Czechia: An Atheist’s Heaven

The Czech Republic has often been crowned the most atheistic country in Europe, sometimes even the world. Is it so that all Czechs are non-believers, or is it a bit more complicated?

Jesus Christ with open arms statue in front of Pilgrimage Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and St. Cyril and Methodius at Velehrad Monastery, Moravia, Czech Republic
Jesus Christ with open arms statue in front of Pilgrimage Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and St. Cyril and Methodius at Velehrad Monastery, Moravia, Czech Republic. Photo: iStock.com / josefkubes

The Czechs are considered a virtually secular nation. Compared to neighboring countries, fewer people adhere to traditional religions. Moreover, there is a great distrust of conventional religious institutions, i.e., churches, which are directly associated with faith and religion. This state of things may say something about the national character. A significant factor involved in this secularity is the nation’s historical experience.

Czechia: Catholic, Protestant, or Atheist?

First, de facto imposed Catholicism for many directly linked to the hated Habsburg Monarchy during the difficult period of recatholization after the Hussite Wars in the 15th Century. This often violent enforcement of Catholicism by the Habsburg Monarchy officials lasted until the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. Then the liberalism of the First Czechoslovak Republic (1918-1938) and the search for a “new religion” that wouldn’t connect the newly born Republic with the old monarchy the same way Catholicism did. The people were finally free and did not want to be bound by anyone or anything to the past 400 years of subjugation.

Next came the misfortunes of the “de facto” clerofascist Second Czechoslovak Republic (1938-1939), which emerged as a quasi-puppet government of Nazi Germany after the Munich Agreement of September 1938 and lasted a few months until the full occupation of Czechia by the Germans in March 1939. Extreme nationalists and radical Catholics took over state affairs, abolished parliament, imposed harsh censorship, and enacted strict anti-Semitic laws. After the occupation of Czechia in March 1939, the Second Republic ended, and a puppet clerofascist Slovak State was created in Slovakia, led by a Catholic priest Josef Tiso.

The following horrors of the Second World War also did not help the spiritual renewal of the Czech nation. Ultimately, all that was topped off by communist repression, anti-religious propaganda, and the absolute banishment of the church from social life. The result is precisely the religious lukewarmness and indifference of the Czech nation.

This is also why the Czech Republic is globally regarded as a missionary destination. That is why missionaries from all over the world (mainly from the USA) are flooding there, trying to awaken the tiny European nation spiritually.

God and stats

According to a 2018 survey conducted by STEM, a renowned public opinion agency, a quarter of the adult population of the Czech Republic (25%) identify themselves as religious. A third of citizens (35%) say they are not religious, and almost a third (31%) consider themselves atheists. A tenth (9%) avoid making a clear statement by choosing the option “undecided.”

Comparisons with past STEM surveys show a relatively stable proportion of people who identify themselves as religious. Over time, there is a slight decrease in the proportion of people stating that they are not religious and an increase in the proportion saying that they are atheists.

Official data from the Czech Statistical Office confirm this trend. In the published results of the 2021 Census, the Czech Statistical Office stated that 18.7 % of those who answered the question about religious affiliation declared that they were believers and belonged to a church or religious society. Another 13 % of those who responded proclaimed that they were believers not belonging to any specified organized Church. However, by far, the most common response was “no religious belief” – encompassing more than two-thirds (68.3%) of the given responses, over 5 million people in exact numbers.” Completing the question on religious belief was voluntary, with 30.1% of the population (over 3 million) leaving it blank.

Faith in something greater

Despite a low number of “official believers,” the trend shows a rising share of “believers in something Greater.” The prominent Czech Catholic priest and philosopher Tomáš Halík uses the term “somethingism” for this belief in “something greater.” These people believe in “something” but don’t want to articulate it institutionally. This is consistent with the general assumption that there is skepticism about organized churches in Czechia.

Again, data backs this. STEM agency included one question in their survey to determine the opinion on the existence of transcendental (supernatural) power: something. A slight majority (55 %) of Czechs believe that there is something that transcends us, something bigger and greater than us. This trend is again backed by the official data from the Czech Statistical Office and the 2021 Census results. Out of a population of 10.5 million, 976,853 people claimed to be Roman Catholic (the biggest group of all), and over 115,000 people claimed to be a member of Protestant churches. Over 50,000 people said that they were Hussites. By comparison, 960,000 people said they were religious while not belonging to a church, religious society, or movement. Something Greater has a strong foothold in the Czech Republic.

The Czech census allows you to write your answer for some categories. Religion is one of the categories that offer this. So, 21,000 people claim to be members of the Jedi religion from Star Wars. There are also 3,000 Pastafarians believing in a Giant Space Spaghetti Monster and 3,000 Pagans.

You can plant where nothing grows

All that remains is to ask the fundamental question. Is the Czech Republic a doomed nation, or does it still have a chance for enlightenment? The evangelical pastor Stanislav Karásek answered this simply in an interview: “Our country is said to be the most atheistic in Europe. I think that this is not the case. Yesterday was Sunday, and the church was packed. No questionnaire can tell you anything about God. Concerning the relationship with God, I have a comparison. I was a pastor in Switzerland for 15 years. In Czechia are more “God-seekers,” people who educate themselves, read, and think about these things but do not wish to be members of a church. They just don’t want to talk about their faith. It is just between them and God.”

Marek Koten

A Ph.D. student in economics, specializing in nuclear energy from the Czech Republic, he also serves as a political consultant to the Czech government and the U.S. Republican Party.

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