Response to the Distinguished Teacher Bernardas Šaknys

Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. Universal Declaration of Human Rights -Art. 26 (3)

On August 27,1986,1 was painfully surprised by your ar­ticle in Tiesa (Truth), "The Compromised Conscience and Hypocrisy". It surprised me because your frequent statements in the press until now created the image of a thinking author concerned with abolishing evil. Your article of August 27 dimmed this image considerably.

In the article, you agonize together with an anonymous father whose son a woman prepared for First Communion at the request of relatives. You state that the child, a convinced Pioneer, betrayed his ideals, allowing himself to be bribed with a holiday gift — a Japanese tape recorder.

You are scandalized at the behavior of Miss Elena Versekytė, laboratory technician at the Scientific Experimental Institute for Tuberculosis, who took some children to the church in Nedingė. You condemn non-believing parents who are so doubtful about the ideological formation of their offspring, and you once more allow the anonymous father to express himself: 'It is the spiritual damag­ing of children, the development of hypocrites. What are they (the catechizers) butting in for? Why are they bothering the innocent soul of a child, disturbing the tranquility of childhood? After all, it is contrary to our laws which forbid the collective teaching of religion to children."

In order more authentically to express my disagreement with the basic theses of your accusation, I will speak about what I lived through, endured and experienced. Mind you, this is not self­aggrandizement, nor an attempt to appear better than non-believers. It is a desire to explain to you that we believers are also people no less than you atheists and that we have our own convic­tions which are the most important part of personality. We have the right to live according to our convictions, to express them in all those ways in which you do (if we are equal before the law).

We have the right to share our convictions with others, to all those who have decided that they are worth more, better founded or nobler than those of the atheists. It is in view of this that I wish to share with you some thoughts which have bothered me for a long time.

I grew up in a believing family; both my parents were white-collar workers. Among the children of our neighborhood, I was the only one with a religious background. One scene has stuck with me since childhood: A little group of teenage tenants of the building were standing around a pile of stones left by the builders. Someone suggested that we kill any snakes lurking under the stones — after all, they are so vile... So the crushing of the helpless crea­tures began. But I remembered the simple catechism lessons about Jesus of Nazareth, and perhaps for the first time, I stood up one against many, protesting against the cruelty.

And the reason was not with "fear of hell" or "reward of heaven" so much to the liking of your propaganda, but simply revul­sion against sadism, the intuitive feeling that this was incompatible with the ethical ideal of Jesus already ingrained in my soul. Why did the other children, even those who had grown up in the families of active atheists, not have this? We grew, and the problems and inci­dents became more complex.

In our class was a girl of moderate intellectual abilities from a neglected home who was therefore constantly being picked on. Once, a gang of high schoolers, seizing her, took her to a near­by lake to give her a ducking. I was unable to stop them because the odds were too great, but the thought struck me: "Why they're taking her off just like Christ, whose passion we honor during Lent in the Way of the Cross..."

In everyone's eyes, she was the Ugly Duckling. All around her were her enemies... The "ducking" ended when after pushing the girl into the cold water of the after-thaw (at the edge it was shallow), her school-mates taunted her and dispersed.

Neither the Pioneers' badges nor those of the Communist Youth League kept them from participating in the exercise. And the only one left to utter a kind, encouraging word to the weeping girl was a believing, non-member of the Communist Youth League, who was not afraid of public opinion or ridicule for befriending the out­cast.

I knew a believing teacher, who although he playfully and easily used to demolish atheistic arguments in school in my hear­ing, himself attended church elsewhere. He knew that if he ex­pressed religious inclinations publicly, he would immediately be out of work (like the teachers Mrs. Kaušiene, Mrs. Brilienė, Grigas and others). I do not agree with such concealment. He should have gone to the local church, even at the cost of losing his job. Openly. Straightforwardly. Only living like that produces inexhaustable peace of conscience and the appreciation of one's own human value.

However, the compromise made by this teacher, like that made by a great part of Lithuanian educators, does not in the least explain the juridical side of the matter: How can the principal of freedom of conscience be squared with preventing believers from working in education. How does it differ from the Berufs-verboten

—            prevention from working in one's profession, in connection with "unsuitable" views?

In your column, you are irritated by the lesson of hypocrisy. The Pioneer, taught prayers, kneeling in church!

But I will be annoyed by the opposite phenomenon. When I entered First Form, no one asked (just as they do not ask groups of children every year), whether I was better acquainted with the ideas of Christ or of Lenin. No one even introduced me to the latter —  they pinned a star on me and I was a Little Octobrist. I am grate­ful to my parents who refused to allow them so to ridicule their believing son.

Enrollment in the Pioneers' organization was similar, and kerchiefs were tied on many religious children. Here, I myself was mature enough to protest, saying, "I cannot be a Pioneer be­cause I am a believer. It is a free-will organization, so why are you forcing me to join?"

The teachers as instillers of conscientiousness, it seems, should have been glad: here is a child who does not wish to be a hypocrite. But this did not happen. The rayon Pioneer leader was annoyed and proceeded to berate my teacher. Those who "changed their stripes" were left in peace. I saw that the school was little concerned with convincing us of the truth of atheism, with "re­forming" our world-view — the important thing was that the class be 100% Pioneers and Comunist Youth; how that was accomplished would not appear in the reports.

For this methodology so demoralizing to youth, I felt and continue to feel revulsion. My acceptance into the Communist Youth organization was accompanied by still one more argument from the teachers: an attempt was made to convince graduates that without a Communist Youth membership card, there was little hope of ob­taining a students' card. However, this did not convince me of the truth of either Marxism or atheism, and I did not become a member of the Communist Youth. The prognoses of my teachers were con­firmed: I did not last long in advanced studies. Even though I sur­passed many of the Communist Youth in proficiency, I was expelled after the KGB became especially interested in my views and the manner of their expression.

Please do not misunderstand. I am not complaining for the wrong done me; on the contrary, I am fortunate for having been able to suffer it for my faith (let us compare the concern expressed in your article over unbelieving high school students trading-in con­science and going to church for various prizes.)

The thought occurs: Is it worth inculcating convictions which the child will exchange for jeans, a transistor, candy or money? And if an adult with such convictions is offered a luxurious villa, a Zhiguli or a junket abroad, will he again lightly betray his country and his principles?

I come to the conclusion that if it is possible to bribe a conscience, that means there is none, it has not been formed. Pioneer and Communist Youth arguments are too weak to form a strong and bribe-proof conscience. However, my interior disposi­tion, my joy at giving up something for Christ does not, once again, explain or justify the juridical side of crass behavior of a dis­criminatory nature. Is it not clear that by such exclusivity and privileges, not only are the idealism and and principles of our young people not encouraged, but on the contrary, ugly moral defects — careerism and conformism — are cultivated?

You have read here a few fragments of the biography of a believing individual. But how many more such stories — and more painful ones — could many believers in Lithuania and the entire Communist empire tell? At school, the university, in military ser­vice and in my work, I met hundreds of contemporaries. I noticed a strange law in action: If a young man does not drink excessively, behave promiscuously, if he is creative, you will find that he is a believer (or friendly with believers); if a young woman is modest, decent and thoughtful, you will find she goes to church; if in a young family there is harmony, mutual respect and interests are not limited to the collective garden, you will find that their apartment is decorated with artistic pictures of Christ and Mary (not "fly-speck­ed" as your propaganda keeps stereotyping it). Problems connected with world-view are of concern mostly to people of this circle.

An absolute majority of my non-believing acquaintances live "for the moment", interested neither in Marxism nor idealism. Their needs revolve around career, personal ambition and pleasure. In the army, one most often correctly identified a believer by the fact that he did not use Russian profanity and did not take ad­vantage of younger soldiers. My religious contemporaries as well as the priests of my acquaintance were honest, educated people, seeking the good.

Father Sigitas Tamkevičius and Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, sentenced to concentration camp in Siberia and exile, were ahead of Gorbachev: in 1980-81, they were urging Catholics to rescue the nation from the tragedy of alcoholism. Most of us, then, just as in the days of Valančius, kissed the cross and swore oursel­ves to sobriety and abstinence. The priest himself is a living ex­ample of the ideal he proclaims. He is now in prison, while of those who in Brezhnev's day called the warning against the flood of wine "exaggeration", it seems no one has suffered.

Father Juozas Zdebskis, who died in an automobile ac­cident February 5, in strange circumstances, used to propagate the idea that the highest human ideal is to be love in service. From his lips was constantly heard, "Whatsoever —good or bad— you do unto anyone, you do unto Christ."

And the priest demonstrated this to hosts of people in need of help, by his heroic life. He used to go as far afield as the Siberian tundra and the Caucasian Mountains, visiting soldiers, prisoners, exiles and the sick. He used to find the humble abode of the invalid abandoned by everyone.

We have looked at one or two manifestations of good­ness in the lives of believers. What inspired, aroused and suggested all of them? Was it not the radiating ideal of the person of Christ? Who will count such instances in the lives of all those who love Christ? It is enough to study the work of the missions of Mother Theresa and Albert Schweitzer for the objective investigator to be­come convinced what a potential for humanism is contained in the Christian message. Can one therefore consider true the assertion of the bookAdoiescenf, that "The involvement of children in religious ceremonies ...does untold harm to the development of the adolescent's consciousness and clutters his mind with unnecessary ideas."

There is no "damaging of the consciousness" if those touched by it work conscientiously, are not drunkards and do not use profanity. And to call the idea of the Absolute Good — God — unnecessary, is worse than obscurantism for it is this idea which is probably the most indigenous and the most desired by human na­ture. See, for instance, the idealizing of two people who love one another, and the personifications of Justice and Honor, found in con­temporary Lithuanian literature where the protagonists virtually shout their belief in God and find in Him the strength to defend their ideals (e.g., Beatrice in the drama of J. Grušas.)

Your article suggests that "the efforts of the cosmos, of the human intellect, to pry into the mysteries of the Universal in time", belief in God and in Christ, have been universally rejected and are not worth talking about, that it is only a few women teaching children "completely contradictory ideas about the origin of mankind and the order of the universe". You call the views of believers "the snares of religion", with which "science has been con­tending for centuries".

