I'm Big in Israel!

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a journalist from the Israeli business daily TheMarker, who wanted to know my views about German immigration policy. I thought that might be a reasonable way to sum up my thoughts all in one place, since the questions were quite wide-ranging. The article was just published. It's in Hebrew, but it seems to contain quite a bit of my interview, if Google Translate can be trusted.

Just to ensure nothing gets lost in translation, here are my original answers. I've edited a few parts for clarity, but no major changes.

There's not much happening on the immigration front right now, so I've largely moved on to other subjects. I'll let this stand here as my (quasi) last word on the subject.

You are an immigrant yourself, born in Brussels and grew up in the US. what differentiates you from Muslim immigrants? 

I’d say there’s not much difference between myself and a “culturally” but not especially religious Muslim immigrant who has an advanced degree, speaks fluent German, participates in community life, and is employed and pays taxes. In fact, I know quite a number of people like that here in Germany. Immigrants such as myself and my Muslim friends contribute positively to German society. We have never needed welfare or committed a serious crime, and have consistently been employed and paid our taxes.

The two question when it comes to immigration is: How many? Which ones? A manageable number of people like us is a benefit to any country.

But that’s not what Germany’s getting. Hundreds of thousands of young males (about 65-70% of the 2015 arrivals were males under 35) with little education and no job skills were allowed to enter Germany in 2015. Those people chose Germany not because of any affinity for the country or knowledge of its culture, but simply because they thought they might be able to find a place here, and had been told by smugglers that Germany ‘needed’ and ‘invited’ them.

The German borders should be open for all, shouldn't they?

Definitely not. There is a fraction of left-wing extremists who do not believe countries should be allowed to have borders, but they’re no more than 5% of the population of Germany, at most. A 2009 Pew poll found that 25 million people worldwide would like to permanently relocate to Germany. If that happened, Germany as we know it would vanish.

This is why no country in the world has ever voluntarily had unregulated open borders since the formation of the modern nation-state. Germany’s existing laws – including Article 16a of the Basic Law (Germany’s modern Constitution) and its Asylum Law set out a reasonable legal framework for who gets to enter the country. The problem was that Angela Merkel decided to order that these laws be ignored.

What is your main criticism against the German immigration policy, especially in the past couple of years?

The fundamental flaw in German immigration policy is that there is no overall German law for permitting the orderly migration of people with education, job skills, and motivation to adapt to German society. This means that much German immigration is regulated by asylum law: someone shows up in the country illegally, and then claims asylum. These are not people Germany has invited or whom whom Germany needs. Rather, they are people who happened to want to relocate to Germany and could afford the smugglers’ fees. Some have valid asylum claims, many do not.

That is the long-term background problem. The more recent problem is the government’s total failure to prepare for the migrant influx in 2015. Chancellor Merkel and other leading politicians sent out inviting signals of ‘welcome’ which induced over a million people – 65-70% of whom were young and male – to start on the path to Germany. The majority of the 2015 arrivals were not Syrians. They came from Albania, Afghanistan, Serbia, Georgia, Kosovo, Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq, Pakistan, India, and dozens of other countries which are not at war, although they are poor and some have regional insurgencies. The proportion of Syrians went up in 2016, but the overall numbers (around 200,000) are much lower, since Germany has re-introduced some border controls.

This huge influx of people all at once in 2015 completely swamped the German immigration system. Hundreds of thousands of young males from the most unstable parts of the world flooded into Germany. There were no backgrounds checks, no fingerprint records, no attempt at verification of their identity or background. A majority of them claimed they had no identity papers or presented fake ones. Germany still has no reliable information about who thousands of these people are.

Can’t Germany just send them back? No. The slow, cumbersome German deportation laws have broken down completely: there are now about 500,000 people whose asylum claims have been rejected but who are still in the country. There are literally dozens of ways to avoid deportation: get a certificate of illness from a sympathetic doctor, argue your homeland is too unsafe, physically resist when you get on the deportation plane, claim asylum in a Christian church, or simply go underground. Some Afghans have even avoided deportation by claiming to be Taliban, absurdly enough. This claim automatically starts a complex legal process, during which the migrant is permitted to stay in Germany and move freely.

