About a week ago, the Romanian Orthodox Church (BOR) reached a consensus allowing their cleric’s participation in local elections. Is this a surprise? If we consider the relation between the state and the church in the last 3 years, we will not be surprised at all. It is becoming univocal, that some Churches in Romania, lead by the “National” Romanian Orthodox Church aspire to gain more and more political power. We silently march toward theocracy. We are still far, but already on the road.
Let us look the phenomenons which dissolve the boundaries between the Church and the State in today’s Romania:
The pressure of the Church on the Education
• Proposing the introduction of religion as an obligated subject from the 1st elementary class to the end of High school. This proposal is actually more fought for by the “liberal” Ministry of Education than the churches (isn’t that surprising?).
• Canceling the teaching of evolution from the biological studies beginning form the 2007/2008 academic year. Ministerial authorization of “biology” textbooks with elements of creationism
• Canceling the chapter “God” from the Philosophy textbooks beginning form the 2007/2008 academic year. By this act, students will be revoked from the possibility to learn opposing ideas about God and religion.
• Establishing more and more usually partly state-subsidized religious schools, high-schools, gymnasiums, kindergartens.
The smarmy press
• The Romanian media is obsessed with using the “fellow Christian” expression. This attribute is used with predilection by the press in different environments, where it should not have any relevancy, for example in the news, reports, shows (For example lately it was mentioned in the case of Costel, Spain’s „Romanian Pavarotti”)
• The obsession of the Romanian press by emphasizing the “faith keeping” of those Romanians, who leave abroad. There almost no report about Romanians emigrated to Spain or Italy, where it would not appear that the Romanians living in these countries are loyal to their religion, they regularly go to the newly established local Romanian church, the message being that “you are a good Romanian if you are keeping strongly to your religion”.
• The obsession of the Romanian press in the presentations of religious feast, habits and rituals. It could be the feast of a well or little known Saint or simply the starting the fast; all the News Channels focus on it for days
• The constant featuring of religious personalities and religious themes in the emissions of the Realitatea TV and other popular Channels. In the talk-shows all the time the ones representing the Church get most of the speaking time, they get the chance to do the closing words, and they are treated with more respect during the show.
• The Romanian Press mostly lacks the criticism of the Church, presenting only positive approaches toward religion, or the Church (does this seem familiar? Press in comunism times?). A few exceptions we can count: Hotnews and sometimes the Cotidianul and Catavencu try to be more critical.
• The criticism of the Church is considered taboo even in the Transylvanian Hungarian media. The Church is considered as an institution that sustains national identity, as such, it is untouchable. 18 years after the regime change most of the Transylvanian-Hungarian journalists think that we have stuck in the communism, where only the Church offered the possibility to preserve national identity. But 18 years did pass. Nowadays the Transylvanian Hungarian Churches are considered as only one of players in the minority’s public life, and a lot of times instead of helping the development of the community they are actually more a break to it.
• The Romanian and the Transylvanian-Hungarian media usually withholds all information regarding the changes happening in the West in the matter of religion, in the matter of secularism. We can’t hear about Europe’s growing secularization, we don’t hear about atheist movements, we don’t know about public debates and discussions that take place in the west, we don’t know about Richard Dawkins or about the penetration of humanist familial ceremonies. The Romanian citizen is mislead by the idea that Europe is still the great medieval citadel of Christianity, the Church being the leading protagonist in the societies accros the continent.. The truth is, as we all know, is something totaly different. Most of Europe is very secular. The media plays as the Church whistles and united they keep us away from the secular mentality, from atheistic ideas and ideological openness of the west.
By-product: the penetration of the quackery
• By its silence, and lack of rational approach the press consolidated a fruitful ground for all the nonsense and irrational craps, such as the horoscope, astrology, bio-energy, divining, talking to the dead.
• With the support of the „liberal” government some fields of quackery, under the name of “alternative therapies”, have been placed on the list of the medical interventions sponsored by the state controlled National Health Insurance (CAS). We speak about therapies that have no or to littel scientific references, and it is known about most of them that beside the placebo they have no effect on the health condition: homeopathy, reflexology, feng shui, ayurveda, crystal therapy and so on. The 118/2007-law states that these therapies are subsidized by the state budget because they have as their basis the theories, faith and experiences of different national cultures. In Romania this is called reform of the healthcare system.
