Jan Hus Day & Gay Folks’ Religious Freedom

Today is Jan Hus Day – which is a national holiday in the Czech Republic. Jan Hus was a “protestant” 100 years before Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of Wurttenburg Castle. Hus is little known, except among we Czech folks. Hus was a Catholic priest who became Rector of Charles University in Prague in 1370. By the 1380s he was complaining about the corruption in the Catholic Church and among the clergy, bishops and cardinals who came to eat out the sustenance of the Czech people in Bohemia and Moravia.

The Church amassed vast wealth and lived high on the hog, and the people were suffering. The Church kept appointing foreigners who didn’t even speak Czech to the bishoprics and Cardinal seats and as priests. At the time all Church business, from masses to church trials to the Bible were in Latin. Hus believed that this kept the people from the faith and away from God. Not to mention, virtually none of the clergy could speak a word of Czech – so how could they minister to the people, whom did not speak Latin? They could not.

So he translated the Bible into Czech – and set down the way Czech is written and spelled to this day. He apparently didn’t like vowels, for we get such charming sentences as “Strc prst skrz prdl” in Czech. The Church, of course, was not amused. And they told Hus he should not do what he did. And he said, of course, “tough noogies” – though a bit more formally, in Czech, of course. Hus taught that faith was in the works one did, in the good deeds, in helping others, and in letting people be, in following the dictates of Jesus to “treat others as you want to be treated.”

The Catholic Church at the time was not practicing what it preached, but was living rather worldly and with big palaces and gold, silver, jewels, and vast wealth extracted through ruinous taxes upon the people. Hus said this was not the way to be religious. He argued that faith was not given by the Church, but came from the people. He argued that faith was in what one did everyday of the week, including Sundays, not what one said only on Sunday at a church building. And he railed against the hypocrisy of the church.

Hus kept up his rhetoric and his complaints. By 1400 the Church was rather miffed at Hus, and Hus was rather miffed at the Church. The Czech people took to the Czech Bible and chased away any priest and bishop who could not speak Czech, and any who tried to preach in Latin. For what good was a speaker of Latin to a people who couldn’t understand a blessed word he said? There was no way for the people to be closer to God if the word of God was not in the language which they spoke. And the Hussites began to teach women to read and write. They ended serfdom in the Czech lands, and gave Church lands to the people, so they could grow their own food and live in peace and harmony with each other.

The Church sent swarms of bureaucrats to try to stop the Czechs from being religious in their own language. And the Czechs chased them away, or worse. The Church declared Hus and the entire Czech people and nation to be heretics. We didn’t care, frankly, what the man in the big palace in Rome said. Czechs don’t follow orders well, as anyone who knows me can tell. By 1414 it became apparent that there was a mighty schism brewing between the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia and the rest of Europe – then as now our rallying call was like unto Moses: Let My People Go!

And the Christian world at the time was debating what was going on in Prague and elsewhere in the Czech lands. And Prague was one of the most important cities of Europe at the time, with the third oldest University, after Paris & Bologna, on the Continent (Oxford in England was still then just a “college” which was a lesser version of a university.) Though let’s not forget one of the real reasons that the Catholics wanted Bohemia and Moravia – it’s where ½ of all the gold and silver mined in Europe comes from.

And the other reason, certainly, is the Hops – for Czech beer is the best beer – and every American drinks Pilsner beer (in Czech: Plzenske, from the adjective form of the city Plzen) – that light sweet brew – and Budweiser – which is the German corruption of “Ceske Budejovice” – which rolls off my tongue, but not the “Nemec” tongue – and “nemec” is the Czech word for German – which means “mute,” as is in, “they don’t speak Czech” – How’s that for naming a country, eh? And it’s “Ceske” because there’s a “Moravska Budejovice” too. Bohemian hops is still the finest in the world, and without Hops, there is no beer. Just like there’s a Czech phrase: “Bez prace, neni chleba” Without work there is no bread. There is an obligation to work, not a right.

Finally, it was agreed that Hus would be allowed to defend his ideas at a Church Conference in Constance, Switzerland – and so with letters of “safe passage” and a promise by the gathered cardinals and bishops that Hus would be given a hearing Hus left Kozi Hradek, where he had gone into hiding, and he headed to Constance. Kozi Hradek is “Little Goat Castle” or, more rightly, Goat Little Castle – and it is small. Well, the ruins of it anyway, for the Catholic armies which came did lay waste to the place. There, near the town of Sezimovo Usti, not far from Tabor, Kozi Hradek stood as a beacon of religious liberty in a sea of Catholic Domination. That’s where Hus wrote tract after tract explaining to the Czech people what their mission in life was – to help those who needed it, and to mind their own business and live freely with good works as their faith, not just words like Pharisees.

