A few days ago I noticed a new attempt by the Christian Democratic People’s party (KDNP) to shove religious education down the throats of a basically secular Hungarian society. As things stand now, the law on public education stipulates that all schools must offer both religion and ethics classes. KDNP suggests that “under certain circumstances” schools belonging to the state but run by the churches can offer only religion.
Zsolt Semjén, the chairman of KDNP, makes no secret of the fact that his party is the political arm of the Catholic Church. Since the number of practicing Catholics is diminishing, the Church is trying to find new recruits among the young. I found a Catholic website dealing with the subject of teaching religion in schools where they state that religion classes in state and municipal schools are part of the church’s “missionary activities.” The same website also stresses that the Catholic Church finds the teaching of religion especially important in kindergarten because “at this age the children are very impressionable.”
Personally, I’m dead set against teaching religion in schools. I’m also against maintaining “parochial schools” at the taxpayers’ expense. If any religious organization–Catholic, Protestant or Jewish–wants to get involved in the education of children, they should do so from their own resources and from tuition fees. I’d wager to say that the current enthusiasm for parochial schools in Hungary would wane if parents had to pay for the privilege of sending their children there. I am also a great believer in secular education. If parents want to bring up their children according to the precepts of one of the organized religions they can do so in the parish to which they belong.
Unfortunately, during the right-of-center government of József Antall the parliamentary majority made a “compromise” arrangement. Religion classes were held after official school hours but in the school building. It was an arrangement I didn’t like then and still don’t like. But now even this arrangement is not enough for the zealots who are running the country. The government insists that everybody should take either ethics or religion as part of the regular public school curriculum.
Let me tell you my experiences with “religion” when it was taught in Hungarian schools. I took religion for eight solid years and don’t remember a single thing that was useful or enlightening. Instead, we were taught to hate the Catholics, who worship idols. Impressionable as I was early on, I used to tease my younger cousin who was Catholic about her idols.
As for the separation of church and state, I spent my first four years in a state school. Great was my surprise when on the first day of school the whole student body was herded into the closest Catholic Church for mass. They never asked the religion of the children. Since I had never been in a church before, I had not the foggiest idea what was going on.
Then came the other surprise. The religion class. I knew that I was supposed to identify myself as a Calvinist. Since there were very few of us, our class was held after hours. While in ordinary classes the girls and boys were separated, in religion the class was mixed: both boys and girls attended. There were maybe five or six of us. One of my vivid memories from those days was that the first “kind” minister who taught us religion regularly caned the boys. From grade five on a nicer minister taught us but the quality of religious education didn’t improve. By grade seven a revolutionary change occurred: we had a woman teacher. Aside from her sex the same old practice continued.
I was even confirmed. Our preparation for confirmation consisted of memorizing passages from the Bible. The grand finale was a public examination. Each of us was called on to recite a long passage from the New Testament. To the horror of the family who gathered for the occasion I got stuck in the middle of the story of John the Baptist. No prodding helped.
That was my last encounter with the Hungarian Reformed Church. In grade eight I announced that there was no way I would ever cross the threshold of a church again. I guess my parents weren’t exactly heartbroken. It seems that in fact I liberated them. As far as I know neither of them ever attended church again. So, the Hungarian Reformed Church’s missionary work certainly wasn’t successful in my case.
My feeling is that the quality of the new religious classes will be just as poor, if not poorer than those of my childhood. After all, in those days religion was a compulsory subject in every school and the churches had extensive experience teaching the subject. In addition, the number of schools was relatively small in comparison to the situation today. There were also more priests and ministers. Now there are more children, more schools, and fewer priests and ministers.
Aside from the quality of the teaching there are more substantive worries about the introduction of religion as a regular part of the curriculum. Critics of the law point out that, depending on the school administration’s ideological views, parents who opt for their children to take ethics instead of religion might find that their children are discriminated against in school. Moreover, the new constitution specifies that an individual has the right to keep his religious beliefs private. Requiring parents to choose encroaches upon this right. Moreover, the schools will send a list of children to be enrolled in religion classes to the churches. Admittedly, the churches ought to know how many children they will have to deal with. But the law says nothing about how long these lists can be kept and what they can be used for besides keeping tab on the number of students requiring religious education.
Knowing something about the Bible and world religions is important. “Hittan,” by contrast, as the Hungarians call it, is useless. “Hit” in Hungarian means “faith.” “Tan” “subject, class.” One cannot learn faith! It is impossible.
Early impressions last long.
The kindergarden level Hittan may effect thinking critically badly.
The act to vote Fidesz will come easily to graduate of Hungarian Hittan.
Data, data, data. All the data about who chooses religion or ethics (secular class) is recorded by the school. The religion teachers (from whichever church they come) will mark, evaluate and record each kid and his/her family. All these info will feed into Fidesz’ election data base. You have no idea how sophisticated it is. How much attention Fidesz pays to details. And they use all sources to keep the data up to date and correct.
Oh yeah, this is how it’s done. With Fidesz it is never ever so simple (just education, yeah, right).
It’s also about financing from taxpayer’s money a lot of religion teacher positions (i.e. a national network of right wing/conservative/anti-liberal/anti-Western supporters there in every small village, ready to help the Fidesz election machinery every way they can).
I bet you that MSZP or Bajnai will never dare to do away with the compulsory religion class is state schools. They are weaklings, cowards, who are afraid to be pround and determined and who always try to give gestures to conservatives in the – naive – hope that they will be liked. They, like all people, deep down crave love especially of those who reject them and for that they will do anything (even if it was proven a 100 times that conservatives will only take advantage of the left, but will never, under any circumstance will give in to “communists”, let alone like them).
Blumi, unfortunately you are right. As far as I know DK is the only party that would be ready to put the churches in their places.
Religion and politics, how I love the debate; as did my father. I actually have his diary/writings of where he grew up and his time in a P.O.W. camp during WWII. He talks about his “religious” upbringing in a village in Hungary; born 1926. His parents, my grandparents were in his words a “religiously mixed marriage.” Calvinist (his father) and Roman Catholic (his mother). In those days, it was traditional for males to follow the fathers religion and females to follow the mothers. My grandmother had other opinions and was not going to have a two religion family, so Roman Catholic is was. The entire village was 92% Roman Catholic; and there was only two churches and a synagogue. My father learned at a very early age, the towns unwritten laws existed not just in his hometown but all over Hungary. They weren’t just economic and social “laws” but religious ones too. Monday-Saturday 1 hour a day morning mass then school and religious studies. Sunday Mass; you could tell who from who by what row they sat in. Mandatory Religious Tax from your salary or paid directly to the church if you were self employed. It didn’t matter if you had one or nine children in your family to feed, or if there was economic hardship, you had to pay. If you did not, you would receive a visit from the tax collector. If you had no money, then your geese or ducks would be taken. I think; well I know, the real disappointment came for my father when his father didn’t get a job for the church. His mother went to ask the monsignor why, and he replied because “your husband isn’t Catholic,” to which her answer was, “but I have nine Catholic children.” My father said his mother never went to church again.
Anyway, as I always ask, whatever happened to happy medium?? We go forward, be go back and we think forward again; but somehow never achieving that balance so to speak.
my two Forints,
“In those days, it was traditional for males to follow the fathers religion and females to follow the mothers.”
This was the decree of July 11, 1884 by Agoston Trefort, not an ancient tradition.
(Earlier in mixed marriages, the spouses had to give a reversalis by government fiat before the wedding that all children would be raised as Catholic.)
Law XXVI of 1791:
Catholic father, Protestant mother ——> All children must follow Catholicism.
Protestant father, Catholic mother —–> Daughters must become Catholic, sons are free to choose their religion.
“Unfortunately, during the right-of-center government of József Antall the parliamentary majority made a “compromise” arrangement. Religion classes were held after official school hours but in the school building.”
Premier Antall made numerous bad decisions during his 3-year tenure, but after-school religion classes in the public school buildings were also routine during the Kadar era.
Blumi is right, Fidesz will probably use this as an excellent opportunity for data collection.
But other than that… pressurizing kids into religious education in schools may actually backfire. I’m sure that the big brainwashing machine will not work flawlessly, just as it didn’t work under the communists. What this forced education will achieve is that religion will become very “uncool” with kids, especially when they enter their teenage years… just as devote Marxism was uncool in the 80s in high schools. The more you force an empty ideology on kids, the more they are going to ridicule it and rebel against it when they get a little older. Especially, if there is a disconnect between the school culture and the home culture.. and in this case there will be, as the majority of Hungarian families are not deeply religious.
