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Secular Hungary

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“Pro-Christian” Morals in the Ethics Textbook

As my readers know, the Fidesz-KDNP government is gradually introducing compulsory religious education in state schools. Starting from this school year, first and fifth year pupils have to participate in religious education. While the parents of 52% of the new school children have opted for religious education and 48% insisted on the secular alternative, 58% of the ca. 10-year-old fifth graders will attend morals classes. Although this course in morals is supposed to be a secular alternative, it is not by chance that it is called „moral teachings” („erkölcstan”), and not „ethics” (which would be „etika”). Still, comparatively luckily, a group of scientists around István Kamarás, who have been developing teaching materials for ethics classes in a less formal school setting (some ethics was compulsory also earlier), were included in preparing the final version of the curriculum, where nationalist/moralist paragraphs and regular ethics alternate.
Four textbooks for 10-year-old kids were approved. Two of them are totally acceptable inasmuch as they try to develop the children’s ability to think about ethical issues and encourage them to give their opinion. A third one has a similar approach, but the wording is a bit difficult for this age group. The fourth book, Morals (“Erkölcstan”) by Mr Ferenc Bánhegyi and Mrs Ilona Olajosné Kádár, however must be the wet-dream of the superficially thinking hardcore pro-religious. Mr Bánhegyi has also written other textbooks published by Apáczai Kiadó, although one of them has been refused ministerial approval (the then minister, Mr Zoltán Pokorni of Fidesz, has no role in the present government).
Unlike the other books, it doesn’t incite children to think about what they’re doing and why (even the questions have the “right” answers encoded in themselves), but issues such deepities such as the following:

„Do not pass your day with meaningless things. Because what is more important? To have a good friend and helpmate, or to have disputes with everybody who doesn’t share our views?”
„Feelings are like a rollercoaster. One could say, each and everyone feels differently towards the other.”
„The young can feel that there is no order and security around u sin the world.”
„Ever newer miracle cars appear, but thanks to this there are ever more road accidents.”
„If you go to the mountains, take a sweater and a rain coat.”
„If you call someone by phone, you have to introduce yourself first [unlike in other countries – szf]. Even if the screen of the mobile phone notifies the recipient.”
„Food tastes much better when it is eaten at a nicely set table. Therefore we have to set the table nicely even if only our family is present.”

The book is also keen on proselytising – remember, this is the course for kids whose parents have chosen it as an alternative to sectarian religious instruction:

„The advantage of Roman Catholic and protestant Christian communities is that they partially eliminate many detrimental effects of the consumer society.
„Courage [definition]: When man is able to resist angers in difficult situations … The greatest deed of the courageous person is martyrdom.”
„Few people want to connect with the church communities that give values, order and security”

Meanwhile, at the Catholic class, their younger peers in grade 4 (9-10 years old!) are taught the following in the textbook of Mrs Mária Fülöpné Erdő, rector of the Apor Vilmos Catholic College: „Homosexual acts means sexual relations between persons of the same sex. This are grave mortal sins.”

http://nol.hu/archivum/20130624-otodikben_az_erkolcstan_nepszerubb?ref=sso

http://index.hu/belfold/2013/09/17/a_hanyatlo_nyugat_es_a_tanuloifjusag/

http://drerossgabor.blog.hu/2013/09/11/bunos_vagy_keress_templomot_vigyel_pulovert_avagy_meg_egyszer_az_erkolcstankonyvrol

http://index.hu/belfold/2013/05/10/nehany_politikus_szereti_kiadni_ukazba_hogy_erkolcsi_valsag_van/

http://444.hu/2013/09/08/eloiteletes-erkolcstankonyv-borzolja-a-kedelyeket/

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Strange Teaching Methods

The Catholic religion teacher (a father of six children himself and a deacon) of Szvetnik Joachim Primary School in Mélykút used a somewhat strange methodology to teach his pupils about the sin of lust: he had a boy and a girl stand up in front of the class, undress and kiss each other in their underware (their age was not given; pupils in primary schools are between 6 and 14 years old). The parents were upset, the incapacitated headmaster pointed to the state authority for maintaining schools since most competences of 11 thousand headmasters were transmitted to the Klebelsberg Centre (Klebelsberg Kunó Intézményfenntartó Központ, or KLIK) on January 1st, 2013. According to the relevant legislation, although religious education is paid for from the state budget, it is the churches who decide about the teachers and the content of the teachings, but since the school is responsible for the children’s well-being, according to some, KLIK could well investigate, although they have not answered journalists’ questions so far. The Kalocsa-Kecskemét Diocese told the left-wing weekly 168 óra that they have contacted the Vatican for guidance in the matter. The deacon says he’s innocent and doesn’t understand a thing.

