On the search for love in the Catholic Church of Poland
Aleksandra Szymczuk, Lancaster University Graduate
‘Love (...) does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs’
(I Corinthians 13:5)
When reflecting on various aspects of love, one cannot forget about the development of religion. The idea that the world emerged due to the loving, and unconditional intent of the Creator and because of that the world has its purpose, is present as the main assumption in most religious faiths. Christianity is considered to have a major influence on the development of European culture that is present today. Nevertheless, the rapid growth of Christianity also led to the emergence of an organised, significantly influential, institutionalised body, present on the worldwide arena.
Yet, Europe is now one of the most rapidly secularising parts of the world, with an increasing number of people declaring no affiliation with any organised religions. Nowadays, the abuse of power in the structures of the church led to serious distortion of Christian values, making the representatives of this institution resemble biblical Pharisees much more than Jesus himself [Read more here]. Research predicts that by 2050, only 16% of all Christians will be living in Europe. However, here, we should then focus on Poland, which is still one of the most religious European countries, and on seeking an answer to the rather philosophical question - where is love in the Polish Catholic church?
Whether you are a believer of any divine source of life or not, it cannot be denied that everyone needs to love and be loved. However, a decrease in organisational religion in the Western countries is still observable along with an increase in interest in Eastern spirituality and practices such as yoga, meditation or ‘mindfulness.’ From a psychological point of view, these ‘spiritual’ values, such as love, goodness and forgiveness, are crucial for human well-being and prosperity. Love, the core idea in religion, enables to bond groups of strangers, unite and organise many people in communities. Such processes were historically an essential determinant for significant transformations, in politics, sociology, religion, culture, or any other human-related domain of the society. But let’s face the truth. Something happened to Christianity, which allegedly has these values at its core, resulting in the number of believers continuing to rapidly decrease.
Institution of despair
Before we proceed to the situation with the Catholic church in Poland, I would like to reserve that I am not talking about all parishes, all priests and all believers. I am well aware that there are some real Christian communities out there. Nevertheless, I would like to focus on the narrative which is communicated to the believers by many bishops who are on higher levels of authority. In Poland, Christian values got distorted and the role of clergy got completely misunderstood, creating an institution of despair rather than one of hope. The main problem is the loss of focus on what this institution was originally set up for. The idea of a Christian church was that it shall be built on God’s love.
The term from ancient greek ‘agape’ defines the highest form of love - God’s love for people, which was physically represented by the figure of Jesus Christ. The idea of the Christian church was to create a strong community of people supporting and strengthening each other in faith, searching for God together. Nevertheless, the teachings of the Polish Catholic church focus on something opposite. The messages revolve around guilt, punishment and fear of evil. You do not need to be a theologist to realise that those cannot be the guiding principles in Christian rhetoric. Yet, the fact that nobody seems to be shocked anymore by such rhetoric is deeply disturbing. For some reason, it became acceptable that the Polish Catholic church moralises and strengthens mindless religiousness.
How the Church found itself in a non-Christian cage of fear
The church uses its moralistic agenda by operating mainly on fear. Guilt and condemnation are supposed to lead the person into conversion, which then would lead them to become a better version of themselves. How deluded does it sound? To make things worse, the church claims authority over defining what is morally good or bad on behalf of God, and then judging people according to their rules, claiming that this is godly. The problem here is that they impose many subjective, trivial views on complex matters such as human psyche or sexuality, and claim that these are the objective truths.
To add, the sacrament of confession can be considered controversial. Despite the fact that it may have positive psychological and spiritual outcomes when conducted reasonably, in the majority of cases in Poland, it has created a whole nation of psychologically traumatised people by such practices. It involves intimate conversations with a person who usually has no psychological training, who misunderstands and abuses his role by expressing judgments and condemnations, or even hatred.
Moreover, the Polish Catholic church very often enhances ‘mindless religiousness.’ Constant repetition of the same prayers and formulas with no understanding of what for, and why one is saying things, hoping that it will help them in life. Let me get that straight. The act of prayer is not criticised here, rather the magical approach to it. Instead of signalising the importance of getting down to the roots of one’s problems, the church promotes the strategy of avoidance and asking ‘somebody’ to miraculously erase people’s troubles. Finally, mindless religiousness is ultimately the opposite of faith. Faith, in order to be alive, needs to try new things, make mistakes, learn, and forgive. This is the only way a person can grow as a human being. Mindless religiousness binds people in the cage of fear of doing something wrong, hinders their ability to make their own judgments regarding the oppressive authority which claims to have the power to either approve or condemn an individual.
Fear no more
Let’s risk a statement that many Catholic bishops in Poland are, in fact, not Christians. First Christians stood out of the crowd by the love and affection they shared with each other. This was a characteristic by which non-Christians were recognising Christians. Where is such a church now? Is it how you can recognise a Polish Christian today?
It comes as no surprise that many people are turning away from the Catholic church. Nevertheless, I think that there is hunger for a real Christian church in Poland. The one based on solidarity and goodness. The one which immediately reacts when it comes to overthrowing hate. Aggression usually comes from fear. However, the opposite of fear is not bravery. It is love. And only love can beat fear. I would argue that actually all the problems and dysfunctions in this world have its core in the deficit of love. If we assume that, it is easy to conclude what to do in order to repair the situation. We need to go out and love. Even when it looks illogical and stupid at first glance, it can be both, a logical conclusion and a remedy for this world.