Most of the former communist countries in East Central Europe are traditionally very religious, with Roman Catholic (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary) and Orthodox Churches (Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia) often serving as a symbol of the national identity. According to the latest censuses in these countries, a large majority of citizens (about 75 percent in Slovakia, about 93 percent in Poland) still consider themselves Christians. During the communist period, and especially at the end, the Christian Church (generally) had quite a good reputation. So it was naturally expected that after "the poor years" during communism, years of rich spiritual growth were coming. But almost the opposite is true.
Because "when the Christian is treated as an enemy of the State, his course is very much harder, but it is simpler. I am concerned with the dangers to the tolerated minority; and in the modern world, it may turn out that the most intolerable thing for Christians is to be tolerated" (T.S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society, London: Faber and Faber, 1939, 54.).
Skepticism to Ideology and Institutions
Now it really seems that in spite of all the hardships and suffering, in the "simple" black-and-white world of ideological totality, to be Christian, to be a member of the church, was much simpler. Although masses are still members of big churches, the same masses are very skeptical toward any ideology, Christian included. That is why so many people are open to "non-ideological" and not so institutionalized religious movements such as New Age or Bahai.
Pluralism and the Possibility of Choice
Post-modernists of all colors consider the freedom to choose as one of the most valuable accomplishments of contemporary society. Freedom of choice means one has to have the possibility to choose at any time, and the more possibilities the better. That is exactly the position of the young, secularized generation in East Central Europe toward religion, or more specifically, toward Christianity. Suspicion against all kinds of propaganda, of somebody's wanting to change your mind, to change you, is very strong, especially in private life.
But in many Christian minds the framework of approved (by government or parliament) and nonapproved denominations and religious movements is still very much alive. Big "national" churches in several countries are even lobbying parliaments in order to legally ban other denominations, sects, or religious movements.
Post-modernism as Opportunity
But this "private post-modernism" can be seen as a great opportunity for effectively sharing the gospel and principles of God's kingdom: Persons of integrity and authenticity are appreciated everywhere. Personal communication and relationships are very special in this anonymous world.
Juraj Kusneirik is a research specialist for Central European Foundation, Bratislava, Slovakia. Excerpt published with permission from a paper delivered at the Oxford Conference on Christian Faith and Economics, near Moscow, November 1993. The author plans to publish a revised version of the full text under the title "The Shadows of the Past."
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© 1994 Institute for East-West Christian Studies