Defining depravity downwards in Deutschland

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Der Spiegel‘s English-language bulletin reports that conservative deputies on the Agricultural Affairs committee of the Bundestag have introduced legislation banning sex with animals. I never knew the farm beat for German reporters was so, so … so edgy?

Let’s pause for a  moment to contemplate the work of government. Courage mon amie … be brave and join me for a look at the article “Germany to Ban Sex with Animals”:

The German government plans to ban zoophilia — sex with animals — as part of an amendment to the country’s animal protection law, but faces a backlash from the country’s zoophile community, estimated to number over 100,000. Zoophilia was legalized in Germany in 1969 and animal protection groups have been lobbying for a ban in a campaign that has been fuelled by heated debate in Internet forums in recent years.

Now the center-right government wants to outlaw using animals “for personal sexual activities or making them available to third parties for sexual activities and thereby forcing them to behave in ways that are inappropriate to their species,” said Hans-Michael Goldmann, chairman of the parliament’s Agricultural Committee. In the future, having sex with an animal could be punished with a fine of up to €25,000 ($32,400).

The article continues with a response from Michael Kiok, who is identified as chairman of zoophile pressure group ZETA (Zoophile Engagement for Tolerance and Information). Mr. Kiok appears to be channeling Harvey Fierstein and one can hear echoes of “I just want to be loved, is that so wrong?” in his arguments.

He argues the new law is unfair telling Spiegel: “We see animals as partners and not as a means of gratification. We don’t force them to do anything.” Mr Kiok goes on to describe his relationship with an “Alsatian called Cessie” and argues that the cruelty animals undergo as they are prepared for slaughter in the meat packing business should be addressed before the police come looking for him. The author rounds out the story with a summary of European laws banning zoophilia — illegal just about everywhere but Denmark — and this scientific nugget:

Sexual research in the 1940s suggested that 5 to 8 percent of men and 3 to 5 percent of women engaged in zoophilia. “That would put the figure in Germany at 1.6 million but that’s definitely too high. Taking a wild guess, I’d say it’s well over 100,000,” said Kiok.

From what I have seen, this legislation appears to follow a February 2012 article in the Frankfurter Rundschau. Its article “Verbot von Sex mit Tieren gefordert” reported on the efforts of an animal welfare office in Hesse to criminalize zoophilia in light of her experiences in working on farms. This story has also been an occasion of journalistic fun — some of the French accounts of this story I have read are a delight. “Wink, wink, nudge, nudge … What can you expect from the Germans.” The Mail and other English newspapers also have fun with this story. The Guardian has the best, most complete story, I’ve seen so far and it is written in a matter of fact tone that attempts to keep a straight face — yet the Minister of Agriculture’s face is prominently plastered a top the story.

The Guardian‘s thorough reporting brings out the information that the zoophilia group, ZETA, has 100 members and gives details about Herr Kiok.

But it is the British tabloid, The Sun who has the best quotes, has the most fun and raises the best question.

Bestiality dropped off the statute books as a crime in 1969 but in recent years incidents of it have mushroomed along with websites promoting it. There are even “erotic zoos” for perverts to visit and abuse animals ranging from llamas to goats. Hans-Michael Goldmann, chairman of the agriculture committee, said the government aimed to forbid using an animal “for individual sexual acts and to outlaw people ‘pimping’ creatures to others for sexual use”.

But pro-zoophilia campaign group ZETA — Zoophiles Commitment to Tolerance and Enlightenment — vowed to challenge any ban on bestiality. Chairman Michael Kiok said: “Mere concepts of morality have no business being law.”

Leave it to the tabloids to be the only forum where issues of ethics and morality are raised in conjunction with this story.

Perhaps this issue is clear there was no need to have an explanation why it is necessary to re-criminalize zoophilia after its having been made legal for 43 years. It is not necessary to explain why Nazi race theory, for example, is repellant and its arguments not disseminated. Yet, I believe Michael Kiok’s assertion that “mere concepts of morality have no business being law” need be addressed.

The Frankfurter Rundschau story raises the issue of mutual consent. Bestiality is wrong because an animal cannot give consent to participation in sexual acts with a human. But should not the ethical and moral tradition that lay behind laws banning bestiality be acknowledged — and perhaps a word or two from an ethicist or moral theologian on why this has always been considered wrong?

In the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) bestiality is a sin. Beginning with the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament passages from  Exodus 22:19, Leviticus 18:23, Leviticus 20:15-16, and Deuteronomy 27:21) the Western religions have held that sexual contact with animals is a form of self-abuse, defiles the body and dishonors God and his creation. It is, to use that wonderfully old fashioned word, an abomination.

While little studied, the current state of medical knowledge classifies zoophilia as an illness. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III R 1987), zoophilia (bestiality) is a mental disorder in which human beings have sexual desires for animals. The DSM-IV, (1994) placed it under the residual classification “paraphilias not otherwise specified”. Paraphilias are inappropriate sexual deviant fantasies and fetishes, such as bestiality, pedophilia, sadomasochism, and other inappropriate forms of sexual thoughts, urges, and actions.

All of which brings me back to Der Spiegel. There is a hesitancy by the German news weekly to say that this is wrong. Is that the business of a newspaper? Should the moral voice be extinguished in modern newspaper reporting? Is Herr Kiok’s argument that morality should not govern law true?

Der Spiegel appears to think so, as it has framed this story in such a way as to remove the moral element. By not providing contrary voices to the Zoophilia activists, the newspaper does not address the issue as to why this conduct should be governed by law. Popular disgust with the practices under consideration might make such arguments appear superfluous, but when Der Spiegel writes from the philosophical presupposition of antinomianism — the rejection of socially established morality — it concedes the argument to the Michael Kioks.

