Between Atheism and Catholicism: Czech Religious Scepticism Is a Political Problem. the Country, However, Bears Great Potential to Overcome Its Religious Crisis

Article excerpt

On the 26th of September 2009, the most atheist country in Europe will greet the leader of the Catholic Church. The religious and political authorities in the Czech Republic are therefore discussing lingering issues between the Vatican and the Czech state. As a result, the present political and particular spiritual conditions in the country could lead the Czech Republic to reassess its stance towards the Catholic Church.

Unlike in the United States, where Christian values are a strong component of the Conservative right which calls for market deregulation and a smaller government, in continental politics it is the Catholic Church and affiliated parties which promote social programs based on increased governmental involvement. For example, in Germany, the Social and Christian democratic parties make up the country's centre-left governing coalition. In the Czech Republic, the current Christian Democratic Union (KDU) follows a tradition in which Czech Christian parties have associated themselves with left and centre-left politics.

One of the first Christian parties in Czechoslovakia was the Christian-Social Party, formed in 1894 after Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum established the foundations of Christian democracy. In the Czech Republic, Christian parties do not serve as political tools of Catholic Church. Though the Church stands above political parties, it still bears authority. Furthermore, most KDU members are Catholic.

Shifting Alliances

While the Social Democratic Party and the Christian Democratic Union in the Czech Republic currently belong to different coalitions, they have expressed dissatisfaction with their current political partnerships and mutual interest in each other as coalition partners. The chairman of the Social Democrats, Jiri Paroubek, links his party's diminishing popularity to its collaboration with the Czech Communist party, and thus, he sees a possible partner in the Christian Democrats. The chairman of the KDU Jiri Cunek also admits that his party has moved too far to the right; he would like to regain the party's former supporters who have since been won over by the left. The party has sided with the Social Democrats before, most recently in the parliamentary election of 2002.

In addition to changing its political orientation, certain members of the KDU would like to replace the label "Christian" with the more neutral label of "Conservative." This decision threatens to estrange members, says the editor of The Catholic Weekly [Katolicky tydenik] Antonin Randa. Theologian and Catholic priest Tomas Halik also believes that the party's religious obscurity is its crucial mistake; the party should clearly represent Czech believers. Nonetheless, the fact that parties on both sides of the political spectrum are seeking a coalition with the KDU indicates that partnership considerations are important politically.

Waffling Atheism

Yet, outside of parliamentary politics, the religious situation appears less malleable. The Czechs have long had a problematic relationship with Christianity. In the 14th century, the Bohemian philosopher Jan Hus brought Christian reformist thinking to the Bohemian lands. Now looked upon as a predecessor of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, Hus was burned at the stake in 1415 for heresy. Until the dissolution of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in 1918, the Catholic Habsburg emperors attempted (and succeeded during the Counter-Reformation) to forcefully place the Bohemian lands under the hand of Rome, which created joint anti-Habsburg and anti-Catholic sentiments in the rising group of Czech intellectuals during the 19th century Czech nationalist movement. During Communism, religion was targeted and atheism promoted. Since the last Papal visit twelve years ago, the number of atheists and non-organized believers has now grown from 55 to 81 percent. In comparison, only 29 percent of Germans identify themselves as atheist. …