The God of Nation(s)

Another anniversary, that of the Hungarian revolution of 1848. As the renowned historian András Gerő remarked today on DunaTV (and also in an article on, the phrase “the God of Hungarians” was so widespread at the time that it in fact became part of a secular religion of the nation. Which is no novelty, of course; I myself have written on several aspects of this national religion in my 2018 book on Political Theologies.

Just to name a few: beside references to a national God in poems and political speeches, the new religion also produced its own patriarchs like the revolutionary governor-president Lajos Kossuth (“the Moses of Hungarians”) or saints like the martyrs of Arad (thirteen Hungarian generals executed after the defeat) whose memory has developed into a fully-fledged cult afterwards.

A few years ago, I even saw a reliquary containing the bones of the martyrs and parts of the gallows where some of them were executed (just like pieces of Christ’s cross):

Déri Múzeum, Debrecen. The text says “The relics of generals Lajos Aulich, János Damjanich, and Károly Vécsey.”

All this, however, was nothing extraordinary. The “civil religion” of America (as Robert Bellah wrote in his famous study) also relied on a part biblical, part national symbolism; or, as Carlton Hayes put it, nationalism everywhere had the same religious underpinnings. Not even in the form of a “secular” religion but as a “religion” per se.