Back to the Past: Poland's Experiment in Theocracy; Polish Prelates Turn Back the Clock
Dziamka, Kaz, Free Inquiry
The recent ill-conceived initiative by President George W Bush to offer financial help to "faith-based" organizations has renewed debate in the United States about the true meaning of that honored Jeffersonian principle, the separation of church and state. In Poland, on the other hand, it seems that nobody can prevent that nation's medievalist, anti-democratic Roman Catholic church from violating church-state separation.
Since the collapse of the Communist government in Poland in 1989, the Catholic church--in tandem with the Polish pope, John Paul II--has imposed its political will on Polish society and created a de facto Catholic neo-theocracy Disturbingly, this Polish neo-theocracy parades under the names of "democracy" and "religious freedom." Traditional theocracies like Saudi Arabia or Iran openly admit that religion and state are bonded. In a neo-theocracy like Poland, the bondage may be less intense, yet there's enough of it to question whether Polish people genuinely enjoy democracy and religious freedom.
Consider, for example, the following passages from the Polish Constitution, adopted by the Polish National Assembly in 1997, and from the Polish Concordat, ratified in 1998. Unlike the American Constitution--a strictly secular document, in which there is no mention of Christianity, God, Jesus, or any supreme being--the Preamble to the Polish Constitution alone mentions "God" twice: "[...] those who believe in God as the source of truth, justice, good and beauty" and "recognizing our responsibility before God." The Polish Preamble also talks, erroneously, about Polish culture being rooted "in the Christian heritage," even though the real roots of Polish culture are Slavonic (which is to say, non-Christian); historically, Christianity was forced upon the Slavic tribes by political fiat in 996, when Poland's Slavic Piast ruler, Mieszko I, "adopted" Christianity.
Like Constantine the Great, however, Mieszko never became fully Christianized and used Christianity for political, not personal, goals. The original Slavic Polish ("Polan") State united under the Piast dynasty had two options in the face of the growing threat of subjugation by Christian military powers: either accept Christianity direct from Rome (via the Latin rite) or risk German missionary drives on the bloody swords of Christian German emperors. The hapless Mieszko chose the former, marrying a Christian Czech princess, but it would take more than an administrative decree and a Christian marriage to eradicate Poland's Slavonic heritage. Indeed, it would take a relentless, millennium-long policy of forced Christianization in tears and blood. Even today, Polish Slavonic culture has not been entirely destroyed. One can still find colorful Slavonic traditions thinly covered by a Christian veneer. This should not be surprising, though it is rarely reported. Polish Slavonic heritage stretches over at least thre e millennia; Poland's "Christian heritage" began only a millennium ago. How, then, can Poland be "rooted in the Christian tradition"?
Needless to say, conversion to Christianity in no way prevented Poland from becoming embroiled in endless, suicidal Christian wars. It also resulted in tragic destruction of Slavic culture and religion; fanatical opposition to science (particularly astronomy); persecution of pagans and other heretics, as well as anti-Semitism fed by the popular Christian misconception that the Jews were "the murderers of Jesus." These are all facts conveniently ignored today by Polish Catholics, who pontificate about the supposed benefits of their "Christian heritage." Christianity brought some benefits, admittedly. But the political machinations and ambitions of the Vatican in general, and the Polish Catholic establishment in particular, have caused endless religious, political, economic, and social problems throughout Polish Christian history. Among other things, these problems resulted in the erasure of Poland from the map of Europe in the eighteenth century.
In Polish Philosophy: Zadruga, Antoni Wacyk, a leading Polish spokesman for the Slavonic roots of Polish culture and national identity, decries the self-destructive Catholicization of Polish society and state. He notes that, during the nadir of Saxon decadence in the eighteenth century, Poland's army could only muster a pitiful 18,425 troops, while its army of Catholic priests and clerics numbered 31,137! Is it any wonder that Poland was partitioned three times and lost its independence in 1795? As Wacyk argues, "[The Polish State] collapsed because during the two [previous] centuries of its unrelenting educational campaign in Poland, the Catholic Church managed to completely destroy Polish national identity."
If you read the first chapter of the Polish constitution, you will learn that it offers the easy verbal promise of "a democratic state" and the principles of "social justice" (Article 2); the typical separation of political powers into the legislative, executive, and judiciary (Article 10); and the grandiose assertion that "Churches and other religious organizations shall have equal rights" (Article 25). Then you will come upon this very suspicious-sounding passage: "The relations between the Republic of Poland and the Roman Catholic Church shall be determined by international treaty concluded with the Holy See, and by statute."