http://www.168ora.hu/itthon/minden-ut-romaba-vezet-112582.html

Money’s Rolling

According to a government decree published last Friday, the Fidesz-KDNP government gives away another 1900 million forint (6,3 million euro, though since the prime minister appointed his finance minister, Mr György Matolcsy to become president of the National Bank, and pushed through another amendment of the constitution written by his own followers) the Hungarian forint looses its value rapidly) from the budget reserve to the Reformed Church, to improve the infrastructure of the church’s schools in Debrecen (while at present state schools have difficulties in providing for enough chalk). They are thinking long-term: for 2014, 3000, for 2015, 2700 and for 2016 2400 million forint will be provided for the same purpose.

http://www.portfolio.hu/gazdasag/ket_nap_5_milliard_kolti_a_tartalekot_a_kormany.180907.html

Religious Education

Smaller denominations are fearing that religious education, which will become gradually compulsory at state schools from September 2013 will in practice mean catholic indoctrination. Although any of the thirty something accredited denomination has the right to provide religious education at schools, in practice a minimum of 7 children per class are required, and in a talk on public tv, Mr László Donáth, a Lutheran pastor, said that smaller denominations such as his will not be able to collect enough children, so parents who want their kids to receive some christian . State secretary Mr Bence Rétvári, a Catholic himself, member of KDNP and former president of the IKSZ assured him that no proselytising is intended, while Gábor Horn, a liberal politician claimed that the state has no business in teaching religious values since it is no unanimity on which ones are to be taught.

http://www.hir24.hu/belfold/2013/03/03/csak-katolikus-hittan-lesz-az-iskolakban/

Excellence by Decree

Universities fulfilling a particularly high set of criteria receive some additional state funding due to their excellence. Along with the other Hungarian denominational institutions, Pázmány Péter Catholic University (PPKE) does not meet these criteria. In a fit of ecumenism, pastor and minister Mr Zoltán Balog plans to change the criteria for excellence to suit the Catholic university: according to his plans, universities have either to comply with the standards of excellence, or they have to be established based on international contracts, like PPKE, which is part of the concordat with the Vatican – and which has awarded a doctor universitas degree to deputy prime minister Zsolt Semjén for a paper of questionable quality and in a discipline they have no competence to award degrees in.

http://nol.hu/belfold/20130307-balog_kiemelne_a_pazmanyt

Another Billion For Churches

The Hungarian government is giving away 500 million forint each to the reparation of the Calvinist church at Kalvin tér in Budapest and to the baroque catholic dome in Kalocsa. This is (again) financed from the funds set aside for emergencies.

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20130222_kalvin_teri_templom_felujitasa

(Text of the government decision: http://www.magyarkozlony.hu/pdf/16206, see p. 2130)

Not Enough Devotion

Hungarians are learning the hard way that religious education is curbing teachers’ religious freedom. Two teachers have been dismissed int he Hungarian town of Balatonfüred, allegedly because during their participation in Sunday family worship they were not „devotional” enough.
Their school was taken over from the local government by the reformed church last year, and in the takeover process the local church promised to ensure religious freedom. However, their wording was „we don’t want to make a seminary out of this, but we want to raise virtuous, faithful Hungarians in the broadest and most noble sense, without regard to denominational boundaries”, which does show that their notion of religious freedom does not include the freedom not to be religious.
Since 2011, many local governments have handed over their schools to churches. Their incentive was often financial: schools of local governments received only half as much subsidy from the central budget as compared to church schools, and while before, local governments had to finance any school handed over to a church for another five years, this limit was abolished by the conservative government. The plans to centralise state education added momentum to this trend, since some local authorities hoped to maintain some influence over their schools by handing over their school to a church.

http://atv.hu/cikk/20130214_nem_enekeltek_eleg_ahitattal_elbocsatas_a_reformatus_iskolaban