Zoophilia was illegal for centuries. Has been legal for 43 years, and now will be criminalized once again. Why?

European values after Auschwitz

Seventy years after the Holocaust, Germany has constructed the first monument honoring the half million gypsies murdered in the Holocaust.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung  reported the news with a photo of the memorial above the fold in Wednesday’s edition along with an inside story entitled “Denkmal für die ermordeten Sinti und Roma wird eingeweiht”.

Published from Munich, the Süddeutsche Zeitung or SZ is Germany’s largest circulation daily newspaper and follows a centre-left editorial line. The SZ story reports the facts of inauguration of the monument in Berlin — and also takes a few shots at the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel for its asylum policies. The thwack it gives Germany’s interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich of the CSU party (Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern) — a local boy from Bavaria — is not unexpected. Yet its attack, voiced through the mouth of Mr. Romani Rose, the leader of Germany’s Central Council of Sinti and Roma, is expressed on the moral grounds of not being in accordance with European values.

I am sympathetic to the gypsy spokesman, Mr. Rose’s, denunciation of German attitudes and government policies towards gypsies. But what exactly are European values? Once upon a time they were Christian values, albeit imperfectly followed but piously espoused. In a post-Christian, post-Auschwitz  Europe what exactly underlies the concept of moral value?

The SZ story begins by recounting the ceremony in Berlin that marked the opening of the monument to the gypsies murdered between 1933 to 1945. The monument had been planned for almost 20 years, but disagreements with the Central Council of Sinti and Roma led to the delay in its construction. The importance of the ceremony was underscored by the presence of Germany’s chancellor, president and political leaders — a point made by Berlin’s Die Tageszeitung. The top half of the SZ story closes with this paragraph:

Mit dem Denkmal setze die Bundesregierung ein Zeichen, “das nicht allein in die Vergangenheit weist, sondern vor allem Verantwortung für Gegenwart und Zukunft symbolisiert”, betonte das Dokumentations- und Kulturzentrum Deutscher Sinti und Roma. Die zwölf Millionen Sinti und Roma in Europa seien “noch heute täglicher Diskriminierung ausgesetzt”. Der “zunehmende Rassismus in Europa” bedrohe nicht nur die Minderheiten, “sondern die europäischen Werte an sich, deren Kern die Menschenrechte und die Menschenwürde sind”.

Which roughly and imperfectly translated means:

With this monument the Federal Government has put up a sign “that points not only to the past, but is symbolic above all of its responsibility for the present and future” said the Documentation and Cultural Center of German Sinti and Roma. Europe’s twelve million Sinti and Roma are “still exposed to daily discrimination”. The “rise of racism in Europe” threatens not only minorities, “but the core European values of human rights and human dignity.”

The SZ then has fun and gives Mr. Rose the opportunity to chastise the interior minister for the government’s “discriminatory” and racist asylum policy, which he charges prevents gypsies from escaping to Germany from the Balkans. The quote provided by the minister is wonderfully pompous and bureaucratic, essentially saying that gypsies do not meet the criteria of a persecuted people in Serbia and Macedonia. In giving the minister equal space, the SZ has allowed him to make a fool of himself. The exchange is framed in such a way as to make the interior minister seem heartless — lacking in the European values of die Menschenrechte und die Menschenwürde (human rights and human dignity).

Where is the God-shaped hole in this story you ask? It is in the claim that Europe’s core values are human rights and human dignity. What does that mean?

Whose conception of rights? What understanding of dignity?

The ghosts I see hovering in the background of this story are the continuing shadow the Nazi era casts over Germany and the debate over the place of Christianity in the European identity. The place of Christianity — including the concept as to whether human rights and human dignity are innate as they are God-given, or constructs of the secular state — has animated debates over the place of God in the EU constitution.

The post-Nazi era treatment of the gypsies reflects this grappling with morality without grounding in God. The Nazis exterminated the gypsies — why? One Romani scholar noted that some histories of the Holocaust failed to understand that the “criminality” associated with gypsies

was attributed by the Nazis to a genetically transmitted and incurable disease, and was therefore ideologically racial; instead, writers focused only on the “antisocial” label resulting from it and failed to acknowledge the genetic connection made by the Nazi race scientists themselves.  In 1950 the Württemburg Ministry of the Interior issued a statement to the judges hearing war crimes restitution claims that they should keep in mind that “the Gypsies were persecuted under the National Socialist regime not for any racial reason, but because of their criminal and antisocial record,” and twenty-one years later the Bonn Convention took advantage of this as justification for not paying reparations to Romanies, claiming that the reasons for their victimization during the Nazi period were for reasons  of  security  only. Not one person spoke out to challenge that position, the consequences of which have hurt the survivors and their descendants beyond measure, though at that time the French genealogist Montandon did however observe that “everyone despises Gypsies, so why exercise restraint?  Who will avenge them? Who will complain? Who will bear witness?”

Am I a cynic, or overly fussy, when I hear newspaper talk of European values and the European ideal? How should a thoughtful journalist handle this issue? There is a danger of entering a suffering Olympics — ranking the sufferings of Jews, gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, Catholics, socialists/conservatives/communists at the hands of the Nazis. I am not speaking here about special pleading for one group, but asking how a reporter can report on the language of European morals in a post-Auschwitz world?

Or, is this a loaded question? When did you Germans stop beating your wives? Is it time to forget and move on? What say you GetReligion readers?