What all of this means is that rather than simply just being an area that was occupied by the Soviet Union and their satraps in the East German Communist party, the eastern part of Germany has an identity which – almost a quarter of a century on – continues to make unification more difficult than expected. Religious confession, or rather the lack of it, plays an important role in this. This has led some to talk of East German atheism as a form of continuing political and regional identification. For example, in 2000 the Catholic theologian Eberhard Tiefensee identified what he called an “East German folk atheism” which could be argued to constitute a substantial part of a regional identity against West German Catholic domination.
Secularisation processes are under way throughout the continent and the role of religion and the church in modernity are being questioned everywhere, from gay marriage to women priests to abortion and on to whether the EU should identify itself as a Christian entity. The question should perhaps be whether it is actually folk atheism that represents the future of Europe.