Young, non-religious conservatives

Contemporary young Poles know that our history is strongly rooted in Catholicism. They accept the Catholic faith, but they actually only connect with it during solemn mass for their heroes, says the journalist and publicist.

Research by CBOS and the European Social Survey show a new trend among younger people. People in their twenties are in favour of maintaining the so-called compromise on abortion and they are against taking in refugees and political correctness. They are patriots, they value family life, liberal economics and a realistic foreign policy. One would think that the only thing missing in the archetypical conservative constellation is religion.

According to CBOS studies, around 22 per cent of Poles aged 18-24 declare themselves to be non-religious and their number is on the rise. This is compared to only 10 per cent for society as a whole.

“Young people have become more conservative, but they haven’t pulled away from the process of secularisation,” Father Dr. hab. Janusz Wegrzecki from the UKSW Institute of Political Science. He explains that in the past this group was characterised by a lack of religious faith combined with a dislike for conservative values. “Nowadays young people are becoming more conservative but remain not religious,” he points out. He also mentions left-wing voters whose views have started to shift after the demise of Your Movement, for which they previously had high hopes.  “They turned away from the system of values represented by Janusz Palikot,” says the political scientist.

In his opinion, the reason behind this is nostalgia for a lasting morality – an ethics of responsibility in public life. This is based on a belief that relations should be grounded in fair play. Furthermore, young Poles have started valuing being part of a community. Their priority, however, is to solve economic problems, which they perceive to be rooted in the pathologies of the political system.

The triumph of capitalism

“The problems surrounding homosexual marriage and abortion serve to polarise society, but they only have a direct impact on one per cent of the population. Meanwhile, everyone needs to earn a living and spend money,” says Piotr, a political science student. His statement fully reflects sentiment among the young. In an interview with “Plus Minus” magazine on 14.05.2015, Prof. Henryk Domanski pointed out that people in the 15-25 age range are more individualistic compared to their older peers. “That is why they support the economic status quo, which is reflected in their support for right-wing liberalism,” he said. What is the reason for this? The fact that twenty-something year-olds today grew up under capitalism and are not familiar with any other economic system.

“What irritates me about politics are the demands associated with moral conservatism. The role of the state is to take care of the country as if it were a company,” says Andrzej, a student of pedagogy.

Young people are substantially more pragmatic than their parents and grandparents. The moment an opportunity arises to improve the economic climate, moral conservatism gets pushed down the list of priorities. It may be the case that they subscribe to economic liberalism but, over time, they begin to see the need for interventionism. “If I lived in a country blessed with a better geopolitical location, with a rich supply of natural resources, then I would no doubt be an economic libertarian,” says the historian Tomasz Krok. “However, the strategic branches of Polish industry need to be tended to with special care, despite the fact that doing so sometimes creates certain type of pathologies,” he added. For young conservatives, the economy takes pole position. But historical identity also plays a role.

Talks with young conservatives indicate that the economy is the most important factor for them. If you dig deeper, however, you notice that alongside attachment to one’s private property, values continue to play an important role. One of these values is historical identity.

Truth about conservatism

“Conservatism is not an ideology. For conservatism, values are not something doctrinal, they are relational,” explains Jerzy Kopanski, the editor in chief of “Fronda Lux” quarterly. When one defines conservatism, it is best to refer to the concept of governance, which must be based on a system of values. In order to maintain governance one cannot stage a revolution. “

“In contrast to a socialist or a liberal, a conservative is opposed to all forms of social engineering, the transformation of man and society according to a preconceived ideological model,” says Father Dr. hab. Janusz Wegrzecki.

Conservatives differ in how they define the source of governance. Some see it from a longer historical perspective, for example in Greek and Roman civilisations, while others have a more modern view (in Poland this takes on the form of the idealisation of the Third Republic). For these two groups, the foundation of governance is temporary. There is also a third group that believes in God as the Creator. “Modern Polish conservatism does not draw on God, it sees the foundation of governance in the history of Poland in the last few decades and centuries,” says Father Dr. hab. Janusz Wegrzecki.

This view is supported by the historic policy implemented by the national leadership. It is thanks to it that young people learn about the history of the Second Republic and most recently about the so-called Cursed Soldiers. They attend parades celebrating Poland’s independence, wear t-shirts bearing images of national heroes and listen to patriotic rap music.  They believe that Polish history is strongly rooted in Catholicism. They accept it, but they actually only connect with it during solemn mass for their heroes. Many of them do not have a personal connection with God.

Foundation of civilisation

Despite their emotional distance to religion, conservative non-believers see Catholicism as an important part of governance. They treat it as an important part of culture. “For me, Catholicism is a ‘time machine’ that we, people who have been raised in the Roman Catholic faith, should and must preserve for future generations,” says Tomasz Krok. He stresses that he himself does not believe in God but believes that even atheists should accept Catholicism as a type of security buffer that sets a moral framework for living life.

“Catholicism is one of the main foundations of Polish culture and identity, regardless of whether one likes this or not,” says Jerzy Kopanski. He bases his Catholicism on the pillars provided directly by Christian civilisation. “Catholicism is a mirror for Poland, we are moving in its orbit. I believe that the Church’s teachings should be spread as widely as possibly, developed within society, he said. Andrzej, the pedagogy student, says that Catholicism is the glue that holds the nation together, without it there would be no community. “The fact that I’m not Catholic, does not mean that it is not important,” he says.

Piotr admits that as with many other people, he practiced the Catholic faith in part due to pressure from his family. “I stopped doing so when I was 16, because I didn’t feel that the representation of Jesus on Earth was something I relate to,” he says. However, this does not stop him from promoting a conservative ideology. “I accept the ideology emanating from Christianity and I don’t see why non-practicing people or even atheists cant also be conservatives,” he adds.

Dr. hab. Janusz Wegrzecki also does not see a contradiction in this. “There are both religious and non-religious conservatives, just as there are liberals and socialists,” he stresses, adding however that the Church should start bringing them closer with its testimony. This task is made significantly easier by the fact that conservative non-believers see eye to eye with the Church in terms of ideological beliefs. Faith cannot be imposed on anyone. “Although I obtained four of the seven sacraments and consider myself to be a member of the Roman Catholic Church, I do not practice religion. This is not due to any form of prejudice against this institution, but rather due to me not obtaining the gift of faith,” admits Tomasz Krok before quoting St. John Damascene, who wrote that faith is composed of two parts: one is a matter of our will, and the other belongs to the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

One has to admit that a conservative who doesn’t believe in anything is more inclined to become someone without ideas, says Jerzy Kopanski. That is why the Church has its work cut out for it. “It should get closer to the people, accompany them and get to know them better, rather than being a distant teacher,” says Father Dr. hab. Janusz Wegrzecki.

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