I’d forgotten to post this when it happened, but today at breakfast I was reminded of it by a new friend who had just bought a used bike, so here it is:
I have no faith. I believe in no God.*
Okay, now with that out of the way, I can explain. Back when I first arrived in Germany, Gianinna from human resources at Fairtrade International was taking me to the Stadthaus to get all of my papers in order so I could live and work here. As we approached, she briefly guided me through the process.
“And when they ask if you have religion, you should say no.”
Really? As if paying nearly half your wages in taxes wasn’t enough (actually, it’s really pretty sensible), the German government also wants to know your religion so you can pay 30 Euros a month in church tax. The only way to evade this tax is sign a paper officially stating you have no religion.
Interesting fact: Back when Germany was reunified, there was a mass exodus from the church. At the time, a reunification tax was implemented so everyone would contribute to sewing Germany together again. Though Germans respect the power of public services and the taxes that make them possible, this was a burden too large and many opted out of the church tax by renouncing their faith.
I really didn’t think it was a big deal. I rarely go to church. I kind of consider myself more of a Quaker than anything at the moment. Buddhism is pretty interesting and the meditation meetings were pretty great in Santa Fe. But as the woman at the Stadthaus methodically went through the questions, I paused when the religion one came up.
My parents raised me Roman Catholic. They made great sacrifices to put me and my five brothers through Catholic grade school and I was confirmed back around 1995, knighted by the archbishop and all that jazz. God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and I have had some great times.
And here I was, ready to renounce my faith. Turn my back on my old pals for a measly 30 Euros a month. I blinked and paused. The whole question seemed ridiculous. And given German history, I was loathe to give the government any more identifying information than necessary.
But publicly renouncing my faith, whatever that may be, in a wide open office smelling oddly of bureaucracy cranking along under the steady hum of fluorescent lights was harder than I expected.
Actually, it wasn’t really that hard: 30 Euros a month is a lot. So I signed myself over to the legions of officially unfaithful. I thought about this as I rode my bike home this morning. And the more I think about it, religion is bigger than the state, faith is beyond government.
So yes, sorry mom and pop, I have no religion.