Slightly Off topic. All this Christian cq. religion I agree it has to do with data collection. Otherwise why the government works on Christian holidays and National holidays. For more than 10 years I live in Szentendre, and this year the garbage collection is also done on holidays. http://www.szentendre.hu/magyar/hirek/hulladekszallitasi_rend
Last Monday we were driving to family, and did not understand why there was so much police check points (we past five check points), and why people working on roads (orange cars). But this is not the case apparently people need to work on these official vacation days, even during Christmas.
Tappanch: “Premier Antall made numerous bad decisions during his 3-year tenure, but after-school religion classes in the public school buildings were also routine during the Kadar era.”
It doesn’t make it any better.
Re “mixed marriages.” In my family, on my mother’s side, we had three generations of mixed marriages and three “reverzális-es.” The word is self-explanatory. My great grandmother was a Calvinist who got married to a Lutheran and agreed to all have all children, boys and girls, to be Lutheran. This Lutheran grandmother got married to a Catholic and agreed that all children will become Catholic. She had three daughters! So, my mother became a Catholic who married a Hungarian Reformed man who insisted that his children will be all Calvinists. Not because he was religious but because he was extremely proud of the tradition. His ancestors during the eighteenth century suffered for their faith. There were stories about one of my ancestors who had to hide in the attic for ten years because the authorities were after him. He decided to break some of those “idols” in the Catholic church. Mind you, it was a village where all the inhabitants were Calvinist but during the reign of Maria Theresa their only church was converted into a Catholic one. Then came my ancestor, Luke! So, with this kind of stories behind him it was no surprise. And my mother didn’t really care.
A good article in Hungarian about the church’s aggressive political role by Árpád W. Tóta who is always on target and very entertaining: http://m.hvg.hu/w/20130403_A_sir_ures
@Eva re: Catholic-Protestant mixed marriages
The 1791 law was so unequal for the Protestants! If you do the math, with the greatest probability, 7/8 of the children of mixed marriages became Catholic and at least 3/4 of them had to become Catholic.
Is the country heading in the right direction?
democratic opposition total: 24%
don’t say 37%
This is the best result for Fidesz for a long time.
Second hand source (there is nothing on median.hu)
No wonder. The Catholic Church kicked out those who agreed to “reverzális.” They couldn’t participate, couldn’t take communion, couldn’t be buried, by a Catholic priest, etc.
The state should stay away from religion. What we see now is a reaction to the communisdt era’s presecution of all religions. In Diosgyor, where I spend the summers, churches are full every Sunday.
It is obvious that most churches were not persecuted under the Communists after 1956 – the churches were able to teach “hittan” in public schools in the afternoon, for instance.
Most higher-ups in church hierarchy also doubled as state security agents.
My point is that there has never been proper separation of church and state in Hungary, not even under the Communists. The state paid the salaries of the priests even then.
The last time I was able to get info (under the Socialist government!), 70% of the income of the Catholic church was from the government.
The Orban government pays 1.9 times as much of taxpayers’ money per student for parochial schools than per student for public schools – no wonder there were numerous*
conversions of public schools into parochial schools in the last three years.
*How many? Nobody made research on this topic. I would like to see the numbers.
Tibor Fischer, another one of Orban’s Brit lapdogs (who is actually btw also a good novelist, ie writer of fiction) pontificating in today’s Guardian:
“If there’s one person who’s earned the title of democrat it’s Orbán”
2012 April vs 2011 April
The number of students in Catholic schools had increased by 21.8% in one year to 87 thousand, from April 2011 to April 2012.
Calvinist schools – 38 thousand students, an increase of more than 10%
Lutheran schools – 13 thousand students, an increase of 12%
Evangelical (Hit Gyul.) schools – 4 thousand students
Yup the same in Esztergom and the Budapest Basilica. Full with tourists.
So what if they do? Will you people get off this obsession with the Fidesz electoral machine? Protest movements in the Middle East and elsewhere have been scoring success after success recently against far greater resources of coercion than even Orban could ever dream of. Will you stop looking at door-to-door information-gathering and start looking at Tweets, Facebook, Youtube and SMS? Not that I’m decrying a strong electioneering apparatus, but there are so many other highly effective means of coordinating and mobilizing opinion that Orban’s critics seem to be neglecting out of sheer defeatism.
