Czech atheists remain religious
From Daniel Raus and Hanka Rausova’s presentation to The Media Project's Course on Religion & Politics
Czechs are among Europe’s most ardent atheists, yet Czech fortune tellers and psychics earn more money than trained psychologists, said Daniel Raus, a senior reporter for Cesky rozhlas, Czech national radio.
Though they might not admit it, Czechs are actually quite religious, Raus argued. They simply reject certain expressions of religion that have historically held sway.
The result is a nation of the most superstitious atheists in central Europe. Recent studies found that fully 50% of Czechs are “very superstitious”. No other nation in the region had even a third of its population in this category. Austria, Germany and Switzerland were closest, with 32%, 30% and 23% respectively.
“Philosophically speaking, we can say that the Czechs are a unique and very modern example of the old G. K. Chesterton adage: ‘When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing – they believe in anything,’” Raus observed.
One thing Czechs are not so quick to believe in, however, is politics. Political activity and affiliations in the Czech Republic are very low, Raus noted. This is remarkable in light of the social and political upheaval the country has gone through since the fall of communism.
Raus suggests that low involvement in politics results from Czechs’ suspicions about their leaders. He argued that these paralyzing political and religious suspicions are in fact two sides of the same Czech cultural coin: a fear of social mobilization.
“The Czech mentality is not to get too involved, especially in organized initiatives,” Raus revealed. “If you get too involved, you get burned. The Czechs want to be independent, they want to have their own view of everything and tend to be very individualistic.”
Czech media capitalize on this attitude with tabloid-style content, according to Raus. Nudity is common on the front pages of print media. If readers bother to look inside, they are likely to encounter reports about religious and political scandal. The most successful private television company, Nova, has taken this approach as well with the “Red News”, which is famous for its female reporters reading the news while removing their clothing.
The frivolous nature of Czech news is one of the inheritances of communism, Raus added. Many journalists working today were trained under communism, which punished independence and rewarded submission. This created modern media that are politically passive and susceptible to the Czech Republic’s pervasive corruption.
In spite of the shortcomings, Raus remains hopeful about Czech media, especially his field of radio. He says that Czech media are more stable than media in other post-communist societies. Raus has also earned great liberties to bring a serious perspective on religion to Czech national radio, a top-rated network. Greater reporting opportunities have allowed him to paint a richer picture of faith, a task he takes up gladly.
“Christians here have to start persuading people that faith is more than an official Church structure and institution,” Raus said. “The good sign is that most of the Christian activities that go beyond the Church walls earn a lot of respect.”
Christians in the media can do more good than ever before, Raus says, but only if they master the craft of journalism. With an abundance of suspicion aimed at organized religion and with a lack of outlets for reporting on religion, preparation and excellence become paramount for the next generation of Christian reporters.
Raus says his biggest problem is not his budget or resistance from his supervisors. It’s the lack of Christians equipped to flourish in the media spotlight.
“Years ago we used to pray for Christians in the media,” Raus concluded, “Today we pray for Christian professionals in the media.”
By Richard Potts, The Media Project