So Hus went to Constance, and walked into the conference – and did the Catholics give him a chance to speak his mind? No they did not! They immediately arrested him, dragged him to a “trial,” where he was not allowed to speak, they condemned him to death, and on July 6th, 1415 they burned him at the stake. Then they threw the ashes into the nearby river and thought the matter over with. Which is where English gets the phrase “he cooked his own goose.” Which is because “hus” is the Czech word for goose, and Hus came from Husinek, or “goosetown.” So John Goose cooked his own self by trusting Catholics – we were not to make that mistake again!

Alas for the Catholics, it started the 100 year long Hussite Wars. The first thing the Czechs did was throw a few people out of the windows of the Old Town Hall in Prague – in what is called the “First Defenestration of Prague.” It’s the “first” since the Czechs centuries later on threw a few more folks out of windows to the waiting madding crowds. Those who survived the fall were killed there on the ground. There have been many defenestrations in the Czech lands, and the Czech word is “defenestrace” and the verb is “defenestrovat” – to throw out the window!

So the Czech nation rose up and turned on the monasteries, and distributed the wealth to the people, and they turned on the Church buildings and gave the gold and silver and wealth to the people who needed it – that is, well, the people from whom it was taxed the point of the sword and lance. And from this uprising, with the town of Tabor as a central military headquarters under the command of General Zivkov, came the battle tank. He invented it by putting thick oak boards covered in hammered iron over them, pulled by horses similarly clad. With these tanks rolling into the invading armies’ troops, Zivkov routed all the armies which were sent by the Pope and cardinals – from France and Germany, from Italy and Hungary, from Slovakia and Poland, came the onslaught of Catholic Armies for 100 years – and in battle after battle the Czechs defeated these armies.

From this uprising came four related religious ideals, for religious freedom was paramount to the Czech peoples – the Moravian Brethren, the Bohemian Brethren, the Hussites and the Freethinkers. The first two had church buildings of a sort, more akin to Quaker meeting halls, the Hussites used schools as their churches, and the Freethinkers, well, they didn’t even bother with a building – for the Bible is clear – the Church is everywhere, not in a building. And the people lead the services such as they are, and not some guy in an outfit speaking in a language no one can understand.

And back then, in the 1400s, my family was at Tabor, and back then in various other places like Kyjov, and Frydek-Mistek, and Kutna Hora and Prague too, various ancestors were at the front lines in stopping the Catholic Onslaught. After Martin Luther did his Protestant thing, the Lutheran armies joined the fray and attacked the Czech nation too, when they weren’t busy fighting the Catholics. And that led to the 30 Years War, when the Swedes came sweeping down through Poland to try to make the Czechs Catholic or Lutheran and we were having none of that. Though the times are murky, and the politics murkier and the Czech nation small as it is today, it took from 1415 until 1620 before the Catholics were finally able to conquer the Czech lands – with the Austrian Hapsburgs finally winning at the Battle of the White Mountain, now known as the Prague neighborhood of Zivkov, named after the general who invented the tank.

From 1620 until 1917 the Czechs were subjugated by the Catholics of Austria – and we invented subtle resistance – which is most famously expressed in “The Good Soldier Svejk” (also spelled Schweik, which is the German spelling, much like Prague is the German spelling of Praha, which is the Czech.) I recommend that book on how a tiny people can defeat a larger force! Ah, good old passive resistance and an occasional lightning raid to dispatch the enemy. Czechs were masters of it. And when Czechoslovakia was born in 1917 its Constitution was modeled on the US Constitution and Religious Liberty was enshrined as the law of the land. And then the Nazis came, and then the Communists – which lasted until 1989 – when once again the Czech nation rose up and said “oh, to hell with those wackos.” And now, once again, the Czech Bill of Rights is just as strong as ours, perhaps stronger – for it protects against religious hounding by one religion against another – unlike this country, where we gays have to listen to the hounding by religious nuts intent on forcing their religions down our throats – up with which we will not put!

So that’s the brief history of the Hussite movement. My family were Hussites from the beginning, and here in America my both sets of grandparents were married in the Hussite Church for God and City Hall for the government. My Hlavac grandparents made the newspaper for they arrived at City Hall in New York City “by machine” as it was reported in the Daily Mirror. (I have the original article, too.) Which meant they came by car — and they were in tuxes and gowns, and the article is flowery – and I suppose one day I’ll put it up here — but for Bohemian immigrants to arrive by car at City Hall in 1920, well, then, that was rich — just like gay couples want to arrive by car at City Halls across this nation to get married — and this will happen – for we’ll fight for 100 years for our religious liberty.

And in all of this we just were simply not Catholic. And though today some of my cousins and aunts are nominally Catholic, for it seemed to work better to get ahead in the world; but we are without a doubt, Hussite in outlook – we are not church goers so much as we are believers and we do good works. It is our religious freedom. And my grandparents and even great-grandparents on one side, came to this country to get away from the Catholic & Protestant repression – and we’re certainly not going to tolerate it here against me, that’s for sure.

