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Weeklies on the decline of religious faith

October 9th, 2023

A liberal commentator suggests that the number of believers is decreasing in Hungary because the message of the Gospel is less and less credible for modern people. A conservative columnist, on the other hand, invites religious leaders and thinkers to seriously analyse what has gone wrong.

As BudaPost reported in September, the 2021 nationwide census showed a steep decline in the number of Hungarians declaring themselves to be believers (see BudaPost, September 30). According to the recently published detailed census results, less than half of all Hungarians belong to a religious denomination, down from 75 percent twenty years ago. The Catholic Church, Hungary’s largest religious community lost 900,000 believers over the past two decades and represents just 30 percent of the population, down from 55 in 2001.

In Heti Világgazdaság, Árpád W. Tóta remarks that the remaining number of Hungarians who declare that they belong to one of the churches is several times higher than the number of those who actually attend religious services. He dismisses left-wing and liberal reactions that attribute the decline of religious faith to the striking allegiance of major churches towards the right-wing government. In fact, he explains, secularisation is a sweeping phenomenon throughout the Western world, where Hungary belongs. Nor are liberal or progressive congregations exempt from that process, he adds. The liberal commentator suspects that what is failing is the Christian story itself. It is simply more difficult nowadays to believe that Jesus keeps the records of our premarital sexual experiences and the like. If there is a Creator, he continues, humans who lived several thousand years ago could only misunderstand his message. As for Hungary, Tóta thinks, the government cannot reap any substantial profit from its privileged relations with Christian churches, once religious faith is no longer important for the majority.

In Mandiner, Gellért Rajcsányi remarks that during 40 years of communism, the number of Hungarians who identified themselves as Catholics remained unaltered despite all anti-religious oppression and propaganda. Surprisingly enough, he writes, when professing and exercising religious faith became perfectly free, instead of a new age of growth, an era of shrinking religious communities began. He also remarks that this phenomenon extends to the whole Western world. Rajcsányi sharply disagrees with those commentators who try to turn a blind eye to that phenomenon and leave the topic to those with precious little in common with Christianity. Some Christians, like Rod Dreher from the United States, take the process as irreversible and advise Christians to set up small but strong communities of believers within the secular societies of the future. Others are still confident and hope for some kind of spiritual and intellectual Christian resurgence. He himself doesn’t know what to expect but argues against pretending that nothing serious is happening. Churches should try and find answers to the questions of our era, ‘before everything is submerged by postmodern paganism,’ he concludes.

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