No it’s not.
Tappanch is right – the churches, priests and religious people were not harassed as much as in Romania or the Soviet Union. But if you were religious, it wasn’t a good idea to bandy it around until you were admitted into a college. Priests were harassed, even in the 80s, especially the ones that worked with young people. But you had no problem going to see “Blanki” (father Miklos Blankenstein in BP) or going to the Nagymaros Youth Festival.
The communist interior ministry actually had a subdivision that was dedicated to “religious intelligence”. Funny oxymoron, some would say.
There was a spiritual renewal after the end of the Communist era, mostly among young people. Partly because pastors were not afraid anymore to work with them, partly because a lot of foreign groups came to the country to evangelize.
But what you see in Hungary now, is just a bunch zealots, played by Orban,trying to force the Christian religion on the country. It’s all politics and has nothing to do with spirituality. The KDNP minions are just doing the ideological wetwork for the Fidesz.
They are actually too dumb to see how much damage they will cause. This vehement involvement in the religious life from the government side will backfire big time. This is not Spain or Italy where there are hundreds of years of Christian tradition. Since the 50 years of Communist brainwash, people here are very suspicious of any ideological doctrine. There is no way to turn Hungary into a Christian state.
@Deak Ferenc: I don’t really get the tirade; it was just a statement. They will use this info for data-collection. No, it’s not the end of the word, but who said it is? Where did you read defeatism into this?
it is not an obsession, we just have to remind ourselves that Fidesz has the most formidable election machinery, the most important part of which is its constantly updated and refined data base. And Fidesz will use any opportunity to refine it, in seemingly unexpected ways. Also let’s never forget that the traditional churches are a very significant pillar of Fidesz’ campaign strategy (both as an electorate and as a campaign network).
No one else comes even close to Fidesz in sophistication, routine and campaign management.
The machinery is more important than ever thanks to Fidesz itself, obviously it tries to enter into a fight in which it has a solid superiority.
I don’t see the connection to Egypt, if anything the result there proves my point. That is in Egypt only the IB has the network and sophistication (and the unitedness) out of all opposition forces and as a result it could win the elections easily.
They had decades to organise themselves as the IB is a very old movement and they even particpated in past (even if rigged) elections, while no other opposition force did. Similarly, until Fidesz maintains its organisationmal superirority it can easily win (or rather the opposition will need to have a 7-8% lead just to get even).
The ‘liberal’ Egyptians can Twitter and Facebook the hell out the situation, but the thing is that that diciplined and organised people like the IB supporters decide the political future and not kids with Iphones. Same in Hungary.
The video that compares the German and the Hungarian video is off. They took care of it:
Perhaps they can upload it to liveleak.com they do not have such stringent rules re. copy right.
I find rather preposterous, that a party, hardly visible to the naked eye shaping the ideological -, spiritual -, moral -, etc. future of the coming generations of Hungary.
And I haven’t yet mentioned the unforgiving holy leader of the very party, last seen as a misplaced appendage of a Pagan(!!) – horse…
Otherwise Blumi right on, they’re not only using religion to further divide the country and deepen the segregation – us them – but as another source of data.
The collected information has far more use than rigging an election, you’ll see, I’m afraid soon enough.
Does anyone has the latest update: what exactly Orban’s religious status as is today?
The path is quite colourful, I know that much, the present status isn’t really clear to me.
Probably I am the only soul all over with this kind of problem, the Hungarian population obviously happy anyway – God Gracious..!
welcome to a new ferenc deak fan.
in that spirit, we have to address the home problems without generalizations.
we can understand that most ordinary hungarians find this blog very painful.
we must declare:
all hungarians have their right to their human dignity
all hardfeeling is unjustified
no blanket accusation is appropriate
all decent citizens are exempt of any blames
no lowblow anti-hungarianism permitted
we make it clear that crooks of the leftist and rightist parties have no place in the Parliament, or government offices.
Thanks for passing on the link. I was thinking of writing a reply to the Guardian, but don’t have the time today.
Look! It’s on LiveLeak:
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