Growing numbers of Dutch people don’t believe in God or are less religiously affiliated. These are the findings of a survey published by the National Statistics Bureau (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek). 51% of Dutch people aged 15 and over declared to have no religious affiliation (49% in 2016 and 46% in 2012). 24% of members of faith communities identified as Catholic, 6% said they belong to the Dutch Reformed Church and an equal number identified with the Protestant Church, 6% with other religious denominations, Muslims represent 5% of the overall population. The Statistics Bureau found that 78% of the Dutch population has never or seldom attended a religious service, 10% said they attend once a week, (6% of Catholics) 3% has attended 2-3 times a month while the same percentage has attended a celebration or a religious gathering once a month; 7% less than once a month. Figures vary according to age group and gender. 71% of Dutch citizens aged 75 and over declared to be religious, 34% said they regularly attended a celebration in a place of worship. The 18-35 age group were found to be less religious: 32% are in some ways connected with a religious group, 31% of them attend regularly. 46% of men and 52% of women declared to be religiously affiliated. We asked Joris Kregting, sociologist of religions and Professor at the Theology and Philosophy Faculty of Radboud University in Nijmegen to comment on these findings.
The process of secularisation, in terms of declined religious affiliation to Christian Churches, is not new in the Netherlands. In fact it this process has been ongoing for several decades. But today Holland has reached a stage whereby Christianity has become a minority religion, which is unprecedented.
Is it possible to identify the causes of this decreased religious affiliation among the Dutch population?
According to the article “Why God has left The Netherlands” (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/), educational expansion, increase in social security and waning Christian socialization have affected the process of secularization in The Netherlands.
What is the social impact of this trend in The Netherlands, for example in terms of values lived out or no longer present among the population?
I think that the consequences are mostly of a practical nature. In other words, Church property that must be sold or organizations rooted in Christian institutions (such as mass media, schools and social assistance) that are losing their target audience and thus need to be transformed. But there also are other consequences: the way in which people were connected to one another in the past within small communities have now been transformed into a more individualized society where some people feel lonely and at loss. In short, social cohesion is under pressure and the Dutch society is seeking something that will replace Christian communities.
Are there mistakes, defects or limits of the Churches that could be somewhat amended to bring back God in people’s lives, or is it an inevitable tendency of our present time?
I think that Christian Churches have limited chances of bringing back God into people’s lives. But there are small-scale exceptions, such as the small Protestant and Orthodox Churches with a very young faith community. The de-institutionalization process, namely the fact that Dutch people are not affiliated with religious organizations, is found also outside the realm of religion, for example in political life. The replacement process of old generations with the younger individualized ones prevails. Moreover, there is no sign that scandals (such as those linked to sexual abuse) have had a strong impact on the process of secularization.
Is there something else that replaces religions in the life of the Dutch people?
It’s a difficult question. Many scholars in The Netherlands claim that individual religiosity is in full spring, but I personally believe that if we define religiosity as transcendent belief, this “rise” of individual religiosity does not compensate for the decline in institutionalized religion (Christianity). My claim is substantiated in the essay “God in the Netherlands 1966-2015”, (Bernts e Berghuijs, 2016), which highlights the decline in “non-affiliated believers.”
What does a society without God and without Churches look like?
As I said before, to me the major problem is how such a society will preserve strong social cohesion.
Is the voice of the Churches still regarded as meaningful or is it losing importance?
The above-mentioned Essay – God in The Netherlands – shows that in 2006 the Dutch people still considered the role of the Church important for society, but in the past decade fewer numbers of people have shown to uphold this belief. So my answer is that obviously secularization has affected increasing numbers of people turning a deaf ear to the voice of the Churches.