Another problem is that the countries from which these men come don’t want many of them back. Migrants from North Africa are committing crimes at such a high rate that it’s become clear that a large portion of the criminal underclass of Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco came to Germany. Those countries can keep their undesirables in Germany by simply failing to issue the necessary deportation paperwork. Thousands of deportations are stalled for this reason alone. The Tunisian truck attacker, Anis Amri, was already known to be a criminal and dangerous radical Islamist, and was supposed to be deported, but Tunisia refused to issue the paperwork confirming his nationality -- until two days after the terror attack. Germany, by the way, provided € 215 million in development aid to Tunisia (g) in 2015.

Less spectacular crimes have also been committed by migrants. This is understandable: they are mostly young men, the group most likely to commit crime in any society. They have nothing to do all day, do not speak German or English, the majority do not have even the equivalent of a high-school education. They are now living in a culture where alcohol is cheap and available everywhere, women dress in a ‘revealing’ fashion, and the cultural controls of their community and family are gone. The predictable result has been an increase in crime near migrant shelters. Most of the crime has been nonviolent property offenses, but there have also been dozens of killings, thousands of assaults and sex crimes, three completed terrorist attacks, and one serious attempt (Jaber al Bakr, a radicalized Syrian who committed suicide in prison after being arrested for creating 1.5 kg of high explosive and planning to bomb a Berlin airport).

The federal government does not keep accurate statistics on the number of crimes committed by recent migrants, but claims that migrants do not commit crimes at a higher rate than Germans of a similar demographic background – i.e. disproportionately young and male. Backers of the political consensus see this as reassuring, critics of German policy point out that even if this assertion is true, it still means thousands of crimes are now happening in Germany because of the migrant influx. Further, migrants tend to commit different kinds of crimes than Germans. In particular, they have committed hundreds of sexual assaults in public against random strangers (including many against children), a type of crime that was much more uncommon before the migrants arrived, and which has a particularly strong impact on quality of life.

Since migrant shelters are located in poor and working-class neighborhoods (which lack the political power to oppose them), it is poorer Germans – including many established immigrants – who are bearing the brunt of migrant crime.

Do you think Islam the worst threat on Europe? If so, why?

I would distinguish between Islam and Islamism. I don’t see Islam itself as a threat to Europe. The vast majority of European Muslims are in fact peaceful and law-abiding, and don’t pose a ‘threat’.

However, if we talk about adapting successfully to European societies, there is a problem. Once again, it’s a question of how many? And which ones? Most Muslims in Germany were imported from Eastern Anatolia as factory labor in the 1960s, or as refugees during the Lebanese civil war. Their numbers then steadily expanded by chain migration and family reunification. These persons were originally intended to be temporary manual labor, and were not chosen because they were likely to adapt successfully to Europe. Muslims have come to shape the character many neighborhoods in Germany and France, and continue to gain both in numbers and political power. Some immigrant communities now effectively work according to their own rules.

This doesn’t mean they are a threat – the mere fact that someone may have conservative religious beliefs and wear a hijab is not a ‘threat’ to anyone. But the stubborn reality ias that Muslims in Germany and France do worse on most measures of social integration and flourishing than native populations. The existence of many individual success stories cannot hide the fact that Germans of Turkish descent are only half as likely to attend university as native Germans, or that France’s prisons are up to 70% Muslim. (We have only estimates, since France refuses to record the religion or ethnicity of prisoners). And although there is a taboo against mentioning it, statistics show that foreigners and those with a foreign background commit crimes at a much higher rate than ethnic Germans. Two things are true: the majority of Muslims in Germany are law-abiding, but the rate of crime among Muslims is higher than among ethnic Germans.

Muslims also face discrimination. European countries are not nations of immigrants. Each has its own unique cultural identity and heritage. They are not new, young nations such as Israel or the United States. Neither their people nor their culture is accustomed to embracing large numbers of culturally-foreign outsiders. Yet that is what many of these countries have tried to do. The result is social tension, discrimination, exclusion, and distrust.

Muslims will not ‘destroy’ or ‘take over’ Europe, that sort of rhetoric is irresponsible and not supported by the facts. But the results of past mistaken immigration policies will burden Europe for decades.

