Religion in the Netherlands
|Life in the Netherlands|
Religion in the Netherlands was predominantly Christian until late into the 20th century. Although religious diversity remains, there has been a decline of religious adherence. The Netherlands is one of the most secular countries in Western Europe, with only 39% being religiously affiliated (31% for those aged under 35), and fewer than 5.6% visiting church regularly (meaning once or more per month) in 2010. Religion is in the Netherlands generally considered a personal matter which is not supposed to be propagated in public.
In 2013, according to the Netherlandic Central Bureau for Statistics, 42% of the population self-identifies as Christian (26% Catholics and 16% Protestants), 5% were Muslim, and 6% were adherents of other faiths (including Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist) and 47% of the population had no religious affiliation.
Ietsism, agnosticism and "Christian atheism" are on the rise; the first two being generally accepted and the last being more or less considered to be non-controversial. The Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau (Social and Cultural Planning Agency, SCP) expects the number of non-affiliated Dutch to be at 72% in 2020.
The oldest data on the profession of religion by the inhabitants of the regions that are now "the Netherlands" are passed down by the Romans. Contrary to what ancient sources seem to suggest, the Rhine, which clearly formed the boundary of the Roman Empire, did certainly not form the boundary between residential areas of Celts and Germans. There were Germans south of it (Germani Cisrhenani) and many place names and archaeological finds indicate the presence of Celts north of the Rhine. Between these "Celtic - Germanic peoples" and later the Roman conquerors (romanization) a cultural exchange took place. An adaptation of polytheistic religions and each other myths has taken place among the various tribes, coming from both the Germanic, Celtic and later Roman mythology. Gods as Nehalennia, Hludana and Sandraudiga are of indigenous (Celtic) origin, the Germans had gods like Wodan, Donar and Frigg/Freija (see Freya) brought from Germanic origin. For example Jupiter, Minerva and Venus have been introduced by the Romans. Tacitus also described the creation myth of Mannus, a primitive man from which all Germanic tribes would have emerged. The Celts and Germans in the Low Countries were also most likely to have had tree shrines, following the example of the Old Norse Yggdrasil and the Saxon Irminsul and Donar's oak. Temples were probably only build during and after the romanization, and have been preserved for example in Empel and Elst.
From the 4th to the 6th century CE The Great Migration took place, in which the small Celtic-Germanic-Roman tribes in the Low Countries were gradually supplanted by three major Germanic tribes: the Franks, the Frisians and Saxons. Around 500 the Franks, initially residing between the Rhine and the Somme, adapt (forced by their king Chlodovech) to Christianity. A large part of the area south of the Meuse belonged from the early Middle Ages to 1559 to Archdeacon Kempenland, which was part of the Diocese of Tongeren-Maastricht-Liege. From the center of the diocese, successively the cities of Tongeren, Maastricht and Liege, this part of the Netherlands was probably Christianized. According to tradition, the first Bishop of Maastricht, Servatius was buried in this city in 384, though only from Bishop Domitianus (ca. 535) is established that he resided in Maastricht. However, it would take at least until 1000 CE before all "pagan" people were actually Christianized (by force) and the Frisian and Saxon religions went extinct, although elements were incorporated into the Christian religion. The following centuries catholic Christianity is the only mainstream religion in the Netherlands. In the 14th and 15th century, the first calls were heard for religious reform, although inside the Catholic Church. At the end of the Middle Ages, the Devotio Moderna (among others Geert Groote and Thomas à Kempis) created a spiritual innovation. Geert Groote established the Brethren of the Common Life, an influential mystical order, but only under the influence of humanism (among others Erasmus and Dirck Coornhert) changed the Dutch world fundamentally, and started to shift from a theocentric to an anthropocentric worldview.
