For its wealth of religious monuments, it’s known as “the City of a Hundred Spires”.
But most of the churches in Prague are now just tourist attractions.
Driving the news
The reason the Czech Republic and its capital are some of the least religious places in Europe dates back to the 15th century.
In 1415, Jan Hus, a precursor of the later Protestant Reformation, was burned at the stake for heresy.
The Hussites gained so much traction among Czechs that by the end of the 15th century the majority of the population had turned away from Catholicism.
After the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), the Catholic Austro-Hungarian Empire forcibly re-Catholicised Bohemia, leading to the impression, still around today, that the Catholic Church is a foreign import.
Even independence in 1918 couldn’t undo centuries of Protestant persecution, and Czechs, in their millions, continued to drift away from the Church.
41 years of Communist rule then all but extinguished the little faith that was left.
Tennessee Journalist spoke to some Czechs who continue to practise Christianity today.
One, Robert Muller, said “a lot of churches are quite small. There are only about 100 people at church every Sunday”.
This Catholic explained that the small numbers are due to memories of the Communist dictatorship.
“The Czechs were controlled for over 40 years. Historically, the citizens want to individualists”.
Eva Perzilkova added that, for her, the reason for Czechs’ reluctance to go to Church has to do with their lack of trust.
“It takes Czechs some time to open up to people. The same goes with religion. They are sceptical to put their trust in a higher power”.
Between the lines
But just because Czechs don’t practise organised Christianity, that doesn’t mean they don’t believe in anything.
On the contrary: although 72% of Czech describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular”, 65% believe in ideas such as the existence of the soul, fate or miracles.
It’s for that reason that Perzilkova describes Czechs as not religious, but spiritual.
“Officially being a part of something is a big thing”, Perzilkova said.
“So a lot of people are spiritual. They search about religions and could quite possibly believe in a God, they just do not practice it”.
Why it matters
The low Christian presence in the Czech Republic has made the country fertile ground for evangelical missionaries, who attempt to spread the faith with English language courses, among other lures, as Tennessee Journalist found out.
Their success will depend not only on their response to Czechs’ spiritual-but-not-religious quest, but also on the way they address the reasons for Czechs’ dissatisfaction with the Churches.
Though 51% of Czechs agree that “religious institutions play an important role in helping the poor and needy”, 55% say those same institutions are too focused on money and power (55%) and too involved with politics (42%).
Those figures explain why the vast majority of Czechs support legal abortion (84%) and same-sex marriage (65%).
They also explain why 29% of Czechs who were raised in a faith (largely Catholicism) now say they are unaffiliated, and why 79% of Czech parents say they are raising their children without a faith.
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