Viktor Orbán’s “explanation” of the financial crisis

The amazing thing about Viktor Orbán is that he can change his messages rapidly depending on the occasion. If he talks to religious leaders of the Catholic Church then the message is such that would appeal to Catholics. If he goes to the Protestants he quotes the Bible. After all, Hungarian Protestants (Hungarian Reformed Church) put a great deal of emphasis on the Bible. I recall that one of the princes of Transylvania, perhaps Gábor Bethlen, read the Bible from A to Z forty times in his lifetime.

Not long ago Viktor Orbán was an atheist who made fun of the Catholic Church and called priests "csuhások," a derogatory term for those wearing a cowl. But once he shifted his party's ideology from liberalism to the right he allegedly became a believer. He had his children baptized. First, a Methodist minister active in SZDSZ did the honors, then came a Hungarian Reformed minister baptizing a boy who was supposed to follow his father's stated religion, and finally the last two girls became Catholics following the mother's religion. I'm personally not convinced that Orbán "found religion," but he's taken a lot of cues from the U.S. Republican Party. And in the United States every viable politician, Republican and Democrat alike, has to have some religious affiliation and go to church often enough to appear sincere.

Yesterday Orbán was in the Hungarian Reformed mold because he happened to be talking at the Hungarian Reformed conference in Budapest. The theme was the financial crisis but appropriately dressed in religious terms. His speech writer found the obvious Biblical passage: "For the love of money is the root of all evil:  which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." (I. Timothy 6:10) And just as people who strayed from biblical teachings caused the current crisis, so the remedy is not regulation of the banking sector but "a spiritual transformation." As if the crisis began in Hungary where greed and the love of money caused the financial difficulties MOL, OTP, and the forint are experiencing. Did anyone make a movie entitled Bux with the classic line: "Greed is good"?  Oops, no, the film's name was Wall Street.

Moreover, Orbán contended, the old "literati" (írástudók) must be replaced because their ideas are outmoded. Let me state up front that I hate the term "írástudók" from the bottom of my heart. I translated the word as "literati" but basically it is a somewhat effete description of intellectuals who take an active part in public life. And what is their sin? Why are their ideas outmoded? They believe in the basic goodness of man. But one ought to take the biblical interpretation of human nature seriously: man is evil unless he receives special divine grace.

The current international financial crisis, Orbán argued, is actually a God given opportunity to switch from the "liberal anthropology" of human nature to the biblical one. Therefore, every Christian Democratic politician should spread the message. Europe is Christian. As József Antall said, even a European atheist is Christian because Europe has Christian roots and therefore in a future European Constitution the mention of Christianity is a must. I know that the Pope definitely advocates such a clause, but whether Protestants think the same way, I somehow doubt. Given the widespread irreligiosity of Europe the whole idea is a bit bizarre. Another problem I see with talking too much about Christian Democracy in a Hungarian Reformed church and at a Hungarian Reformed conference is that it has specific Catholic roots (Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum [1891]) both in Germany and in Hungary.

In any event, according to Orbán, the solution to the present crisis is simply spiritual transformation. He never passes up an opportunity to invoke the "lying and cheating" of the present political leaders as if the 2006 campaign had anything to do with the current global financial crisis that started in the United States. Not only must his political opponents disappear but also those who belong to the liberal intellectual elite. He gave the example of "the Hungarian economist who is considered to be the greatest" and who said that actually it was a very good idea that Ferenc Gyurcsány and his colleagues didn't tell the whole truth about the state of the economy because then the trouble would have been even greater. Who can that be? János Kornai, by any chance? He is one of the most decent men I have ever had the privilege of meeting. It seems that not only Ferenc Gyurcsány must disappear but also János Kornai because he "has nothing to say to us in the twenty-first century." An incredible idea.

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For “irastudok” I can warmly recommend the English equivalent of “chattering classes.”
To the Rerum Novarum encyclicals let m e add my own funny experience.
In a dispute with a doctorandus of the Catholic University I found the need to look up, in fact to read this encyclical. I was expecting heavy catholic thunder, but to my amazement it is indeed a quite liberal document, much more supporting of Gyurcsany’s last manifesto, than anything Orban suggested lately.
This encyclical is also one of those works that is often referred to, but never actually read.