What type of immigration policy should Germany adopt?

As I’ve written before, I advocate a two-tier system inviting skilled workers and asylum-seekers. First, Germany should welcome a certain number skilled, educated workers a year by using a Canada-style point system, where you get credit for being educated, having a job offer, knowing some German, and being ready and willing to integrate. Because of past mistakes in immigration policy, many Germans associate immigrants with social dysfunction, crime, and menial labor. Only a plan to import skilled immigrants who will immediately contribute from day one can overcome this negative impression.

I would also certainly keep Germany’s asylum policy. Because of its notorious history, German has included a right to political asylum in its very constitution, and has one of the world’s most generous asylum policies, if not the most. This is appropriate. However, the current system is open to massive abuse: people sneak into the country illegally, file an asylum claim using a made-up story, and often disappear underground before the claim is even judged. As I pointed out above, the system for deporting failed asylum-seekers is broken.

Asylum claims should be processed outside German territory. Asylum seekers should be subjected to a thorough medical check and background investigation, and their identity determined through fingerprints and DNA. Their stories should be verified as thoroughly as possible. Destroying documents of lying about your identity will automatically result in exclusion. Asylum seekers should be chosen on the basis of greatest need and danger, not on current basis, which favors those healthy enough to travel and rich enough to bribe smugglers. There should be an annual upper limit decided by the legislature.

Most countries already manage asylum this way; Germany should follow suit.

What do you say to left-wingers who claim that almost an absolute majority of Muslims immigrant are good hard working people who want to assimilate in the German society, and that they are very important to the German economy as well, as cheap labour for jobs that local Germans are not willing to do?

As I’ve said, most Muslims who have lived in Germany for some time are indeed hard-working and law abiding, although their overall net economic contribution (minus social welfare benefits, which they collect at a higher rate) to German society is modest.

The 1.2 million (the numbers are still imprecise, because the sheer number of arrivals has swamped recordkeeping systems) who have arrived since the beginning of 2015 are another matter entirely. Almost none of them has the preconditions for integrating successfully into German society. They don’t speak the language, don’t understand the culture or customs, have very little education, and don’t have the kind of job skills Germany wants or needs. One recent study showed that only 34,000 have managed to find jobs so far, and most of those jobs are temporary menial labor.

If they are allowed to stay, these hundreds of thousands of new arrivals will compete directly with low-skilled German workers – cashiers, delivery drivers, nursing aides, warehouse workers, store clerks, gardeners, janitors and the like. This sector of the German economy has seen no growth in its real wages since decades, while prices and rents consistently rise. When financially-strapped Germans see a flood of cheap immigrant labor coming to compete for their jobs, they will be extremely angry. And they will vote accordingly. Already, studies show thousands of working-class Germans switching from the Social Democratic Party to the AfD. And this is happening during boom times with low unemployment in Germany. When the next business downturn hits, the resentment will only escalate.

Germany needs skilled workers, not menial workers. Yet even if Germany wanted to import menial workers, the question arises: why from Muslim countries? There are millions of EU citizens from Eastern Europe who are eager for low-skilled jobs in Germany, and who come from nations which are culturally much closer to Germany than, say, Afghanistan.

Do you support Merkel? Where do you position yourself on the political map?

I support a strong social welfare state, so I would probably be a left-wing Social Democrat on this issue. I’d probably vote SPD if I voted in Germany. I am convinced, based on my review of the literature, that mass immigration poses a grave threat to the social welfare state: historically, support for welfare goes down the more diverse a society is -- or becomes.

Merkel has been a competent Chancellor overall, a sort of technical caretaker who governs by consensus. This no-drama approach is very popular among Germans. Merkel is a reasonable choice for times where everything is going well. However, I think she has made several critical mistakes, the most recent being the reckless migrant influx, and should step down. There will be little change in any case, since the German political landscape is so fractured that only a center consensus coalition has a chance of winning.

Do you fear that the terror attacks by Muslims and the hostility towards them in Germany would lead to the rise of the extreme right, represented particularly by the party ‘Alternative for Germany’?

