March 29, 2014

The Hague refuses to swear in Muslim council member

Filed under: Religion by Branko Collin @ 10:11 am

old-city-hall-the-hague-pdHasan Kücük of the Islam-Democraten was chided as if he were a child when he wanted to take the oath in order to become a council member of the the city of The Hague. “You know the text is different”, Mayor Jozias van Aartsen said last Thursday during the swearing-in ceremony.

Kücük had said “Zo waarlijk helpe mij Allah” (“so help me Allah”). According to Parool council members may choose from only one of two phrases for the swearing in, “so help me God” and “I promise”.

Confessional paper Trouw added that the rules actually differ per municipality. In the past, the paper said, civil servants of Amsterdam sometimes used the words “as Allah the merciful is my witness”. A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior said in defence of practices like that of The Hague that “the name ‘God’ doesn’t have refer to the Christian god.”

It turns out the Dutch armed forces are the least bigoted of government institutions, perhaps for reasons of tradition. When Indonesia, a largely Islamic country, was still a part of the Netherlands called Dutch India, its officers were allowed to swear an oath on Allah. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said that “one’s religion should not interfere with one’s duty, but an oath doesn’t do that”.

(Photo: public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons)

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March 9, 2014

Utrecht bishopric abuses earmarked money for child abuse costs

Filed under: Religion by Branko Collin @ 10:52 am

stained-glass-catharijnekerk-michele-ahinMoney willed to the bishopric of Utrecht earmarked for the congregation of Mother Theresa has been used by the impoverished bishopric to cover the administrative costs of dealing with the church’s many child abuse victims’ claims, NRC writes.

In 1994 Cornelia Witkamp of Utrecht left 300,000 euro to the church. She wanted the Missionaries of Charity to come to the city and help “the most destitute and abandoned of society, amongst which drug addicts”. The next year, the bishopric created a foundation called Stichting Caritas Moeder Theresa which was to execute the will. Unfortunately, the congregation never came. The foundation seems to have chosen to do the next best thing, which was to spend the money on similar causes.

However in 2012 the money that was still left, 166,000 euro, was donated directly to the bishopric which promptly started using it to cover running costs, among which the costs involved with running an office for dealing with the child abuse cases the Roman Catholic church is famous for.

At this point the NRC article devolves into a minor mud slinging match in which a spokesperson for the bishopric accuses whistle-blower and former board member of the foundation Jacques Klok of using money from the will to buy gifts for the bishopric’s staff.

If you’ve been following the news lately you will probably find this small fry compared to the bishops from the USA and Germany who were discovered building palaces and spas for themselves.

(Photo by Michele Ahin, some rights reserved)

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February 23, 2014

Quack causes ‘run’ on coffee grinders in bible belt

Filed under: Health,Religion by Branko Collin @ 2:35 pm

coffee-grinder-suzette-pauwelsAfter getting the local press to write about him, Ton van Wingerden, 74, managed to cause a run on coffee grinders at the local Blokker (household goods shop) in Goeree-Overflakkee. An employee told Hart van Nederland they’re “selling six coffee grinders a week, which is a lot for such a device.”

Van Wingerden’s miracle cure is the powder of ground oyster shells. It’s not quite clear from the original article what the powder is supposed to heal, as with all alternative medicine it appears to heal everything the sufferer believes it will heal. Also unclear is why the national press is picking up on this now considering the original story ran last spring. Other methods for crushing oyster shells as reported to Van Wingerden were walking over them in clogs, squashing them between the jaws of a vise or wrapping them in a tea cloth and then hitting them with a hammer.

Goerree-Overflakee is one of the staunchest Christian bulwarks in the Dutch bible belt and is the southernmost part of the province of South Holland. It also borders on Lake Grevelingen where oysters are cultivated.

(Photo by Suzette Pauwels, some rights reserved)

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January 26, 2014

Incest no reason for divorce, says protestant theologian

Filed under: Religion by Branko Collin @ 10:08 am

Refoweb, a website for Protestant Christians, has a feature called ‘Vragen’ (‘Questions’) in which people ask an ‘expert’ what a good Christian should do in certain situations.

Last week the question was put before theologian Izak Kole whether incest—and to be clear, what was meant was forced sex of a parent with an underaged child—is grounds for divorce.

The answer of Izak Kole was: “No, incest is not grounds for divorce. Being unfaithful is the only biblical reason for divorce. Incest by the husband with children does cause sadness though.”

Later Izak Kole ‘nuanced’ his answer by stating that where there is penetration, there is adultery and in that case, divorce is acceptable. Until that first real rape happens, Izak Kole suggests it might be an idea (“if necessary”) to call the police.

