*Remus Cernea - "Secular Humanism Comes to Romania" - articol in Free

Articolul "Secular Humanism Comes to Romania" a fost publicat in numarul pe
august / septembrie al revistei *Free Inquiry*, condusa de Paul Kurtz
(Center for Inquiry - http://www.centerforinquiry.net/ , al carui editorial
din acest numar poate fi citit aici:
http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=kurtz_28_5 )
si care are, printre editorialisti, nume importante precum Christopher
Hitchens ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w64rNs2mYUQ ), Richard Dawkins (
http://www.richarddawkins.net/ ), Arthur Kaplan (important bioetician
al carui articol din numarul curent poate fi citit aici:
http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=caplan_28_5 ).

Link-uri catre conferintele din Romania la care fac referire in articol sunt
aici http://www.humanism.ro/articles.php?page=62&article=239

*Remus Cernea*
 Secular Humanism Comes to Romania


The first speeches on secular humanism ever delivered in Romania were given
in Bucharest on May 5 and 7, 2008, by Paul Kurtz and Norm Allen from the
Center for Inquiry/Transnational and Stephen Law from CFI/London. The
lectures' importance is high: Romania is today a great battlefield, and at
stake is the struggle to defend freedom of thought, conscience, and religion
and the separation between church and state.

Paul Kurtz discussed the principles of secular humanism and what he referred
to as "planetary ethics," which is based on humanist ethics, scientific
knowledge, and reason. Kurtz noted that "[As secular humanists] we believe
in individual freedom and autonomy without church or state dictating to
individuals. . . . We emphasize intelligence, critical thinking, and the use
of reason in order to make one's choices. . . . The best guarantee against
tyranny is educated citizens. . . . A person needs some confidence in
himself or herself. . . . You do not have to believe in God to be a moral
person." Noble and reasonable as they may seem, such humanist principles are
far from being accepted on a broad scale by contemporary Romanians.

Norm Allen lectured twice on the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and
transgender/transsexual persons, as well as on homophobia. This topic is
especially controversial, as the Romanian Family Code was recently modified
to forbid same-sex marriages. Parliament justified this decision by
referring to the Bible.

Law's first speech concerned the existence of God. By standing the "problem
of evil" on its head in designing a "problem of good" argument, Law showed
that the chances that an all-powerful and completely benevolent God could
exist are slim. His second speech concerned religious schools and religious
education—in his 2006 book, *The War for Children's Minds*, Law argued in
favor of Liberal education (with a capital L), rejecting authoritarian

Let me give some background that will help explain why these talks were so
significant. Romania is a new member of NATO and the European Union, but it
is far from a completely functional democracy. It has the highest level of
corruption and poverty in the EU. The median income is only 350 euros per
month. According to the 2002 national census, fewer than 0.2 percent of
Romanians are nonbelievers; 87 percent of the population is Orthodox, and
almost 13 percent belongs to other Christian denominations. There is a very
small number of Jews and Muslims. While Romania is a secular state on paper,
it is quite the opposite in practice. The political parties are very closely
connected with the Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC). A December 2007 poll by
the Soros Foundation determined that only 18 percent of the Romanian
population expressed confidence in Parliament, compared with 84 percent who
expressed confidence in the churches. The churches are considered by law to
be "institutions of public interest" and are lavishly supported with public
money and properties. This is especially true of the ROC.

After the Romanian anticommunist revolution in 1989, an ideological vacuum
emerged that was soon replaced not by the values of a truly open society but
rather by populism, religious excess, and nationalism. More than three
thousand Orthodox churches began construction with strong support from the
public treasury; more than two thousand were completed. In addition, more
than one thousand "neo-Protestant" (Baptist, etc.) churches were built after
1989, most without state support. In many cities, public parks, monuments,
and green areas have been destroyed and replaced by Orthodox churches. At
the same time, Romania has far too few kindergartens and modern schools, and
its research sector suffers terribly from lack of funds.

The patriarchy of the ROC launched a project to erect a giant "Cathedral for
National Redemption" in one of the most beautiful parks in Bucharest. This
project enjoyed strong support from state authorities: it is perhaps the
only instance in the contemporary world when a national parliament passed a
law to support the building of a cathedral. Four years ago, Solidarity for
Freedom of Conscience, a Romanian secular humanist nongovernmental
organization (NGO) that I represent, launched a successful campaign to stop
the ROC from destroying the park and the mausoleum located there. The latter
is an important piece of architecture even though it served as a tomb for
communist leaders from the sixties. Eventually, church and political leaders
changed the desired location of the cathedral, but we have continued to
resist the idea of building this cathedral anywhere with state support and
have brought a new lawsuit.

