An exchange of letters between a Lutheran theologian and the Archbishop of Veszprém

Below you will find the exchange of letters between Professor David Baer of Texas Lutheran University and the Catholic Archbishop of Veszprém Gyula Márfi. Given the controversial nature of the new Hungarian law on religion these letters caused considerable interest in Hungary. Even politicians expressed their opinion one way or the other. Ferenc Gyurcsány wrote a short article on Facebook criticizing the Archbishop’s view of the world while in a recent interview Prime Minister Viktor Orbán talked about “the hidden Christian Europe,” echoing Márfi’s thoughts.

In any case, the original exchange took place in Hungarian, and the letters appeared on a relatively rarely visited website maintained by the Hungarian Lutheran Church. Lately the English translations of the letters became available. I trust that you will find them interesting.

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Aerial view of Texas Lutheran University

An open letter from the West to my friends in the Hungarian Churches, and to all those who have supported Viktor Orbán.

Dear Friends,

I write from the West, where I have been following Hungarian events with concern.  The western press has been covering Hungary in detail, and the Orbán government has become the object of universally sharp criticism.  These criticisms are painful for me.  Over the past twenty years I have spent many years in Hungary as a theologian.  Twice I was in Hungary through a Fulbright fellowship – on the first occasion I conducted research at the Evangelical-Lutheran School of Theology; the second time I taught at the Gáspár Károli Reformed University. I also wrote a book on the Lutheran Church in Hungary under communism. My wife and children are Hungarian citizens.  I sincerely wish that I could respond to the criticism leveled against Hungary in the West and defend Hungary’s reputation, but unfortunately, that is something I cannot do. The Orbán government has transgressed by far the limits of what in the West is considered acceptable politics.

I have always followed the political situation in Hungary with interest, and although I have never taken a public position until now, of course I always had opinions.  Since I deal with churches and my Hungarian friends are mostly people from the churches, I felt solidarity with those who wanted to lead the country out of its communist past and to create a new beginning.  I sympathized, therefore, with the political right, as did many others in the West.  I remember well how enthusiastic American political scientists were about Viktor Orbán in the nineties and how much they were rooting for him.  When Fidesz won the elections for the first time, I was happy that a party had formed to act as a counterbalance to MSZP, and when Fidesz came into power a second time, after an MSZP government that lasted too long and was riddled with mistakes, I hoped that the country would regain its equilibrium.  But despite my hopes, I watched the Orbán government first with surprise, then disillusionment, and finally in shock.

The fall of communism presented Hungary with the opportunity finally to integrate with the West.  It was moment of historic significance.  From the time that Saint Stephen chose Roman Christianity, Hungary has always looked to the West.  Although this western orientation was threatened repeatedly, from the Turkish conquest to Soviet imposed communism, Hungarians always maintained a Western mind-set and struggled to belong to the community of Western countries.  After many long, painful centuries this great historical ambition finally led in the last twenty years to visible success – or so it seemed.  Hungary’s political system became open and democratic, and both NATO and the EU accepted Hungary into its membership.  True, integration with the West would only be complete if Hungary freed itself from the negative social effects of communism.  Yet, although the country has not been able fully to accomplish this task, doing away with the remnants of communism has always been one of the goals of western integration.  The current Orbán government, however, is attempting to do away with the communist past by abandoning the West.

I understand that Orbán doesn’t explain his government’s policies this way; rather he describes them as the defense of national interest. He argues that Hungary is a sovereign state which has not only right, but also an interest in traveling its own path. This is an understandable and attractive argument, support for which can be found in the idea of a so called “third way,” an idea which has cropped up many times in Central Europe. “The third way” – according to the conception – leads neither East nor West, but is national and unique.  In communism, too, the idea of a third way became popular in certain circles, because it inspired the hope that it was possible to create a kind of social system that followed neither the Soviet model nor the model of free market capitalism.  This is a nice dream, but it has very little connection with reality.  One needs to see clearly that just as in the past, so also today, the “third way” leads to the East.

