March 24, 2009

Choosing my religion

The phone rings. It’s Celia’s mom – Celia’s a 5-year-old girl in K’s class.

She wants to know what religion I plan to select on K’s school registration.

Me: ‘Excuse me?’

Celia’s mom: ‘Well, you know that when you register for school each child can choose to be in the same class with 2 other kids but they split up the kids based on religion.’

I did not know this.

Me: ‘Excuse me?’

Celia’s mom (patiently - she's quite nice, really): ‘They split the kids up based on whether they’re Catholic, Protestant or Aethiest.’

Me:Excuse me?’

Celia’s mom (after a pause): ‘Would you prefer to speak English?’

Me: ‘No, you just surprised me.' And this conversation would be even weirder in English. 'Er. . . did you just say that the kids are split up into religious groups? In school?’

Celia’s mom: ‘Yes.' I can sense her nodding over the phone. 'Most of the kids are Catholic so there’s one group of Catholics and Protestants and one with Catholics and Athiests.’

A little background on this: Although German grade school is typically over by lunchtime, which creates enormous problems for working parents, they spend an hour of this precious time on religious studies.

Celia’s mom: ‘Anyway, Celia wants to be with K and Leia but Leia’s Protestant.’

I’m briefly tempted to say we’re Jewish or Muslim but control myself. Shut up, you're not funny, I tell myself sternly.

Me: ‘We're probably Aethiest. We don’t really go to church. I think my husband might be Protestant, though. I’ll ask him when he gets back.’

Celia’s mom: ‘Or we could go with Tina. She's also Athiest.’

I try to picture the athiest Tina.

Me: ‘Um. . . yeah. Sure. Tina would be good.’

Celia’s mom: ‘Let’s touch base over the weekend.’

Me: ‘Absolutely. Let’s do that.’


  1. I wonder if their religious affiliations change along with their childens' friend preferences. Nice one.

  2. Certainly makes you think about appreciating America more in some ways.

  3. That is a whole lot of weird.

  4. This is very frustrating. I am against any kind of discrimination, and the idea of separating children according to religious beliefs bothers me a lot. But I do know about the annoying subject of religious studies at school. In Greece, it is obligatory to go to school for at least 9 years in total, and then you can take 3 more in high school optionally (90% students continue). Religious studies are taught throughout ALL 12 years, and they are obligatory to take. And it is not a subject examining different religions objectively, but a kind of disguised propaganda, declaring how Orthodox Christians are superior than the rest. :(

  5. I agree that the German system is indeed strange -- what strikes me is how Germans are really not very religious (in a lot of ways Americans are much more so!), yet the 2 main churches (Catholic & Lutheran) teach religion classes in schools, and the government collects taxes for them. On the other hand, the church cannot perform marriages until there's first a civil union in Cityhall (with all the controversies going on in the US about Gay marriage, I wish they'd just institute civil unions & leave the word marriage/matrimony for the churches...)

    More and more German, I understand, are opting out -- my father has officially "stepped out" (ausgetreten) of the Catholic Church after some 70 years of having belonged (membership is pretty much automatic, since birth). My mother, on the other hand, still belongs, but rarely goes to church -- most Germans I know will only go to church for the big 3 events of life: baptism, wedding & funeral! To them it's more cultural than anything else.
    Go figure -- in so many ways Germans are rather secular, yet they teach religion in school. But I do think by upper school they can opt out of attending religion class...

  6. Wow. You definitely know you don't live in the U.S. I don't even know what to say.

  7. I had this same freak-out a couple of years ago. Given Germany's history, I thought that dividing kids up according to religion was pretty lacking in taste. I discovered that they are separated For Religion Class Only and that this only kicks in around Catholic confirmation time (Grade 3), when Protestants and Aetheists go off and learn other things. Could it be the same for you?

  8. I guess I'm glad that's one less thing I have to decide about their schooling and activites.
    If I had to decide, though I'm not Atheist, I think that might be the group I'd choose. Don't think I'd care for the school teaching my kids their version of a religion. And I guess it shouldn't matter what class I chose if I'm doing a good job of teaching them at home! Which I usually think I'm not.
    Or I'd go similar to your method & pick it based on what friends are in what class.

  9. Interesting situation... what if your child is Hindu and there are no other Hindu in there... will she have to sit in a corner somewhere by herself?

  10. Just when I think I've heard it all, along comes this! What did you do?

  11. wow this blew my mind. Seriously.

  12. As Charlotte said, here in Berlin and also in NRW, my husband's area, I know that Religion is only a single class and that one can choose Ethical Studies rather than a religion at that time period. Is it really different by you? And the kirchegeld collected, voluntarily by those who choose to pay it (and tithes and donations exist in the US, although they are not collected and disbursed by the gov't)goes to support community resources such as kitas and classes and community centers, not just religion classes (which in the US are handled outside of school by families). I have some issues with the tax itself (extremely high and not capped) but not with the concept. I think it's fine.

  13. Very odd - now I'm going to have to talk to some of my german classmates about this!


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