Thursday, May 28, 2009

Where I'm Getting Religiously Tolerant in Poland

Poland is a very interesting country. But not as interesting as some western media would like you to believe. In many ways, Poland is a perfectly ordinary place full of perfectly ordinary people who do plenty of perfectly ordinary things, and by that I don't mean stealing cars in Germany. They go to work on most days, but not on weekends, and go to church on most days too, including weekends.

Yes, that church bit… If you believe what you hear in the West, Poland is a very religious country. And not just any religious country, but a Christian country, and not just any old Christian, but Catholic, of the Roman persuasion. Just like the pope, and incidentally, it just so happens that the previous pope was actually Polish. Needless, to say, the good people of Poland are very proud of this fact and worship JPII accordingly.

You might have heard that there are statues of JPII on every corner (not true, if anything, it's more like every third intersection, or so) and massive churches everywhere (again, not true, the churches are massive, but there’s also plenty of small ones, and not everywhere, because there is a stretch of road between Gdansk and Kartuzy with no church for about 20 kms) and religion lessons in schools and prayers and all that (no opinion here, since I tend to avoid schools and prayers in general). And oh yeah, the rumors that the country is actually run by some crazy priest who rides around in a Bentley (again not true, he has a Maybach and a helicopter).

Add to that the supposed rabid anti-semitism and stories of Poles who during WW2 almost joyously assisted the Nazis in pitchforking their Jewish neighbors, and the image of Poland is closer to that of a catholic theocracy gone mad than of a perfectly ordinary European country. It's the “Iran” of Europe where there’s no religious tolerance or freedom and where even thinking of the Koran or Torah can get you burned at the stake by the mohair berets.

Well, after weeks of extensive research, I’m pleased to say that this is all utter rubbish. There’s more religious tolerance in Poland than in all Bible-belt states combined. The problem might be that this tolerance in Poland is really subtle, and the statues of JPII are not.

In general, people here don’t seem to be paying that much attention to the holy books you read, as long as you read something. Even “The Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” would do, it’s even appropriately Bible-like massive and heavy.

And when it comes to religious texts from other non-Christian denominations, they’re also readily available.

Koran torah kiosk


This is not a fancy bookstore, but a street kiosk where you can buy pretty much anything you might suddenly require, from bus tickets and cigarettes to the Incredible Hulk action figures and sanitary pads. And yes, even a copy of the Koran. Or the Torah. Your choice. There was also a stack of illustrated Bibles tucked discreetly in one corner.

The next day I went by and there was no more Torah. The kiosk lady said someone bought it, and added that the Torah was a popular selling item. And the Koran? She waved her hand. Asked if she read either of them, she replied “Jesusmaryandjoseph woman, I haven’t even read the Bible, all this religion stuff printed in such small print, who has the eyes to read it? And besides, I saw the movie, that DaVinci fella got it right, I tell you. You want religion, you watch that movie.”

On my way to the train station I ran into a couple of Mormon missionaries who wanted to share with me their good news. We stopped to chat (because I don’t mind, I will chat with just about anyone - I’m an equal opportunity asshole) and right behind us the movie theater advertised “Angels and Demons”.
I had a very strange feeling that the kiosk lady has already seen a pirated version of this one, too.


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