From a Christian perspective, the Basic Law on freedom of conscience and religion is particularly troubling.  Freedom of conscience is fundamental to the Christian faith; as Luther said, “it is neither safe nor right to act against one’s conscience.” Freedom of religion follows from freedom of conscience, since the human being responds to truth and the call of God with a free conscience.  The unshakeable Christian commitment to religious freedom has been expressed best by the Roman Catholic Church in the declaration of the Second Vatican Council titled Dignitatis Humanae.  The official Catholic teaching reads as follows:

It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth.  However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.

Religious freedom requires social freedom as well, since people exercising freedom of conscience must act in communities. As the Catholic declaration continues:

The freedom or immunity from coercion in matters religious which is the endowment of persons as individuals is also to be recognized as their right when they act in community.  Religious communities are a requirement of the social nature both of man and of religion itself.  Provided the just demands of public order are observed, religious communities rightfully claim freedom in order that they may govern themselves according to their own norms, honor the Supreme Being in public worship, assist their members in the practice of the religious life, strengthen them by instruction, and promote institutions in which they may join together for the purpose of ordering their own lives in accordance with their religious principles.

How am I to reconcile this official Christian teaching with a Basic Law that makes unequal legal distinctions between churches and religious communities? With a Basic Law according to which legal recognition of a church requires that a religious community has functioned in Hungary for at least twenty years, when the right to religious freedom rests on human dignity and not on the passage of time?  How is it that recognition as a church depends upon a two-thirds vote by the Parliament and not the on the legal interpretation of the courts, when religious freedom is not a political, but a legal question?  We Christians don’t interpret religious freedom this way!  How should I explain to my Christian friends in the West that their churches, for example, the Methodist or Anglican, don’t count as churches in Hungary, although they are recognized as churches internationally and are even members of the World Council of Churches?  I simply do not understand how the Basic Law’s unequal handling of religious freedom can follow from those Christian values which the new Hungarian state professes in its constitution.  Is it not possible that the new Hungarian state has derived this unequal treatment not from Christianity, but from the practices of the Horthy era?

Maybe a Basic Law restricting religious freedom is considered a mere peccadillo in Hungary, but in the West it counts as a big sin. One might think of the new Hungarian constitution as the foundation of a distinctive Hungarian democracy, but one needs to be clear that this distinctive Hungarian democracy contradicts the basic rules of western democracy. The centralization of power in the Parliament in a way that undermines the independence of state institutions, the large number of basic laws requiring a two thirds majority vote, the restrictions on freedom of the press and freedom of religion – these are all incompatible with the western interpretation of democracy.  In this respect the West is unanimous; the press on both the left and the right – be it Austrian, English, German, French or American – expresses the same opinion.  In the West this new kind of distinctive democracy is called “Putinism.”

Up to now there’s not been an example of a country voluntarily leaving the community of democratic countries.  European integration is an old dream, the ideals of which can be traced back at least to Rousseau. European integration solves the largest problem afflicting the whole of European history, namely, the problem of war. A peaceful and democratic Europe grants the citizens of its many nations the possibility of pursuing the good life with independence and self-determination.  The integration of Europe endows the continent with economic power sufficient to compete with the world’s other economies in Asia as well as North and South America. Given these realities, the states of Europe have up to now always construed their interests such that they wanted to belong to the European community. But that is not point right now.  Rather, the point is that in the heart of Europe there exists a country which has already gained membership into the Union and which, should it leave, would be assaulting the system of European integration which has been developing since the Second World War.  I know that one hears talk these days about “a foreign attack on Hungary,” but one also needs to look at the situation with Western eyes.  Right now in Hungary a kind of political change is taking place which is incompatible with the tradition of western, European, democratic values. Since this process is taking place within the European Union, it weakens the whole European community. That community has to respond.  This has nothing to do with an attack; it has to do with the consequence of the government’s policies.  Although the new constitution in its words professes “mutual European values,” it in fact promotes distorted Hungarian values and a pseudo-Christianity.  Should the country travel down this third way, it will leave the very European community with which it has always expressed solidarity throughout its one thousand year history.  Hungary is already internationally isolated; the European Union is mistrustful of its government.  Personally, I do not see how this distinctive brand of politics serves Hungarian national interests.

