Church and state

Yesterday I heard about a new school controversy: the last public school in the city of Tatabánya will be passed over to the Catholic church. Thus, there will be no choice. All children of Tatabánya will have to attend parochial schools.

Some background. Prior to the nationalization of schools in 1948 most of the high schools were in the hands of the Catholic church. A few belonged to the Hungarian Reformed and the Lutheran churches, but relatively few. Just to give you an example, in my home town there were three gymnasiums (from grade five to grade twelve) and all three belonged to the Catholic church. Two of these were boys’ gymnasiums, run by Jesuits and Cistercians; the girls’ gymnasium was under the control of Notre Dame nuns. There was no choice: if parents wanted their children to attend public school, tough luck.

With the change of regime came negotiations between the churches and the new democratically elected governments to return some of the nationalized schools to their original owners. Running these schools posed no financial burden to church authorities since the state paid per student regardless of whether the school was public or parochial. Actually parochial schools today receive more money per student than do the public schools. The Catholic church fought very aggressively for the extra money, and while the ministry of education kept saying that financing already favored the parochial schools, the church eventually got its way. And the Protestant churches clung onto the Catholic church’s coat tails and also profited. Take, for example, the overwhelmingly Catholic city of Pécs where the Hungarian Reformed Church couldn’t even build a decent church until the mid-1930s and where there was only a short-lived middle school (polgári) for girls.Today there is a Hungarian Reformed school complex, including dormitories, with 500 elementary to high school students. And although there probably aren’t 500 Hungarian Reformed kids in all of Pécs and its surrounding villages, for one reason or another parents seem to be convinced that a parochial school must be superior to its public counterpart. This is not the case. Among the top Hungarian high schools public schools predominate.

Other than academic excellence, why is it dangerous to transform public into parochial schools? The church leadership in Hungary is extremely conservative by western standards. As if time stopped at the end of World War II. All churches side with the Hungarian right, and their representatives are either extremely conservative or, in the case of the Hungarian Reformed Church, radical nationalists. The parochial schools disseminate a world view that may not be the best for the youth of the future. The political atmosphere in these schools is decidedly right-wing, echoing the tone of most sermons in Catholic and protestant churches. I find the whole thing fairly alarming.

Meanwhile Orbán is courting the churches. He himself was baptized (or most likely not) as a protestant, but he married a Catholic girl in a civil ceremony. They already had two children when a liberal Methodist minister convinced him to baptize them. Thus, the first two became Methodists. Then came the third, and perhaps he was baptized as a Hungarian Reformed. The last two, if I recall properly, are Catholics. An ecumenical family. Orbán’s attitude to the churches has changed dramatically since the founding of Fidesz twenty years ago. Then he was not only not religious but he was outright antagonistic toward the churches. One infamous scene in parliament occurred when he and his fellow Fidesz members got up and in unison made fun of the Christian democratic members, calling them "csuhások" ("cowl" in English). The insult is lost in translation, but it was not a very friendly gesture. Now he extols the role of the churches in Hungarian society.

Yesterday one of the groups attached to his party organized a gathering entitled "The church and the soul of the country." Orbán, in his keynote speech, practically put the churches above the state. The churches should tell the legislators how to behave. According to him the "church does not ask but gives, and our job is to create the necessary conditions for its activities." He continued: "No country can survive without the guidance of the churches. We must have spiritual leaders who call the good good and the evil evil." (Or, to decode, who can differentiate between the pious head of Fidesz and the lying prime minister.)

I am a staunch believer in the separation of church and state. To put things in stark relief: most people are uncomfortable with the theocratic states of the Muslim world. Why should we try to imitate them in a very secular Europe?

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Varangy
Guest

Eva, may I ask what, if any, your religion is?

Viking
Guest

Varangy,
Why this “McCarthy”-ism? Why is it important to know which political party anyones votes for, which church (if any) someone visits?
What is your agenda? Do you collect this info for any higher purpose?
Debate people’s ideas and arguments – not what they are!

Adrian
Guest

Well said, Viking!

