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.