I ask those who have attached their hopes for Hungary to Orbán to reconsider what the true national interest is!  Please do not take my open letter as an attack, but as a fraternal word of warning!  I have written in Hungarian, to Hungarians, to my Christian brothers and sisters. I worry that Hungary is becoming like the Balkans and that it will share the fate of the Balkan states.  Please don’t allow your political leadership to abuse your faith and tyrannically redraw the map of Europe so that Hungary again falls in the East!

With fraternal greetings:

David Baer

January 17, 2012

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Palace of the Archbishop of Veszprém

Dear Professor,

Let me express my gratitude to you for keeping updated on our country’s situation. At the same time I cannot withhold my critical observations, which I will try to communicate honestly.

My basic objection is that your letter reflects a one-sided and superficial knowledge of both the Hungarian and European situations, and it completely ignores the broader connections.

1.  Let’s begin with the question of religious freedom.  As a Catholic Bishop I am delighted by the fact that a professor at a Lutheran university cites the Second Vatican Council’s declaration Dignitatis Humanae in connection with freedom of conscience and religion, but I fail to understand how the Basic Law to which you object offends the freedom of conscience and religion. Today in Hungary everyone practices any religion they want, both individually and as a community. The recognition and registration of specific churches has significance only in relation to receiving material support from the state.  Here, understandably, the Hungarian state favors those communities which have contributed significantly to the survival of our country during our difficult history, and those communities whose activity have considerable social value, such as maintaining schools and health institutions, or conducting charitable activities.

You also object that such registration of churches is not performed by a court, but now by the Parliament. From this it’s clear that you don’t know enough about the Hungarian situation. To this very day numerous people work in the independent Hungarian justice system who, during the communist system, were the dedicated servants of the party-state dictatorship and who took part in so-called show trials against the church (a show trial is a legal procedure in which everything happens opposite to how things happen in a lawful trial; the verdict is first “conceived,” then the “testimony of witnesses” is prepared to align with the verdict, and the “evidence” is produced).

Furthermore, in the past 20 years this court has demonstrated convincingly that it is unsuitable for registering churches.  More than 300 “churches” were registered, the majority of which did meet even the most minimal criteria.  I have a copy of the 2007 church directory.  I found four “churches” on the list that had their registered address in the same house (in a village), and three of them even had the same person as their official representative.  Churches gained recognition which by their very name would bring a smile to the face of a serious believer (of any religion); for example, “Cute Pilgrims from A to Z” or “the Hungarian Witch Association” or the “Church of Gaiety”.

To appreciate the situation we have to realize that a good number of the registered communities conducted no religious activities whatsoever.  They applied for the registration so they could receive state subsidies for churches as private businesses –well beyond the benefits that private businesses receive. In large part this explains why we had three Adventist churches, three Methodist churches, six Jewish churches and no less than thirteen (!) Buddhist churches registered. (To anyone who knows the large branches of Buddhism – Hinjana, Mahayana, Vajrayana, that is, Tibetian, this would be very suspicious. I talked with the Lama of Nepal and he also thought thirteen was ridiculous).

Concerning the churches you mentioned explicitly, I can say the following: These churches have no basis in Hungary.  In spite of this, just among Methodists three were registered, as I have mentioned.  It’s not easy to decide if all three were really religious communities or only so-called business churches.  The Methodist pastor Gábor Iványi is well known among us, but more as a loud mouthed politician than as a preacher.  Indeed, his community (they go by the name Hungarian Evangelical Community of Brethren) is not recognized by the World Methodist Church.  Of Anglicans we find only one church, which is listed under the name of Saint Margaret’s Anglican/Episcopal Church in the old record book. Judging by their name it belongs to the catholic-friendly high church branch. Their pastor lives in Dunakeszi where there is no Anglican community. The pastor primarily ministers to the staff of the British Embassy in Budapest.

