Or where cultural differences have legal roots.

This afternoon, my accountant calls me to tell me that the tax office has finally finished reviewing my tax declaration. And then she asks me this very personal (at least in my books) question: "Are you a catholic?". Now. The reality is, I've been raised in the catholic religion by my parents, went through the whole baptism, communion etc. I had my religious and mystic moments, but they went. As a matter of fact, although I still claim that my "beliefs" (for lack of a more accurate word) are shaped by the catholic religion, I lost faith about 10 years ago. It was abrupt, it was hurtful, also liberating and good. In short, I have not been a *good* catholic in 10 years. I have occasionally gone to church, I still believe in some kind of entity somewhere out there. An agnostic of sorts. But if people asked me: "Do you feel that you belong to the catholic Church today", I would say no. In fact, I tell you, no, I don't. But if people asked me what religion I am, I would probably answer that my beliefs are shaped by catholicism, or even that I am a catholic. Some kind of a cultural background. Problem is, what is really behind this question "What is your religion?"

Well, when I arrived in Germany, I had to register at the local administration. And they asked me what religion I was. I answered catholic. Big mistake, huge. To me, this was in the middle of tens of other questions such as how old are you, where were you born etc. In short, some kind of census information which would be used for statitstics. Nothing more, nothing less. Well no. In Germany, when you say you're a catholic, it has nothing to do with your beliefs, it has to do with your membership. The real question should be "What church are you a member of?". Because once you say you are a catholic, that's it, you're listed as one, receive papers from the local church, the this-and-that journal of the catholic church, in short, you're a member. And, last but not least, the State (yes, the laïc state), actually adds 8% taxes on your income tax at the end of the year, which will be distributed to the catholic church.

Mind you, I learned about that last year, when I did my tax declaration, and my tax adviser already asked me the question and listed the caveats associated with being a catholic in this country. To which of course I answered, I am "without confession", because well, it is the truth. So one year went by. I had no taxes to pay, so nobody really paid attention. This year it seems, there was money to take, so the tax office added those 8% to my total. And I don't want to pay them. Mind you, at this stage, it's not so much about the money, there isn't much to pay. It's about the principle. You see, I come from a country where the separation of State and Church occurred in 1905. And when we mean separation, we really mean separation, it is entrenched in our culture. The Church is on its own. And as a matter of fact, the French Catholic church appeals to its followers to help, through the "denier du culte" and other means to get money. In short, there is no tie between the State and the Church. and certainly no financial tie.

Now, the most interesting thing is, my accountant was trying to convince me that "this is the law". ie. that if I've said once that I am a catholic, I need to get a paper which proves that I am not. In short, you're guilty before you can be innocent. *I* am the one who has to prove that I am member of a church I never entered in the first place (at least in Germany), in order to leave that church. And I was trying to explain to her how shocking this forced membership is to me, and that if anyone had to prove anything, it should be the German State or the German Church which would have to prove that I am, indeed, a catholic and an active member of the Catholic church. I must say that to my French mind, the mere idea that by crossing inadvertently a checkbox one day makes me a life long member of the Catholic church is at best a big mistake, at worst an act of coercition. The joke being, that in Germany, to get "out" of the Church, you need to pay and make a whole lot of administrative steps which finally end up in the deliverance of a piece of paper which confirms that you're out. I am not even sure that exists in France, and even if it does, there is no way I am going to "get out of the Church" that formally, because in my culture, it's a personal choice, as I believe any religion should be, not a legal or tax-bound choice.

The next steps promise to be interesting, since at this stage, I am not sure what I have to do to "get out of it". Stay tuned.