for the formation of the European nations, which gradually penetrated all spheres of culture. Without knowledge of the Christian foundations, neither the architecture of the Gothic, nor the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, nor the philosophy of Johann Gottfried Herder can be fully understood. With the “evaporation” of the knowledge of faith (Benedict XVI) we endanger nothing less than the foundations of our state system and our civilization. It is therefore a matter of concern to us to counter this threat with our political activities.

As a politically active citizen, the individual commitment to the Christian faith is most important to us as part of our activities. We want to encourage and strengthen those who feel left alone in a largely unbelievable time.

I find almost nothing in the entire statement with which to disagree. I don’t know how they reconcile their position supporting traditional marriage with the claim that they don’t oppose same-sex marriage. Maybe they believe it makes more sense to tolerate same-sex marriage (which is now a fact in Germany) within a larger context of the state working to support marriage in general. I don’t know.
Here is a link to the AfD’s platform. It’s in German, but I read it in translation via Chrome. One must be careful in approving or disapproving of a political party without knowing more about the local context, but in general, I don’t see anything that much troubles me there. AfD is more hardline about Islam in Germany than I would be about it in America, but that’s because the challenges Germany faces from Islamic immigration and integration are not comparable to what we have in the US. In general, I believe that all nations have the right to determine their own character. If a historically Islamic, Hindu, or Buddhist nation wanted to maintain its religious and civilizational character, they would have the right, and even the responsibility, to limit or even ban immigration from Christians and others whose presence threatens fundamentally to change the nation’s character.

This point is obscure to Western liberals (including right-wing liberals) who believe that religion is a facet of the individual’s identity, but is no more important than one’s political orientation. To the deracinated, globalizing liberal, it doesn’t really matter if the medieval church in the town center becomes a mosque or a disco, as long as procedural liberalism has been respected. This kind of thing gives lie to the claim that liberalism is neutral.

Is AfD racist? The German media and political establishment says so, but then all over Europe, that’s what they say about populist parties. I don’t know the truth about AfD. But buried within that question is a more interesting and difficult one, and it’s this: To what extent does a culture’s values depend on the ethnicity (= tribal identification) of its people? 

Think of it like this. Many Africans are Christians. What if Germany was being overwhelmed by Christian migrants from Africa, and Muslims were not a part of the story? AfD’s policies seem pretty clear on this point: it doesn’t matter. What they want is Germany as it historically has been. Christianity is a part of that legacy, according to its platform, but it is not the entirety of that legacy. The clear implication is that if Germany is going to remain Germany, it must be populated primarily by ethnic Germans.

Is that not true? Again, our culture in the US is more fluid (for better or for worse), so you can’t really do a one-to-one comparison between America and European countries. But think of it: if your descendants were to visit Germany in 2050, and found a country that was German-speaking but heavily African, Turkish, and Arabic, would that still be Germany? Is that question a matter of indifference? What if you lived in Germany today, and were compelled to imagine the kind of country your descendants would live in?

This need not be a matter of racial supremacism. If, for example, Turkey faced a wave of mass immigration from Germans, it would be perfectly natural for Turks to wonder what kind of country they would be leaving for their descendants if they permitted this. It is perfectly natural for people — all people — to think of their land, their religion, and their culture as something that has been given to them in stewardship, and that is something to be passed on to future generations. It is only WEIRDoes (White, Educated, Industrial, Rich, Democratic) who don’t get this, or don’t care about it.

AfD is clear on where it stands, but what about Christians who support AfD? It is easy for them to stand against Islamic immigration, but how do they feel about immigration of African Christians? It is believed — and hoped — by many orthodox Christians in the West that the fervent faith of Africans will revitalize the moribund Christianity in Europe, and in the West more generally. Well, if that’s true, then how are they going to do that if they aren’t, you know, there. Missionaries, I guess, but still, it’s fair to ask Christians who believe this if it’s not hypocritical to want the faith of the Africans, but not African culture. And the same is true in the US of immigrants from Latin America. As political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell reported in their 2010 book American Grace, the US Catholic Church is hemorrhaging Anglo members. If not for Latino immigration, it would be declining at the same precipitous rate as Mainline Protestantism.

If you asked Western Christians if they would rather live in Christian Lagos or atheistic Berlin, I suppose most would choose Berlin. I would, or at least that’s what I think off the top of my head. It’s not simply because the standard of living is higher there. It’s also that despite the absence of Christianity, the culture is much more familiar. But consider this: Christian children raised in Lagos almost certainly have a much greater chance of retaining their Christianity into adulthood than children raised in Berlin. What profiteth it a man to raise his kids in all the order and comfort of the West, but watch them lose their souls? According to the logic of my own principles, I ought to choose Lagos over Berlin. And perhaps I would do so, after thinking about it.

Why do African Christians choose to immigrate to Europe? Surely they know that it will be much harder to raise children in the faith there. The answer, no doubt, is that they want for themselves and their children greater economic opportunity, and a superior material culture. Are they therefore bad Christians? Are German Christians who would choose atheistic Berlin over Christian Lagos bad Christians?

Hard, hard questions. If Germany loses her Christian faith, she may be persuaded in the future to return to it. But if Germany loses her distinctly German culture through mass immigration, there will be no going back. Obviously, the Hitler legacy makes these questions excruciatingly difficult for Germany — as well as hard for the rest of us, or at least it ought to make them hard — but that horrible legacy does not settle the questions.

These are not trivial matters, and hollering “Racism!” to stifle discussion is wildly irresponsible. It seems to me that what’s happening in Germany is less a “Christian civil war” than a struggle over what it means to be German, what it means to be Christian, and where the two coincide. Perhaps the most disturbing question of all — and this is something all of us must face — is whether or not liberalism, one way or another, ultimately means the dissolution of distinct cultures.

I don’t have the answers, at least not answers I’m comfortable with, yet. But these questions cannot be avoided forever.