(Link: De Gelderlander; photo by Johan Wieland, some rights reserved)

December 22, 2013

Ietsism or how the Dutch invented a new belief system

Filed under: Religion by Branko Collin @ 8:58 pm

ietsisme-branko-collinThe recent history of religion in the Netherlands is one of continuous secularisation. One interesting phenomenon of that process is ietsism (literally ‘somethingism’), the belief that something must be lurking behind reality, we just don’t know what it is.

If that sounds vague, it’s probably because it is. The category ietsism did in fact not exist until 1996, the year in which it was invented by The Netherlands Institute for Social Research who needed a label for a phenomenon that they and others had noticed, the phenomenon that people who aren’t affiliated with any specific religion aren’t necessarily atheists.

Poet Marjolein de Vos said according to Trouw at a symposium about ietsism in 2006: “Maybe there is a mystery that supports our reality. Ietsism is, I believe, another word for ‘searching’.”

Theology professor Gijs Dingemans said about ietsists that they “generally have no great philosophical interest. They would just like to know if somebody is running the show, if somebody will fix things once we’ve messed them up or at least has some kind of control over our chaotic world.”

History professor Christiane Berkvens-Stevelinck has a more positive view of ietsists, who according to her may be “people who are averse to dogma and who have rediscovered the source of an uninhibited philosophical and theological curiosity, namely a sense of wonder for the unknowable, the unseen, the Mystery.”

Interestingly the English language Wikipedia entry about ietsism is called (drum roll) … ietsism. Perhaps Dutch researchers needed the label the most.

In 1998 17% of the Dutch people self-identified as atheists according to the International Social Survey Project, 12% as agnostic and 18% believed in an undefined ‘higher power’.

The chart below shows the development of religious affiliation in the Netherlands. I created this chart based on numbers from Statistics Netherlands. Note that the two main protestant churches merged in 2004, but Statistics Netherlands still counts them separately. The Islamic church is not counted separately, but about 5% of Dutch citizens are muslim. Agnosticism, atheism and ietsism are presumably folded largely into ‘unaffiliated’. And last, one of the great unresolved mysteries in life according to me personally is the chart tool in LibreOffice, which is why the left third of the chart spans more than hundred years whereas the right two-thirds only accounts for forty years.


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October 4, 2013

Tombstones holding hands circumvent religious rules

Filed under: Religion by Orangemaster @ 10:25 am

Two segregated graves, joined together by a connected pair of hands, looks romantic by today’s standards. However, buried here are a husband and wife that couldn’t be put into the earth near each other back in the 19th century because the man was Protestant and the woman was Catholic. Marrying them wasn’t a problem apparently, but their eternal peace was.

The man died one day, and his wife died eight years later. She didn’t want to be buried in her family’s tomb, but as close as possible to her husband. This pair of hands was a compromise and is today a reminder of the important religion played in people’s beliefs. If I read correctly it was only in the 1960s that it was acceptable to mix and match religions in graveyards, something I’ve seen in military graveyards in the Netherlands.

Up until the 1960s (and still today in many Dutch institutions like schools and political parties), the Netherlands was segregated based on religion, which was called ‘pillarisation’ (‘verzuiling’): Protestants, Catholics and anything that didn’t quite fit those two (atheists, liberals, etc.). Muslims were not even a blip on the radar at that point, which is the beginning of a big discussion on why they never had a pillar and why their integration is happening haphazardly.

(Link:, Photo of Tomb by Frank Janssen, some rights reserved)

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August 12, 2013

There’s a Metal Bible for lost Frisian metal fans

Filed under: Music,Religion by Orangemaster @ 8:00 am

Here I thought fighting music containing satanic messages had long been given up as a futile pastime back in the late 1980s, but that was before I went to my first Frisian metal festival and found out that Bible thumpers still want to convert metal lovers. In all fairness, the guy running the stand looked pretty normal with a black t-shirt and shorts (and is apparently a metal fan), with the exception of his stand full of bibles and using God as an excuse or explanation for his life choices.

The Metal Bible was being handed out right at the entrance of the Into The Grave metal festival, a small one-day event in downtown Leeuwarden, fantastically located at the foot of the leaning Oldehove tower and on an actual burial ground. It featured eight bands, local, European and American ones of different styles and was quite cheap (6,66 euro early bird price, 10 euro afterwards).

