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.
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.