NWO
Guest

Eva-
One thing I don’t understand. Was not the essence of your argument on communisim during the Kadar era in Hungary, that (as much as we may not like it) it “worked” because it appeased the people by offering them something they wanted-stability and a steadily improving material quality of life? Does not the same apply to the Church? You and I may not like the growing influence of the clergy in the society and we may not agree with the politics of the clergy, but in the end if it satisfies a need in the people and appeases a majority of the people (regardless if it violates some fundamental tenet of liberalism)then it must be acceptable? Is that not your biew of politics? Was this not your justification for Kadarism?
If so, the question we should be asking is whether the people of Tatabanya object to having only parochial schools? My guess is they don’t, otherwise the local MPs (and this is a Socialist area) would not have allowed this to happen.

Lia
Guest
“The parochial schools disseminate a world view that may not be the best for the youth of the future.” WHOA!!! Like living by the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule?!? (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, in case you haven’t heard about it.) I just don’t see how that is a problem, Eva, in a world that has turned upside down entirely, where people have no moral groundings, no respect for human life and human dignity. My daughter attends a Catholic school outside of Budapest. And, while 99% of the families are probably Fidesz supporters (we are not), what my daughter brings home from that school far outweighs the political persuasions of the other parents. She is loved by her teachers and her classmates, the values that are forming her will take her beyond any silly, short-term debates in this messed up country. When my daughter draws a picture of a church with hearts on the door and I ask her, why have you drawn hearts on the door of the church? Her answer is: ‘because there is love inside. God is love.’ That’s all she really needs to know and understand. The political influence… Read more »
Hatodik Oszlop
Guest

Personally, I think sending kids to Catholic schools is a good thing. Out of my family, of the five of us who went, only 1 is still a believer.

Lia
Guest

Please give me an example of the political messages being spread in parochial schools in Hungary. I’d be interested in hearing them. Really. If there’s one thing that communism was successful at it was turning everyone into this country into political, religious eunuchs. No one cares or believes in anything except a free lunch (see March 9 referendum.) THAT they will fight for — but nothing more. How sad. You might think I am a right wing nut job — I assure you, I’m generally the only Hungarian-American present in the SzDSz tent on election night. I am a laissez-faire kind of chick, leaning toward libertarianism — but I do believe in God. I can do so without prescribing to Fidesz or any other political party for that matter. Eva — for someone who spent the better part of her life in the US and Canada, I’m surprised you don’t give more credence to religious upbringing.

Odin's lost eye
Guest

Church run schools when they are in a minority to secular schools can be quite a good thing.
When church run schools are the only option as they were (and may still be) in Ulster (Northern Irland). The ‘Billys’ went to the Protestant schools and the ‘Dans’ to Catholic run schools. The childern from the two communities seldom met and mixed. As a result they were easily indoctrinated with all the mythology of their sect and with the ethos of hatred. It is this found to be the main thing that fuelled and prolonged the “troubles” there.
Where I lived in the ‘teachers’ at my daughter’s primary school were ‘inspired to declare the school a ‘PEACE SCHOOL’ this meant that my child and others whose parents were in some form of military employ (they were decsribed as ‘Enemys of Peace’) were ‘barred from classes’. At 6 years old!
I hate the idea that any one, ‘Holy Joe’ or any other form of biggot, should be allowed any near a school. Except for the purposes of religious instruction and then only with the parent’s express concent.

Varangy
Guest
********Varangy, Why this “McCarthy”-ism? Why is it important to know which political party anyones votes for, which church (if any) someone visits? What is your agenda? Do you collect this info for any higher purpose? Debate people’s ideas and arguments – not what they are! Posted by: Viking | April 04, 2008 at 02:55 AM Well said, Viking! Posted by: Adrian | April 04, 2008 at 03:51 AM******** @Adrian, Viking and Eva (and everyone else) I have no agenda, other than understanding bias. We all have them, no matter how we try to intellectualize around them or attempt to lie to ourselves as to their existence, they are simply unavoidable. Ironically, my openness about my bias has led to rather vicious attacks — i.e. I am attempting ‘exercise my demons’ and whatnot. One can accuse me of, rather funny I think, of being a border-line-personality-that-doesn’t-know-history (Right, Viking?). But one cannot me accuse of: a) being dishonest b) of not openly revealing any and all of my biases c) not being forthright d) not debating people’s ideas and arguments (Please my response to Eva here: http://frappansklise.tumblr.com/post/30621841 and let me know where I did not debate the idea and argument.) So, why… Read more »
Varangy
Guest
My two fillér on this topic: 1) I am torn and undecided on this matter. I too am for a clear line between Church and State, but feel the backlash against the Church is exaggerated. 2) NWO is correct. Eva is clearly intellectually inconsistent, which she does not address in her follow-up comment. As NWO eloquently states: *******You and I may not like the growing influence of the clergy in the society and we may not agree with the politics of the clergy, but in the end if it satisfies a need in the people and appeases a majority of the people (regardless if it violates some fundamental tenet of liberalism)then it must be acceptable?******* If we excuse/justify Kadarism for proving stability even while limiting freedoms, why can we not apply the same paradigm to the Catholic Church? So which one is it, Eva? Kadarism and Church in schools = okay? Or Kadarism and Church in schools = not okay? Eva avoids the question and responds to another, accidentally making NWO’s point valid. *****You’re wrong on both fronts. The people of Tatabánya object and the mayor is also Fidesz representative in parliament.***** I ask you, if the mayor of Tatabánya… Read more »
Big G
Guest