This is already happening, all over Europe. In the Netherlands, France, the UK, Hungary, and Sweden, right-wing parties (or movements, such as Brexit) are gaining unprecedented support. Germany has long had a strong suspicion of nationalist conservative parties (for obvious reasons) which has kept the AfD’s support to under 15%, for now. But that is a very large number in Germany’s fracture political landscape, and represents a tripling in support from 2013.

The AfD currently easily outpolls the Green and Left parties. For years, the AfD profited by being the only party which clearly, openly opposed Chancellor Merkel’s open-borders policy. Many of its other positions are extreme by German standards, and unpopular among German voters. Now that many other politicians in Germany have basically copied many AfD positions on immigration, its support may drop. But right now, it is still climbing slowly in the polls, and may even soon pull equal to the collapsing Social Democratic Party, which would be a true milestone in German politics.

What are the changes you sense in the public discussion regarding Muslims in the past year? Do Germans feel more free to criticise Islam freely, or is it still considered a non P.C subject to talk about?

There has been a huge change. In mid-2015, an almost euphoric attitude of Willkommenskultur existed in the German media and public life. The entire mainstream press, including tabloids, referred to all the migrants as ‘refugees’. Volunteers arranged train convoys to carry them into Germany, often more than 10,000 refugees in one day. German volunteers distributed teddy bears to the children, food and clothes to the adults, and helped overburdened government agencies find a place for all the new arrivals to sleep. A prominent Green politician, Katrin Göring-Eckhardt, famously exclaimed: “We’ve suddenly been given the gift of people!” (Wir bekommen plötzlich Menschen geschenkt!). The press was full of ecstatic stories about Germany becoming a new kind of ‘moral’ superpower. Mainstream magazines and newspapers published dozens of profiles of ‘poster child’ refugees. There were so many profiles of Syrian doctors that the very phrase ‘Syrian doctor’ became a meme. Germany basked in praise from Obama, EU officials, the UN, refugee rights groups, and other liberal internationalists the world over. People who raised doubts about the policy were often denounced and attacked as xenophobes, racists, or worse.

Now, of course, we know that the majority of the 2015 arrivals were neither Syrians nor doctors. Costs are running somewhere around €2 billion per month, since virtually all the migrants are on welfare for asylum seekers, which includes rent, food, housing, medical care, education, and a monthly allowance of between €150 and €400, depending on circumstances. Shelters housing young male refugees are notoriously chaotic, spectacular crimes by immigrants have horrified observers, local governments are facing huge financial strain, the statistics on migrant participation in integration and language classes are disappointing.

Even migrants who wanted to learn German – and that certainly was not all of them – are finding it extremely difficult, and many have given up. German is a difficult language to learn, especially if you have never used the Latin alphabet and are illiterate in your own mother tongue, which is true of at least 30-40% of migrants. Most Germans who volunteered to teach German of help manage shelters have long since gone back to their normal jobs and lives. In February of 2016, two-thirds of Germans believed the refugees could be successfully integrated. Recent polls show only a minority – as low as 15% in some polls -- believes this. Politicians now routinely call for stepped-up deportations, a position that only the AfD held until recently.

The euphoria has worn off. Immigration and integration now top the list of concerns of German voters. The mood is hesitant and uncertain. Local communities continue to request billions from the federal government to provide for migrants, almost all of whom are still dependent on government welfare and charity. Nobody knows how the situation will turn out, but you don’t have to be a pessimist to see the potential for dark days ahead.


Ulm Minster "Coated in Urine and Vomit" Thanks to German Videophobia

Piss

The Washington Post reports on the Ulm Minster:

The spire atop Ulm Minster, the world’s tallest church, juts 530 feet into the air above the German city for which it is named. In its 639th year, however, the Gothic structure could be laid low by a gross and unfortunate hazard: Too many revelrous Germans are ducking into the church’s alcoves to relieve their full bladders and queasy stomachs against the ancient walls.

“I’ve been keeping an eye on it for half a year now and, once again, it’s coated with urine and vomit,” Michael Hilbert, head of the local building preservation agency, told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Those charged with maintaining the building, like Hilbert, worry that abrasive chemicals in the bodily fluids are abrading the sandstone blocks that form the church’s foundation. Making matters worse, the potential damage to the stone comes after the church recently completed an expensive renovation....

