From cradle to coffin, the church owns you
Earlier this year an atheist conference took place in Warsaw. Many visitors from all over the World had a chance to present their personal experiences and discuss problems regarding free speech and the interference of religion in education and medical research.
While in Poland, some of the visitors had a chance to personally experience the overwhelming presence of the Church. What struck them most was the sheer number of churches, religion relics, crucifixes, paintings, and sculptures.
They were also confronted by protesters who vented their anger against the non-believers in their midst.
To understand their outrage, and the reasons why people living in Poland have little chance of getting away from the Church, we need to examine the sheer power of the Church derived from both the strength of of faith in Catholicism and political support for its machinations.
The political aspect is best typified by the reverance the country has for John Paul II, the first Polish Pope. His battle against communism was renowned and the political transformation of Poland in the early 199os will always be partially attributed to his actions.
He is not only revered as a Pope but as a true Polish hero who helped eradicate Polish communism. Many streets, schools, hospitals, churches and public places are named after him. His pictures hang in many houses and his cult status is still growing, boosted by that fact that became officially canonised last year.
You cannot pray to a human, but now you can pray to John Paul II as he is a new saint.
Another aspect of living in Poland is the yearly visit of the priest in your household. He will ask questions and write down information about you and your family.
Who is currently living with you? Are you working? How is life generally treating you? After a quick prayer and few drops of holy water you will then make a donation accordingly to how much you can afford. This also will be written down.
If you think being a Christian in Poland will leave you much time to freely enjoy your life, think again. Life is lived under constant surveillance by the Church, one’s families and friends – and indeed the entire community.
Take, for example, pregnancy time. Family members – especially of the older generation – will remind your parents how important it is to choose a biblical name. In Poland every day has assigned to it a list of names of saints to celebrate. In fact, it is more important for you to celebrate your named saint day than your birthday.
When you are born you are not regarded as part of the Christian community. You enter this world with “Original Sin, and if you die at this stage you will go straight into Hell. Fortunately, every Christian has a power to perform an emergency baptism and priests are also readily available in hospitals should you need them.
Baptism ceremonies open the door to heaven. Everyone within the family will constantly ask your parents when it will happen. Until then everyone remains concerned about your life and soul.
Between the ages of one and five you will learn how you should pray every day as well as perform the sign of cross with your right hand. You will also be told there is nothing else in this world except good and evil. Sunday worship ceremonies will not yet be for you, as others don’t want to be disturbed by your behaviour.
Special editions of holy books for children will be read to you as a bedtime stories, and you will learn about the Earth’s creation in seven days and other amazing things about the world you will grow up in.
Weekly lessons are added to your school’s schedule when you are aged between six and seven. If your parents didn’t teach you how to pray correctly then this is a chance for a priest to tell you how to do it properly and how often. You will learn about Jesus and the Bible.
Songs written specially for children also will also feature in your religion lessons.
On reaching eight, you will be kept really busy in order to gain a second sacrament called communion. During the whole school year your religious lessons will concentrate on the Church’s rules you will have follow in later life.
There is no exam as your teacher – a priest – will assess you during the lessons. Constantly repeated Church laws will be memorised by you, and remain implanted in your brain for the rest of your life.
However, there is bright side to the whole experience. You will spend most of the time chatting with your friends about the communion presents you hope to receive from your relatives.
Most popular choices are things like iPads, laptops, game consoles, pushbikes and jewellery. Parents and other family members will keep abreast of modern trends via the media that helps them decide what’s best for you this year.
During communion ceremonies for kids aged between nine and 14, you gain two important rights. First, you can now be fully engaged in Sunday services where the bread will change into Jesus’s flesh which you will gladly take into your mouth.
The second most important aspect for this age group is confession. If you behaved badly or had any sexual thoughts you will be encouraged to share them with a stranger in your church. Something you would not even tell your parents or friends will be discussed with God’s earthly envoy, the priest.
You will be asked to do this at least one a month in order to stay pure, and after every confession you will be given a list of prayers and instructions you will have to follow to cleanse your soul from sin.
Don’t worry, your parents and family, who spent more money than you could dream of on your communion, will keep a close eye on you, to make sure that do not miss any Sunday services or confessions.
No marriage can take a place without a third sacrament, confirmation. You will have to remind yourself of all the Church’s rules and you will be given list of ceremonies you cannot miss, plus a separate list of confessions you have to perform during the whole year.
There is no escape from this as each one has to attested to by your priest. Only this will guarantee you a confirmation place, at which point you can choose an additional unofficial third name.
Polish society frowns on young people living together outside the sacrament of marriage, so weddings in Poland are a Big Deal; the biggest ceremony you can organise or attend. They can be monumentally expensive and last for days.
Before your wedding can take place you will need to attend lessons specially created for young couples. You will be told how you should live once you become married, as well why you should not use condoms or any other contraception. Without argument, you just have listen and confirm that you understand what is being said to you.
The whole cycle begins again when you have your first child. Under a pressure from your family, friends and community you will repeat the same rituals you had to endure.
As you grow older, you will have more time in your hands, but very little freedom unless you have managed to break free of the Church. So your days will be filled watching a religious television channel, TV Trwam, or listening to Radio Maryja.
You can also attend church services every day. Priests will welcome you and your donations, and happily provide practical advice on how to keep your kids and grandchildren focused on the faith. You might also visit hospitals more often, but even there there will be priests who with make the sign of the cross on your forehead and, of course, accept a donation.
Death will be the final step for you, but not be for your family. Your funeral may come at a price if the local priest decides that you had fallen by the wayside and refuses to conduct your burial on church grounds.
But your relatives will say anything and pay any price for a proper Catholic funeral.
They will also be obligated to pay for your name be listed on Sunday’s worship prays. No one will be allowed to forget about you for rest of their lives. Every year the list will be renewed for an additional fee.
This Christian pattern of interfering with people’s lives has been carefully planned to protect to protect the Church and its traditions, and makes as nonsense of the notion of free will. There is no easy exit and it will take generations to create a new pattern of life for Polish people.