As I write these lines news has arrived that yesterday, February 17, the Hungarian Parliament has recognized another 17 churches, among them the Hungarian Methodist Church and the aforementioned Anglican Church. Thus altogether there are today 31 recognized churches in Hungary. I’d be grateful to you Professor, should you find another country in Europe which supports more religious communities than we do.  Should you not find any such country, then I’d ask that in the future you direct your criticism to England, the Scandinavian countries, Bulgaria or Romania, because in these countries the Anglican, Lutheran and the Orthodox Churches still enjoy to this day the status of state churches. (In Romania, the Greek Catholic Dioceses in Romania have yet to receive back in full measure the property taken from them during the Ceausescu regime and given to the Romanian Orthodox Church)

 2. My second objection to your letter concerns the part in which you criticize the European character of the Hungarian government.  The way I see it, your knowledge of Europe is also one-sided and deficient. The Europe you hold up in your letter is one which has not existed since the time of Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schuman, Alcide De Gasperi and Jean Monnet.

Contemporary Europe is divided not only along economic lines, but also ideologically. There is still a hidden Christian Europe, but there is also a much louder, sharply anti-Christian, ultra-liberal Europe which controls most of the power and the media. The Great Architect can still be recognized on the surface of today’s Europe, but the layer which denies the God of Jesus Christ and the Ten Commandments hovers about.  Those are the ones who have given Europe an overdose of freedom, which – similar to an overdose of medicine – does not cure, but poisons a person. To these people European means allowing abortions, free love, recognition of lesbian and homosexual marriage, the proclamation of gender-ideology and the free competition of wild capitalism, which leads to extra profits for the capitalists, bankruptcy for small and mid-sized business, and total poverty for the common people.

This Europe, which celebrates itself as liberal and modern, is in truth:

• A Europe of capitalists out of communists

• A Europe of ”freedom fighters” turned dictators and dictators ”concerned for democracy”

• A Europe of “moderns” preaching an ethics which is unsustainable and which went out of date 2000 years ago

• A Europe of church persecutors “worried about the freedom of the churches”

• People who are consistent in only one thing: an industrial quantity of lying and the Pharisaical deception of many.

When they assert that the Orbán government is autocratic, anti-Europe, staring into the past, and not respecting religious freedom, they are discovering their own faults, but in others and not in themselves.  I have never wanted to make Viktor Orbán a saint.  I know that he is a fallible human being just as we all are; he has his weaknesses and has made mistakes.  Yet the charges against him remind me of the Hungarian saying, “the pot calls the kettle black.”

Representatives of the ultra-liberal and the so-called conservative camps were present at that hearing in Strassbourg broadcast by Hír TV.  This was a farce, which was organized for the purpose of giving Viktor Orbán a talking-down to in public and to humiliate him.  To me it seemed as if the followers of the worlds greatest dictator (Mao Tse Tung) were giving a lesson about democracy and a well-known pedophile was trying teach morality to Viktor Orbán, a father of five children all of whom were born of the same woman (his wife).  Orbán was the most European person at this hearing, with slight exaggeration one might say, the only European.  With incredible patience he listened silently to the frothing and shouting Daniel Cohn Bendit and his colleagues, answered the charges calmly, and then asked if as a believer in the traditional family, a patriot and believing Christian, he might remian European.

Moreover, the main charge against him is similar to the one leveled at Lot and his family four thousand years ago: their behavior wasn’t “compatible with Sodom.”  But the same problem presented itself to the Prophets as well: “compatibility with the Middle-East” was missing from their teaching.  So, too, Christians of the first three centuries didn’t learn to live according to the etiquette of the decadent Roman Empire.  One comes to think that today’s Europe resembles the Roman Empire in its decline.  We don’t yet have people killing each other in coliseums, but there are brutal struggles for huge sums of money; the mass media, instead of catharsis, seeks to satisfy the baser instincts of the people (the demos); men and women, instead of celebrating their children, celebrate their lovers.

