During our trip to Europe in 2022, I was particularly struck by the clashes of culture, particularly in cities like Budapest and Prague. For example, there are beautiful churches in Budapest and Prague. For the most part, churches rise above the skyline, a testimony to the time in Europe when Christianity dominated the cultural scene.
For example, in Prague, St. Vitus rises above the city in grandeur. I snapped the above photo on a beautiful moonlit night, with the spires of St. Vitus stretching upwards towards the sky overlooking the city. In a previous blog, I posted a photo of the interior of St. Vitus, lit up in the afternoon sunlight streaming in through the stained glass windows filled with Christian art. But less than a mile away, the Prague Metronome stands out for display, but with a different message. The curious history of the Prague Metronome is summarized by a plaque at the metronome’s base that reads, “In time, all things pass…”.
You have to know a little history to get the reference. In the mid-1950s, the Soviets installed a massive granite statue to honor Joseph Stalin. Stalin had grown up in the Russian Orthodox Church, and even spent some time studying in a seminary to train as a priest. However, as an adult, Stalin became a fierce opponent of Christianity. But his hatred of Christianity was eclipsed by his reputation for instilling terror and murdering millions. The monument was the largest statue of its kind in Europe until it was demolished in late 1962. It was so big and bulky that it took 1800 lbs. of explosives to take it down, and the Metronome took its place in 1991, after the decline of the Soviet Union.
To get an idea at how unpopular the Stalin statue was, you would have to know that the sculptor, Otakar Švec, killed himself just a few days before the statue was unveiled to the public. Otakar Švec was so horrified by his own creation, that he chose suicide over the humiliation of seeing his statue unveiled before his fellow Czech neighbors and friends. Strangely enough, the Czech Communists went forward with statue unveiling, only to begin the process of de-Stalinization shortly after the statue’s debut.
The Prague Metronome is a repudiation of Stalin’s ideological fanaticism, but I doubt that it is symbolizes a return to Christianity. Today, around 72% of all Czechs in the Czech Republic describe themselves as being “unaffiliated” when it comes to the Christian faith, the highest level of atheism/agnosticism of any country in Europe. On the bright side, at least there is more religious freedom in the Czech Republic now than there has been in recent generations.
A similar story surrounds the “Liberty Statute” in Budapest, erected by the Soviets to celebrate the liberation of Budapest from Nazi Germany, but which was later reconfigured after the failed Hungarian Revolution of the 1950s that tried to oust the Soviets from power (see photo further down below).
But the specter of failed Marxist experiments are not the only signs of secularization in Eastern Europe. In Budapest, a shrine for singer/songwriter Michael Jackson was erected across the street from the hotel he used to visit, shortly after his death a few years ago. Just a block or so away from the Michael Jackson shrine is the first McDonalds fast food restaurant that opened up in the late 1980s, as the Soviet Union began to fall apart.
Prague has its own pop-culture shrine, the so-called Lennon Wall, just down the street from our hotel, in honor of the fallen Beatles member, John Lennon. It is just weird to think that a mentally disturbed, suicidally obsessed, American Christian college dropout, Mark David Chapman, murdered John Lennon in 1980, catapulting John Lennon into secular martyrdom status. The iconic martyrdom status of John Lennon, marked by the graffiti painted on the Lennon wall, far supersedes the memory of another fallen Beatle, George Harrison, who was known for his conversion to Hinduism. Lennon wrote the song, “Imagine,” which is often regarded as a stinging critique of organized religious faith of any kind.
It makes me wonder what the future of Europe will look like. Will Christianity ever return and dominate the spiritual life of Central Europe? Bible-believers are surely scattered all over cities like this, but they are generally few in number. Pray that they will have the courage to witness for Jesus, and be beacons of hope in such cities that have lost much confidence in Christian churches. Pray that the people of Europe, in places like Hungary and the Czech Republic, who have endured such suffocating ideological oppression, would become more open to the Gospel.
I will close out this photo essay with some of my favorite pictures of Europe that I took during our trip. Europe can be stunningly beautiful: