The Netherlands are considered to be one of the most secularized countries in the world. And this is quite a reputation to live up to. But what does the religious situation in the Netherlands actually look like? And does it essentially differ from the situation in other European countries?
The results of the last national enquiry showed a for the first time in Dutch history a majority of people not belonging to any religious community (50,7%). In particular the RCC has lost many of its members. At the same time, secularization itself seems to have had its apogee and religion becomes more and more a topic that raises the interest of many people, including politicians and policymakers. In fact, this is the greatest turning point in the religious landscape of the Netherlands: religion has become the topic of the public debate after at least four decennia of refusal, considering religion a politically incorrect issue to discuss. Secondly, though the Islam is largely accepted, and the Netherlands have high ranking Muslim officials, the new tendency is to take a firm stand against radicalism and to break off the dialogue with Salafism. Thirdly, churches have recently become more proactive in the opposition against the policy of forcibly repatriation of refugee children to their home countries. This political stand raises the question of the use of the public space and the role of the religious community. Is a political point of view, formulated by the churches, compatible with the separation of church and state? Finally, students of theology have become more and more orthodox. Their opinions on the equality of man and woman, on homosexuality, on ordination of women, on all these topics students have become more conservative and theologically more orthodox. Which implies a growing gap between a younger generation of theologians and the main currents of the Dutch society.
So it seems that the Netherlands has not developed into the secularized nation as predicted earlier on. Current research show that religion still has a highly relevant role to play within Dutch politics and society.
Professor Matthias Smalbrugge, Faculty of Religion and Theology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam