Europe is the stronghold of Christianity. Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox and Protestantism all evolved from Christianity. The culture, festivals and customs of Europeans, and even the formation of certain ethnic groups and the boundaries of the country, are deeply influenced by religion.
For Europeans in the Middle Ages, religious beliefs were as indispensable as air and water. To this day, religion still affects all aspects of European life, such as naming, marriage, etc. The proportion of religious believers in some countries is as high as 90%.
However, according to various surveys, the Czech Republic is the least religious country in Europe. Nearly 80% of Czechs claim to be atheists. Why are Czechs not religious?
The Czechs belonged to the West Slavs, the one who ran the farthest westward during the great migration of the Slavic nation. They moved into the Bohemian Plateau, which is surrounded by mountains on three sides, and the land is fertile and densely covered with hills, which is very suitable for farming, so they settled here.
However, it belonged to the Frankish kingdom established by the Germans, who called the land on the edge of the empire "Bohemia." Although the Czechs were large in number, they were still in a backward clan society and were soon conquered by the Germans.
It was not until 867 that the Czechs established their own dynasty, the Pshemes Dynasty. The king inherited the blood of Czech peasants and Germanic nobles, and belonged to the Frankish kingdom. This dynasty is therefore regarded as the birthplace of the Czech nation.
At this time, the Frankish kingdom split into three parts, and Germany and Austria belonged to the East Frankish kingdom. The Czech Republic happens to be between these two parts, and it is also the border zone between the Germans and the Slavs. The geographical location is very important and it is more convenient for the rule of the two main Germanic parts.
Although the Czech Republic is the only country in the empire dominated by Slavs, the East Franconian Kingdom and the successor Holy Roman Empire still attach great importance to the rule of the Czech region. Prague once became the capital of the empire and the center of culture and religion.
The Czech king was not only one of the electors, but was also elected as the imperial emperor. For most of the time, the Czech king had a very close relationship with the emperor, and his political status was actually higher than that of the general German state.
In addition to political and economic means, the Germans also strengthened their religious control over the Czechs and required them to believe in Christianity. The Czechs, like other Slavic peoples, initially believed in their own polytheism.
In 1054, due to doctrinal differences and language barriers, Christianity split into the Catholic Church represented by Rome and the Orthodox Church represented by Byzantium. Eastern Slavs and Yugoslavs chose the Orthodox Church. The Western Slavs included Poland and the Czech Republic. Under the influence or persecution of the Germans, they believed in Roman Catholicism and parted ways with the Slav brothers.
Medieval Europe was immersed in religious enthusiasm. Religion ruled people's thoughts and guided almost all behaviors from life to death. From the imperial king to the farmer, they are all ready to dedicate themselves to the faith. Within the Holy Roman Empire, the real power and influence of the Holy See surpassed the emperor.
This empire is not a top-down centralized state, and it is reluctant to even call it an "empire". It is more like a loose alliance of many political entities. Each state within the empire has independent diplomatic power and armies. There is no need to pay taxes to the empire, just surrender to the emperor in name.
In addition to having a large number of direct territories throughout the empire, the Holy See also controls the coronation of emperors and princes. Without the approval of the Holy See, they cannot become legal emperors and kings. In order to please the Holy See, the princes must provide a large amount of money every year.
During this period, the Holy Roman Empire was called the "Pope’s Cow", and huge wealth continued to flow to the Holy See. Of course, these wealth will not come from the German lords' own pockets, but they are all raided from the bottom Czechs.
At the same time, a large number of Germans immigrated to the Czech region, and with the encouragement and support of the lords, they seized the most fertile land in the Czech Republic, turned the Czechs into their own tenant farmers, and stepped up their exploitation. According to estimates, more than two-thirds of the Czech Republic's land was owned by the Germans.
On the other hand, Czech merchants and farmers have to pay various taxes to the Czech church. The Czech church is dominated by Germans in middle and high-level positions. Czechs can only hold grass-roots teaching positions, but they have great influence on the people.
Under this endless double squeeze, Czech religious figures represented by Jan Hus finally put forward a request for religious reform to the Holy See and the Czech church in 1415, allowing the Czech Bible to preach in the Czech region. Criticize the church for using "indulgences" to consolidate money.
This is the first time in European history to challenge the authority of the Holy See. It was more than a hundred years before Martin Luther. Before that, no one had dared to question the Holy See publicly. The Czechs also paid a huge price for this.
This reform request was regarded as heresy by the Holy See, and Jan Hus was trapped and executed by fire, which aroused the anger of the Czech people. From the nobles to the common people, they have expressed their break with the Holy See and established another school. They are called Hussites.
During the confrontation with the Holy See, the Hussites launched a series of riots, attacking Catholic facilities and related figures representing the Holy See. The emperor and the Holy See immediately used force to suppress the Hussites and their troops. Unexpectedly, the Hussite army faced the Catholic army from more than half of Europe and won repeatedly. They persisted for 14 years before being suppressed because of the Hussite infighting.
Even so, the Holy See still had to make a compromise and allowed to retain part of the religious rights advocated by the Hussites in the main regions of the Czech Republic. This was the first time in the history of the Holy See. The Czechs retained some of the fruits of the victory of the Reformation.
More importantly, the Hussite War greatly enhanced the national identity and pride of the Czech people, and the rights of the king and the church were severely weakened. The Catholic army regarded the Hussites as infidels and wanted to kill and insult them, making the Czechs hate the Catholic Church.
This war showed the Czech people’s persistence in their faith. While they believed in Catholicism, they dared to challenge the mistakes of the Holy See and defend their ideals with their lives. It can be said that the Czechs no longer blindly worshiped authority after the Hussite War, and began to look at the world with their own eyes.