The Metal Bible started in 1996, with a ‘metalhead’ who wanted to share his love of God with metal fans, but finally kicked off in 2002 when said guy realised that the Bible was being used to approach other notoriously God-hating groups, such as bikers and footballers. The first edition of the Metal Bible was published in Swedish in June 2005, then a Dutch version was published in 2007. In 2011 it was published in English and German and 2012 in Spanish and Polish.

Regardless of its content, which reads like brainwashing to me, it is nicely made, with testimonials from metal bands and other people whose lives were turned around by reading the Bible.

If the good book was such a good read (I was forced to read a lot of it back in Catholic school), then you shouldn’t have to ‘metal it up’ to get your target group to read it. Sexing something up must have some connection to the Devil, but then every good book needs an antagonist.

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January 8, 2013

Bell ringing pastor now calls lost sheep up

Filed under: Religion by Orangemaster @ 12:04 pm

We’ve posted about Priest Harm Schilder from Tilburg who had bell ringing issues a few times, attempting to defy the law using freedom of religion as an excuse.

Having lost that battle, he’s now moved on to ‘naming and shaming’, athough he insists this is not what he’s doing, by asking his congregation to pray for people who have decided to dechurch themselves. Schilder also calls these people up, a bit like a marketeer does, to find out why they decided to opt out, but can rarely convince them to change their minds.

The reasons people have apparently given the church for leaving is all the hate speech the Pope dishes out against homosexuals. I’m certain the bottomless pit of child abuse cases that keep cropping up involving the church is not exactly helping their brand name, either.

UPDATE On his blog, Schilder blames the media for twisting his words and blowing things out of proportion, but has caved and decided not to go ahead with his wall of lost sheep, calling it ‘risky’.


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December 27, 2012

‘No flowers for the Pope’ on Facebook gaining momentum

Filed under: Online,Religion by Orangemaster @ 2:50 pm

After weeks of debating the ‘Zwarte Piet’ tradition during Sinterklaas, which involves blackface considered a tradition here but racist abroad, a steady number of Dutch people on Facebook are now pissed off at the Pope.

The Pope’s famous Dutch saying, “bedankt voor de bloemen” (“thanks for the flowers”), is often the first thing that pops to mind if you mention the Pope to a Dutch person. The Facebook page Geen bloemen naar de Paus (‘No flowers for the Pope’) wants to stop sending flowers to the Pope at Easter and is venting its anger at the Pope’s heteronormative Christmas speech, which angered Foreign Affairs Minister Frans Timmermans who lashed out in the media at the Pope’s ‘homophobia’:

“If every person is unique, as the Pope’s representative said in Dublin last week, then why should that unique person not have the right to stand up for their own sexual orientation? Marriage between two people of the same sex is having respect for the uniqueness of the individual.”

I for one will never, ever get over the amount of child abuse reported from the Catholic church since I was old enough to understand what it was.

The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriages, although some controversy remains over municipal officials who refuse to marry gays and lesbians on religious grounds.

Regardless, to quote a gay friend back in the 1990s inspired by the American’s first Bush administration: “Hate is not a family value”.


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December 8, 2012

Forbidden freethinker’s dictionary published again after 300 years

Filed under: Literature,Religion by Branko Collin @ 3:08 pm

On 27 July 1668 lawyer, doctor and libertarian wunderkind Adriaan Koerbagh was convicted for heresy. His crime? Writing and publishing a dictionary* two years earlier.

Koerbagh was a religious man, but he held no truck with (too much) superstition. A thing that irritated him was the use of foreign (Greek or Latin) words in the Bible to obfuscate their often simple meanings. In his dictionary he pointed out that ‘angel’ merely meant ‘messenger’, that ‘devil’ meant ‘slanderer’ (“the devil was invented by theologians**”) and that Jesus Christ ought to be called Jesus the Anointed. He felt that theologians, lawyers and doctors used foreign words on purpose to keep the common man from seeing through their dogmas.

According to Pim den Boer, Koerbagh was the first Dutchman to publicly denounce miracles: “Theologians claim that a miracle is something that stands above nature or goes against it, but that is not true, because nothing can be above nature or go against it.”

In 1993 lexicographer Ewout Sanders published an anthology of Koerbagh’s dictionary, but now has published the whole thing. It is not clear to me if the book is still forbidden.

About the Bible Koerbagh wrote: “If the word would no longer be protected by fire and sword, it would deteriorate in no time.” The author would feel the force of that fire and sword. Two years after his conviction he died in prison at the age of 37.

*) Titled A Flower Garden Full of Loveliness Without Sadness.

**) I should point out that the common Dutch word for theologian, theoloog, is also derived from Greek. Koerbagh of course uses the Germanic form godsgeleerde.

(Link: Marc van Oostendorp)

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