Religion as practiced by more than a few Romanian orthodox priests—and
citizens!—seems analogous with a Dark Ages, mystical outlook. For instance,
there are still many reports of exorcism rituals in Orthodox churches.
People with mental disabilities or other "problems" are believed to be
possessed by the devil, and because of this are abused or even tortured in
various rites. Unfortunately, sometimes the victims die. Such a shocking
case took place in 2005 in the Orthodox Monastery of Tanacu, when a priest
conducted an exorcism that led to the death of a nun who had been crucified
because he believed that she was possessed by devils. He was sentenced to
jail for seven years.

People who support church-state separation would agree that public schools
should be neutral in matters of religion, but in Romania they are not. In
practice, most are essentially religious schools and experience profound
interference from the ROC. In more than 90 percent of Romanian public
schools, the school year begins with religious prayers and rituals. Religion
classes, of course, usually start with prayer, and icons hang on classroom
walls in more than 90 percent of Romanian public schools. The children are
officially registered to attend religious classes, and they will be pulled
out only if their parents demand it in writing; only about 8 percent of
children know that this right even exists. More than 95 percent of the
children attend religious classes. Most religion textbooks promote
intolerance toward other religions and denominations, and also toward
atheists. Orthodox textbooks teach an ethics largely based on fear—for
instance, first-grade textbooks include illustrated lessons suggesting that
God will punish you physically (perhaps you'll be hit by a car) if you are
not a good, religious child and you are doing "bad things."

In 2006, our NGO prepared a report on religion in Romanian public schools
with the support of the Institute for Humanist Studies. We continued this
analysis in 2007 as part of another project supported by the Dutch Embassy
in Bucharest and initiated by the Pro Europe League, a closely allied NGO.
Our conclusions generated extensive debate in the media concerning the abuse
of and discrimination against children, the presence of religious symbols in
classrooms, and the confessional manner in which religion is taught in
Romanian public schools. Emil Moise, a philosophy professor and the
president of our NGO, succeeded in November 2006 in obtaining a decision
from a state agency, the National Council for Combating Discrimination,
directing that religious icons be removed from public schools.
Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education refused to carry it out. Another
lawsuit is pending on this issue.

During the twelve years of public schooling, confessional religious classes
exclusively familiarize students with the literal biblical worldview,
including teaching that God created the world in seven days, woman was
created out of one of Adam's ribs, vegetation was created on the third day
and the sun on the fourth, and so on. Religion textbooks present the theory
of evolution as an error of modern science. According to one recent study
commissioned by the government, only 14 percent of Romanian seventh- to
twelfth-graders regard evolution as a correct theory. The situation has
worsened since December 2006, when the Ministry of Education completely
removed evolution from biology curricula; previously it had been studied in
the eleventh or twelfth grade. The Ministry also removed from the former
philosophy curriculum a chapter titled "God," which offered young men and
women the opportunity to study religiously inspired philosophical views
(such as those of Pascal or Thomas Aquinas) as well as critical perspectives
on religion, including those of Voltaire, Epicurus, Nietzsche, and Camus. We
have started an international campaign to return the theory of evolution and
philosophical approaches toward religion to high-school curricula.

The 2006 law on religious freedom restricts freedom of speech and criticism
of religion, for example stating in Article 13 (2) that "Any form, means,
act or action of religious defamation and enmity, as well as any public
offence against religious symbols, shall be prohibited in Romania." We will
soon launch yet another lawsuit against this law.

We recently initiated a lawsuit against the Romanian national radio station,
which begins its programs every morning with the "Pater Noster" (the Lord's

After more than three centuries of challenges to dogma and critical debate,
Western churches have accepted the principles of a secular state. But in
Eastern Europe, especially in Romania, the situation is very different. We
have never had a real debate on secularism; even now this debate is just
beginning. The ROC is still far from a stance of tolerance and respectful
dialogue. For instance, its official pronouncements remain pugnacious toward
secularists, who are described as "frustrated people," "enemy forces against
The Orthodox Church," and "promoters of occult goals."

This is only a brief introduction to some of the main issues regarding
secularism in Romania. As you can imagine, these first speeches by CFI
representatives were an intellectual "breath of fresh air" for many who
attended. The secular humanist approach is almost completely absent from
Romanian public discourse.

The lectures on secular humanism were organized by the Romanian branch of
CFI/Transnational, *Fundatia pentru Constiinta Critica* (CCC), recently
founded in Bucharest. The organizers of these events included Beth
Ciesielski, Ancuta Becherescu, Liviu Andreescu, Cristi Lascu, Liviu
Dragomirescu, and Gabriel Andreescu.

*Remus Cernea is executive director of Solidarity for Freedom of Conscience
( www.humanism.ro ), an associate member of the International Humanist and
Ethical Union.*

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]


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