The rebellious Netherlands that had united in the Union of Utrecht (1579) declared their independence from Spain in 1581, during the Eighty Years' War; Spain finally accepted this in 1648. The Dutch revolt was partially religiously motivated: during the Reformation many of the Dutch had adopted Lutheran, Anabaptist, Calvinist or Mennonite forms of Protestantism. These religious movements were suppressed by the Spanish, who supported the Counter Reformation. After independence the Netherlands adopted Calvinism as a quasi state religion (although never formally), but practiced a degree of religious tolerance towards non-Calvinists. It became considerably safe for Jewish and Protestant refugees from Flanders, France (Huguenots), Germany and England (Pilgrims for instance). There have always been considerable differences between orthodox and liberal interpretations of Calvinism: between Arminianism and Gomarism in the 17th century; and between the Dutch Reformed Church (Nederlands Hervormde Kerk) and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland) in the late 19th century, which even led to a denominational difference between hervormd and gereformeerd, though linguistically both meaning "reformed". Catholics, who dominated the southern provinces, were not allowed to practice their religion openly. They were emancipated during the late 19th and early 20th century through pillarization, by forming their own social communities. In 1947, 44.3% belonged to Protestant denominations, 38.7% belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, and 17.1% were unaffiliated. In the 20th century the major religions began to decline: most Dutch Jews did not survive the Holocaust; and in the 1960s and 1970s Protestantism and Catholicism began to decline. There is one major exception: Islam which grew considerably as the result of immigration. Since the year 2000 there has been raised awareness of religion, mainly due to Muslim extremism. In 2013 a Catholic became Queen consort.
Currently, Roman Catholicism is the single largest religion of the Netherlands, forming some 24 percent of the Dutch people in 2011, down from 40 percent in the 1970s. The number of Catholics is not only declining, but many people who identify themselves as Roman Catholics also do not regularly attend Sunday Mass. Fewer than 200,000 people, or 1.2% of the Dutch population, attends Mass on a given Sunday, according to the Catholic University of Nijmegen Institute for Ecclesiastical Statistics (KASKI) in their 2007 annual statistical update of the Dutch Catholic province, Most Catholics live in the southern provinces of North Brabant and Limburg, where they comprise a majority of the population. As of 2014 cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk, the Archbishop of Utrecht, is the highest Catholic authority. Since the provinces North Brabant and Limburg are in The Netherlands historically mostly Roman Catholic, their people still use the term and some traditions as a base for their cultural identity rather than as a religious identity. The vast majority of the Catholic population in the Netherlands is now largely irreligious in practice. Research among Catholics in the Netherlands in 2007 shows that only 27% of the Dutch Catholics can be regarded as a theist, 55% as an ietsist / agnostic theist and 17% as agnostic.
The Protestant Church of the Netherlands (PKN) forms the largest Protestant denomination, with some 10.8% of the population, down from 60% in the early 20th century. It was formed in 2004 as a merger of the two major strands of Calvinism: the Dutch Reformed Church (which then represented roughly 8.5% of the population) and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (at that time 3.7% of the population) and a smaller Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands (0.1%). Since the 1970s these three churches had seen a major decline in adherents and had begun to work together. The Church embraces religious pluralism. Research shows that 42% of the members of the PKN are non-theist. Furthermore, in the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) and several other smaller denominations of the Netherlands, 1 in 6 clergy are either agnostic or atheist. The number of members falls on average by about 2.5% per year. This is caused primarily by the death of older members and little growth among the younger population.
A large number of Protestant churches, mostly orthodox Calvinist splits and liberal churches, stayed out of the PKN. They represent some 4% of the population.
Islam is a relatively new and fast-growing religion in the Netherlands, as per recent (CBS) statistics about 907,000 or 5.8% of the Dutch population are Muslims. In 2006, there were 850,000 Muslims (5% of the total Dutch population). In early 2009 this number had shrunk to 825.000 (4.5% of the total Dutch population) as a result of different determinations methods. Majority of Muslims in the Netherlands belong to Sunni denomination, with a sizeable Shia minority. Approximately 1,500 belong to the Ahmadiyya sect in Islam. Muslim numbers began to rise after the 1970s as the result of immigration. Some migrants from former Dutch colonies, such as Surinam and Indonesia, were sometimes Muslim, but migrant workers from Turkey and Morocco are the biggest part, as well as their children. During the 1990s, the Netherlands opened its borders for Muslim refugees from countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Somalia, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Of the immigrant ethnic groups, 100% of Bosniaks; 99% of Moroccans; 90% of Turks; 69% of Asians; 64% of other Africans, and 12% of Surinamese were Muslims. Muslims form a diverse group. Social tensions between native Dutch and migrant Muslims began to rise in the early 21st century, with the rise and murder of populist politician Pim Fortuyn by militant animal rights activist Volkert van der Graaf and the murder of Theo van Gogh by an extremist Muslim, Mohammed Bouyeri.
