In Cologne, Germany, the Committee for Pagan Fun, has been formed in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church’s World Youth Day, and has called for the creation of “religion-free zones.”
Cologne was flooded last week by hundreds of thousands of young Roman Catholics from all over the world, who came to take part in World Youth Day activities that began Tuesday and included a visit by Pope Benedict XVI.
The Committee, which is made up of artists, psychologists, philosophers, pacifists, atheists and people who do not identify with any religion, organised marches against World Youth Day, which officially ended Sunday.
The Committee also complained that one denomination — Catholicism — had temporarily taken over Cologne, and, to a lesser extent, nearby Düsseldorf and Bonn.
“Cologne has been invaded by an army of sanctimonious people,” said theologian and Committee spokesman Michael Schmidt Salomón. “With our religion-free zones, we want to offer asylum to all of those who feel persecuted by this state-sponsored ‘holiness’,” he told IPS.
Explaining the reasons behind the initiative, Schmidt Salomón said “many of the conflicts and wars around the world are caused by religion or fuelled by religious propaganda. The peace movement used to fight for nuclear weapons free zones, and today we believe it’s a good idea to also fight for religion-free zones.”
The Committee does not oppose Catholicism, but maintains that religion should be a private matter, and there should be an effective separation of church and state. Further, it criticises the German government’s financial support for the annual Catholic youth gathering, created in 1985 by late John Paul II.
The 20th World Youth Day events is estimated to cost a total of nearly 100 million euros, some 15 million of which is coming from Germany’s government. Only one-third of the 82 million German residents identifies themselves as Catholics, one-third as Protestants and one-third say they belong to no religion.
“We are wondering why those who have no religion should subsidise this Catholic show. Non-believers who pay their taxes are forced to help finance an event of Catholic propaganda,” protested Schmidt Salomón. “With 100 million euros, unemployment subsidies could have been paid to 23,000 people for a year.”
The Committee also took aim at the media, saying coverage has been uncritical and excessive. “The German media have become a clone of Vatican Radio,” complained the Committee.
Following the ancient tradition of tithing, in Germany, church-goers automatically give a portion of their income to the denomination they belong to. Anyone who decides to leave a church must file paperwork to officially drop out in order to stop making contributions.