Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Socialist Jesus v. The Corporate Church



Another article on religion, this time shifting the point of view from right to left. 'Przegląd' columnist Piotr Żuk with a critical (although not necessarily an atheistic) look at the Catholic Church in Poland...


How would a Catholic Pole welcome Jesus Christ if he were to knock on their door this Christmas time? This character, reminiscent of a hippy, a homeless person or some kind of left-wing alterglobalist, fighting against capitalism and injustice, would probably arouse less than positive feelings in the majority of Catholic Poles.

These are the same people who sit in church and listen to slogans of Christian love but who in their everyday life have little or no sympathy for those with different wolrdviews. Nor are they interested in making the public sphere just and equal for all citizens.

If Jesus lived in today's Poland he would surely rebel against social inequality, discrimination of minorities and the financial privileges and greedy behaviour of many Church officials. And he surely wouldn't support the 'real capitalism' which creates so much social exclusion.

I remember, in Wrocław in the early 90s during a demonstration against restrictive abortion laws, someone had painted on the pavement: 'God is young. The clergy are old.' After almost 20 years, it is possible to say that morally, culturally and socially the Polish clergy are even older. A refusal to open up or react to any changes happening in the wider world is a trademark of the Catholic Church in Poland.

Now, not only abortion is bad. Condoms are a mortal sin, even in a world where AIDS is an ever-present danger, and recently IVF treatment has become a crime in the eyes of the Church hierarchy.

The situation is unlikely to change if the Church, like a political party, does not possess a strong and dynamic intellectual backroom. It is impossible to see any brave new theological thinking which could help with contemporary problems. Individuals who try to shake up the ossified way of thinking find themselves isolated at the margins of Polish Catholicism, or they are forced to leave the Church. Such was the fate of Stanisław Obirek (a controversial liberal Jesuit who described the adoration of JPII as 'idolatry')

The same applies to the lay activities of Catholics, which are as meagre and weak as the rest of civil society in Poland. It is difficult in the current climate in Poland to envisage grassroots initiatives in the style of the international movement "We are the Church " or of similar organisations in the US and Germany. All of these movements are based on progressive theology, lay Catholicism and independent thinking which criticises the conservative and hierarchical structure of the offical church and campaigns for its reform.

It is also hard to imagine a modern version of Liberation Theology taking root amongst Polish priests. This movement, emanating mainly from Latin America, connected the Christian faith with the struggle for social justice and human rights. From this perspective, Jesus was a freedom fighter and a revolutionary against the rich and powerful who control this world. The Kingdom of Heaven becomes a Socialist society or even an Anarchist commune. Even though the conditions exist in Poland for this type of interpretation, one does not hear anything about the Church's battle against arch-capitalism.

Based on all this, it is not surprising that Polish Catholicism is on one hand ritualistic, and on the other is superficial and easy to consume-- like popular culture. It is more about putting on a show in front of aunt Hela and uncle Heńko and other family and friends than about real values. Faithful adherence to rituals played out during christenings, weddings or festivals does not hide the fact that Polish Catholics reject much of basic Church dogma. According to a survey carried out in March, one quarter of Polish Catholics do not believe in either the Resurrection or life after death. One third do not believe in hell....

The Church, which is less and less concerned with the problems of the poor and more and more concerned with its own rights and privileges, is similar to a corporation whose only aim is to increase and maximise its influence and profits.....

If on the side of the congregation we have people going through the ritualistic motions, and on the side of the Church we have only bureaucracy, what hope is there for any charismatic or dynamic leaders? Jesus would certainly be uninspired by the spectacle and would be denounced by the powers that be as an iconoclast and a utopian. He would be criticised for not understanding the ways of the market economy and he might even be accused of offending the sensibilites of the religious authorities.

When we are singing our Christmas carols about a miraculous birth in a poor stable, it is worth remembering who we are singing about....

Piotr Żuk is a journalist and sociologist. Translated by Czarny Kot 19/01/10

Source: 'Przegląd' magazine.

12 comments:

Brett Hetherington said...

A really interesting article that you have translated here. I think that historically (and of course still today) any organisation that has significant power tends to be reluctant to change, and any progressive reform is rarely brought about by those who are in the positions of power. I don't even expect those at the top to analyse what they are doing. That is almost inevitably the job of the free thinkers. If a Jesus-like figure was around today he would probably be seen as too dangerous and as Piotr Żuk says, he would be denounced. His concern for the poor would be ignored because the poor have never really been important to organised religion, except as soldiers in a holy war or reliable providers of the little savings they might have.

Gregor said...

Thanks for the translation, but a few points. Firstly I'd slightly quibble with your view that the tone shifts from left to right. Of course, it could be correct in terms of the conflicting views of Polish Roman Catholicism, but I found much to agree with in both articles.

I do think that if Europe loses its Christian heritage it will be a form of cultural suicide, but I also think that Christians should indeed show more love for the poor and opposition for war.