Europe no longer sends missionaries to the Third World because it has became a mission region itself, providing soil for missionaries from Africa, India, the Philippines, and even Indonesia. The lines Mihály Váci wrote in the sixties (from his poem “Loyal Uprising”) apply today, not only to pseudo-communist Hungary but to the whole of Europe:

While a new world law smothers and clasps,
and former truths bore new fruit;
the tyrant’s reign arrives,
where there are no prophets nor messiahs.

3.  I’ll mention yet another weakness in your letter as my third point, namely, that you fail to consider the role of powers beyond Europe in the “Orbán-affair.” You write about Europe as if it were an independent empire that just happened to encounter some problems with one of its territories.  If you believe that this is an internal European matter, then you are much mistaken. Viktor Orbán’s problem is not primarily with the Union but with international big capital, the owners of which we suspect to be somewhere on New York’s Wall Street, for which reason we simply refer to them as “America.”  That designation is of course wrong: the servants and lords of the dollar have neither country nor nationality. They are citizens of the cosmos, cosmopolitans in the worst sense of the word, who dream of conquering the entire world.

To do that they need money, lots and lots of money. Therefore they are not satisfied with starting wars falsely purported to “import democracy;” nor are they satisfied with purchasing doctors and pharmacists while at the same time building enormous drug-factories and maintaining control of multinational companies.  They also want to make each state one of their interest taxpayers.  To this end they are trying to influence free elections and to buy up individual governments. The “good government” is the one that is willing to take up loans with unfavorable conditions so that, by spending the money quickly, it can make its nation an eternal taxpaying colony. This government need not fear to be called dictatorial; it can calmly shoot peaceful demonstrators in the eyes, exclude its own people from their celebrations, erect a fence around the Parliament, and even falsify official documents. Yet such a government will remain “European” and “Democratic.”  The only time they get a rap on the head is when they lead their nation to the brink of bankruptcy.

A different set of rules applies to the “bad government,” which tries to break out of the debt trap. That kind of government is downgraded even when the budget deficit would not indicate this.  Its Prime Minister is compared to Hitler and Stalin; he is called a gypsy, then a gypsy-hater even if he happens to disband the groups known for their anti-gypsy activities, or if he is the one sending the only gypsy woman to the European Parliament. It doesn’t matter if he extends support to Jewish churches; it doesn’t matter that he has Jewish friends, naturally he can’t escape the charge of “anti-Semitic.”

The owners of international big capital are especially angry at Viktor Orbán because he has introduced many measures against big business (introducing a tax on banks, curtailing the privileges of multinational companies) that many other countries have already adopted or are intending to adopt.  That’s why they have organized the comprehensive campaign which we are witnessing today.  I would like to emphasize again that this series of actions is being orchestrated out of America by people with money who cannot even be called Americans.

And this is true even if, when compared to the American players (Hillary Clinton, Charles Gati, George Soros), the European figures appear to be in the majority.  Big capital has cleverly taken advantage of the division in Europe, making use of office holders in the European Committee (the Union’s government) and the European Parliament, especially those who are Viktor Orbán’s ideological opponents.  Of course they also use representatives of the Hungarian opposition as well, who are extremely bothered by the right’s two-third majority in Parliament.

Representatives of the Union know well that the suffocating arms of international big capital also threaten Europe, but they cooperate with it out of material interests, fear, or for ideological reasons.  This situation is by no means new.  Two thousand years ago the High Council cooperated in the same way with the hated Pontius Pilate.  Today, too, Pilate is applauded by every pale-faced Scribe and Pharisee.  And of course the false witnesses are not missing either, those whose very way of life is a lie; and since a large part of the media is theirs, they can even get a part of the conservative media to cry out “Crucify him!”  about Viktor Orbán and about the Hungarians who are considered an “inferior race” (Ákos Kertész), or even worse “a people of rats.” (This last reference comes from the Nobel Prize winning author Imre Kertész).

