Religion in Unexpected Places

Oud Kath Kerk
For better or for worse, a lot of people think of prostitution and drugs when they think of the Netherlands. Or they think about the more positive fact that the Netherlands was the first country to recognize gay marriage. What they probably don’t think about is a Dutch Bible Belt, yet it does exist. In a nation so liberal in so many ways, there are still (very small) pockets of religious enthusiasts, to put a polite spin on it.

A few weeks ago, before the World Cup final — which took place on a Sunday — some of the more fanatical religious leaders called for their flocks to avoid this “sinful” match, because they objected to television being watched on Sundays. The ire was raised when three cafΓ©s dared to show the match in the village of Urk, one of the notches in the Dutch Bible Belt. The horror! One wonders how much hypocrisy was being practiced that day in the privacy of the homes of some of the faithful. On the other hand, those who didn’t watch at least avoided the pain of the outcome of the match.

The Christian Right are also in the government, making up various political parties, including the CU (Christenunie). The Christian-controlled lower house of the Dutch government seems to have pushed through an interesting bit of legislation recently. They’ve decided to grant immediate asylum to any Iranian Muslim refugee … who converts to Christianity. It’s only for those who convert to Christianity, though. Any other religion — or those who declare themselves atheist — are out of luck and will have to go through the normal channels to try to obtain asylum. Ironically, it’s thought that those who convert to Christianity will face a much more dangerous situation if they were to go back to Iran. I’m not sure why other religions (or lack thereof) would be any less risky. I’m also not sure why it’s only Iranian refugees.

I’m an atheist from the Bible Belt in the United States. That’s pretty risky living! Surely, I should qualify for some sort of special asylum. πŸ˜‰

16 thoughts on “Religion in Unexpected Places

  1. This is a very interesting post, Alison. Since living here in the NL I have been surprised to find that the same society that is so liberal and open-minded can at the same time, co-exist side by side with orthodox Christian groups like you find on my side of the country, for example.
    Soon after arriving I started reading a bit about Dutch culture and history, and was totally amazed at finding that the NL is the only western country where there are still outbreaks of polio. In the last epidemic of 1992/93, 70.000 people were infected, with 71 getting partially parallised and 2 people actually dying from the disease. This was possible because there are about 200.000 people that refuse to get vaccinated due to religious reasons – mainly members of the extreme branches of the “Gereformeerde” churches…
    (from Typisch Nederlands, by Herman Vuijsje and Jos van der Lans)

    • I had no idea about the polio, and that an outbreak was so recent! I find that kind of reaction to vaccines so hard to understand. Thanks for sharing it, though. It’s always fascinating finding out these little tidbits!

  2. How does the Dutch bible belt compare to the US bible belt? My wife and I are considering moving to the Netherlands from California to escape some of the anti-gay feeling here. Is it safe for GLB folk in that bible belt area?

    • To be honest, the Dutch Bible Belt is minuscule and I doubt that most people moving to the Netherlands from another country would end up living in these few small towns and villages. It’s nothing like the size of the US version. It’s more like small pockets. I think they’re also fairly far (relatively speaking) from any of the major cities where most people tend to around. In general, GLBT people seem to be treated quite normally here from what I’ve seen. After all, the Netherlands was the first country in the world to recognize gay marriage.

        • Don’t worry, there are plenty of rural areas that aren’t quite so religious. To be honest, you can hit the rural areas very soon after leaving the city center of Utrecht. Best of both worlds! As is often the case, I think the further south you go, the more likely you are to run into the bible belt. The Brabant area of the Netherlands tends to be a bit more conservative, with some exceptions, of course.

  3. The CU is actually the more modern political party within the very religious corner. The most conservative is the SGP, where women aren’t even allowed to become a full fledged member.

    To add to a comment above, only a couple of years ago, mumps was running rampant amongst the bible belt as well.

    • Dat klopt! I’m still getting used to all the various political parties. I thought Christenunie wasn’t super hardcore, but I’d forgotten just how hardcore SGP is. Speaking of politics, think we’ll have a coalition any time soon? πŸ˜‰

      I also feel a sudden urge to check with my parents about my immunizations.

      • πŸ˜€ Not surprising considering the whole plethora of political parties! I thought 19 parties were a lot this time, but it turns out the previous election had 25 parties on offer.

        Ha! This whole formation is becoming such a soap. Perhaps we should ask Paul the 8 legged Oracle when we’ll finally get a government again.

        • Heh. Maybe Paul should be consulted, although with an option as to whether it will require another election to get a government. This next round of talks that isn’t ruling out the PVV doesn’t seem like it will go far when the CDA hasn’t been interested in joining up with Wilders. It’s all kind of entertaining, in a way, until I remember that I’m living here and will be subject to the result of all of this! :{

  4. It’s not really that unexpected. The Netherlands was also the first country in the world that had a freedom in religion. But it’s still surprising to read that people are surprised by it.

    and also don’t forget that the CDA (and former prime minister Balkenende) are a christian party too.

    • I guess I wasn’t surprised — there’s always going to be a hardcore religious group no matter where you go. It’s just easy to forget about them sometimes, and internationally, the Dutch don’t have the same reputation for that kind of thing as other countries.

      I can’t vote yet, but I do follow the politics here to some degree and so I’m familiar with most of the major parties, including CDA and “Harry Potter” Balkenende. πŸ˜‰

  5. Hallo Alison,

    Interesting post!

    I was in Urk in a Sunday. So quiet, everybody dressing black clothes,…

    I must say I’m a Christian (Catholic) but I was educated to respect all the religions and the people who chose to have none ( my father’s and my husband situations, for example). No drama! πŸ˜‰ For me is a private choice.

    Here, I’ve already knew a Calvinist person from the Gereformeerd Kerk, and I must say I didn’t like her.
    Each time I tryed to speak about something, the conversation went, I don’t know how, to the “onze kerk” (our church).

    Niet leuk!!

    I respect her choice but please let’s talk about other things! Not only about “onze kerk”…

    • Black clothing, as well as quiet? I find these kinds of details interesting. I’ve grown up around religion, but ultimately have chosen none for myself. I still have many friends who are religious and I can certainly respect it, but like you, I’d rather not hear about “onze kerk” all the time.

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