To stanch the flow of expelled waste, police patrols have increased in the area. Ulm also doubled city fines for public urination to 100 euros, or $110.

But neither the increased fines nor the extra patrols appear to have curbed the acidic eliminations. (Most sandstones are able to weather acids, like those in acid rains, without significant damage, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Certain sandstone types, however, contain carbonate cements that dissolve when exposed even to weak acids.)

This is another instance of the curious German aversion to video surveillance. Like nuclear power, inflation, and debt, Germans have an intense cultural aversion to video surveillance. This is largely explained by the Nazi excesses in monitoring the population, as well as the European culture of privacy, which gives you rights over your own image, even in public. But these legitimate concerns are endlessly exaggerated and hyped in public discussions here, so that there is an organized lobby against video surveillance even where it would be a cheap, obvious, and effective way to solve serious problems.

As here. This is not a hard case. Just set up a bunch of obvious video surveillance cameras and signs where the problem is worst. Post images of the offenders online.

The predictable riposte from Green Party members, the most strident opponents of video surveillance, is that this won't stop everybody from pissing on the church. I've heard this argument literally hundreds of times from Green Party member about virtually every proposed expansion of government or police power. 

One of the strange defects in German debate culture is that almost nobody makes the obvious counter-argument to the Greens: that a measure doesn't have to be 100% successful to be worth doing. We have laws against murder, yet murders happen nevertheless. Some people will still piss on the church after the cameras are installed, but there will be many fewer of them. Perhaps the cameras might catch people who are engaged in innocent activity (although what that might be is a bit hard to imagine). Of course, nobody would see these images except the people who monitor the camera feeds.

The idea that this miniscule infringement of the privacy of people who know they are in a public space outweighs the importance of preserving the world's architectural heritage is, frankly, ludicrous. I'd be willing to bet that all the privately-owned businesses within a kilometer of the Ulm Minster already have video surveillance. The notion that a masturbation video emporium (g) in Ulm can manage to protect itself, while one of the world's greatest Gothic churches cannot, is, well, beyond ludicrous.

Grow up, Germany. We're counting on you.


Iceland's Comfy Jesus

While we're on the subject of Iceland, a Facebook pal writes: "a friend of mine traveled extensively through the country and came across this fresco of a tanned male supermodel Jesus in a woolen turtleneck sweater. In comparison to this vision of The Utter Beyond, Michelangelo's Last Judgment or Bernini's St. Theresa just evaporate into insignificance. I name it Comfy Jesus:"

Img_1681


Bayer buys Monsanto: 'Und es mag am Monsanto'schen Wesen Einmal noch die Welt genesen.'

Monsanto-Logo-Monsantod-Gift-Pestizid-lebensmittel-nahrung-Gentech-Schaedel-Loeffel-Gabel-Tod-vergiftung-qpress

[One of countless German anti-Monsanto memes; 'Tod' = is German for 'death'. Source

That faint popping sound is heads exploding all over Germany, as Bayer -- known to Germans as that Solid, Responsible, Traditional German Company Which Practices Soft, Gentle, Humane Rhineland Capitalism™ -- buys Monsanto, known to Germans as the Soulless American Hyper-Capitalist Death-Juggernaut Which Drives Indian Farmers to Suicide, Forces Frankenfoods Down Our Throats, and Poisons our Children's Ice Cream, Mandrake™.

In America, this would be the equivalent of the Little Debbie Snak Cake Company merging with the Church of Satan and the North American Man-Boy Love Association and announcing a line of Little Debbie Sphincter-Shaped Sweet Sugary Sodomy Stars™, to go with this other product:

Little debbie devil squares

Germany, I love you, I really do. But the only way to stop me from mocking your disingenuous faux-naïveté will be to pry the jokes... 


One Last Observation: Some Refugees Will Be Muslim Fundamentalists

One last observation before I switch to the one-post-a-week policy. Let's say Germany grants some form of legal residency status to millions of refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

This is quite the decent thing to do. However, the mere fact that these people are fleeing conflict does not automatically make them good fits for German society. Now many, perhaps most Syrian refugees are from the educated middle classes (they have savings they use to pay for tickets and smugglers) and are relatively progressive, by Middle East standards. Their women don't wear headscarves and are eager for education.

