Why eastern Germany is the most godless place on earth

A comparison of generations around the world shows that virtually everywhere, atheism is much more pronounced among the youth than it is among people ages 55 and more, thus showing the considerable influence that modernization has had on religious belief. In Poland, for example, 79.3% of those over 68 believe in God, as opposed to only 58.4% of those between 28 and 37.

The only exception is Israel, where belief is God is markedly more pronounced among young people. This could be related to the immigration of non-secular Jews to Israel, but the study’s authors also think that it is partially due to a growing split along Jewish and Muslim religious lines. Under conditions of competition and separation, religious belief comes to have greater meaning for one’s sense of personal identity, they write. Religious competition of that sort is virtually nonexistent in eastern Germany because so few Muslims live there.

Researchers found other reasons for atheism in the former East Germany, not least the deep mark left by the National Socialists and the Communists. But they also point to the fact that many Slavic and non-Orthodox communities present in the area since the Middle Ages were nonreligious; that the secularization movements during the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) were particularly strong in the states of Thuringia and Saxony; that the resistance of most DDR dissidents to the church was not seen, unlike the way it was perceived in Catholic Poland, as specifically religiously motivated.