Allow me to ask, "What science?" Is it the science of Newton? Newton doffs his hat when pronouncing the word "God". The science of Pavlov? Pavlov used to bow and cross himself pass­ing a house of worship. The science of Galvani? Galvani was a member of the Third Order: Such people you (in print, no less) ridicule as church mice. Well then, perhaps you're talking about your own private science which you have not yet originated. Every person of goodwill knows that there has never been a universal con­demnation of religion — neither in the area of science nor of ethics. Anyone looking at life with an open mind sees that the Gospel of Christ provides the groundwork for a worldview for millions of people even today, and is a force inspiring creativity with good. Doestoyevsky long ago remarked correctly, 'You deny God and Christ, but you do not realize how dirty and sinful everything would become without Christ... By doing away with Christ, you banish from the world the incomparable ideal of beauty and good."

Let us not forget that the first human being alighting on the surface of the moon left there a tablet containing sacred scrip­ture; that the majority of contemporary scientific leaders were deeply religious people. Even today, religious — specifically Chris­tian ideas — inspire humanistic social movements, musical, literary and artistic creations which win international recognition. On what

basis, then, do you proclaim the religion of Jesus to be something from the stone ages, outmoded, and having no right to exist in the consciousness of people, and expecially of children? You speak of teaching groups of children religion as a transgression against the Soviet law of freedom of conscience. As a matter of fact, in their time, Fathers Juozas Zdebskis, Prosperas Bubnys and Antanas Šeškevičius were sentenced just for transgression of just such a law of "freedom". (How very similar cases recall Czarist Russian repressive measures against home-grown teachers during the press ban in Lithuania!)

However, the word 'law" doesn't have the same magi­cal connotation to 20th Century people as the word taboo had for the Africans. We know that the Nazis also acted in accordance with "the law", and even tried in this way to justify themselves during the Nuremburg trials. This, however, did not save the criminals from their just punishment. It is the duty of a citizen to see whether a law does not contradict itself, whether it is humane, and not to rush blindly to obey it. All kinds of regulations limiting handing on of religious beliefs to children are not laws, but an embarrassment! And it cannot be said that man is free if he cannot freely express his beliefs, publicly proclaim his positions, defend his tenets via press, radio and television as you, the unbelievers do, today.

Namely, because of law forbidding us Catholics to do the same in the country in which, according to Gorbachev, we must each be a steward, I feel constrained and discriminated against because there is no legal publication in which I could spell out my Catholic outlook on events taking place in society; there is no bookstore where I could obtain religious or philosophical literature, poetry or Christian literary works, for example, Henrick Sinkievicz's Quo Vadis, honored with a Nobel Prize; there is no cinema where I could see a film interpreting the problems of life, morality and beauty from the Catholic viewpoint; there is no kindergarten, there is no school where the children of believers are not constantly reared in a ten­dentious manner (often being scolded, ridiculed and seduced with privileges) against their religious beliefs.

Did we faithful ourselves, constituting a significant seg­ment of the population, choose this situation? Do believing youth, the clergy and intellectuals lack talent to create artistic treasures, educational, cultural and charitable organizations as is done, let us say, in socialist Poland or Hungary? If this does not happen in our country, it means that the masses of believers are forced to repress this in themselves and are not allowed to express themselves. Who is doing the repressing? And by what right? It is an extremely evil, inhumane act. How are we believers worse than the atheists? In what sense are we "free and equal"? Allow public discussion on television or radio, and let the public itself evaluate and judge where the truth lies.

You fail to do so and the reasons can be only two: Either you consider your own people so immature, so senseless, as not to distinguish, not believe your "truth" and accept our 'lie". There are serious reasons for believing that is what would happen. Perhaps it is for this reason that neither in the press nor on the Argumentai program discussion between believers and atheists has not taken place to date. You are outspoken and right only in monologue! But that is the Tightness of a dictatorship.

Even though I consider the Marxist world-view to be mistaken in its premises, ever since student days, I liked one of its tenets, constantly turning against itself: "The criterion of truth is the practice of life."

When unbelievers yelled at me threateningly, "Listen and obey!", the faithful said, "Think: Is it good or is it evil?" When un­believers ridiculed and cursed me, believers sympathized, sup­ported and prayed that I might persevere.

When unbelievers whom I met were people, for the most part, tossed about by hatred, sexual attraction and untrammelled ambition, my believing acquaintances shone with crystal clarity by their selflessness, their fidelity to truth (even to such sacrifices as that of Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, Father Jonas-Kastytis Matulionis and Father Juozas Zdebskis).

In this way, I use the experience of life as a criterion for truth. Therefore, I am a Catholic. Therefore, I defend my right to convey my beliefs to others, a right which you want by your article to deny me.

Hence, I consider the real school for hypocrisy to be that educational system for which you work. I went through it without my soul being twisted out of shape, because in my childhood I met conscientious priests and dedicated teachers of the people who, heedless of draconian laws and of the threat of imprisonment, taught me the catechism well!

Hail to them, the defenders of spiritual freedom for the individual and for mankind!


Julius Sasnauskas in exile.