Thursday, August 14, 2008

You win some, you lose some

Two brief references - I'm frightfully busy right now - to noteworthy items in the German press today.

1. In Augsburg, Southern Germany, an atheist teacher loses his court case against the Free State of Bavaria (where the trees are made of wood). He had sued the state, demanding that the Christian crosses that are displayed in all Bavarian classrooms (don't I know it?) be removed. They constituted, he argued, an unacceptable emotional strain.

Der Spiegel quotes the court's decision:

Im Grundgesetz sei nicht nur die Glaubensfreiheit verankert, sondern auch die besondere Gehorsams- und Tolerierungspflicht des Beamten.

In rough translation, the court argued that the constitution not only lays down civil liberties (such as religious freedom), but also the civil servant's specific duties of obedience and tolerance. For Bavarian Minister of Justice Beate Merk (CSU), duly jubilant about the decision, the crucifix symbolises the specific values of the Christian West, to which "personal tastes" have to be submitted.

Oh my .... This problematic decision - problematic because the notorious "Kruzifix-Beschluss" of 1995 actually determined that the display of crucifixes in classrooms is against the German constitution - brings back bad memories. After all, I grew up in Bavaria and remember those haphazard classroom prayers in the shadow of a (more or less) stylised male figure, contorted and in a loincloth, led by bored teachers who clearly couldn't care less (well, apart from the obvious fanatics). Dutiful and obedient civil servants all right!

2. In Leipzig, Saxony (NB: in the comparatively atheist east of this country), Daniel Haun, a scientist investigating primate behaviour, has found out fascinating things about the ability of bonobos, chimps, gorillas and orang-outangs to see themselves as "individuals", recognise others as "others" and understand that they can influence these others through their behaviour.

The article in Süddeutsche Zeitung doesn't say it in so many words, but it sounds as if non-human primates have a Theory of Mind of sorts, even though they don't exploit that ability in the way Homo Sapiens do.

Guess which of the two stories makes me happier!

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