Because of its social tolerance, the Dutch Republic formed a haven for Jews that were persecuted because of their beliefs throughout Europe. Prominent Dutch Jews include Baruch Spinoza, a 17th-century philosopher, Aletta Jacobs, a 19th-century feminist, and Henri Polak, who founded both the socialist party SDAP and the labor union NVV. The majority of Jews lived in Amsterdam, where they formed an eighth (90,000) of the population. During the Second World War about 75% of Dutch Jews were deported and murdered in the Holocaust.
Cults, sects, and new religious movements
Cults, sects, and new religious movements have the same legal rights as larger and more mainstream religious movements. The Dutch government chose not to make special laws regarding cults, sects or new religious movements (generally all informally called "sekten" in Dutch). This decision was based on reports made after the 1978 Jonestown mass murder and suicide. Nor is there any officially assigned institute that provides information to the public about these movements and organizations.
Since November 2012, an official complaint website about cults, sects, new religious movements, spiritual courses, philosophy courses, and therapy groups exists. The website was initiated by the Ministry of Security and Justice. The website can also refer people to psychological counsellors. The immediate reason for this website was an undercover documentary by the commercial TV station SBS6, presented by Alberto Stegeman about the Miracle of Love movement.
Secularization, and the decline in religiosity, started around 1880 and first became broader noticeable after 1960 in the Protestant rural areas of Friesland and Groningen. Then, it spread to Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the other large cities in the west. In the 1970s, finally the Catholic southern areas started to show religious declines. A countervailing trend is produced by a religious revival in the Protestant Bible Belt, and the growth of Muslims and Hindu communities resulting from immigration and high birth rates.
After the Second World War the major religions began to decline, while a new religion, Islam, began to increase in numbers. During the 1960s and 1970s, pillarization began to weaken and the population became less religious. In 1971, 39% of the Dutch population were members of the Roman Catholic Church; by 2007, their share of the population had dropped to 26% (KASKI data). The proportion of adherents of mainline Protestantism declined in the same period from 31% to 11%. An additional 5% of the population adheres to other Protestant churches. With only 40% of the Dutch currently adhering to a church, the Netherlands is one of the least religious countries of Europe. During the 1960s till 1980s, religion lost its influence on the Dutch politics and as a result in the 1980s and 1990s the Dutch policy on abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality and prostitution became very liberal. As a result of the declining religious adherence, the two major strands of Calvinism, the Dutch Reformed Church and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, together with a small Lutheran group began to cooperate, first as the Samen op weg Kerken ("Together on the road churches") and since 2004 as the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, a united Protestant church.
During the same period, Islam increased from nearly 0% to 5%. The main Islamic immigrants came from Surinam and Indonesia, as a result of decolonization, Turkey and Morocco, as migrant workers, and Iraq, Iran, Bosnia and Afghanistan as refugees. In the early 21st century, religious tensions between native Dutch people and migrant Muslims was increasing. After the rise of the populist politician Pim Fortuyn, who sought to defend the Dutch liberal culture against what he saw as a "backwards religion", stricter immigration laws were enacted. Religious tensions heightened after Theo van Gogh was killed in 2004 by Mohammed Bouyeri, a conservative Muslim.