Indeed, these relations were officially determined a year later, when the Polish Concordat was ratified. Concordats--agreements whose form makes them throwbacks to the Middle Ages--always compromise the sovereignty of the states signing them with the Holy See. Here are a few examples selected from the twenty-nine articles of the Polish Concordat:
* Article 9 requires that many Christian or Catholic holidays be recognized as public holidays: January 1 (in celebration of Mary, "Holy Mother of God" and "Queen of Poland"); August 15 (the Day of the Ascension of the "Most Holy Virgin Mary"); and so on.
* Article 10 legitimizes Catholic weddings. (They acquire civil status if registered within five days.)
* Article 12 introduces Catholic ("religious") indoctrination at public expense in public schools, including nurseries and colleges, as well as in the military (Article 16).
* Article 15 binds the Polish government to subsidize the Lublin Catholic University and the Papal Theological Academy of Cracow (Article 22 also obligates the Polish government to support the renovation and conservation of "valuable" Catholic churches and other buildings, as well as "works of art" described as part of "the cultural heritage.")
In Poland, a crucifix hangs in both houses of the parliament, and Catholic Mass on Sunday is broadcast on state-run radio. (Article 20 of the Concordat grants the Catholic Church a right to "transmit programs on state-operated television and radio" in addition to its own "Radio Maryja," an unprecedented, unabashed, stunningly embarrassing extravaganza of Mariolatry. It is virtually impossible to watch daily news on Polish television without a segment or two on Catholic activities, and without listening to Polish Catholic "experts" on everything from religion to morality politics, sports, economics, or entertainment.
When a baby is born, a couple marries, or a person dies, there is invariably a Polish Catholic priest at hand to quote the Bible and to collect a fee. In Poland it is becoming increasingly rare not to have a monument dedicated, a new school opened, or even a car purchased without its being consecrated by a cassock-clad personage wielding an aspergillum (also for a fee, of course). On Polish television, one can see Poland's platitudinous Primate Jozef Glemp as often as the urbane, articulate Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski.
Never has a modern European country been so Catholicized as Poland. No other country in Europe is more neotheocratic than Poland.
When America's young democracy was threatened by Patrick Henry's bill to establish a provision for the teachers of Christianity, it was James Madison, the father of the American Constitution, who averted the danger by arguing eloquently against legal support for the Christian religion. In "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments," Madison argued that such a bill would be "a dangerous abuse of power" and that "the support of the Christian religion" through a legal system "is a contradiction to the Christian religion itself; for every page of it disavows a dependence on the powers of this world." All in all, Madison offered fifteen reasons why the legal support of the teachers of Christian religion should be rejected.
Sadly there are no Madisons or Jeffersons in the Warsaw Belweder (the traditional residence of the Polish president) or the Polish Seym (Parliament) to save Poland's budding democracy from a Roman Catholic takeover. For now, Polish Catholic neo-theocracy is in command while a genuine Polish democracy seems at best a distant future prospect.
Perhaps when Poland joins the European Union, closer intellectual and cultural ties with Western Europe--where Christianity is dying out--will help Slavonic Poles to relegate the Polish Roman-Catholic Church to its true role: an entrenched and imported belief system that seeks to keep modern Poles in bondage to the alien gods of ancient Near Eastern peasants, shepherds, and fishermen. For such a belief system to enjoy government support is exactly how not to build a modern democratic government--a lesson learned by the American Founding Fathers, but not yet apparently by modern-day Polish politicians.
Of course, democracy even American democracy is not a finished product or a fool-proof formula. Rather it is an on-going process. The starting point, however, must be separation of political government from the crippling influence of institutionalized religions.
Kaz Dziamka, born and educated in Poland, came to the United States with his family in 1981. In 1995, he designed and taught at Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute "The American Humanist Tradition," the first course in secular humanism ever taught at a vocational institution. He continues to teach at Albuquerque TVI. Since 1997 he has been editor of the American Rationalist. He has been Fulbright Professor of American Studies at the University of Tromso in Norway and recently became U.S. correspondent for Fakty i Mity (Facts and Myths), an independent anti-clerical Polish weekly.…
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Publication information: Article title: Back to the Past: Poland's Experiment in Theocracy; Polish Prelates Turn Back the Clock. Contributors: Dziamka, Kaz - Author. Magazine title: Free Inquiry. Volume: 22. Issue: 2 Publication date: Spring 2002. Page number: 49+. © 1999 Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.