Tag Archives: Old Testament

Fake religiosity rules the day in Hungary

I will spend a little time today and tomorrow talking about topics that in one way or another are connected to religion.

Let me start with a footnote to the relationship between church and state in Orbán’s Hungary. I got so involved with the story of the alleged mummified right hand of Saint Stephen, whom I really should call Stephen I, that I didn’t pay much attention to the mass held in the St. Stephen Basilica and the procession that followed. However, today I noticed a sentence in an article that the grand old man of the 1956 Revolution, Tibor Méray, wrote on Galamus on August 28. The article itself is an indictment of the Hungarian political elite from József Antall to Viktor Orbán. The sentence that caught my eye was that “Orbán had the temerity to lead the Procession of the Holy Hand when he is a Protestant. Not even Horthy dared to do that.” Horthy was also Protestant.

Not only was Viktor Orbán present at the mass but also President János Áder; Zsolt Semjén, deputy prime minister; Pál Schmitt, former president who had to resign because of plagiarism; Péter Boross, former prime minister (1993-1994); Péter Darák, head of the Supreme Court (Kúria); Antal Rogán, leader of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation; and Mrs. Ferenc Mádl, wife of the former president (2000-2005) whose political sympathies definitely lie with Fidesz. I was somewhat surprised to find Ilan Mor, Israeli ambassador, among the dignitaries.

The opening of the school year prompted another round of incredible comments from government officials on religion and specifically on Christianity, but I will leave that topic for tomorrow.

Today I will touch on another topic that has something to do with religion. I’m talking about Mayor István Tarlós’s encounter with the Old Testament.

Erzsébet Gy. Nagy is currently a politician in the Demokratikus Koalíció. Earlier she was one of the leading MSZP politicians in Budapest, best known as the MSZP candidate against the long-time SZDSZ mayor Gábor Demszky in 2002. Recently she wrote an open letter in the name of DK protesting the decision of the Fidesz-KDNP city council to make homelessness a criminal act. After all, argued Nagy, the Constitutional Court found the practice unconstitutional. She reminded “the leadership of the country and the capital whose members claim to be Christians of what the Bible says: ‘Blessed is he who considers the poor! The Lord delivers him in the day of trouble’ (Psalms 41:1).”

That innocent biblical quotation became the center of a political controversy because of an interview Mayor István Tarlós gave on HírTV.  I will translate that part of the interview (from 8:25 on) that prompted the upheaval.

Tarlós: I also read today–what is the name of the group around Gyurcsány? Demokratikus Koalíció, isn’t it? Erzsébet Gy. Nagy, former MSZP colleague of mine in the city council, made a statement and began her declaration with “Blessed is he who considers the poor! The Lord delivers him in the day of trouble.” She quoted from the Book of Psalms. Now it is one thing that when they open the Bible on such occasions it always opens at the Old Testament, but I don’t want to say anything about this here.

Reporter: Let’s add to that that another DK member of parliament said that you will have to give account of your actions before the Lord.

Tarlós: It was so because I really believe in the Lord, although it is true that I read the New Testament more often, but we also read the Old Testament. But there is no need for such a hypocritical attitude. They come up with haphazard quotations. This is what happens to those who for a while confirmed.* Or who talk about the Messiah in front of rabbis.** So, these people would be better off if they didn’t lift passages from the Bible, but let that be their problem.

Kettos keresztWhy was it necessary for Tarlós to make an issue of the quotation that happened to come from the Old Testament? Naturally he denied that he intimated that members of the Demokratikus Koalíció mostly peruse the pages of the Old Testament and said that he finds the accusation “ridiculous and pitiful.”

Erzsébet Gy. Nagy answered in the name of the Demokratikus Koalíció. She decided to give a short lecture on church history to Tarlós who “unlike the children does need religious education.”  And she made four points. (1) The First Council of Nicea in 325 declared the Old Testament one of the holy books. (2) The Bible normally opens at the Old Testament because it is much larger than the New Testament. Earlier the Demokratikus Koalíció cited some of the New Testament passages that are applicable.  (3) In fact, Jesus put an even greater emphasis on mercy and compassion than the prophets of the Old Testament. Instead of the Book of Psalms they could have cited Matt. 18:33 “and should not you have mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” and (4) A gentleman is not “zsidózik” and for others it is forbidden.

I once tried to explain what this strange Hungarian verb means. The occasion was Zsófia Mihancsik’s article, which I translated as “Antisemitism: A short history of responsibility.” And I added that the word she used, and what I translated as antisemitism, is “zsidózás,” a noun coming from the verb “zsidózni,” which is an untranslatable Hungarian verb. It means talking about Jews (zsidók in pl.)  in an unfavorable light. It also implies that the speaker regularly engages in anti-Jewish speech. There is no question in my mind that this is what Tarlós was doing.

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*The original makes no more sense than the translation.

** The reference here is to Ferenc Gyurcsány who in 2005 in a speech commemorating the Holocaust got mixed up and talked about the Messiah instead of the Creator before attending a Jewish service.

Viktor Orbán’s speech at the meeting of the Association of Christian Intelligentsia

Viktor Orbán gave a speech at a round table discussion of the Association of Christian Intelligentsia (Keresztény Értlemiségiek Szövetsége/KÉSZ = Ready). The name of the organization didn’t immediately ring a bell until I read that its president is Zoltán Osztie, a Catholic priest known for his reactionary worldview. Moreover, Osztie is a politically committed man in the service of the current government. He and his organization work hand in hand with László Csizmadia’s CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fórum), which is behind the peace marches and which lately announced plans for a peace march to Brussels. CÖF received billions of forints from the central government, and thus Csizmadia and his friends had no problem footing the rather expensive campaign against Gordon Bajnai. Zsolt Bayer, András Bencsik, Gábor Széles, Ádám Pozsonyi, and László Csizmadia are prominent members of a “defense front” in the service of Viktor Orbán and his policies. Zoltán Osztie belongs to that inner circle of supporters.

