Tag Archives: Christian socialism

Viktor Orbán rewrites the Bible and falsifies the words of Jesus

Before I come to the main topic of the day, I want to call attention to an opportunity offered by the Magyar Nemzeti Filmarchivum (Hungarian National Film Archives). Between December 22 and January 12 sixty famous Hungarian films can be viewed free of charge. An added bonus is that they are subtitled in English.

Over the holidays I watched a comedy from 1965 called “A tizedes és a többiek” (The corporal and the others), which is about a bunch of deserters in the last days of the war. Their encounters with the Germans, Russians, and Arrow Cross loyalists are hilarious. I can highly recommend it. You can find the list of the available movies here.

Now onto something less amusing.

On December 23 Viktor Orbán addressed his people on the subject of “the great holy day of our Lord Jesus Christ,” which turned out to be the usual mixture of misinterpretation and outright falsification. In part, Orbán’s message bears a certain resemblance to Donald Trump’s recurring theme of Christians being deprived of their holy days by evil forces, primarily on the left. In Orbán’s case the culprit is the Muslim hordes, who are invading Europe while politicians west of Hungary either claim that the problem doesn’t exist or believe that multiculturalism means progress. But Hungary under Orbán’s guidance is different. Hungary will defend its right to protect the Christian way of life.

Unlike Trump, Orbán engaged in a reinterpretation of the Holy Scriptures, on the basis of which he tried to justify his own anti-migrant policies. The result was a most cynical game played with the holiest book of Christianity, which he considers to be the guiding light of the Hungarian nation and the salvation of mankind. His twisted interpretation of the words of Jesus, whom he allegedly holds in such great esteem, is outright disgusting. Let me translate the crucial passage: “According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’s second commandment is ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Recently one has frequently heard this commandment of Christ in Europe. They reproach us for not wanting, nay, not allowing, millions from other continents to settle in Europe despite our Christian faith. But they forget about the second half of that commandment, although the commandment has two parts: we must love both our neighbors and ourselves.”

At this point I will rely on the expertise of György Gábor, a philosopher of religion, who responded to this interpretation in the strongest possible terms. According to Gábor, Orbán commits “blasphemy when he cynically rewrites the holy book of Christianity” in his own corrupt image and for his cheap political purposes. In fact, Jesus here [Mark 12:31] is commenting on Leviticus 19:18: “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus doesn’t command anyone to love himself; he simply states the degree of love that one ought to extend to one’s neighbor.

The first page of the Gospel of Mark / Károli Biblia, 1590

This passage in Mark is also repeated in Luke 10:27 when the lawyer repeats God’s command about the love of God and one’s neighbor. It is here that Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. But one can return to Leviticus 19:33, which reads: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

As Gábor sarcastically remarks, these passages seem to be missing from the bibles of Viktor Orbán and Zoltán Balog. He is appalled that no minister or priest has raised his voice against this gross reinterpretation–actually a rewriting–of the Bible. This is especially regrettable because Christian teaching condemns self-love. Gábor quotes Saint Augustine’s City of God (Book XIV:28), in which Augustine says that “two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.” As Gábor explains, the earthly city, which Augustine describes as a city characterized by self-love (theft, fraud, libel, lawlessness, infringement of the law), leads to God’s contempt, while the city of God is the love of God, leading to self-denial.

I remember hearing a long time ago that Gábor Bethlen, prince of Transylvania, reread the Bible forty times in his lifetime. I’m not surprised. Hungarian Calvinists, even the peasants, were avid readers of the Bible. Calvinist ministers normally spend the larger part of the service on a detailed explication of the biblical passage chosen for the day. I can’t imagine any Hungarian Calvinist minister suggesting that God commands one to love oneself. Yet Orbán’s followers may well fall for this nonsense because they are about as well educated about the Bible as Orbán is himself. I don’t know whether it is Zoltán Balog, the Calvinist minister, who is responsible for particular rewriting of Jesus’s words, but he was apparently the man who led Orbán onto the road to salvation.

The Bible was not the only text that got rewritten in Orbán’s Christmas message. At the end of his article he recalls that Robert Schuman, one of the co-founders of the European Union, 60 years ago insisted that “Europe will become Christian or it will not be.” The only problem is that, as far as I can ascertain, Robert Schuman didn’t say anything of the sort. More than four years ago, while researching my post on “Viktor Orbán and Christian Democracy,” I was unable to come up with this particular Schuman quotation. On the other hand, I found an article that appeared in The Guardian about Christian democracy in which the following sentence appeared: “Konrad Adenaur, Alcide De Gasperi and Robert Schuman … drew from religious faith, professed and lived, and from their political commitment to a common conviction: that only Christianity could be the cement for the European Union. Europe and Christianity are an inseparable pairing. With the same understanding as Leo XIII, they affirmed that Europe and Democracy would either be Christian or not at all. Schumann wrote: ‘All the countries of Europe are imbued with Christian civilization. This is the soul of Europe, it must be reborn’.” If I’m correct, Orbán and/or his helpers found this article and used it for his speeches, but he conveniently left out the word “Democracy” from the quotation. An early Christian Socialist, Frederic Ozanam, said “Democracy will be Christian or will not be.” Schuman said that “Democracy owes its existence to Christianity. It was born on the day when man was called to realize in his temporal life the dignity of the human person, in the individual freedom, in the respect of the rights of each and by the practice of brotherly love with respect to all.” In brief, Orbán rejects the very essence of Christian socialism, democracy.