Varangy: “d) not debating people’s ideas and arguments…” I notice your new Tumblr blog pages do not allow comments. As opposed to you old website: http://varangy.blogspot.com/ where, basically, you posted mainly in rather vulgar fashion (“Expat Douchebags” was a favored term) in response to anybody who posted a comment on your blog. On your new “Tumblr” page you don’t allow debate. Your response?
How about http://frappansklise.tumblr.com/post/27860083
That is nothing other than slander against the good folks holding this debate. And, of course, without comments there can be no debate. Toad, you are a sad troll, and blog comment posts are your arena, and a glance at your various blog posts shows that you are an ideological racist when it comes to Gypsies and Jews.

Varangy
Guest
******Varangy: “So, I ask once again, politely — Eva, what, if any, is your religion?” “Nobody’s business.”****** @Eva I take your attempt at evasion to indicate that you are Jewish or of Jewish descent. Am I mistaken? ******Varangy: ” I come from a staunchly Hungarian Catholic family – one whose religion and faith informed them to their view on Communism. I attended, like many in my family, Catholic schools.” Well, in my mind the above only strengthens my belief that it is not a good idea to send a child to parochial school.****** Because it makes us staunch anti-Communists? From your POV, I guess that makes sense. LOL. *****Varangy: “d) not debating people’s ideas and arguments…” I notice your new Tumblr blog pages do not allow comments. As opposed to you old website: http://varangy.blogspot.com/ where, basically, you posted mainly in rather vulgar fashion (“Expat Douchebags” was a favored term) in response to anybody who posted a comment on your blog.***** Yes, I do post often in a vulgar fashion, indulging in ad hominem quite often. I have never denied this. (Expat Douchebags will be coming back into fashion soon.) I am accused of many things, sometimes even rightfully, but one… Read more »
Lia
Guest
“One could read news items that before the elections school children from parochial schools, together with their teachers, were taking part in the political campaign. Parochial schools often allow very right-wing organizations to use their facilities.” Yes, this is sad, but true, I agree. But it is still my decision whether I want to participate or not. My own daughter was told by a classmate that we are ‘bad Hungarians’, because we wouldn’t take her to the protests downtown in 2006. However, I take these opportunities to educate the other parents as best I can, without risking a backlash against my own kid. When someone sent me an SMS inviting me to Gyurcsany Feri’s bucsubuli (going away party) on March 9, I told the sender that a) she is wasting her time on me because I’m American and don’t vote here and b) I don’t believe in a free lunch — or free healthcare for that matter and I’d be happy to share my thoughts with her, which are based on international examples from true free market economies… Several parents have sought me out for my opinion since they know where I’m from. I make it clear up front that… Read more »
NWO
Guest
Eva- Varangy critiqued your response to me, so I don’t need to do it as well. I agree with him (I know I am assuming a gender here), your response to my point evaded the central issue I was trying to raise, which was about intellectual consistency not the merits of only having the choice of parochial school in Tatabanya. On the merits of this issue, actually, I believe if the State is going to offer free education as a basic right, I think it is incumbent on the State to offer something more than just a parochial school in a district (regardless of the assumed politics of that school). I would be loathe to send my children to a Catholic school, not because I was concerned about the quality of the basic teaching but because I am not interested in having my children inculcated in the ethics and theological that would likely come part and parcel with the school (this is regardless of whether the school was “liberal” or “conservative” or “reactionary”). On the other hand, I would support a policy that would allow parents to send their children to parochial school and even receive some tax credit for… Read more »
New World Order
Guest
Eva- Frankly, I am not sure if you choose to distort my position to score “easy points” or if you really don’t get it. First, my view is that your argument in “support” of Kadarism is that it was popular and hence acceptable. On the other hand, in respect of religion and parochial schools, the “popularity” test for acceptance does not apply. Second, I did not say all State schools are bad. I did not say all parochial schools are good (in fact-I am sure that is not the case). In fact, my argument has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with the respective quality of the schools. It has to do with the preference for choice, something I actually believe is ALWAYS a good thing and you seem to believe is selectively a good thing. Anyway,to set the record slightly straight, I said (1) the quality of the state school system 9not just in Bp but around the Country), by in large, is poor and (I did not say this before but will not) getting worse (Do you disagree with this?); (2) all else being equal I believe in offering people a choice-not only in education but also health care (as… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
Guest
The nub of the problem is: – “All children of Tatabánya will have to attend parochial schools.” Never mind the reason why and how has happened. No one should compel children of any faith/creed to attend any school run by any form of cult, political or religeous outfit (In this I include my own church -CofE by default-) without the express written wishes of their parents or gaurdians. My objection is that there is always a temptation on the part of the teaching staff to make a ‘convert’ to the ideas of the outfit running the place. If the school is the ‘Only Game in Town’ this temptation becomes even stronger. I understand that the schools of the Communist period taught the basics of that. What I object to is COMPULSION! Where this has happened because of some quasi-political/religeous circumstance I find this an anathema. I abstained from my church long ago when I realised that most of it’s ‘Holy Joes’ were too bl**dy thin, too bl***y holy and too bl***y queer. My old vicar was fat, jolly old chap who had two children and one of us. When he had any money he used to drink in the pub… Read more »
Viking
Guest