I did some research on KÉSZ, which originally I mistakenly thought was just one of the many Christian civil groups. I always get suspicious when a group of people get together in the name of Christianity because in Hungary the adjective “keresztény” normally carries an emphasis on being “non-Jewish.” Otherwise, I see no reason for writers, journalists, and actors to distinguish themselves as Christians. KÉSZ is certainly not a simple gathering place for practicing Christians. Under the leadership of Zoltán Osztie it has become a politically committed organization.

The group was formed by another Catholic priest, Béla Csanád, in 1989 with the mission to spread the word. After years of anti-religious propaganda Csanád and his friends felt that there was a need for a kind of re-conversion of the intellectual elite who could then spread the gospel further. Although Csanád was a Catholic poet, the organization theoretically was open to all practicing Christians; according to the by-laws this is still the case. Osztie, however, often talks about the one and only church, the mysterious body of Christ, about a community in the middle of which lives the Virgin Mary. Well, that is a rather specific worldview in which Protestants wouldn’t be welcome.

kereszteny ertelmisegiek szovetsegeOsztie took over the presidency of KÉSZ after Csanád’s death in 1996. His election was questioned by some of the members and eventually the court found it illegal. Seventeen years later he shows no inclination to leave the position, and most likely his grip on KÉSZ is such that no one could unseat him. There is an excellent article on Osztie that appeared in Magyar Narancs a couple of months ago.

A few interesting tidbits about the man. While he was studying for the priesthood in the 1970s he didn’t seem to be at all attracted to the small group of students who stood up to professors servile to the regime. He especially liked those professors whom most of the students disliked because of their rigidity. And he developed a hatred of liberalism, which he calls the result of “the devil’s destructive fury.” In his eyes, everything that has happened since the Renaissance is an attack on the church. Why was the Catholic Church the target? Because “the church is the guardian of natural communities, the family, the nation, the natural sexual and societal roles.” Society must therefore return to Christianity “because without God life has no meaning and no morality.” As for the appropriate sexual roles, in summer camps for children organized by KÉSZ boys learn to harvest and girls learn home canning. Traditional all right.

As for the role of the church, “Hungary is a Christian country. It is that simple. No other ideology, no other religion, no other messages have any place in this homeland. It is time to say that at last.” Of modern governments, he considers the Horthy regime’s attitude toward the church the most satisfactory. He finds the anti-Semitic Pál Teleki, the extreme right-wing Bálint Hóman, and Ottokár Prohászka, the spiritual father of Hungarism,”wonderful people who with the help of God resurrected the dead, mutilated country.”

As for his ideas on the media, Osztie thinks that its duties include the delivery of the aspirations and the accomplishments of the government. It’s no wonder that Osztie welcomed the much criticized media law.

When we analyze Viktor Orbán’s speech at the round table discussion of KÉSZ in Győr we must keep his audience in mind. The speech is partially transcribed on Viktor Orbán’s website and available on YouTube in its entirety. Here he describes himself as a Christian politician who must answer to God not just every four years but every day. We also learn the reason for the European Union’s intense dislike of Hungary. “While the European Union piles fiasco on top of fiasco it doesn’t want to recognize the success story of Hungary… We have been blacklisted. They want to force the role of black sheep on us.” And why is this so? “Because of our traditional and natural view of the family. In the center of the controversy is the family. Our Fundamental Law defends the family and marriage.”  He added that “for four thousand years the rule was that every marriage consists of a man and a woman. … We don’t have to explain anything; we must ask them why it was necessary to give up a four-thousand-year tradition.” According to Orbán, there is a strong secular and anti-family lobby in Europe that has been very successful. Hungary bucks this trend and receives Europe’s hatred as a result.

And finally, he assured his audience that the government counts on the Christian intelligentsia because without them there is no electoral victory.

At the end, let me mention a Galamus article on this speech by the philosopher Ferenc L. Lendvai. He found a few pieces of nonsense [zöldség in Hungarian] in it. First, Viktor Orbán’s reference to the 4,000-year tradition of marriage between men and women. Orbán specifically mentioned 2,000 years of the New Testament and 2,000 years of the New Testament. Nice, but wrong!  Napoleon talked about 4,000 years of civilization during his campaign against Egypt. And he was right; the pyramids are more than 4,000 years old. But Orbán has a problem with Old Testament chronology. Abraham wasn’t even born 2,000 years before Christ. And where was Moses with his tablets? And where were the priests who wrote down the laws of God? Moreover, even if they had lived four thousand years ago, the good Hungarian Christians wouldn’t be too enamored with the concepts of marriage and family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “If they don’t believe it, I suggest they should read the Bible if they are such good Christians.”

As for Orbán’s reference to good Christian politicians who have to give account to God every day, Lendvai quotes Matthew 7:22-23.

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Gábor Bethlen, prince of Transylvania (1580-1629), was a good Calvinist. In his lifetime he read the Old and New Testaments forty times. Viktor Orbán, who is so proud of belonging to the Hungarian Reformed Church, should follow the example of Bethlen whom he admires. Start reading. And not just the Bible.