December 26, 2017

Orbán in Great Britain: Spreading the gospel

By now, I’m sure, you are fully aware of my disdain for politicians whose speeches display a woeful lack of knowledge. Viktor Orbán certainly had ample opportunity to be properly educated, but he was more interested in football than in learning. He himself admitted that in high school he wasn’t good enough in either the arts or the sciences to get admitted to university. So he decided to go to law school. In law school, according to his college friend Gábor Fodor, Orbán’s passions were football and politics.

Unfortunately, his lack of a broad liberal education is painfully obvious. He picks up bits and pieces of information from assorted sources but doesn’t know how to integrate them into a coherent whole. Moreover, he uncritically accepts questionable theories and spurious facts that support his views on, say, religion, economics, or history.

One could go and on about the embarrassing mistakes he made in the past, but here I would like to concentrate on his latest speech at Chatham House in London. The speech itself was surprisingly brief because he wanted to have time for a debate of his ideas afterward. But even this short speech was crawling with factual errors and conceptual confusion.

A day before the trip Adam LeBor, a British journalist living in Budapest, wrote an amusing piece in The Economist. It was “a confidential briefing note from Mr Cameron’s staff to prepare him for Mr Orbán’s visit … as imagined by our correspondent.”

Orbán offered up his own briefing note as he tried to describe his worldview to the audience at Chatham House, also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs. I can only imagine what the learned foreign policy experts thought of Viktor Orbán’s “theses.”

Orbán likes to call Hungarian a “unique language,” even though this is essentially a meaningless expression; every language is unique in its own way. Orbán, however, in this speech glided easily from linguistic uniqueness to Hungarian “exceptionalism” (in all fairness, a word that he did not use). He illustrated his point by claiming that Hungarians are great inventors. Hungarians invented the espresso machine, the ball point pen, and the computer. I suspect that there were not too many people in his audience who rushed home to check on the accuracy of these claims. Or at least I hope not too many did because in no time they would have discovered that neither the espresso machine nor the computer are Hungarian inventions. The modern espresso machine is the result of more than 100 years of improvements of the original 1888 patent by Angelo Morondo. It is true that among the many who improved it there was a certain Francesco Illy who was originally from Temesvár but who left Hungary after World War I and settled in Trieste.

As for the computer, once again many inventors contributed to its development. János von Neumann and others wrote (and he edited) the First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC in 1945; the IAS machine later built at Princeton was based on the computer architecture described in this report. But it’s a major stretch to say that von Neumann invented the computer. Orbán was right about the ballpoint pen. It was the invention of László Biró who with his brother escaped from Hungary in 1943 and settled in Argentina.

Orbán’s view of the world, which he outlined to his audience, is not worth repeating. We know it only too well. Europe is in decline, the Europeans are lost and have no answers to their economic ills, close integration in Europe is inadvisable, nations are important, the death of the welfare state is near, and European leaders lack leadership and vision.

He did, however, elaborate on what he called the “red and green attack against traditional values: against the church, against family, against the nation. ” Moreover, he wanted his audience to believe that “democracy in Europe is democracy based on Christianity. The anthropological root of our political institutions is imago Dei, which requires an absolute respect of the human being.”

Democracy Index 2013. Hungary is labelled as flawed democracy

Democracy Index 2013. Hungary is labelled as a flawed democracy

Naturally, Orbán never learned any Latin, but lately he has been dropping Latin expressions right and left. Especially when it comes to church affairs. Just the other day he portrayed Hungary as a “church-building country” and dropped a few Latin words, Soli Deo gloria, for good measure. Perhaps he wants to sound learned, perhaps he wants to identify with Catholicism. In any event, in English we talk about “the image of God” and not “imago Dei.” Wrong words in the wrong country with the wrong church. Moreover, just as Endre Aczél rightly pointed out, Orbán delivered this message in a country which is perhaps the least concerned in Europe with religious matters and where only 4.4% of the population attend church at all.

As for democracy in Europe being based on Christianity, that’s total nonsense. We all know about the ancient Athenian roots of democracy when it was led by Cleisthenes in the fifth century BCE. The earliest Christians, Greek educated, knew about Athenian democracy, but early Christian teaching was not influenced by these ideas. The origins of modern democracy go back to Great Britain’s parliamentary system; from there it spread to the North American continent where a strict division between church and state was introduced. Perhaps (if I were to be charitable) Orbán was thinking of the Christian socialist movement sometimes called Christian democracy, but I doubt it. I think he’s simply hung up on this “church, family, nation” idea and tries to construct a history to support his image of a nonexistent world.