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Ietsism (Dutch: ietsisme (pronounced [itsˈɪsmə]) – "somethingism") is an unspecified belief in an undetermined transcendent force. It is a Dutch term for a range of beliefs held by people who, on the one hand, inwardly suspect – or indeed believe – that "there must be something undefined beyond the material and that which can be known” than we know about, but on the other hand do not necessarily accept or subscribe to the established belief system, dogma or view of the nature of a Deity offered by any particular religion. Some of the English language equivalent terms are agnostic theism, eclecticism and spiritual but not religious. Ietsists might call themselves Christian or followers of an other religion based on cultural identification with that religion, without believing in the dogmas of that particular religion. In terms of statistics this might influence outcomes when people are asked about their religion or beliefs without more in-depth interviewing.
In some Eastern European censuses (Albanian, for example), those having ietsistic beliefs are counted as believers without religion.
The name derives from the Dutch equivalent of the question: "Do you believe in the conventional 'Christian' God?", a typical 'ietsist' answer being "No, but there must be something", "something" being "iets" in Dutch.
The atheist political columnist and molecular biologist Ronald Plasterk (who later served as the Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science and Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations) has published a piece in 1997 in the magazine Intermediar in which he used the word. The term became widely known in the Netherlands after Plasterk used it in a feature for the television programme Buitenhof. In October 2005, the word “ietsisme” was included in the 14th edition of the Dutch Language Dictionary 'Dikke Van Dale'.
The word has recently (2012) begun to circulate among English speakers as a loanword. More recently, the word ietsers ("somethingers") has emerged in the Netherlands to describe people of this viewpoint, but this has not yet been borrowed into English.
The term ietsism is becoming more widely used in Europe opposed to Spiritual but not religious in North America. The word occurs in Dutch (Ietsisme), German (Ietsismus), Russian (Итсизм), Ukrainian (Ітсизм) and Bellarussian (Іцызм).
Ietsism may roughly be described as a belief in an end-in-itself or similar concept, without further assumption as to exactly what object or objects have such a property, like intrinsic aliquidism without further specification. Other aliquidistic lifestances include the acceptance of "there is something – that is, some meaning of life, something that is an end-in-itself or something more to existence – and it is...", assuming various objects or "truths", while ietsism, on the other hand simply accepts "there is something", without further assumption to it.
In contrast to traditional agnostics who often hold a skeptical view about gods or other metaphysical entities (i.e. “We can't or don't know for sure that there is a God"), “ietsists” take a viewpoint along the lines of, “And yet it feels like there is something out there..." It is a form of religious liberalism or non-denominationalism. Ietsism may also be described as the minimal counterpart of nihilism, since it accepts that there is something, but yet, assumes as little further as possible without any more substantial evidence.
Within ietsism beliefs are very diverse but all have in common that they are not classifiable under a traditional religion. Often concepts from different religions, folk beliefs or ideologies are combined, but the ietsist does not feel he/she belongs to or believes in the dogmas of any particular religion. There is usually not a personal god who actively intervenes in the believer's life and an ietsist can be an atheist at the same time. Some ietsists believe in an undetermined higher power or one of more specific theistic entities, others only in spiritual energies, souls or some form of afterlife. Ietsism often coincides with a belief in pseudoscience or paranormal phenomena such as acupuncture, angels, animistic deities and creatures, astrology, aura reading, chakras, clairvoyance, deities, elves, energy medicine, esoteric energy, ghosts, healing gemstones, homeopathy, karma or osteopathy.
Ietsism also shares many attributes with similar viewpoints such as Deism and the so-called 'God of the Gaps', whose origins lie more in questions about the nature and origin of the physical universe. It could be said that ietsism is 'Deism for the spiritually-inclined'.
As the ietsist will not have found any of the 'pre-packaged' gods offered by traditional religions satisfactory, each ietsist's conception of spirituality will be different. This can range from the Judeo/Christian/Islamic concept of God as a force / intelligence that exists outside the world, to a position similar to the Buddhist "world view", with collective spiritual power existing within the world. Other ietsists will take a truly agnostic viewpoint – that the actual nature of God is totally unknown or unknowable.
An opinion poll conducted by the Dutch daily newspaper Trouw in October 2004 indicated that some 40% of its readership felt broadly this way, and other Northern European countries would probably get similar rates. From a December 2014 survey by the VU University Amsterdam, it was concluded that the Dutch population has 27% ietsists, 31% agnostics, 25% atheists and 17% theists.
As ietsists can not be neatly classified as religious or nonreligious, ietsism is somewhat notorious for mucking up statistics on religious demographics. Hence labeling ietsists as either religious or nonreligious will tilt the demographic balance for those countries to either predominantly religious or predominantly nonreligious.
- (Dutch) wayback.archive.org (permalink) - Ronald Plasterk: ietsisme, the site “weblog.nl” is archived and transferred to wordpress.com
- amazon.com - Born-Again Deist (e-book)