I’m writing this week from Prague, where I’m participating in the Forum 2000 Conference, convened annually by Vaclav Havel. This year’s theme is “Democracy and the Rule of Law.” The conference begins today, but I had the occasion this weekend to chat with Petr Mucha, the Project Coordinator for Forum 2000’s Interfaith Dialogue, which brings together scholars and religious leaders from around the world.
Mucha was kind enough to give me his analysis of religion in the Czech Republic today. He confirmed the conventional wisdom that the Czech Republic is one of the most secular places in Europe (given how secular Europe is, that’s saying something). I asked why that is so. Mucha said that the story is a complicated one, but, as is so often the case, it has largely to do with history. Centuries of religious warfare on Czech soil – Prague, history buffs will recall, was the site of the famous defenestration (below) that started the Thirty Years War, which in turn led to the Westphalian state system and the principle of cuius regio, eius religio –left a distinct distrust of institutional religion. As a result of the war, Protestantism was more or less defeated in the Czech lands; the Catholic Church became identified with the Hapsburg Empire that suppressed Czech nationalism. During the Communist period, religion never became a rallying point against the state (though dissident priests were involved in the resistance), a situation that differs dramatically from neighboring Poland, where the Catholic Church formed a strong element of national identity.
Mucha believes that is it antipathy for organized religion, not spirituality as such, that characterizes the view of religion in Czech society today. Indeed, according to him, it’s not even correct to characterize the situation in terms of antipathy. Most Czechs are simply indifferent about religion; they don’t think about it much one way or the other. – MLM