Lia said “The political influence of the church may be one side of the story, but children in faith-based schools learn that faith, hope and love are what matter most. I’ll take the Church over any other institution any day of the week”.
Good, welcome to my Saudi-sponsored faith-based school. We pray for Divine guidance 5 times per day, so we are really teaching the importance of communicating with God. We accept even non-Muslims, but non-male need to wear a head-scarf inside and to/from the school. It is similar to the Catholic school’s dress-code.
Well, what an outcry if the above would be true in that small city of Tatabánya. Saudi-sponsored parochial schools would be the only game in town.
Wonder what the debate would be about then… It is the same God, so what can be the problem?

Varangy
Guest
********Varangy: “For a Ph.D it should be facile to tear my ignorant arguments to shreds with even a modicum of logic, no?” What you don’t understand that I don’t want to waste my time on your wonderful logic and wonderful ideas about politics, people. They are horrid ideas and if it goes like this you will not be welcome on this blog.******** @Eva My logic and ideas about politics and people are ‘horrid’, exactly because? I espouse contreverisal and/or politically correct views? Or I simply disagree with many, such as yourself? Perhaps both? Regarding NWO’s point on Kadarism/Church in schools, your comment above has not resolved your inconsistency. Your latest is sort of funny: ****I wasn’t talking about support I was talking about acceptance. There was no hope to change the system and Hungarians looked around in the region where the effects of the so-called socialism were much worse.***** Er, the reason there was no hope to change system was because the system maintained itself ruthlessly. What you would term ‘acceptance’ is the extinguishment of hope. Sure, as you say, things got better in the 70s, but it really isn’t hard to get better when you come from hell. Like… Read more »
GDF
Guest
Lia: “”One could read news items that before the elections school children from parochial schools, together with their teachers, were taking part in the political campaign. Parochial schools often allow very right-wing organizations to use their facilities.” Yes, this is sad, but true, I agree. But it is still my decision whether I want to participate or not. ” Yes, it is your decision. And you seem to have the good sense to not let your children participate. But how many Americans are there around all the other schools and what else would stop the from being taken over by “the right wing whackjobs”? What irks me in this whole debate is that I see even Americans debating whether church and state should be sperated or not. Especially in a country like Hungary, where religions are classified into traditional and non-traditional ones, with the traditional ones having far larger privileges then those not classified as such. I would like to remind you that the US Constitution’s separation clause was added for exactly this kind of reason. Why is it then this acceptable to you in Hungary? I would like to add that in Romania it is the Hungarian churches that… Read more »
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