Amidst the uproar over Hungary’s “slave law” and the law on the judiciary, let us not forget that Parliament also amended the country’s church law in that circus session of 11 December 2018. The Orbán regime’s record on religious freedom is not too good, and earlier versions of its church law have not fared too well in court. Hungary’s Constitutional Court struck down significant portions of the law in 2013, and the European Court of Human Rights later ruled that the law violated the right of religious freedom. The newly passed amendments, which effectively amount to a complete rewrite, are putatively intended to redress the human rights violations occasioned by the previous church law. Unsurprisingly, they fail to do that. Like a television soap opera that runs for years without much happening in the plot, the history of Hungary’s church law is full of dramatic episodes that never bring change. Instead of redressing the serious violations of religious freedom caused by the earlier law, the new church law simply repackages them. In an effort to explain what is really going on, I will in what follows (1) retrace briefly the history of the Orbán regime’s church law and its impacts; (2) discuss the content and conception of the new law; and (3) identify the enormous discrepancies between the concept of the law and its applications. At the end of the day, Hungary’s newest church law exists as a kind of legal fiction, because the framework of the law is ignored by the transitional provisions which bring the law into effect.
Joseph O. Baker and Buster G. Smith. American Secularism: Cultural Contours of Nonreligious Belief Systems. NYU Press, 2015.
Reviewed by István Kamarás OJD
Joseph O. Baker and Buster G. Smith’s book American Secularism, published in 2015, is an excellent work in the sociology of religion, one that addresses a gap in the literature. Few studies have focused on the question of non-religiousness as thoroughly as this one. For readers who connect diminished levels of religiosity with secularization or secularism (and these types even crop up among sociologists of religion), the title of this review may come as a surprise. The title is warranted by the central thesis of Baker and Smith’s book, namely, that secularism and religion are two dimensions of the same phenomenon, or more precisely, they represent two endpoints on a continuum of faith.
The severity of the criticism mirrors the brazenness of the law. Although Viktor Orbán has been chipping away at democratic institutions since assuming power in 2010, this newest attack on Hungary’s most prestigious university, a symbol of Hungarian-American friendship, and bastion of high caliber intellectual inquiry, has crossed a line so obvious that even Hungary’s apologists are at a loss for words. If in the past Orbán could work to explain away suspicious legislation, he has been unable to produce even the most superficially plausible explanation for “Lex CEU.” The most frequently offered explanation, namely, that CEU is the instrument of a world-wide liberal conspiracy orchestrated by the rich, evil genius of Jewish descent, George Soros, is too outrageous to dupe even the most gullible foreign observer. North and West of the Danube, Hungary is universally perceived as an autocratic regime. Freedom House now ranks Hungarian democracy below Bulgaria and Romania.
History is full of surprises, irony, and unintended consequences – which is one reason those who study history know better than to make predictions. Since, however, I’m not a historian, I’m foolish enough to make a few specific predications about things that will happen during Donald Trump’s first term as President. I’m even foolish enough to put these down on record, so you can call me out and rub it once history proves me wrong. If events prove me right, however, then I’ll clearly deserve to be the next President.
1. The sanctions imposed on Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine will be lifted, raising the possibility of further territorial revisions in Eastern Europe.
2. Putin will test NATO by manufacturing a crisis in one of the Baltic States. Trump will look the other way. His failure to protect a NATO ally will mark the end of NATO as a credible military alliance.
3. Insurmountable contradictions between Trump’s anti-free trade protectionism and Paul Ryan’s free market philosophy, coupled with Trump’s personal dislike of Ryan, will lead to an anti-Ryan insurgency within the House. Ryan will be replaced by a Speaker whose political vision more closely aligns with Trump’s.
4. Due to his utter lack of political experience and erratic temperament, President Trump will be unable to deliver on the promises made to his base. Democrats will make notable gains in the 2018 mid-term elections, which will exacerbate tensions between traditional and Trumpian Republicans. The Republican Party will start to fissure and possibly split.
5. Trump’s presidency will be tarnished by scandals, as more information about his business dealings come to light, and due to his inability to manage the inherent conflict of interest between being President and operating real estate businesses and casinos.
6. Between 2016 and 2020 traditional American debates about the size and role of government will not feature in political discourse. In 2020 Democrats will abandon the political strategy dating back to Bill Clinton of running centrist campaigns. They will nominate a candidate to the left of both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who will win the Presidency.
Immigration presents us with a moral dilemma familiar in other circumstances: the challenge of weighing our particular obligations against our universal obligations to all human beings. We should think of ourselves as having special obligations toward our fellow countrymen and countrywomen, but there is a point at which the demands of universal charity outweigh special relationships. We can justify immigration restrictions and need not accept all comers if the pressures become more than we can bear without doing injustice toward those with a prior claim upon us. Yet the demands of universal charity also keep breaking in upon us, and we must recognize also the claims of those whose need is desperate.
George Marsden. C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography. Princeton University Press, 2016.
Reviewed by Gilbert Meilaender
A biography of a book may seem like a rather strange beast, but something like that is what Princeton University Press provides in its “Lives of Great Religious Books” series. With this offering written by the well known historian of religion, George Marsden, Mere Christianity takes its place in the series alongside books as different as Calvin’s Institutes, the book of Job, and the I Ching. Given the relatively brief “life” of Mere Christianity–compared, for instance, with the three examples I offered of other volumes in the Princeton series–Marsden prescinds from labeling the book a classic. But when one considers that it has been translated into at least thirty-six languages, and that in the last fifteen years alone it has sold over 3.5 million copies just in English, it is hard to deny that Mere Christianity merits inclusion in the series.
“The gravity of the crisis in France has long been hidden by what we like to call the construction of Europe. The energies of our political class have been devoted to buttressing the authority of an enterprise that delegitimizes the nation and promises a new way of bringing humans together. But these sweet hopes have become less and less plausible. Neither the institutions of Europe, nor the government of France, nor what is called civil society have enough strength or credibility to claim the attention or fix the hopes of citizens. As rich as we still are in material and intellectual resources, we are politically weak. Nothing seems to have the power to gather us toward the common action we all feel necessary. What to do about our diminished collective capacity is the great political question of Europe. Whether in relation to European unification or to Islam, it is clear that we have nothing pertinent to say if we refrain from making claims about European identity.”
Maidan Square (Photo by Claudia Himmelreich McClatchy)
Ukraine has been riven by civil strife. These are more than political events. They touch upon the most fundamental experiences of conscience and dignity. They reflect an awakening of civil society—and a reaction that seeks a return to state-dominated public life. The future of the country hangs in the balance. What is needed today, not only in Ukraine but in every post-Soviet country, is church leadership that is clear-minded about the perils of an excessively close relationship between Christian witness and state power. The single greatest imperative is to encourage and engage civil society.
If these are Trump’s supporters, we can begin to see that the strength of his support draws on something more than hatred and bigotry. Trump’s core constituency may have concluded, reasonably enough, that its fortunes are not likely to improve with either a Republican or Democratic President. Insofar as working class voters have deliberated about the candidates within the horizon of their own self-interest (and which political constituency doesn’t deliberate this way), why wouldn’t they vote for Trump?