Letter from Romania
I’m currently in Romania, guests of some fabulous people. I am also doing some talks with Paul Kurtz and Norm Allen for CFI.
Religion in Romania: some interesting facts:
- Only 0.2% of the population claim to be atheists.
- The main church is the national Orthodox Church, which gets to teach religion to all kids in state schools, unless their parents pull them out. They are teaching creationism.
- The church has great political influence.
- As a result evolution has been pulled from the curriculum, as has any philosophy of religion in which religion is critically examined.
- Only 14% of 10-18 year olds believe the theory of evolution.
- I spoke to a young woman today who says that because she is an atheist, her academic boss victimizes her and is destroying her career. And this sort of bullying and victimization, she tells me, is not at all unusual.
- Our CFI sponsored discussion/conference of secularism today was, to the organizer’s knowledge, the first ever in Romania. All the press were informed but none showed up.
- It also seems to be illegal to criticize religion in Romania – there will shortly be a legal test case (today I met the guy who is bringing it – against himself).
Speaking again on Wednesday: MIERCURI – 7 MAI 2008 – ORELE 10:00 – 12:00 – Centrul de Cercetri Antropologice “Francisc Reiner” (Bucureti, Bd. Eroilor Sanitari, nr. 8, Sala de Consiliu).
POSTSCRIPT 8th May
I paste in below the comment from Dan, and then from Liviu Andreescu, which contains and confirms some statistics:
I am afraid the facts you listed here about religion in Romania are far off from reality. I’m sure that your Romanian guests had no intention to misinform you, but they seem disconnected from the religious phenomenon in Romania. I will quickly go over your list for some clarifications:
1. I am not convinced that only 0.2% of the population declares themselves as atheists, but certainly the number is low, most likely below 10%. This is a reaction to the communist times when it was impossible to declare one’s personal religious beliefs.
2. It wasn’t the Orthodox Church that made the religion study mandatory in schools, but the Romanian politicians trying to capitalize on the trust that the population has in Church. At the moment, there are already many clerics that want to pull out the study of religion from school. Orthodox Church encourages spiritual exchange with own confessor and mentor, not the memorization of the Scriptures.
3. The Orthodox Church is trusted by the population and therefore feared by politicians, but it has no political involvement, by its own decision. There were exceptions to this rule in the past, but they were short lived. In general, the Orthodox Church, compared to other Christian Churches, strived not to be involved in politics. I think this is one of the main reasons why the Orthodox Church has kept its reputation intact in the eyes of the population.
4. Evolution was definitely not pulled from the curriculum, and Orthodox Church does not teach Creationism. Orthodox Church, in contrast with other Christian Churches, has kept the Old Testament as part of the dogma. But the Church never tried to interpret ad litteram the Old Testament (Genesis for instance), it sees the Old Testament as apophatic truth (descriptions of the revelations, impaired by the use of human understanding and language).
Orthodox Church has no stance in regard to evolution theory, or any other scientific theory for that matter. At most the Church is against scientific dogma, the use of “science” to rally people against other scientific theories, populations, or against the Church. The fact that Philosophy is taught very briefly in the last year of the high school is because of the poor curriculum, it has nothing to do with the Church. This is my own perspective: I am a biostatistician, I see support for evolution every day in the lab. At the same time I am a Romanian Christian Orthodox, I see no conflict between the two.
6. I have never heard of anyone being persecuted because he or she declared to be atheist. This seems to me a very unlikely situation, probably an attempt by someone to put the blame for a personal failure on something else than the actual reason. The Orthodox Church is very much against forcing people to come to Church, in fact it is actually against proselytism as well (attracting people to the Church).
7. Criticism of the Church is possible in Romania, but don’t expect to attract media attention with such a topic. Romanian TV channels, like any other (young) consumerist society, would rather report latest TV star gossip than doing anything else. In addition, if you plan to discuss the Orthodox Church make sure that your information is correct (ask people outside the atheist circles as well) and that your criticism does not repeat the general criticisms made against the Catholic or Protestant Churches, which most likely do not fit well the Orthodox Church.
FROM LIVIU ANDREESCU
Hi Stephen & co.
This is in response mostly to what Dan above said.
1. Judging by the 2002 national census, there are LESS than 0.2% self-declared atheists in Romania. Those of you who read Romanian – and even those who don’t – can find the census results here: http://www.recensamant.ro/datepr/tbl6.html. Hope this is convincing enough. AFAIK, this is the only comprehensive piece of statistics on this point.
2. The Orthodox Church (ROC) has been at the forefront of the campaign to make religion (taught confessionally) MANDATORY in Romanian public schools. And they were very successful in persuading politicians this was a good thing, so much so that it took a Constitutional Court decision to make religion an elective – and even so the status of this subject remains quite unclear. So religious education in public school has been and remains a chief goal of the ROC, ABSOLUTELY no question about that. Indeed, though under Romanian law religion is an elective subject, the official ROC Patriarchate website lists it as mandatory. There might be isolated priests who support taking it out of the public school curriculum, but the official position is quite the opposite. Indeed, I have been working and writing on the subject for the past 3 years and have never encountered one Orthodox priest of the type Dan referred to. More about the history of how religion became a quasi-mandatory subject in Romanian public education, here: http://www.proeuropa.ro/norme_si_practici.html#istoric. (Romanian language)
3. The ROC has been, on the contrary, VERY ACTIVE in Romanian politics, both overtly and behind the scenes. Those of you who can access academic journal databases would do well to read a recent article that deals precisely with this issue: Lavinia Stan and Lucian Turcescu. “Pulpits, Ballots and Party Cards: Religion and Elections in Romania”. Religion, State and Society, 33(4), 2005.
4. Evolution WAS DEFINITELY pulled from the biology curriculum through a Ministry of Education Order. (In fact the former minister of education who signed this decision publicly admitted it might have been a mistake.) Those of you who read English can find a summary here: http://www.humanism.ro/articles.php?page=62&article=223. And here: http://www.thediplomat.ro/reports_1207.php. A list of those who protested is here (Romanian lg): http://www.humanism.ro/articles.php?page=62&article=228,
And of course the ROC DEFINITELY teaches creationism: just take a look at the Romanian religion textbooks commonly used in RO public schools. The Genesis account is commonly offered.
6. It depends a lot on what you call “persecution”. No one was jailed for being an atheist, afaik. But people have been called things, have fallen off with their bosses, have been denied a floor or an audience on that account, etc. – the usual shenanigans. More significantly, atheists ARE being commonly persecuted when their kids are forced to attend religious education classes in public schools, religious ceremonies in public institutions etc. You can find some more in English in this academic article: Lavinia Stan and Lucian Turcescu, “Religious Education in Romania,” Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 38, no. 3 (September 2005)
For general information on religion in Romania in English I recommend a series of academic articles by Stan and Turcescu (see http://people.stfx.ca/lstan/articles.html) as well as their latest book at OUP.
The only comprehensive study of religious education in RO (Romanian language) is available here online (it can be obtained in book format as well): http://www.proeuropa.ro/educatie.html
So Dan, you seem to me to be a decent fellow who’s completely misguided and has done no research on these matters.
One final point on what Stephen wrote. Article 13.2 of Romania’s new (2007) law on religious denominations stipulates that ‘Any form, means, act or action of religious defamation and antagonism, as well as public oﬀending of religious symbols are forbidden in Romania.’
Some people are concerned this may be used to stifle criticism of religion. As yet, this has not been the case – but the law is merely 1 year old.
I myself am skeptical that the article will be used to such purposes on a regular basis, but I do not find it unlikely that in some isolated cases it might be used to intimidate.