The Czechmate Diary…


A little bit of history….Czech-American Institutions from Past to Present: Religion (Part V) June 21, 2007

Filed under: Czech-American history — Tanja @ 5:07 am

last_supperda_vinci.jpg Czech Americans and their relationship towards Religion

The earliest Czech immigrants (the Moravian Brethren) came to America solely to search for religious freedom. The later immigration wave of Czechs (after 1850) was coming for many different reasons such as education, political convictions and others . Yet still the majority of Czech Americans belonged to the Catholic Church – the only recognized religion by the Hapsburg Empire. This Hapsburg re-Catholization of the Czech lands left many Czechs scared, especially since the Czech lands used to be predominantly protestant. No wonder that when these “forced Catholics” came to the free America, about a half of them decided to turn their backs on Catholicism all together. The other half that stayed Catholic and didn’t have a Czech congregation in their vicinity usually joined some German or Polish Catholic congregations. By 1920 America had about 350 Czech priests and about 200, 000 Czech Catholics.

Czech Protestants in America consisted mostly of descendants of the Hussites and Moravian Brethren. Their most famous congregation has been the Jan Hus Presbyterian Church in New York City (founded in 1888).

And then there were the blossoming Progressives and the Freethinkers who refused any kind of religion. These two groups received support and sympathy from the socialists and the atheists and together they established in America many atheist schools, ceremonies for marriages, funerals and other important events.

What is the relationship between the Czechs and religion now?? According to a recent poll the Czech Republic is the biggest atheist country in Europe with only only 33.6% of Czechs belonging to a religion and only 11.7% attend services once a month or more. And what is more, they are also proud of it. As the psychiatrist Libor Growsky says: ” I’m a nonbeliever. It’s connected to our history. Religion limited the freedom of the people. I don’t see a difference between the Communists and the Catholics ( ). Yeah, but the one difference is that the Communist government was actually torturing the Catholics and I don’t think it ever went the other way….

I personally think that it’s very sad a country with such a rich Christian history( Cyril and Method, Jan Hus, the Hussites) has almost nothing left of it now. What has happened? Did the Hapsburgs beat it out of us? Or was it the Nazis? Or the Communists?? Or all of them combined together? One think is for sure and that is even though one claims to be a Catholic in the Czech Republic, it really doesn’t mean much. I went to a Catholic high school (my parents – devoted atheists – put me in there thinking I would get a better education) , my best friend was Catholic and we never talked about God. Isn’t that strange?



3 Responses to “A little bit of history….Czech-American Institutions from Past to Present: Religion (Part V)”

  1. Milo Munchinsky Says:

    Your conclusion, “what happened?” is a good one. After visiting the Czech Republic last year I asked the same question. One observation that I would like to make is that the “no religion” category is also growing in the United States. Some estimate that it is as high as 20% which would be over 70 million people! I have also noticed, in both countries, that a larger number of people say they are “spiritual” but don’t belong to any religion. Perhaps this is a way to disassociate themselves from negative history rather then seeing history as contributing to their present identity.

  2. Tanja Says:

    I agree, the “spiritual” crowd has been growing rapidly everywhere, even in the Czech Republic. But the majority of Czechs still claim to be atheists, meaning there is NO higher being, regardless what that this higher power may be. If you say that you believe in God, most of them just laugh at you and make you feel very stupid.

  3. keef Says:

    Milo-I think your later point about the disassociation from the negative history is dead on. It is very American to attempt to carve out a new path with just about everything so to take on the label of Baptist or methodist or the like is oftentimes considered constricting rather than a source of positive self identification.
    as far as atheism goes, in the US I think it has slowly over time, come to be seen as a difficult postion to philosophically defend. The recent ‘conversion’ of renowned atheist Anthony Flew to a deistic viewpoint is a strong case in point. the wind was taken from many an atheist’s sail by his recent change in position.

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