And when talking to so many gay men I find a strong Hussite streak in them, even if they don’t quite recognize it as such, and never heard of Jan Hus at all – in that they do good works and they don’t bother anyone, and they don’t care what anyone believes but this: leave people alone – do good works and help people – and keep your faith to yourself and you don’t have to stand at the church house door and protest your faith through words and not deeds like a bunch of Pharisees and Sadduces whose only claim to fame is the unrelenting harassment of those who don’t believe or live like you. My family and I are far more for the freedoms this nation holds dear than any Fundamentalist or Catholic minister, priest, preacher or even layman, that’s for sure.

And one thing else for sure – just as sure as the Hussites fought the Church six centuries ago – I will maintain that vigil against the onslaught of religious intolerance which is exemplified by the NO GAYS! Movement of the Catholic Church today, and the Fundamentalists and by name – Maggie Gallagher, Tony Perkins, Brian Brown, Peter Sprigg, and all the Popes, Cardinals and Bishops of Rome and the rest – they are come to eat out the sustenance of my existence and they are attempting to impose their religious beliefs on me and mine. We do not have to tolerate it and we will not tolerate it. It is not our business how you believe – but do not make it your business to butt into my life and make me and mine believe like you.

For this unholy, unChristian, unAmerican and inhuman – and anti-Czech – assault and attack – mentally, emotionally, and even physically – upon the gay citizens of this nation is wrong and immoral and against the Will of God – and we don’t care if you believe that or not. It is not our business. But this is ours: We will not believe as you want us to. We will not do as you want us to do. We will not kowtow to your errant and arrant nonsense that is just as Medieval as the Pope of 1415 who sent an army to Kozi Hradek to destroy the little castle of the goat and burn Jan Hus at the stake for daring to preach for liberty for the people.

And if anyone thinks otherwise, they have another guess coming. My family didn’t come there to escape the Catholics and Protestants of Europe just to knuckle under to them here, that’s for certain.

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1 Comment

  1. I found this article intriguing but strangely lacking in focus especially as it transitions from the plight of the Hussites to the modern gay rights movement in the United States at present. I’d like a moment to rebut a couple points. You wrote:

    “And now, once again, the Czech Bill of Rights is just as strong as ours, perhaps stronger – for it protects against religious hounding by one religion against another – unlike this country, where we gays have to listen to the hounding by religious nuts intent on forcing their religions down our throats”.

    First of all, I’m not familiar with the Czech Constitution, but doesn’t protecting anyone from being “hounded” a violation of free speech? If that is an accurate representation of the Czech Constitution, then it cannot be said to equal the U.S. Constitution which protects all forms of speech.

    You said the U.S. is a country where gays “have to listen”. Where in the United States is ANYONE forced to listen to anyone’s exercise of free speech? It’s a free country. They may speak freely and we may ignore freely.

    Additionally, you call them religious “nuts” intent on imposing their religion. Is it an intent and if so, how so? No one can impose their will or religion or anything for that matter upon a free man. What does it matter what someone feels or thinks about your life or lifestyle? If you are truly secure in your humanity and its relationship to GOD then who cares really?

    As a man of Irish Catholic ancestry, I can recite the history of bigotry towards the Irish and Catholics in America. Personal family stories to boot. And we’re still here, living in a free country. There were plenty of people from “Know Nothings” to Margaret Sanger, who if they’d had their way I wouldn’t be alive today or at a minimum not an American. But I am.

    My larger concern is how the disdain you feel towards others in the wake of the expressed dislike or disapproval of you and your life. Isn’t that letting them win the point? Why let their distaste for you impact your interactions with anyone?

    I understand a sense of frustration at dealing with people who seem incapable of embracing the full diversity of life and experience, but hey that’s life. And history.

    I may be the odd man out in our society in that I do not now nor have I ever placed sex or sexuality at the center of the universe. Maybe that has given me objective clarity. I don’t know, but I do know the principle of tolerance goes both ways. There are many sincere and yes “tolerant” Christians who believe sex outside of marriage is a sin and that marriage is exclusive to a man and a woman. Hence, they equate homosexuality with sin, but they recognize themselves as sinners in turn and as good Christians “tolerate” what they believe to be sinful behavior in others. I’m not saying they’re right, but I’ve known plenty of loving people who have held this view without feeling hate or pity as well.

    It is I admit difficult to ignore the hatred others have or might express to yourself and those you love, but it ought to said that not all with whom you disagree are hateful in language or violent in demeanor.

    My final point is this. Could it not be said that you are also seeking to impose your values on others? Personally, I don’t give a rat’s ass what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home. It is after all, a free country. But where does the respect for individual humanity and privacy begin and end? Nobody should have to hide in shame or suffer for an unamused majority,but I do object to the suggestion that I must embrace or endorse anybody’s private behavior anymore than I must embrace anyone’s definition of faith or GOD. I make this last point because many people, myself included feel imposed upon. It is difficult to be “fully” respectful of others when we in turn are accused of being “intolerant. Just as hate begets hate so does intolerance beget intolerance.

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