Like every country, even the Union has certain regulations which, to be frank, no one can fully adhere to.  Yet these regulations are suited perfectly for harassing those (and only those!) governments which don’t “fall into line.”  The use of double standards is a common practice of the ultra-liberal world.   But neither are Bolshevik methods missing – as I referred to earlier.  “If you want to steal, cry thief!”  Blame others for your own faults, that way you can direct attention away from yourself.

There is a contract in force with Hungary that the IMF (International Monetary Fund) foisted on the Soviet-controlled communist government of Hungary (in 1982) when it was in dire need of funds.  This contract stipulates that properties of the IMF in Hungary are above any regulation or control, that no legal procedure can be initiated in either a Hungarian or international court of law against IMF companies, their employees, or even their tenants.

What is this if not an ordinary dictatorship? It’s part of the supra-national, wild capitalist, ultra-liberal dictatorship, which is derived directly from the tyranny of Hitler or Stalin.  Perhaps you have not heard this, but we know it; in Hungary the cruelest communists were former fascists.  Similarly we see today that the richest capitalists were former communists, and they are the ones most loudly concerned for democracy in Hungary.  Ferenc Gyurcsány, László Kovács, José Manuel Barroso, Daniel Cohn-Bendit; every one of them was a believer of the red dictatorship, and now they “worry about democracy” as the minions of the wild capitalist dictatorship.

Adolf Hitler wanted to unite all Germans under his world empire.  “Proletariat of the World, Unite!” – this was Stalin’s motto, who also dreamed of conquering the world.  “Big Capital of the World, Unite into Cartels!”  This is the motto of the lords of international big capital who steal left and right, as David C. Korten described in his 1995 book titled When Corporations Rule the World.

The means are different but the goal and the spirit is the same. No dictatorship tolerates criticism, even less when people step out of line. Yet, somehow in the end they all collapse.  The third type of dictatorship described above is the subject of a poem titled “A New Word on Tyranny,” which I’m attaching to my letter.  I specifically call your attention to the last sections containing a serious warning for all of us: if we unwittingly accept the misleading propaganda of a dictatorship, we ourselves become links in the chain; we ourselves become part of tyranny.

From that may the Holy Spirit save us – who alone can deliver the world and our beloved Europe from the ultra-liberal wild capitalist dictatorship, and may Christian Europe emerge from the thick layer of ashes where it still hides.

Respectful greetings and love to you:

Veszprém, 23 February, 2012.

Dr. Márfi Gyula

Archbishop of Veszprém


  1. That’s the chap, Bowen. Excellent book, well worth a read for those who haven’t discovered it. The bit where he meets the Gypsies was very interesting too, especially in relation to their situation these days.
    I went to great lengths (and expense!) to find this in Hungarian for my in-laws, but, strangely, they weren’t impressed. Maybe it’s a book that appeals more to ‘outsiders’?

  2. The first Pizza Restaurant on Budapest was off at Vaci Street, back in the seventies. I can’t recall its name, but I can find it at any time. They had ketchup on it as sauce, sprinkled with rosemary. The second place was the Royal Hotel’s restaurant. It was a fun place. Same recipe although.

  3. Just to put it in perspective, how most of those wonderful Catholic priest preach, please take a look at this article form the Uj Ember (New Man, a weekly magazine of the Catholic Church) from January 27, 2012. It is Hungarian, but please use google translate as you do not want to miss Dr Bela Babel’s nazism inspired gems. He also talks about that between the two bad (“hidden reference to Jews), the European Union was the netter choice for Hungary. Yes, he says that. The only democracy will be a Catholic democracy in Hungary. He mentions that the meeting in Salzburg reminds him of what Jesus said “the father of lies is the devil”. On a side note it is not exactly what Jesus said, but what the heck…
    John 8:44 actually says “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” So this is the European Parliament to the Hungarian Catholic Church.

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