I was still in elementary school when a census took place.
I was sitting in our living room with my mother who answered the questions truthfully and with the kind of reverence that only a person brought up in authoritarianism can display towards a census lady.
But I was different. The whole fear-of-God mentality vis-à-vis authorities was ridiculous to me because there has not been authoritarianism in my lifetime. My whole lifetime, which, at that point, stretched to as many as eight years.
The census lady was not from our village – nor from anywhere near our village – which was odd. She was all smiles and fake sweetness – which is very uncommon in our part of the world.
When it was my turn, my mother kept answering questions about me but there was one question the census lady addressed directly to me. She leaned deeply forward in the armchair, looked straight in my eyes and asked in a way I still remember
“Have you been christened, my dear?”
I was, I thought, but I wished I wasn’t.
Just a few days earlier the priest in our village shamed me in front of my classmates for literally nothing and the event made me resent religions altogether.
The sting of the shame was still strong so I decided that I definitely wasn’t a Christian. But the fake-smiley census lady asked whether I was christened – not whether I was religious. I looked at her questionnaire and it asked whether I was religious.
Being the accurate kid I pointed out to her that the census questionnaire actually asked whether the person was religious. And I told her that no, I was not religious. “But you were christened, right?” she pressed on and my mother pushed me aside to reverently reassure her that yes, yes I was, I was just a child and talking silly things, don’t mind me.
So I became yet another “Christian” in the census. And with that the church became a little more politically powerful and entitled to a bigger share of taxpayers’ money from the state.
Later I understood just how much effort churches put into recruiting volunteers to conduct the state census. And the volunteers are there to perform the one trick that was performed on me: to register as many citizens as members of the church as possible. That number will later become the ground for claims for more funding and more influence bestowed upon them by the state.
This experience flashed through my mind when I read the single most amusing story of the Eucharistic Congress, a global catholic festival that has been held in Budapest this year. A hundred thousand pilgrims were expected to descend upon Budapest during a pandemic to see the Pope – who was not allowed to snub Orbán even though it allegedly occurred to him to skip meeting him while in Budapest.
The saga started when a columnist spotted an article on the “Christian democratic” (read: political christianist) party’s website lamenting the low number of registrations to the festival. According to the article not even the alleged half a million Budapest Catholics registered – let alone the alleged crowds of devoted religionists from the countryside.
The article was picked up on social media – and then it was quickly removed on the same day it was published. It was the removal that made it into the news on actual news portals. Then the Catholics went after the web archive and had it removed from there as well. Now that made the article even more interesting. (Read it here.)
Doom mongering and chastising their members for not sacrificing enough is a classic catholic and religionist theme, it should not be surprising. But it was especially provocative in the face of the massive taxpayer billions (10 million euros on the festival plus 20 million on the venue) that were spent with the excuse of this event.
Not to mention the even bigger sums that have been handed over to their church during the pandemic (over 300 million euros in cash and dozens of high-value real estates) – and throughout Orbán’s political christianist reign in general (no one knows the final sum).
Shortly before the festival began the organizers let go of the registration – in other words they stopped counting. Because the number was still only at 75 thousand, while the festival caused the biggest ever traffic disturbance in downtown Budapest and for the longest time, causing chaos and endless nuisance. Plus, the church really hates admitting they are a dying breed.
Even according to the massively manipulated census data (2011) only 5-8% of Hungarians attend church sometimes, in all denominations combined. That’s basically the Christmas service – not actual church attendance, let alone religiosity. Ad it is according to their self-admission (or the christianist census ladies), not counted at the church door. And even many of the self-identified “Christians” are really just christened as a baby – but assume that’s what matters. For them the question is which denomination – not whether they are religious at all. And if anyone asked whether they want their taxes to go to the church, they may be even less agreeable.
Indeed, the percentage of people who voluntarily send their 1% (the amount of their taxes they can earmark to a cause of their choice every year) to the church is not even among the first 50 recipients. The majority send their 1% to healthcare causes, civil society and animal shelters instead.
So Orbán made another 1% available that must go specifically to a church. According to the 2019 tax returns, 650 thousand people picked the Catholic church (from the church list) to receive their church-earmarked 1%. Again, this sum could not go to a real charitable cause, only to a church.
There were supposedly 3.8 million Catholics according to the census data in 2011, so they are underperforming when it comes to channeling their already-lost taxes towards their beloved church. Many of them are old and don’t pay taxes anymore. But 650k is still a lot – and you could argue that they could run their hobby on their own dime. Especially after two millennia of eye watering state support to churches, sitting on a phenomenal amount of real estate and assets and supposedly having a hold of hearts and minds and a wide appeal. Surely, such an organization could crowd fund the hell out of their fans.
With every other hobby one could argue that only the hobbyists pay for their own pastime. A curling club, for instance, should not claim taxpayer money to maintain the “tradition” of curling. If no one wants to play it, it should not be played. If only a few want to play it, they have to make do with the money they are willing to pay for it.
But soaking up taxpayer money is exactly the churches’ business model ever since they made their historic deal with states to share the loot from the taxpayers. You have probably heard it called the war between state and church and they told you that the churches lost. Well, if this is losing, I wish to lose. They still get funded by the taxpayer – only the state collects the taxes for it.
Even when churches claim they are running schools in Hungary they are not financing it. An important distinction. The state gives them the school building and the right to run the schools as they see fit. Then the state gives them money to renovate the buildings and then it gives them money per student – exactly four times as much per student as the state schools get. They get access to children – and are richly paid for it. Don’t be nasty, not to children’s bodies. They only get access to children’s minds to destroy their intellectual defenses against religionist irrationality, so that they can claim resources from them later in life, and if they become successful, their church can proudly count them as members who have successfully infiltrated high offices. Totally innocent stuff.
In exchange for the generous (albeit involuntary) taxpayer support, the churches in Hungary don’t just preach Orbán’s greatness and how he personally defends us from all sorts of attacks. They also effectively enacted segregation in schools by not letting gypsy children in on a religious basis – a thing a state school is not allowed. And since church-run schools are much better financed (by taxpayers), their teachers are better paid and their academic results are better.
To top it all off, Orbán has announced his program of removing the separation between church and state (officially this time) in his latest campaign speech. He is literally trying to undo every achievement of the enlightenment, human rights, civil liberties, separation of powers, checks and balances – and now even the separation of state and church. The separation of state and business would be just as important – but he had demolished that a long time ago, creating a hand-picked class of tender winners to soak up taxpayer money from Hungary and abroad.
And on a completely separate note, the hunting expo (the hobby of Orbán’s political christianist deputy) insists they will have no less than one million visitors at their 20 million euro (plus venue) exhibition of dead animal parts and killing instruments mottoed “One with nature”. One million hunters sound just about as right as 3.8 million active Catholics. I’m waiting for the census lady to classify me as an active hunter if I ever put out a mouse trap.
Featured photo: Attila Lambert – Magyar Kurír