A research in 2003 shows that about 1.27 million people in the Netherlands express explicitly an affinity with secular humanism, which is about 9.4% of the total population. Erasmus and Coornhert are important early representatives of humanism in the Netherlands in the 16th century. Erasmus translated many classical texts so that they were accessible to a wide audience. In this period, there was still no non-or anti-religion movement. However, there was a sense of free will, own strength and reason. Dirck Coornhert in the Netherlands was one of the first who advocated religious tolerance. He did not derive his morality from the Christian religion, but enunciated that people outside the Christian faith could be virtuous as well. A statement Coornhert made is: "He who is never in doubt, does never learn." In the 17th century, especially Spinoza and Hugo Grotius were important. Baruch Spinoza (17th century) dared to call the bible man-made. The jurist Hugo Grotius focused on the law relating to war, peace and law. Internationally, he is regarded as the founder of modern human rights. During the Age of Enlightenment (18th century), the importance of science and research increased sharply. Confidence in human understanding and logical reasoning was given shape in liberalism. The German philosopher Kant and the evolution theory of Darwin, among other scientific theories in the 19th century, had an exceptionally strong influence and were a major step in the development of humanism in the Netherlands. Ludwig Feuerbach called religion a creation of the human mind. The modern organized humanist movement began in the Netherlands in the mid-nineteenth century with the establishment of freethinkers association De Dageraad (Dawn). The members, including writer Multatuli and later Anton Constandse. Marx's socialism had a significant influence on the Dutch humanism of the 20th century. With the establishment of the humanistic associations Humanitas in 1945 and the Humanistisch Verbond in 1946, Dutch humanists organized themselves after the Second World War to fight the still highly compartmentalized society which was dominated by separate Christians movements in the Netherlands (pillarisation). When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations in 1948, the Dutch Humanist movements became involved with the establishment of the International Humanist and Ethical Union in 1952 (and since 1990 also the European Humanist Federation).
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In the following table, one can see the complexity of religion in the Netherlands: while 45% of the Dutch population are not members of any religious community, the other 55% are distributed over a diversity of religions. Over 45% of the Dutch population is affiliated with a Christian church. The largest group, 26.6%, is Roman Catholic. The rest is distributed over a multitude of Protestant churches making up the 18.3% of the population. The largest of which is the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, which in fact is an alliance of three churches, two Calvinist and one Lutheran. Some 12.3% of the population is member of this church. Smaller churches make up about the 4% of the Dutch population. These churches have either been the result of conflicts within the Calvinist Church or been imported, mainly from the United States. Other Christians (Eastern Orthodox and Restorationists) make up only a small percentage. The remaining 10% of the population are members of another religion, such as Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Baha'i, or Buddhism.
Slightly more than half (52,8%) of the respondents to a research about humanism in 2003 affiliated with no religious or philosophical movement at all. In contrast 8% said to follow more than 1 movement. This form of pluralism occurs in all religious and philosophical Dutch movements, but is strongest among supporters of non-Western religions. 75% of Dutch Buddhists also affiliate with other religious or philosophical movements. Among followers of Hinduism in the Netherlands, this ratio is even higher, at 91%. On the other hand, followers of Western religions and humanism, as well as movements in the 'other' category were least likely to affiliate with more than one religious or philosophical movement. Within Western movements the people affiliating with humanism were most likely to also adhere to one or more other movements (47%). Most of these humanists adhere to Catholicism (27%), Protestantism (14%) or Buddhism (12%). Also 9% of Catholics, 6% of Protestants and 50%t of the Buddhists counting themselves as humanists, as well as 25% of the Muslims, 55% of the Hindu, 19% of the Jews and 15% of the supporters of a movement other than those listed.
It should be noted that different sources give very different percentages. A 2007 research God in Nederland, based on in-depth interviews of 1132 people concluded that 61% of the Dutch are non-affiliated. Fewer than 7% attend church regularly (at least once a month). Similar studies were done in 1966, 1979 and 1996, showing a steady decline of religious affiliation. That this trend is likely to continue is illustrated by the fact that in the age group under 35, 69% are non-affiliated. However, those who are religious tend to be more profoundly religious than in the past. Religious belief is also regarded as a very personal affair, as is illustrated by the fact that 60% of self-described believers are not affiliated with any organised religion. There is a stronger stress on positive sides of belief, with Hell and the concept of damnation being pushed into the background. One quarter of non-believers sometimes pray, but more in a sense of meditative self-reflection. Also Ietsism, Agnosticism and Christian atheism are on the rise; the first two being general accepted and the last being more or less considered to be non-controversial.