They'll fit right in, no problem.

However, some fraction of the refugees are going to be conservative Muslims. A smaller portion of them will be extremely conservative Muslims. Some may even be Salafists. They will be grateful to Germany for giving them refuge, but they will not change their fundamental beliefs, because that's not how humans work.

Consider, for example, the al-Nusra Front. It's a Syrian Sunni Jihadist group with links to Al-Qaeda. It's not the most radical opposition militia in Syria, that dubious honor belongs to ISIS, which considers al-Nusra to be too soft. Al-Nusra has carried out suicide bombings, and is considered a terrorist organization by about 10 foreign governments, including France and Turkey. It's also by most accounts the strongest component of the anti-government Syrian opposition. According to Wikipedia, al-Nusra is a "formidable force with strong popular support in Syria".

It's hardly far-fetched to supposed that thousands of those strong popular supporters have already fled and may flee in the future if their territory is taken over by government forces or ISIS. Once they reach Germany, what are their opinions going to be about gays? About women wearing headscarves? About pop music? About multiparty secular democracy? About swimming lessons for girls? About religious education? About cartoons mocking Mohammed?

About -- ahem, cough cough -- German policy toward Israel? (remember that Palestinian refugee girl who cried during a town meeting with Angela Merkel and then said in a follow-up interview that Israel shouldn't exist?)

About Jews? 

Germany's record on assimilating conservative Muslims (or, if you prefer, the record conservative Muslims in Germany have in integrating into German society) is mixed, to say the least. According to a recent study (g), 60% of European Muslims would not befriend a homosexual, and 45% say Jews cannot be trusted. I wonder if a fresh influx of 100,000? 200,000? 300,000? is going to make things easier?


Pay Your Church Tax or No Wafer for You

Rod Dreher, a conservative American commentator, can hardly believe his eyes when he reads about the German church tax (Kirchensteuer):

In Germany, as in a number of other European countries, if you are a member of a church or mainstream religion, you have to pay a pretty significant tax to the government, which distributes the money to the churches. From the Wall Street Journal:

German church members must pay an additional 8% to 9% of their gross annual income tax and capital gains tax bills to the church. That is typically steeper than in many other parts of Europe. A registered believer, for instance, paying a 30% income tax rate, or €30,000, on an income of €100,000, would pay another €2,400 to €2,700 in church tax.

To American eyes, that’s stunning. Now, the German government is closing a loophole having to do with capital gains, which means an effective tax increase for its officially registered Christian believers....  The church tax issue has become a big deal with the German Catholic bishops taking the lead in trying to liberalize the universal Catholic church’s rules on married and divorced people receiving communion. Look at this report from theNational Catholic Register:

In response to the numbers de-registering, the German bishops issued a decree in September 2012 calling such departure “a serious lapse” and listing a number of ways they are barred from participating in the life of the Church.

The decree specified that those who do not pay the church tax cannot receive the sacraments of Confession, Communion, Confirmation, or Anointing of the Sick, except when in danger of death; cannot hold ecclesial office or perform functions within the Church; cannot be a godparent or sponsor; cannot be a member of diocesan or parish councils; and cannot be members of public associations of the Church.

More:

The critics point out that while Cardinal Kasper and most of his fellow German bishops have been leading the charge to allow those in “irregular” marital situations — those who are divorced and remarried — to receive Communion, they have simultaneously denied the sacraments, including even Confession, to those who opt out of paying Germany’s “church tax.”

In both cases, the German position is at odds with Church teaching: admitting to Communion those formally not allowed; and forbidding those whom the Vatican says can validly receive the sacraments.

The German definition of mercy, critics say, is a “pay to pray system” that has its “financial” limits.

The bishops in Germany “are notoriously the most merciful in wishing to grant Communion to the divorced and remarried, but at the same time are the most ruthless in de facto excommunicating those who refuse to pay the church tax, which in their country is obligatory by law,” Vatican analyst Sandro Magister wrote Oct. 29 in his “Settimo Cielo” blog for Italy’s L’Espresso newspaper.