Yet, this varies from denomination to denomination. With the RC Church, I read once someone said that there were five non-negotiable political issues for Roman Catholics in the Presidential election. One of these was gay marriage. War wasn't mentioned once. Personally, I was rather more disturbed by John McCain's bloodthirsty rhetoric towards Russia and Iran than I was about what rights Obama would grant to consenting adults. (Needless to say, treatment of poor people, let alone universal healthcare, also didn't feature in the list).

'I remember, in Wrocław in the early 90s during a demonstration against restrictive abortion laws, someone had painted on the pavement: 'God is young. The clergy are old.' After almost 20 years, it is possible to say that morally, culturally and socially the Polish clergy are even older. A refusal to open up or react to any changes happening in the wider world is a trademark of the Catholic Church in Poland.'

I felt rather conflicted reading this, because I dislike sectarianism of any kind, but on the other hand, I do feel that the writer is making the assumption that change is good, but tradition is bad. Being Eastern Orthodox, I don't see that at all: our faith is very traditionalist, but culturally (especially in the Greek tradition) we are fairly left wing and strongly anti-capitalist/ neo-con. Furthermore, if the RCs had married parish priests, then maybe they wouldn't have had these horrific sex scandals.

But bringing abortion into it also seems disingenuous, because I've seen no recent logical or scientific reason why killing an unborn child should be acceptable.

Czarny Kot said...

Thanks for your comments.

@Brett: Of course, organisations like the Catholic Church are slow to change. Like the article says, it is difficult to see where any change might come from. The Church in Poland seems to have become too complacent and takes its followers for granted.

As for your comment about thier attitude to the poor, it is important to differentiate between the hierarchy and front-line priests. The latter have a good track record at looking after their flocks whilst the former do not. A cursory glance at Polish history shows that the Vatican were always against Polish independence, turning a deaf ear to entreaties from Polish bishops right up to 1939.

On a more positive note, the Church DOES change. If it didn't, they would still be burning heretics and banning astronomy books. Whilst I agree with Gregor that 'progress' is not an inherently good thing-- not all progress is an improvement-- I do believe that most of the changes that the Church have undergone have been for the best.

Overall, i'm not too pessimistic. The Church's halo, built up during the campaign against Communism, is starting to fade. In another country this might lead to people ditching religion or changing demoninations. Yet here in Poland, 97% remain Catholic. Take away all the 'superficial' Catholicsand you're still left with a huge mass of people who want to be a member of a Church which defines itself by what it is FOR rather than by what it is AGAINST.

@Gregor: I'll answer your points later today, i've got 10 mins to get ready for work....

Czarny Kot said...

@Gregor:

1) You're right, 'from right to left' is just lazy labelling. The first article comes from a man who does edit an website which would have to be considered right-wing (but not economically liberal) and this one comes from a journalist and magazine which are consistently social democratic and anti-neoliberal, but in this situation left and right do not really apply.

In the 1st intro I said it was from the 'tradionalist' point of view so maybe it would be better to describe the 2nd as being from the 'reformist' point of view.

2) Abortion: the first thing i'll say is that I do not know where I stand on abortion. That sounds like a terrible cop-out but it's the truth. I really can't make up my mind so I can't agree or disagree with you.

One thing I do agree on 100% however, is that one's stance on abortion should not be used as some kind of label-- pro-life: you must be a misogonistic, religious conservative. I don't see it that way. It's just a matter of personal conviction not necessarily connected to one's politics or religion.

It is important, however, to point out that Mr. Zuk used the term 'restricitve abortion laws'. Now, this might simply mean that they were protesting for the right to abortion, as we have in the UK. But it is also possible that they were protesting against a change from 'pro-life' laws to 'fundamentalist' laws. What do I mean? To me 'pro-life' means being against the situation where anyone who gets pregnant can simply choose to have an abortion. I can accept that no problem.

'Fundamentalist' to me means taking this to the extreme where abortion is prohibited in ALL cases. For example, a mother-of-two becomes pregnant for the 3rd time. Doctors tell her that having the baby will probably kill her. In this case I would say that aborting the foetus would be the least worst option, as compared to a dead mother and 3 orphans. Unfortunately, I do not know enough about past and present abortion laws in Poland to know exactly what the writer was referring to.

3) I agree that progress - good, tradition - bad is not always true. At the same time I agree with the basc premise that there is a lot that could change in the Polish Church. A quick example:

Midnight Mass in UK-- priest does all the traditional rituals but also comes down from the pulpit and talks to the people as an equal, eye-to-eye, about the recession and how Catholics should deal with it whilst still enjoying Christmas, a time for joy. No 'trendy vicar' stuff, just real close contact in a warm and friendly manner.

Midnight Mass in Poland-- priests file in, eyes down. Do all the rituals and then one of them gives a grim sermon, eyes down and aloof- what would Mary say about all these young hussies you see on the street, on TV..-- Ok, speaking out against the plastic sexualisation of young women and girls is certainly within the priest's remit but on Christmas Eve you'd think they could have come up with something a bit more positive and inspiring...

War in Iraq and Afghanistan? Not a peep.

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