About a century later, the corruption and rigidity of the Holy See finally aroused more people's opposition. Under the call of Martin Luther, the German region of the Holy Roman Empire also raised the voice of religious reform. The main result of this religious reform was the split of Protestantism from the Catholic Church. Protestantism preached that everyone can talk to God without going through the Holy See.
The idea of Protestantism is more advanced than that of the Hussites and can completely get rid of the oppression of the Catholic Church, so the Czechs responded very positively. Historians believe that by the beginning of the 17th century, most Czechs had become Protestants.
Not only that, in the German region, which was deeply squeezed by the Holy See, there were also many princes who accepted Protestantism, forming a powerful force and possessing the strength to fight against the princes of the Catholic Church. But at this time, the Czech throne fell into the hands of the Catholic Habsburg family.
Habsburg is an ancient Germanic family that originated in Switzerland. It was elected as the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1273 and obtained the hereditary throne of Austria. In 1526, Ferdinand I of Habsburg became king of the Czech Republic due to his marriage.
In order to make the Habsburg family the hereditary king of the Czech Republic, Ferdinand I vigorously strengthened the royal power and weakened the local power. Moreover, he only allowed the spread of Catholicism in the Czech Republic. Protestants must change their beliefs.
The conflict between Catholics and Protestants has never been interrupted, and reached its climax in 1618. The citizens of Prague revolted against the Holy See in public. Habsburg sent troops to suppress it, igniting a new religious war.
The Czechs are not alone this time. The Protestant princes of Germany all expressed their support for the Czech Protestants, and the Catholic princes of Germany sided with Habsburg, making the war ignited by the Czech Republic quickly become German. civil war.
Immediately afterwards, Protestant Britain and Sweden, Catholic Poland, and Orthodox Russia were all involved in the war. However, religion is not the only criterion for distinguishing the enemy from ourselves. France is a Catholic country, but it has joined the Protestant Union. Because the French did not want to see Germany's unification, the dominant Habsburgs and Catholic princes became the targets of the French.
The scale and duration of this war far exceeded the Hussite War, and it can be said to be a European war. Religious conflicts and geopolitical interests are intertwined, and the war lasted for thirty years, so it was called the "Thirty Years War."
As the German region was the main battlefield, it was extremely severely damaged. According to post-war statistics, the adult male death rate in some parts of Germany reached more than 60%, and the Czech Republic also exceeded 30%. Both towns and villages have been devastated.
As a result of the war, Habsburg recognized the equal status of Catholicism and Protestantism, and lost a lot of territory and compensation. The power of Habsburg has since been restricted to regions such as Austria and the Czech Republic, and the Holy Roman Empire exists in name only.
The Czech Republic was the fuse of the Thirty Years' War and one of the countries that suffered the most. Although Protestantism finally achieved equal status, the brutal war caused a sharp decline in the population of the Czech Republic, and the number of Protestants was greatly reduced.
The surviving Czechs began to reflect that the two religious wars won their freedom of belief, but why did they pay such a heavy price? Are these wars really worth it? The Czechs became pessimistic about religion.
Due to the repeated seesaw of the war, both Protestants and Catholics will be persecuted and killed by the other side, and there is almost no safe place. Therefore, many Czechs are no longer willing to disclose their religious beliefs, just to survive in troubled times.
In the next 100 years, Habsburg was inconvenient to carry out religious persecution of the Czechs, so it intensified its economic search. 70% of the annual income of Czech farmers had to be handed over to the landlord and the country, and life became increasingly difficult. , A slight natural disaster is a large-scale famine.
The hatred of the Czechs towards Habsburg is deepening. Catholicism is also regarded as a symbol of Habsburg’s oppression of their own nation. It is disgusted by the Czechs and mainly exists among the Germans from Austria.
In this way, the Czechs, who pioneered the religious reform and experienced two religious wars, became the least religious country in Europe. Most people who are willing to dedicate their lives to religion have already given their lives for the faith. For ordinary people who just want to survive, it may be the right choice to stay away from religious fanaticism.
In 1806, under the attack of Napoleon, the Holy Roman Empire disintegrated, and Habsburg retained only Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and other regions and became the Austrian Empire. In 1867, in order to appease Hungary, which was striving for independence, the Austrian Empire transformed into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the Prussian-Prussian War that broke out in 1866, Austria was defeated by Prussia and would never interfere in German affairs.
When Habsburg was busy with foreign affairs, the Czechs were immersed in the economy. Because most of the land was occupied by Germanic nobles, coupled with their indifference to religion, the Czechs were more receptive to ideological enlightenment and advanced science and technology, and developed industries were established early. In the mid-19th century, the industrial level of the Czech Republic had surpassed that of Austria.
At the end of the First World War in 1918, the Czechs took advantage of the defeat and collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to become independent with Slovakia, a brother nation under Hungarian rule, and established a republic. There are more than 7 million Czechs and more than 2 million Slovaks. Since the Czech Republic was ruled by Germans for thousands of years, there are more than 3 million Germanic immigrants and descendants in its territory.
After World War II, most Germans moved or were driven out of the Czech Republic. In 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia broke up peacefully. The Czech Republic has finally become a country with a relatively single ethnic composition, and the proportion of people who are not religious has become clear.
From the perspective of European history, the two large-scale religious wars started in the Czech Republic, and there is probably no nation that is more brave to fight for religious beliefs than the Czechs. Due to special historical reasons, the Czech Republic still retains many European churches and buildings in ancient and medieval styles.
But on the spiritual level, the Czechs are no longer interested in religion, leaving only these gorgeous buildings as if to tell the glory and history of blood and tears of the Czechs.
Graduate of London School of Economics and Political Science | Chief Editor of Global Intelligence Officer