By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
tThough lengthy volumes have been written about Christian history in the Czech lands, the casual observer really only needs two words to understand the striking ambivalence that Catholicism often evokes here: Jan Hus.
t In America, “Good King Wenceslas” is probably the single most famous figure from Czech history, owing largely to the popular Christmas carol. His memory lives on here too, but more commonly it’s the medieval preacher Jan Hus who is lionized as the real father of the Czech nation and the embodiment of its virtues. The fact that Hus was burned at the stake by the Catholic church in 1415 goes a long way toward explaining why, for some locals, being Czech and being hostile to Catholicism are practically the same thing.
tEven the most avowedly atheistic Czechs celebrate Hus as a nationalist founder. Ted Turnau, who teaches the sociology of religion at Charles University, says that in Czech schools still today, Hus is often presented as the father of the nation, and of resistance to outside domination, with only scant mention of his religious views.