TALLINN – Like many of the Soviet satellite states that found independence after the collapse of Soviet communism, Estonia is suffering from a deeply “confused” social and moral state, with its shift from a “communist form of open materialism to the capitalist form of subtle materialism.” Estonia is a micro-experiment in Europe’s extreme secularization, and is reaping the demographic consequences, a young Estonian pro-life advocate and teacher told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) in an extensive interview.
Estonia’s economic prosperity has led to its social fabric being eaten away by rampant divorce, abortion and suicide; only a return to its Christian roots will save the heavily secularized country, said Maria Madise, 29, a Catholic convert and founding member of the pro-life organization Institute for the Culture of Life in the capital Tallinn.
Madise is in the vanguard of a movement that is manifesting all over Europe: young people who have rejected the Marxist-inspired social and cultural revolution of the 1960s and are working to restore traditional Christian culture.
She told LSN, “What the Estonian general moral and social attitudes are reluctant to adopt – but hopefully will eventually – is that the remedy for the past lies not in hedonistic indulgences, that are inducing now another sort of deadly culture, but in rediscovering the faith and re-establishing the institution of the family.
“Freedom can, of course, destroy as well as to elevate a soul, depending whether the path of virtue or vice is taken.”
To answer Estonia’s multifaceted social and moral crisis, Madise, with a group of Catholic friends, founded the Institute to foster a “cultural environment founded upon respect for the life and dignity of a human being from the moment of conception until natural death.”
Today, she said, the school “animates” the Latin Quarter of the capital Tallinn, offering a range of programs at the elementary and secondary levels including early music, theatre, fine arts workshops, science, languages, kindergarten, a young mothers group, and individual programs for children with special needs.
According to this year’s statistics, the average age of women in Estonia is 43.7 years, well over the age at which it is easy to conceive, and the country’s overall fertility rate stands at 1.43 children born per woman, well below the rate needed to maintain a stable population. The fertility rate has significantly fallen from 2.26 children per woman in 1988. With a population of only 1.34 million, Estonia is one of the least-populous member states of the European Union.
The World Health Organization says that Estonia has one of the highest suicide rates among adults of any European country, 45.8 per 100,000 for men and 11.9 for women. Since the Soviets legalized abortion in Estonia in 1956, more than 1.5 million children have been killed through abortion, more than the current population of the country.
Madise said, “It is not surprising that Estonia is one of the most secular countries in the world. Great attention is paid to everything tangible while failed to acknowledge the mysteries that are invisible to the eye – a baby in the womb or the living Christ in the tabernacle.”
The 2000 census showed that Estonians’ largest single religious group is “unaffiliated” at 34. 1 percent; the second is “unspecified” at 32 percent. 13.6 percent list themselves as Evangelical Lutheran, 12.8 per cent as Russian or Estonian Orthodox and 1.4 percent fall into the category of “other Christian.” 6.1 percent registered as “none.”
Madise blamed the deliberate work of the communist regime to “destroy the true understanding” of the value of human life and the family. The Soviets used abortion and the consequent destruction of the family, she said, as a more convenient tool of genocide for “the nations that were sentenced to death than mass deportations to Siberia.”
But since the fall of Soviet communism, the work of social and moral destruction is being continued under the country’s new secularist, capitalist rulers.
“When we started pro-life work few years ago, I thought that the strongest and most groundbreaking message in our society is the fact that human life begins at the conception – that the images of a growing baby in the womb would mercilessly reveal the whole evil of abortion.
“But we soon realized that in a society that has so profoundly misunderstood the beauty, dignity and purpose of a human life the real question is: so what? So what if the human life begins at the conception? What is it worth?
“It’s clear that a zygote is a human being, but what isn’t clear is the reason, why a life that is not (yet) useful to anyone is worth living? And this is the tragic loss of understanding that a human life of divine origin, is invaluable in essence, not for the abilities, skills and relations that it develops.
“This is the understanding that needs to be re-established and every supernatural help there is needed.”
The Institute attempts not to directly convert people to Catholicism, but to “create preconditions for deepening of that respect for human life and dignity, and for realization of the importance of marriage and family.”
“We have not set [religious] evangelisation as a distinct purpose for our activities, but naturally, this would be the most welcome outcome of our projects.”
The group maintains a website http://www.abort.ee/ that runs radio programs and crisis pregnancy and post-abortion counseling. It also translates and distributes Catholic literature on the nature and dignity of human life and family.
Madise says she holds out great hope for the future, with young people being more open than their parents to the pro-life and pro-family message.
“The generation before is deeply wounded by abortion, it’s a personal trauma for so many and according to the statistics, there is hardly a family in Estonia, that has not suffered from abortion.”
One year-long seminar on the life issues for teenage girls resulted in 50 of 54 participants saying they had “become absolutely pro-life.”
“I truly believe that the human heart is innately pro-life and this is most evident in young people. So one might say that the purpose of education is simply to reinforce and strengthen the innate good and to guide one’s free will to practice virtues in a way that it could choose the ultimate good.”
Describing her conversion from Protestantism, Madise said, “After approaching the Church gradually over two or three years and learning more about Her teaching and tradition I just realized that there is no point in being a Protestant, if I find nothing to protest against in the Catholic Church.”
Now a devout Catholic who is attracted to the ancient pre-1960s liturgical traditions of the Church, Madise speculates that it is the lack of sacramental life in the country’s Protestant background that has caused most Estonians to abandon religion altogether after the Soviet collapse.
Under the Soviet occupation, she explained, religious believers were persecuted and religion was practiced only secretly. After independence, the Lutheran churches were filled “for a short while,” but soon emptied again. “In this respect, Estonians’ experience has been very different from that of Russians” who were supported by the deeply sacramental Russian Orthodox faith.
“Russians turned back to the Orthodox Church that nurtured the believers with sacraments, while Estonians returned mostly to the Protestant Lutheran church to sola fide and sola scriptura – but being tentative about the faith and not knowing much about the scripture, many became disappointed and left.
“The sacraments are extraordinary gifts of the Church that work in a soul regardless what the sermon is like – that inevitably becomes a very important matter if the notion of the real presence in the Eucharist is lacking.”
Madise studied drama in England and later worked as an assistant director staging concerts and productions at the national level, but said that there were so few who were willing to work in “re-building the Christian culture in Estonia” that she made a change to teaching. She now teaches a general class for year 12 and ethics to year ten students.