Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Why Eastern Europe needs the Gospel

Some years ago when we were living in Hungary I came across a study that surveyed people from every major region of the world to assess how happy or unhappy they were with life. Eastern Europe turned out to be the region with the unhappiest people in the entire world. That's not a surprise for those of us who have lived in that part of the world and are familiar with its history and culture. It wasn't that long ago that Hungary, for example, had the highest per capita rate of suicide in the world. While things have improved somewhat in that regard, Hungary still ranks 5th or 6th in the world for suicide these days.

Today, however, I came across this video by Reuters on a study of the unhappiest nations in Europe. Out of 19 European nations, only Russia and Bulgaria were ranked as being more unhappy than Hungarians.

But what makes Hungarians so unhappy? Is it their economy? While it's true that Hungary's economy has struggled in recent years, even drawing comparisons last week to Iceland (which was on the verge of bankruptcy until the IMF stepped in), I don't think that's the reason. After all, there are places which are much poorer than Hungary but where people are much happier. My first ever missions experience was in the Philippines. I visited many very poor people there, but in general I noticed that their level of happiness seemed to be higher than in North America. If suicide rates are any indicator Filipinos, with one of the lowest suicide rates in the world, are happier than North Americans. Why?

In my non-expert, unprofessional opinion, it's because relationships are so important to Filipinos. The family unit is still largely intact, and is of central importance to the Filipino culture and way of life. Latin Americans also have much lower rates of suicide than North Americans, yet these are generally nations which are much, much poorer than North America and Western Europe, and even poorer than the perennially depressed Eastern Europeans. But relationships in Hungary are fractured. The family unit is broken and fragmented. Even today the cultural decimation caused by decades of communist rule is still evident. The book by James Michener, The Bridge at Andau, gave a shocking portrait of life in Hungary under communism. People couldn't trust their next-door neighbor, and life was ruled by fear of the government. And while Hungary became a free country in 1991, the fragmented culture never fully healed. My own experience with Hungarian families is that the only healthy ones are ones where the whole family is committed to Christ. It's a rare thing in Hungary to be sure. Many Hungarians call themselves Christians (as do many Americans), but have not experienced the healing and reconciling power of the Gospel in their lives.

Eastern Europe doesn't need more religion, but it does need the Gospel.


Zsófi said...

Hey John,

although I was not born in the darkest times of communism, my parents told me a lot of things about the beginning of the era. They told me how religious people had to hide their views, how dangerous it was to go to church. Communists had atheism on their flag and many people neglected their faith, their religion just to stay alive. (E.g. if you were a teacher, you could not go to the local church because somebody surely reported you. Only a few looked for a farther church to go.) Slowly but for long enough God's name was forbidden, forgotten and everybody can see the result now. Not too many people had the courage and persistence to be true to their faith in those times. And young people grew up, had children and there was no Christian tradition in families any more. That is partly why the younger generations in our country do not have a solid foundation.

John Fraser said...


Thanks for your comment. As a Hungarian you understand the effects of having talk of God or worship of God forcibly removed from public life. As you know, the results are devastating on culture and society. It also takes a long time to rebuild the foundation that has completely disintegrated.

It's sad to see that modern secular society in the West seems bent on emulating the failed ideas of atheistic communism. Talk of God is being removed from the public square more and more. The results won't be any better here than they were over there.

Thanks again for your insight.

Anonymous said...

Eastern Europe does NOT need any more lies and deception (which is what religion is). We just need arrogant westerners, who think they have answers to all questions, to leave us alone. Americans did not invent religion, so they don't need to go around and pretend like they're teaching us something we didn't already know.

John Fraser said...


I'm happy to say that not all Eastern Europeans feel the way you do. But it's a little silly to pretend that only Americans do missions, or only Christians. Multiculturalism is something that you're going to be stuck with, like or not unless you want to go back to the days of the Iron Curtain. But I don't think that's going to happen.

Your comment is quite strange - on the one hand you say all religion is deception and on the other you say Americans didn't invent it so "they don't need to go around and pretend like they're teaching us something we didn't already know." Well, if you already know it then what do you care if Americans come and tell you about it? I'm afraid your little rant just sounds like anti-American prejudice.

About me

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My ministry in Hungary involved teaching theology and training Hungarian church planters. I have a great interest in apologetics as well as missions.