Almost all Christian groups show a decrease in the number of members or less stable membership, except for some 'reformed churches, which shows the largest growth of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (measured by its size). However, in particular the loss of members of the two major churches, which are the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands, with a membership loss of more than 300 thousand members between late 2005 and late 2010, and the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, with a membership loss of more than 150 thousand members, cause the number of Christians in the Netherlands to be decreased from approximately 7.132 million (44%) by the end of 2005 to 6,861 million (39%)  by the end of 2010.
|Old Catholic Church||Old Catholic||5,981||2004||<0.1%|
|Free Catholic Church in the Netherlands||Free Catholic Church||800||2004||<0.1%|
|Protestant Church in the Netherlands||Lutheran and Calvinist||1,944,000||2005||12%|
|Restored Reformed Church||Calvinist
|Continued Reformed Churches||Calvinist
|Christian Reformed Churches||Calvinist
|Netherlands Reformed Congregations||Calvinist
|Reformed Parishes in the Netherlands||Calvinist
|Continued Reformed Churches in the Netherlands||Calvinist
|Reformed Parishes in the Netherlands (in repaired relations)||Calvinist
|Old Reformed Parishes in the Netherlands||Calvinist
|Free Old Reformed Parishes in the Netherlands||Calvinist
|Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated)||Calvinist
|Netherlands Reformed Churches||Calvinist
|New Reformed Churches||Calvinist
|Mennonite Church in the Netherlands||Anabaptist
|Union of Baptist Churches in the Netherlands||Baptist
|Brotherhood of Baptist Churches||Baptist
|Independent Free Baptist Churches||Baptist
|League of Free Evangelican Parishes||Lutheran||5,821||2004||<0.1%|
|New Apostolic Church||Restorationist||11,856||2004||0.1%|
|United Pentecostal and Gospelchurches||Pentecostal||19,820||2004||0.1%|
|Church of England, Diocese in Europe||Anglican||33,000||2004||0.2%|
|Seventh-day Adventist Church||Restorationist||4,500||2004||<0.1%|
|Gathering of Religious||Dispensationalism||10,000||*||0.1%|
|Geredja Indjili Maluku||unknown||25,000||2004||0.2%|
|Christian Church Netherlands
|Liberal Religious Community NPB||*||5,338||2004||<0.1%|
|Nederlands Israëlitisch Kerkgenootschap||Judaism||5,000||*||<0.1%|
|Union of Religious Liberal Jews in the Netherlands||Judaism||3,500||*||<0.1%|
|No religious affiliation||7,230,000||*||42.7%|
Slightly more than half (52.8%) of the respondents to a research about humanism in 2003 affiliated with no religious or philosophical movement at all. In contrast 8% said to follow more than 1 movement. This form of pluralism occurs in all religious and philosophical Dutch movements, but is strongest among supporters of non-Western religions. 75% of Dutch Buddhists also affiliate with other religious or philosophical movements. Among followers of Hinduism in the Netherlands, this ratio is even higher, at 91%. On the other hand, followers of Western religions and humanism, as well as movements in the 'other' category were least likely to affiliate with more than one religious or philosophical movement. Within Western movements the people affiliating with humanism were most likely to also adhere to one or more other movements (47%). Most of these humanists adhere to Catholicism (27%), Protestantism (14%) or Buddhism (12%). Also 9% of Catholics, 6% of Protestants and 50% of the Buddhists counting themselves as humanists, as well as 25% of the Muslims, 55% of the Hindu, 19% of the Jews and 15% of the supporters of a movement other than these listed.
- Ietsism (Dutch term for an undetermined faith in an unspecified higher force)
- Sikhism in the Netherlands
- Buddhism in the Netherlands
- History of religion in the Netherlands
- History of Dutch religion
- Hinduism in the Netherlands
- Irreligion in the Netherlands
- Islam in the Netherlands
- Judaism in the Netherlands
- Religion by country
- Roman Catholicism in the Netherlands
- Protestant Church of the Netherlands
- Centraal Bureau voor der Statistiek: De religieuze kaart van Nederland, 2010-2013.
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