Back to the Past: Poland's Experiment in Theocracy; Polish Prelates Turn Back the Clock

Article excerpt

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. …