Read the whole thing.  If I were a German Catholic or Protestant, I would be enormously offended by this whole thing. It’s outrageous that if you are a German Catholic who wants to go to confession, the priest will deny it if you haven’t paid the church tax. How is this much different from Johann Tetzel’s indulgence business, selling salvation to Renaissance German Catholics?

So, who agrees with Dreher? Not being religious, I don't have a dog in this fight. Well, at least not in the title bout -- although as someone who pays German taxes I do subsidize many relgious activities with my tax dollars. Further, coming from the United States, I tend to regard estabilshed churches with a skeptical eye.

But even setting aside these biases, I've often thought the church tax was a particularly clumsy way of regulating church-state interaction. Nevertheless, Dreher can calm down somewhat: You aren't going to be denied Communion at a Catholic church in Germany if you haven't paid your Kirchensteuer unless you tattoo that fact on your forehead, and probably not even then. Germans are famous for dropping out of the church they were raised in as soon as they become adults, thus saving themselves the Kirchensteuer. Then, if they decide on a church wedding, they re-join, since getting married in church is complicated enough transaction that the church will demand you be a member to enjoy this benefit. But despite the Bishops' huffing and puffing, I've never heard of an ordinary German Catholic being denied Communion for not having paid the Kirchensteuer. But then again I don't travel in churchy circles, so I might not know.


Wiblingen Monastery Library and Bleg: Joseph Nickel

A few years ago I bicycled around the Allgäu, a succulent part of Germany on the border between its two large and influential southern states, Baden Württemburg and Bavaria. Gentle hills, meter-wide brooks, and frothy South German baroque churches.

I happened to ride by Wiblingen, which hosts a Benedictine monastery church with a library that looks like this:

Wiblingen Monastery Library

The camera was a Canon Powershot G11, nothing special. The photographer in me regrets the overexposed bits, but overall, it's an eye-feast, and the monastery itself works the magic. Most of what looks like solid marble is actually plaster that resounds when you tap it.

The bleg is this: I paid a couple of euros to visit the museum here, which was detailed -- maps of the monastery's shifting domains, dioramas of the practical winemaking and woodworking and property management of the industrious ora et labora Benedictines, and maps illustrating the fascinating legal history of the local Benedictines: when they were granted their first clerical fiefs, which pieces of land they lost during the War of the Moravian Pretender in 1715, what percentage of their land they rented to tenant farmers, etc.

All relentlessly informative and dull, even for a lawyer. But then one of the pull-out wooden information tablets (the curator had gotten pretty frisky) spoke of The Benedictine Monks receiving the Blutrecht (literally blood-right) from the local prince in the early 1700s. This meant they had the power to enact their own criminal code and inflict corporal penalties. The abbey had become a large local landowner, and the local prince was tired of policing it, so he transferred that authority to the monks themselves. They enacted a crude criminal code, punishing unrepentant blasphemers by death.

Here, the (likely tendentious and unreliable) monastery records describe an interesting case. A local man named Joseph Nickel came to monks' attention. He'd studied in Paris and then returned to Wiblingen to spread his free-thinking views and eke out a living as a highway robber. He even robbed a monk. He was punished a few times. Then one evening he was overheard in a tavern denying the divinity of and blaspheming Mary. He denied nothing at trial, and the monks sentenced him -- as a repeat offender and blasphemer -- to death. They had to have a special scaffold erected since they'd never done this before. He was hung by the river in front of a crowd. The historical account in the museum stressed that the monks were awfully broken up about having to hang Nickel, and, if memory serves, never hanged anyone again.

I remember reading this and being more than a bit surprised, since I'd never heard of a monastery acquiring sovereignty, enacting a criminal code, and actually hanging someone. Perhaps I'm naive.

In any event, that's the story as I remember it, from my memory and blurry photos of the card. I think it's about 80% accurate. My bleg to you is if anyone can find me some other written sources about Joseph Nickel? 98% sure that's his name, because I drilled it into my memory. But I've never found anything more about him. An educated, free-thinking vagabond hanged by monks in the 1700s interests me. Can anyone point me to more information about Joseph Nickel?


There are No Atheists in Prison Cells

This from Salon:

This week, Pew Research Center published the results of a survey conducted among 40,080 people in 40 countries between 2011 and 2013. The survey asked a simple question: is belief in God essential to morality? 

