Secular Hungary

Secular Hungary

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Three Hungarian Bishops

In December, Lutheran bishop Tamás Fabinyi was interviewed by the Hungarian newspaper Népszabadság. Mr Fabinyi argued for a better separation between the state and the churches. Before thinking of anything such as a secular state: according to him, this means that the state should give money and shut up, while the churches will tell the state what is right and wrong.

Meanwhile Bishop Gusztáv Bölcskei, head of the Hungarian reformed church, talked about money. The faith activities of the churches are mainly but not exclusively funded via income tax: taxpayers may dedicate 1% of their income tax to one of the churches, and while only 26% of taxpayers do so, legislation ensure that the churches receive also the non-dedicated part of this 1% of all income tax (churches receive additional funds, but this 1% constitutes quite a big chunk). Mr Bölcskei deplores recent tax cuts (benefiting rich families with many children, while taxes for low-income taxpayers actually increased), which mean that the churches receive less money than they could with higher taxation, and asks for a more predictable funding system. I am convinced that most NGOs as well as many state-financed institutions such as universities, cultural institutions, public schools and the whole health system will agree with Mr Bölcskei: unlike the churches, they indeed have suffered serious cuts in funding. Funding is indeed unpredictable, but in the case of churches, the unexpected changes always had a positive

Our third bishop is László Tőkés, previously bishop of the reformed church of the Hungarian minority in Transylvania and member of the European Parliament for Romania, who at the age of 62 is having another kid. This, of course, would be his private affair, except that his new wife happened to be 8 months pregnant at their wedding, which, assuming that Mr Tőkés is the father of the child, means that his lifestyle is not quite compatible with the teaching of his own church which forbids sex outside marriage.


For Whom the Bell Does Not Toll

Christian democrat politicians are upset with the main churches: secretary of state Mr Zoltán Kovács (who was until mid-June responsible for managing the good name of Hungary abroad) had asked the churches to chime their bells on 4 June to remember the tragedy of Trianon*. The catholic, the Lutheran and the reformed churches declined to do so, insisting that their bells are to serve not political but spiritual aims. Mr Zoltán Felföldy, a church member and mayor of the town Lakitelek, and Mr László Varga, pastor of the reformed church were upset and wrote open letters to their religious leaders.

Of course we should be happy that the churches insist on their independence and don’t want to let themselves become an instrument of politics. But we should not forget that the same churches were not so keen on insisting on keeping church and state divided when the state’s regulations pushed children into schools and elderly people into homes run by churches, when they forced employees and school children’s parents to abide by church rules (because no other jobs/schools are available), when it came to reinforcing church privileges in the new laws on churches and education, and when it came to distributing state money…

* In the Treaty of Trianon (signed on 4 June 1920) Hungary lost 2/3 of its territory, and with it, many inhabitants who identified as Hungarian. Several factors played a role in this process. After loosing World War I, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, where since 1867 Hungary was almost equal to Austria (while of course the state was a monarchy far from being democratic) fell apart, and the winning parties had no intention to re-establish and strengthen the monarchy. The idea of nation-state (i.e. 1 state=1 nation=1 language) had taken over during the early 19th century. From the beginning of the 19th century,  the elites of national minorities (actually, there were minorities only, as no one nation accounted for 50% of the population, not even Hungarians in the Hungarian part of the monarchy) asked for autonomy (including the Hungarians, who – while asking for more rights for themselves within the monarchy – had had not been willing to agree to the other minorities in the Hungarian part the rights they claimed for themselves). With the fall of the empire, the national minorities took their chance to establish their own states.

Less school, more religion

There’s been a wave of state schools being handed over to churches lately, meaning that many pupils (and their parents) will have to decide whether they are willing to abide by the rules of some church or look for a new school. Read more of this post

Hungarian Lutherans

The weekly HVG has published an article on a research conducted among Hungarian Lutherans. The results were presented by Gergely Prőhle, who is not only a supervisor of the Lutheran church, but also the state secretary responsible for EU relations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The research has been conducted among 1500 adults randomly selected from the church’s registers containing a total of around 300 thousand persons (ca. 3% of the total population). According to the findings, 90% of these persons consider their religious affiliation important, and most of them do pay the “church tax”, which is collected by the church itself, so it is reasonable to assume that the 300 thousand persons not just happen to be in some register because they were baptised, but who are there due to some affiliation.
Still, Mr Prőhle deplores the secularisation of church members,
which continues in spite of the church’s efforts to rebuild its institutions–and the aim of the research is to develop a strategy to stop this trend. Most church members are satisfied with their pastor’s work, and three quarters of them pray at least once a week, 44% of them said that they were “faithful in their own ways”, and 7% turn to their pastor with their problems – including questions of theological nature. (The secretary of state considers this to be a consequence of the general bad condition of society, which effects also church members.)
Regarding politics, the faithful are divided: while 44% of them believe the church should cooperate with parties that share their values, 41% think that the church should completely stay out of politics.
While most church members pay their dues, less than half donate at worship collections, and even less offer 1% of their personal income tax. — According to tax office data, 49 thousand persons have donated their taxes to the Lutheran church, i.e. 16% of its registered members (the rest do not care or have no taxable income, such as retired persons). Most persons said that they have no income, and the findings suggest that the followers are rather poor, though looking at the tax office’s stats, the average per capita tax of Lutherans (6404 HUF) is a little bit more than the one of Catholics (5627) and Calvinists (5847).
Translated into absolute figures: there are ca. 270 thousand persons for whom the Lutheran church is important (2.7% of the total population), ca. 49 thousand of them are tax paying members of society who care enough to fill out a small sheet, and 156 thousand (1.56% of the total population) are the faithful who follow their church’s teachings.

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