Jesus Is Not Good Enough

A conservative parents’ association called National Association of Hungarian Parents (Magyar Szülők Országos Szervezete) has made quite a row this week in Hungary. When conservative Fidesz took over government in 2010, they handed over educational, cultural, social and health issues to their coalition partner, the Christian Democrats (KDNP), who do their bet to adjust these policies to their priorities. From September 2013, denomination religious education will become gradually compulsory at state schools, and children of non-religious parents or of parents belonging to a denomination not recognized by the state are required to take courses in ’morals’ (not ’ethics’) taught by teachers who have taken a 60-hour-course delivered also by denominational colleges. The president of the association, Mr Sándor Keszei announced that these courses in morals should not be taught by persons who are unmarried or have divorced, who have no children and who drink, smoke, pursue aberrant sexual practices (he didn’t give a definition) or watch sex movies. In other words, according to him, even Jesus is not apt to teach morals, not to speak of catholic priests… Mr Keszei committed the mistake to participate in Ms Olga Kálmán’s interview show, who is renown for her polite persistence. This put Mr Keszei in quite an awkward situation, since it turned out that he himself lives in a patchwork family, having divorced and remarried, and still does not think himself incapable of raising his children. At the end of the show, he withdrew the statement.
Unfortunately, this is not the end: Mr Keszei is member of the board which decides on the state funding of non-denominational private schools—denominational private schools automatically receive state funding. The board consists of five members: besides Mr Keszei and three officials from the ministry, another NGO representative participates: Ms Julianna Gärtner, who represents the Association of Christian Intellectuals (Keresztény Értelmiségiek Szervezete) led by the highly conservative Catholic priest Zoltán Osztie, who e.g. believes non-catholic Christian communities are not ‘churches’ in the ‘real’ sense of the word.

http://atv.hu/cikk/20130220_erkolcstan_oktatas_az_atv_ben_vonta_vissza_vitatott_javaslatat_keszei
http://hvg.hu/velemeny/20130221_Egy_rem_erkolcsos_ember
http://magyarnarancs.hu/belpol/az-ur-civilje-83233

Compulsory Religious Instruction – With Limitations

From 2013 on, compulsory religious education is being introduced gradually into the Hungarian school system (until now, state schools had to organise religious education at the request of the parents). This violates of course religious freedom, i.e. the freedom not to make a statement about one’s religion, since the school can of course guess about a parent’s religion by looking  which religious education class the kid attends. The whole thing is bound to get complicated, as most neighborhoods and school classes are religiously heterogeneous. Consequently, religious education will have to be organised for potentially three dozen different groups of pupils at each level at all schools, and things will be even more complicate if there is more than one class per grade. Even the head of the biggest denomination in Hungary, Catholic Péter Erdő, has stated that his church does not have enough teachers to cover all schools (meanwhile, inexistent ethics teachers are trained at 101 courses of 60 hours). Anyway, some schools have found a way to cut down on the number of groups: as a father, Fabius of the Varanus blog got a letter from his kid’s school offering him a choice not of thirty something denominations enjoying church status, but 5 choices, listed very correctly in alphabetic order: ethics, “evangélikus” (i.e. Lutheran), Greek catholic, “reformed” (i.e. Calvinist), roman catholic.

http://varanus.blog.hu/2013/01/15/kotelezo_hittan_kirostalt_egyhazak_korlatozott_hit

 

Foster children

Not only schools and homes for the elderly are run more and more by churches (which receive double funding from the central government), but also the management of the care for foster children. It is not quite clear though, why this is good for the state: it costs more than doing the job itself, while foster parents get the same rates. An even bigger problem is that churches are not necessarily up to the task: after getting an otherwise able foster parent (who has four grown children of her own) to fill out a couple of superficial tests, they started to take away her foster children. one by one, and tearing apart three sisters who were close to each other, as they had witnesst their mother’s dying. Three other psychologists (experts in the field) attested that the foster mother was perfectly able to look after the children, and there was no complaint about her work until the church took over the placement of foster children in the region.
When asked by the reporter what professional assistance the Saint Luke Greek catholic placement agency offers for foster parents, the reply was: “From Saint Luke, it is heavenly help that is to be expected in the first place.”

http://nol.hu/belfold/20120702-szent_lukacs_mennyei_segitsege

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