In eastern Germany, the land of Luther, church pews are mostly empty

– As a boy, Helge Voigt celebrated Christmas Eve listening to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, opening a few gifts and savoring a special dinner. Notably absent were a nativity scene, angels atop a tree — or any mention of Jesus.

Voigt’s family was typical in the region of Germany where Martin Luther lived and launched the Protestant revolution nearly 500 years ago. While Luther’s legacy includes 72 million Lutherans across the globe today, on the streets where Luther preached, about 85 percent of residents have no religion.

More than 40 years of Soviet rule ingrained a deep skepticism of God and religion, and overt discrimination against Christians. By the time the Soviet tanks rolled out in 1990, Protestant pastors opened church doors to a people who had never touched a Bible and had been taught since childhood that believers were “unscientific” and “stupid.”

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