The Alfa and Omega of all things: The union of the State and the Church
• On the inauguration of Daniel patriarch President Traian Băsescu named the BOR as „national church” of Romania. The Romanian law forbids the notion of “national church”, stating that in Romania all the recognized churches have equal status (September 2007).
• Ioan Oltean Vice-president of PD-L submitted a bill to the Romanian Parliament, stating that his party would assent the presence of the BOR’s delegates in the Parliament. Oltean confessed that former he had a talk with Patriarch Daniel on this topic. (February 2008).
• Mircea Geoană, President of the Social-Democrat Party (PSD) objected the opening of the orthodox priests’ secret service dossiers (August 2007). This suggestion had been done one year before by PRM President, Vadim Tudor.
• Traian Băsescu is Romania’s first President, who kissed the Romanian Patriarch’s hand. Nowdays only in Iran can you see “hand-kissing” the highest prelate by the president.
• Prime Minister C. P. Tăriceanu called for a national bereavement period after the death of Patriarch Teoctist, which act is against the rules of the separation of Church and State.
• The President, the Prime Minister, the Members of the Parliament, and the ministers of the Government never miss a chance to appear on a common picture with the leaders of the BOR during a religious feast. Performing political speeches on religious festivities became a routine.
• The government gave 30 million RON from the state budget and donated a highly expensive, publicly owned land to the BOR to build the “Nation’s Salvation Cathedral”. It worth mentioning that this cathedral will probably be built right next to the Parliament, thus practically symbolizing the union of the two powers.
• During the preceding years the sum from the state budget appropriated for the Churches is constantly increasing. I refer here to the sum allocated for building churches and rising salaries of the prelates (since February 2008 the bishop of any state recognized Church gets a salary of 7.366 RON from the state budget).
• As a result of the 2007 EP Elections a practicing bishop got into the European Parliament, representing Romania (namely: László Tőkés). The bishop’s political campaign was fully supported by two protestant Churches (Reformat and Unitarian). The campaign used the infrastructure of the Churches and the camaign speeches had been spread to the public from the pulpit of the temples.
• As mentioned in the introduction the BOR reached a consensus that it will allow (maybe even demand in some places?) its priests to run on the local elections as independent candidates. This unexampled resolution was received by the public as a natural step, but I ask: in which other EU country is it allowed to the local priests to run on the elections? To whom will he swear allegiance if getting elected? To the Constitution or the Bible? To the local mayor, or to the local bishop? Who will finance the campaign? Where will he campaign, in the Church?
• Bartolomeu Anania, Cluj County’s orthodox bishop declared that if the priest doesn’t want to run on the local elections, hi is allowed to give his full support to a layman candidate closely connected to the Church and its activities. Clearly speaking: the BOR’s most influential bishop stated that the Church has the right to be involved in political campaigns. If we open our eyes and minds we can see that this legal and public declaration of the Church is a very scary step, but seemingly, this affirmation does not bother anyone.
How far is from us the system of Iran? Porbably closer than we would imagine. In the groove after the victory of the 1979’s Revolution in Iran, no one thought that all will turn into theocracy. And what happened? The clerics became the State and the State became the clerics’ – there is a sometimes public, sometimes oblique dictatorship running under the wings of the Church. The wheel of the history turned back centuries and broke the modernisation of the Iranian nation.
The Romanian nation is mostly superstitious and bigot (beside Turks, Greeks and Poles it is one of the last nation as such in Europe). The Romanians are uninformed, they are the victim of an organized news black-out. The nation does not know its Churches, that is why it highly trusts them. About the Church and its behind the door politics and hi volume bussineses we can hardly ever read or hear anything, while the names and the actions of the everyday politicians are daily washed as dirty linen in public. Under the pressure of the transit period’s perplexity and disappointed in politics (which is partly legitimate partly induced by the media) the nation is disposed to give political power to the Church. Most people probably think that in it lays the last guarantee of an illusion of the old times, which should be finally deleted from the minds. Let’s take care what and how much do we allow to our Churches in politics!
But we should be even more careful with our politicians! Sometimes in low-key parliamentary commission votings very important and very problematic issues int the matter of the separation of Church and State could get official seal, without anyone noticing it.
Also in Iran everything started with keeping and protecting “the morality of the nation”, and it ended up with the Islamic Republic of Iran. I do not think we need a half theocratic Christian Republic of Romania in the 21st century secular Europe.