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Austin Cline

Germany: Secular Rites of Passage

By March 20, 2005

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Both Catholics and Protestants have "confirmation" ceremonies - rites of passage from youth into adulthood when one is expected to be mature enough to voluntarily assume responsibility for one's religious faith. But what about atheists? Are there any similar rites of passage for children who don't have religion and don't believe in any gods?

Deutsche Welle explains:

The German Humanist Association advertises for young Jugendweihe recruits with the promise that "there is much to celebrate (and many presents) even without confirmation and communion." There must be some lure in those words for the nation's teenage population, as one in every three youngsters in the states of the former East Germany signs up to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime celebration.

The 150-year-old ritual, which was mainly celebrated in eastern Germany during the past 50 years is not without controversy: While supporters see it as a non-religious way to give teenagers a forum to expand their minds, horizons and understanding of morals, opponents see it as a left-over from communist days that merely give kids an opportunity to ask their relatives for presents.

[N]ot everyone is as ready to accept the ritual as part of Germany's national youth program. Andreas Matthes grew up in western Germany and said he finds the idea of Jugendweihe dishonest. "Most kids now don't know the meaning of Jugendweihe in communist East Germany, because their parents don't tell them that," he said. "They don't tell them about the difficulties incurred for those who went to confirmation instead, and that is false."

It seems fair to say that those administering Jugendweihe should probably tell people going through how it was abused by the Nazis and Communists. Preserving those memories is a good way to help ensure that the abuse doesn't occur again. Of course, I would also ask Matthes how many Catholic and Protestant churches preserve the memory of how they assisted or were otherwise complicit with the Nazi and/or Communist regimes. Not many, I'll bet, so while he may be articulating a valid principle, I suspect that it has far greater application in his own house.

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