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Holland: A Vision of Post-Secularization Europe

John on December 26, 2006 at 1:08 pm

Very interesting report in The Weekly Standard by Dutch writer Joshua Livestro. The topic is growing faith in one of Europe’s most secular nations:

The idea that secularization is the irreversible wave of the future is still the conventional wisdom in intellectual circles here. They would be bemused, to say the least, at a Dutch relapse into religiosity. But as the authors of a recently published study called De Toekomst van God (The Future of God) point out, organized prayer in the workplace is just one among several pieces of evidence suggesting that Holland is on the threshold of a new era–one we might call the age of “post-secularization.”

The article goes on to note several examples of the change. For instance:

Holland’s most prestigious literary prizes were awarded in 2005 to books dealing in a sympathetic way with Christian issues of faith and redemption. The Libris Literatuur Prize went to the Catholic author Willem Jan Otten for his Specht en zoon (Specht and son) while the AKO Literature Prize was awarded to Calvinist Jan Siebelink’s Knielen op een bed violen (Kneeling on a Bed of Violets). Siebelink’s novel sold nearly 350,000 copies in its first year, making it the single bestselling Dutch-language book of the past decade–apart, that is, from a new Bible translation published in 2004, which sold more than half a million copies (in a population of 16 million people).

The statistics suggest that the death of old line churches (Catholics, high protestants) is being offset by a new breed of churches. As a result:

[T]he century-long wave of secularization seems to have crested, and may even have begun to recede. The Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) finds that the number of self-described Christians stopped declining as early as the beginning of the 1990s. Among the under-20s, the number has started to increase in recent years.

What accounts for the new growth. According to one pastor interviewed for the piece, it’s about contextualizing the message (Slice readers won’t like this one):

“If you look closely, you’ll see that only the traditional churches are affected by secularization. Almost all nontraditional churches are growing, and growing strongly. The reason is simple: While the message stays the same, the methods change to suit the times. If people want it, we’ll have flags, loud music, people jumping up and down in the pews, even hip-hop. But Jesus remains the same as he was 2,000 years ago. The Word never changes.”

Another factor in the growth is the Dutch Youth Movement:

Since the founding of the first Dutch youth churches in 2001, their numbers have risen significantly–from 45 churches serving around 10,000 young people in 2003 to 88 serving more than 20,000 in 2005. In a way, these youth churches are the tip of another iceberg on the path of the SS Secularization. The number of churchgoing Christians is still dropping among all other age groups, but among the under-20s it is rising again, and by a significant margin. A CBS survey noted that between 2003 and 2004, church attendance among under-20s rose seemingly inexplicably, from 9 percent to 14 percent. As expected, the survey prompted a skeptical response from social commentators. Not from the SCP, however: In a recent report it basically confirmed the CBS’s findings, observing that “it is noticeable that since 1997, the secularization curve among 16 to 30-year-olds has leveled off. In the last few years, it even seems to be declining.”

I love that image of the SS Secularization hitting an iceberg. I also like this line from a Dutch house church leader:

“We don’t want to go to church, we want to be a church.”

We live in interesting times.

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Category: Secularism & Socialism |

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