A Girl's Journey to Ecuador


Secularist movements in Europe, including Germany, grew considerably in the latter half of the nineteenth century after the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which argued that life on earth evolved through a process of natural selection. The book was fundamental in promoting and providing evidence for scientific, rather than supernatural, understandings of the origins of life. In general, secularist movements sought the separation of religion from public life and State institutions, including education.

In 1881 the German Union of Freethinkers, the organization Ina’s family probably belonged to, was founded by Ludwig Büchner.  According to Büchner, Freethought means exactly that--thinking for oneself and not adhering to the ways that authorities, religious or State, would tell one to think. The Freethinkers Movement argued for separation of church and State and, for example, the removal of religion from school curriculums and State practices.  Büchner argued for the open acceptance of free thought, and the cultivation of a society that promotes scientific research and the open discussion of ideas.

The Freethinkers and other secularist movements in Germany grew steadily into the 20th century.  One historian estimates there were half a million “organized socialist Freethinkers'' in Germany in 1930 (Weir 28). The Weimar Republic, as the German State was called between 1919 and 1933, had rewritten the constitution, allowing freedom of expression and ideas, providing an opening for the acceptance of scientific thought and the growth of Freethinking.  For multiple reasons, including a devastating depression, in 1932, the Weimar Republic fell, as the Nazi party ascended. Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, and soon after Freethinking was outlawed. In Berlin, where secularist organizations were well organized and plentiful, the Freethinkers Hall was taken over by the government and turned into a religious resource center.  Freethinker organizations and communities were disbanded. Unfortunately, much of the history of the Freethinkers movements in Germany was lost to historians during the bombings of the Second World War.

Cited Source: Weir, Todd H. 2014. Secularism and Religion in Nineteenth-Century Germany.  Cambridge University Press.

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