23 November 2012

Protecting the Secular State

Wenceslas Square during the Velvet Revolution, 1989
Christianity in the Czech Republic has a long and, at times, arduous history. The first mentions of Christianity in these lands go back to the ninth century. Not long after its introduction to Christianity, missionaries Cyril and Methodius came onto the scene. Cyril is most noted for giving the Slavonic languages an alphabet, now known as Cyrillic.

Over the centuries, various princes, kings, and empires have ruled what has become the Czech Republic. Likewise, religious belief and leadership had a certain ebb and flow. Primarily an historic Catholic state, the Republic has had it’s Protestant moments. This is, after all the land of Jan Hus and the Prague Defenestration.

Communism came to the Czech Republic in 1945 and all religions were victims of persecution. Churches and church lands were confiscated, priests and pastors imprisoned or executed. Although various religious leaders took part in the movement to bring down the Communist regime in 1989’s Velvet Revolution, Christianity did not experience a revival. In fact, religious belief was kicked to the curb by the Czech population. Czechs like their “secular state.”

Today’s “...Czech Republic ...is one of the most atheistic countries in the world,” according to Czech political scientist Ondrej Slectha. And he likes it that way.

Now, a bill is working it’s way through the channels of government in Prague which would restore church properties confiscated by the Communists, or compensate the church for their loss. The bill also includes ratification of a treaty with the Vatican. This really worries secularists such as Slectha. If President Vaclav Klaus does not veto this bill, states Slectha, “The status quo on which the secular tradition of Czech statehood has been built up will be broken.”

The reputation of the Czech Republic as an atheistic state may or may not be true, depending upon one’s definitions. Czechs are not necessarily against the concept of a God. They most certainly are not against the understanding that a spiritual realm exists, as an article in the UK’s Guardian illustrates. Magic, New Age practices, and Eastern Mysticism are well-accepted here.

My experience here has been that while they hold their skepticism and their secularity dear, the Czechs are, at worst, tolerant of Christians, and at best, open to hearing about the real Gospel. Just don’t talk to them about “Church.” The fields here are “white unto harvest.” But, don’t call yourself a “missionary.” Czechs don’t like that either.

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