...In 22 of the 40 countries surveyed, the majority says it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person. “This position is highly prevalent, if not universal, in Africa and the Middle East,” says the report. No surprise there, but Asian and Latin countries such as Indonesia (99%), Malaysia (89%), the Philippines (99%), El Salvador (93%), and Brazil (86%) all fell in the highest percentile of respondents believing belief in a god (small G) is central to having good values.

Interestingly, clear majorities in all highly developed countries do not think belief in god to be necessary for morality, with one exception only: the U.S.A.

Only 15 percent of the French population answered in the affirmative. Spain: 19%. Australia: 23%. Britain: 20%. Italy: 27%. Canada: 31%. Germany 33%. Israel: 37%.

So what of the U.S.? A comparatively eye-popping 53 percent of Americans essentially believe atheists and agnostics are living in sin. Despite the fact that a research analyst at the Federal Bureau of Prisons determined that atheists are thoroughly under-represented in the places where rapists, thieves and murders invariably end up: prisons. While atheists make upward of 15 percent of the U.S. population, they only make up 0.2 percent of the prison population.

The result for Germany's a bit surprising -- just a reminder that despite green energy, a gay foreign minister, and swinger-club sex-and-suckling-pig parties (g - as a friend of mine once said, 'the ultimate integration test for foreigners'), large parts of Germany are still quite conservative. Also, these results are yet another reason no lazy reporter should ever mention 'Catholic Spain/Italy' again.

The atheist result is pretty interesting, although I'm sure it's mostly an artifact of the fact that atheists are richer and more educated than the general population, and are therefore less likely to end up in prison for various reasons. But still, if the New Atheists need a rallying cry, why not 'There are no Atheists in Prison Cells?' NAs, you can have this one for a reasonable licensing fee.


USA Getting More Secular, Less Nationalistic

God guns guts

From a recent survey:

When Americans were asked if they think the United States is the greatest country in the world, there were sharp differences in the responses across generations. In total, 48% of Americans believe the United States is the greatest country in the world and 42% believe it is one of the greatest countries in the world, but a significant portion of the Millennial generation responded differently.

Just 32% of Millennials believe the U.S. is the greatest country in the world. That number progressively increases among the Gen X (48%), Boomer (50%) and Silent generations (64%). Millennials were also the most likely generation to say America is not the greatest country in the world (11%).

Millennials also are less likely than their elders to express patriotism. A majority of Millennials (70%) agreed with the statement “I am very patriotic.” But even larger percentages of Gen Xers (86%), Boomers (91%) and Silents (90%) said the same. This generational gap is consistent and has been identified in surveys dating back to 2003.

The annoying 'generation' names can be ignored -- the key thing is that the younger an American you are, the less likely you are to call yourself 'patriotic', which (if you'll pardon a bit of snark) describes the mental state Americans denounce as 'nationalistic' whenever non-Americans display it. In related news, the number of non-religious Americans is on the increase -- about 20% of Americans now fits this category.

Sociologists have long puzzled over the U.S.: given its levels of prosperity, technological advancement, and education, it should be a lot less religious and nationalistic than it is. Put crudely, the richer a country gets, the less religion it needs, and the the more educated its citizenry, the less prevalent the cruder forms of nationalism and tribalism. We seem to be seeing a gradual end to this aspect of American exceptionalism: in 20 years, the psychological profile of the average American will probably be much closer to the average European, Canadian, or Japanese.

I would be willing to wager the Internet has had something to do with this, but that's pure speculation. So here goes: If you seek critiques of religious faith, all manner of them -- from the ridiculous to the cogent to the sublime -- are no more than a mouseclick away. It's hard to enforce conservative sexual mores in the age of Internet porn, where any anyone can see people having loads of fun with their genitals, and afterward suffering no disease, ostracism, or scorn at all. As for the nationalism angle, you can hardly swing a dead cat in cyberspace without hitting a website that shows you that many people (1) distrust the U.S., and have legitimate reasons for doing so (yet who aren't anti-American cranks); and (2) don't consider the U.S. paradise on earth, and think the quality of life they enjoy in their own country superior to that of the U.S. It's a bit hard to maintain the fantasies of your country's superiority and innocence in the face of these competing narratives.