Religion and philosophy
Anyone counting the number of churches in Prague would be very likely to conclude that the Czech Republic is a deeply religious country. The simple act of asking a couple of Czechs quickly reveals that the opposite is true: if there is one uniting factor when it comes to religion in the Czech Republic, it`s a widely shared preference to stay away from it.
Numerous religious battles have been fought on Czech territory. Catholics and protestants have disputed the area. At several points in time, religion was imposed on the Czechs while at other moments it was prohibited. The Czechs remained largely stoic under both scenarios, which, as it turns out, is quite a common Czech way to deal with unjust authorities or people who have ideas that differ from theirs. Like the Dutch, Czechs tolerate different opinions. Unlike the Dutch, they keep their opinions to themselves. Czechs only moderately feel like risking discomfort by clearly opposing other people`s opinions.
..explains why Czechs are cynical when it comes to authority
Back to the religion, which many Czechs admit to regard with suspicion. `We have no tradition of being religious`, explains Daniel (27). `Our parents` generation was isolated from religion by communism. The few people who did insist on practicing religion did so in secrecy. Undercover priests were holding services in private homes and if such a gathering was discovered, the priest was typically imprisoned and all of the attendants received a mark on their records with the authorities. A full record of non-conformist behaviour would result in the holder getting a lot of attention from the secret police, probably followed by punishment or imprisonment.`
`The Czech population has never voluntarily supported one dominant religious stream. The country`s leaders were usually Catholics who every once in a while felt like they needed to fight reformist leaders like Jan Hus, or the movements initiated by his followers. Civilians were better off if they pretended to be catholic and possibly even attended church services. Most of these loyal catholics never spiritually supported the catholic cause and the arrogance of those promoting it.`
`According to a recent poll, 40% of Czech people claim to belong to some kind of religious stream. The government approves official churches if they submit appropriate documents and prove of an audience larger than 500 or so members. Large movements are treated like companies and can apply for government support if their situation dictates so. We do not have any religious political parties in parliament. Churches only have limited influence on daily life in the Czech Republic. The Catholic Church is trying to claim back some property that was nationalized under communism, but that is about where it ends`, Daniel says.
Daniel does not count himself in with any specific church, nor does he declare himself atheist: `My beliefs constitute a compilation of values from different religions. I do not want to stick to one religion only and I don`t like it when others believe that their religion is the one and only. People who are too fanatic about their religions are regarded with mistrust in Czech Republic. Jehova`s witnesses, Scientologists, Mormons and everybody who is trying to recruit followers for one or another religion will meet a lot of resistance on their way. Opinions about the Islam are rather neutral, although the authorities in Prague will only accept plans to build a Mosque in the city centre if it will not have a minaret.`
Hanka (23, photo) thinks she does not need the authority of religion to lead a happy life. `I may want to reconsider when I`m old and would like to embrace the idea of afterlife. The same happened in communism by the way. Communist leaders would renounce everything that had to do with religion, yet a priest would be called to lead their funerals. That also explains how Czech people think about religion, authority and leadership: all of them tend to be hypocrite and only serve the ones who are in charge. Instead of respecting such practices, Czech people will share their individual life philosophies after having a couple of beers. It`s good material for pub conversations as the evening progresses.`
Bronislav (30) does not believe in God or religion. `I have different examples for all the disciplines I am interested in. I like football, so I will take a good football player as my example. I don`t often need to change my examples, because I make sure that they are lots better than I am. Overtaking them would be an illusion and I prefer to stay realistic. It`s better than getting frustrated. My parents never took me to church and I only went there once because I was curious to see what was happening there. Some people go to church for Christmas, simply because they like the tradition. However, they tend to see it as a way to calm down, not so much as a way to obey their faith. The situation has barely changed in recent years. There are no drastic changes in the number of churchgoers or people moving from one religion to another.`
Hanka (30) does not consider herself religious. `My parents had me baptised and once took me to church when I was young. I remember seeing the pictures of Jesus before he got hung and immediately decided that I did not like anything associated with those images. I prefer to believe in some if the ideals of the church though. I like to believe in the family and in the good intentions of myself and others. Or maybe I believe in nature, because it seems so perfectly arranged. I personally don`t miss the authority of a supreme power, although I would be tempted to say that Czechs sometimes miss a feeling of belonging to something bigger than themselves. The existence of many sport and activity clubs make up for it, but beside Czech vistories in major ice hockey tournaments, only very few shared experiences emotionally unite the Czech people.`
Lukas (21) also sticks to his own conception of faith. `There are many things to believe, so why choose only one?`, he asks himself. `Traditions are nice but only if they make sense. Religions often have traditions that are harmful to those who are excluded by the religion. If someone is not allowed to live in a certain town because he does not conform himself to the prescribed religion, then what`s the value of all the good ideals of such a religion? Apart from that, many religions are misinterpreted, both by spiritual leaders and by followers.`
Zuzana (21) explains that Czech people are probably more open to unconventional ideas than for example Poland, which strictly adheres to Catholicism. `I think abortion and homosexuality are personal matters that are not suitable for the interference of the state or the church. It`s up to individuals to decide on such complicated matters.`
Zuzana does not have any specific religion. She does pray, but mainly to herself. `It`s more like contemplating on my own reflections, generating hope or checking whether I am taking the right decisions. I manage to solve quite some issues by thinking in that way. I don`t always manage to follow the answers though.`
Lenka (25) doesn`t like to think about religious issues. `I am not an atheist, I just don`t think about religion. My thoughts are organised along other lines: life, friends, family, work, education. I think I only know two or three people who consider themselves religious. For myself, I prefer to let my feelings and logical thoughts decide about what I should do.`
Conclusion of the day: Czechs don`t like it when others decide for them. They may follow orders and take a flexible attitude if circumstances force them to do so. Czechs will seemingly gladly take orders from whoever claims, believes or seems to be their superiour. At the back of their mind, Czechs tend to strongly resist having to give up their personal opinions and convictions.
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