The latest presidential election in the USA showed how religion and moral values are important in American society. I this article I focus on Poland and how Poland stands on religious issues as compared to the rest of Europe.
First of all - why is Poland so different than the rest of Europe in the aspect of religion? Why do Poles insist that Christianity should be mentioned as a fundamental of the European Constitution whereas the rest of Europe, especially the Western Europe, opposes it so much?
The role of religion in every country is affected by the history of the church there. The Roman Catholic Church in Poland (called "the church" in the rest of this article) was independent from the ruling hierarchy of Polish kings, the foreign occupants of Poland and the communists. This gave the church unique role and power.
Poland became recognized as a state when the Polish prince, Mieszko accepted Christianity by marrying Dobrawa, a daughter of a Czech king. Read the article about Mieszko - Founder of the First Polish Royal Dynasty and about his daughter Swietoslava and Vikings. So, Christianity helped to add Poland to the map of Europe. Another proud moment in the history of the church came in the XI century when St. Stanislaus became a Polish hero and a symbol of Polish nationhood after being killed by king, Boleslaus the Bold whom he excommunicated earlier. The Church won and the king had to escape from Poland.
Poland was able to avoid the bloody conflicts and religious wars destroying the Europe of XVI and XVII centuries. It does not mean that Poland remained purely Catholic through that time - the majority of the Polish aristocracy became protestant during the Reformation. Even more interestingly - some protestants from Western Europe, Holland or Italy sought the refuge in Poland at that time because of the religious tolerance. Poland never became an inquisition stronghold, but the protestant religions just did not resonate in Polish society, especially among the lower class, they did not have anything better to offer than the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic Poland was also the home to the largest Jewish population in Europe and served as the center for Jewish culture until the Holocaust during War World II.
The church kept Poles united as a nation during the time when Poland did not exist as a country. The church was the only real counterforce and authority against communism. The election of John Paul II for a pope directly contributed to the fall of communism in Poland and in the rest of Eastern Europe. In that time, just after the fall of communism, the church was omnipotent in Polish society, but during the following years the Church gave up its political involvement widely concentrating on its religious and moral roles.
Are Poles good Catholics? It depends. The fact that Poland is dominated by one church and one denomination does not force the average Pole to learn deeply about their own beliefs and the bible. In spite of the fact that almost a half of Polish society attend religious services at least once a week - talking about religion or beliefs outside of the church is seen as bigotry. During my recent visit to Poland I talked to the priest who was very critical of Polish Catholics - although Poles attend the church they do not really identify themselves with it. Their beliefs are often relative and based on common sense, and patriotic and cultural values rather than on doctrinal or ideological elements. But this "common sense" of Polish religiousness and a lack of rigorousness may constitute its strength and appeal what do you think?
I recommend the book written by renowned Polish historian and theologian: A History of Polish Christianity, by Jerzy Kloczowski