UCTAA churchlight

Site Search via Google

Meditation 894
Going Dutch: Flirting with God

by: Karel (website)

To open a discussion on this Meditation, please use the contact page to provide your comments.

More than 10 per cent of the Dutch people are religious even though they don't believe. 5% do not believe but sometime pray, by which they mean that they ask God for help even though they neither believe in God nor disbelieve in Him. Also 5% don't believe but say that they perhaps have experienced the presence of God. These new style agnostics are not passive but are actively religious. Also among Dutch church goers, 12% call themselves agnostic, but they participate in their religion and experience it in a religious way.

Koert van der Velde thinks this is not a sign of ambiguity, of being half a believer, rather, it shows a new way of judging religious ideas. Not truth but taste is their criterion to value them. This is van der Velde's conclusion, sociologist of religion in his dissertation on with he promoted the 10th May at the Free University in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  

Religiosity without belief is a relatively new phenomenon. Normally it is assumed that religion always goes with belief or faith. Van der Velde shows that more and more people in the Netherlands nowadays have experiences that have to be called religious, but when asked whether they believe, they deny it.

The Netherlands is one of the most secularised countries of the world. At the same time there is a climate in with freedom and religious experiment are highly valued. Van der Velde thinks that the Dutch religiosity without belief will be seen in the near future in other parts of the western world.

English Abstract (pdf) of van der Velde's paper

More on this can be found on the Radio Netherlands website in an article Flirting with God: relifion without belief by Michael Hoebink:

The Netherlands is pioneering a new religious trend—religion without belief—argues Dutch religion scholar Koert van der Velde in the dissertation he'll defend this week.

“For many people traditional religion has been unmasked by science”, Koert van der Velde says. “Often, however, you see those same people continuing to practice religion in one form or another—such as astrology, reincarnation-therapy, spiritual trainings in the business world, or the singing of the Matthew Passion. When asked, however, those engaging in such practices deny believing in the religious assumptions underpinning them.”

As a journalist specialised in religion, Van der Velde spoke to hundreds of people about their religious experiences. Some said they sensed a divine presence lurking behind coincidences in their life, others had a near-death experience, saw ghost-like appearances or UFOs or felt one with nature at sunset. The wealth of data he gathered convinced him he had uncovered a new phenomenon that had not yet been studied.

In trouble
“People feel a deep-rooted desire for religious experiences”, says van der Velde. “A connection with another world, beyond their normal sense perception, a metaphysical world, gives their life meaning.”

Over the past two centuries, religious man has been in trouble: however much he wants to, he can no longer satisfy his religious needs. The progress of science has disenchanted the world, making it hard to continue believing the teachings of traditional religion. “Take Darwin, for instance, who demonstrated that the world was not created in seven days but developed gradually without the need for divine intervention. In this way, science unmasked basic religious assumptions one after another.”

Promise without a guarantee
As a result of this dilemma, a new form of religion has been emerging, Van der Velde argues: religion without belief. “Many people no longer believe in traditional religious assumptions, but now and then act as if they are true and so have a religious experience.” Van der Velde found numerous examples of this new attitude. He mentions the widow of a Dutch writer, who stated on television that though she does not believe in God, she prays to him since her husband died. And a brochure for reincarnation therapy states: “it works, even if you don’t believe in it.”

The title of Van der Velde’s dissertation, ‘Flirting with God’, takes its cue from the Czech writer Milan Kundera, who defines a flirt as a ‘promise without a guarantee’. You show someone you like him or her without any form of commitment. That is the way many people nowadays deal with religion, van der Velde says. “Don’t we all know someone who can talk endlessly about astrology, explaining the whole world with it? But if you ask him if he really believes it, he’ll say: ‘Of course not, it’s just a hobby.’” 

Free to experiment
Modern theologians try to rescue religious belief by dumping all religious images and ideas that do not pass the test of modern science. But van der Velde thinks they are barking up the wrong tree. “The result of their efforts is a barren religious universe that is no longer capable of generating religious experiences, which is exactly what religion is all about. The modern religious people I describe are doing the exact opposite: they maintain the religious imagery and dump belief.”

According to Van der Velde, the Netherlands is taking the lead in this new religious trend. “The Netherlands has always been a trendsetter in religion. Nowadays, the Netherlands is one of the most secularized countries in the world. But that also makes it a country where people feel free to experiment with new forms of religion.”