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Has a Dutch-style ‘Tesco spirituality’ spread to the English Church, too?

A Protestant minister in the Netherlands believes there is no life after death and that God is a ‘human experience’

By on Monday, 8 August 2011

Photo: PA

Photo: PA

My Dutch son-in-law has pointed out to me a news item from the website of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science concerning the beliefs – non-beliefs might be more accurate – of the Rev Klaas Hendrikse, who presides at the Exodus church in Gorinchem, central Holland. The Dawkins website is not designed to boost the Christian faith obviously, so I braced myself for the Rev Hendrikse’s opinions. They are predictably blunt: “Make the most of life on earth, because it will probably be the only one you get.”

I like the word “probably”. It reminds me of the London bus advert, promoted by the British Humanist Association a couple of years ago with the encouragement of Richard Dawkins, which stated: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” When you can’t prove something with certainty you have to use “probably” (even if, like Dawkins, you really are certain that God doesn’t exist.)

The Rev adds that he has “no talent for believing in life after death. Our life, our task, is before death”. When asked what “God” meant to him, he explained “God is not a being at all…it’s a word for human experience.” On the question of Jesus, he thinks it is “a mythological story about a man who may never have existed, even if it is a valuable source of wisdom about how to lead a good life.” He has even written a book about all this with the puzzling title, “Believing in a Non-Existent God.” Despite all this only half-disguised humanism, the Rev still runs more or less “conventional” services with hymns, Scripture readings and the Lord’s Prayer.

His colleague, the Rev Kirsten Slattenaar, adds her own variation on non-belief: “I don’t think [Jesus] was a god or a half-god… He was a very special man because he was very good at living from out of love… A lot of traditional beliefs are outside people and have grown into rigid things you can’t touch any more.”

All this is entirely characteristic of the modern age of unbelief. Pope Benedict has described it as “the dictatorship of relativism”. I think of it as “Tesco spirituality”: you find a convenient parking space, enter the inviting mall, buy into one set of ideas and get another free along with it, check out the store’s own-brand, feel virtuous at picking the low-fat, healthy theology options and then go home to graze contentedly on your provisions.

A study by the Free University of Amsterdam has apparently found that one in six clergy in the Dutch Protestant church – to which the Rev Hendrikse belongs – is either agnostic or atheist. No wonder they figure on Dawkins’s website. It makes me ponder the importance of the apostolate of Michael Voris, about whom I blogged last week. Voris was commended for his zeal in promoting wholehearted belief in all the great truths of Christianity in many of the posts, but also criticised by others for pointing out the slackers who make up their own more comfortable rules.

Of course, the Dutch Church I have referred to above is a post-Reformation Protestant body, not “people like us”. But how different are the majority in the Church here from their Dutch neighbours over the water? I frequently meet fellow Catholics who are vague about the Resurrection, not sure about life after death or whether Jesus founded a Church at all – and that’s without starting on morals or the Church’s “rigid” rules.

I came across this apposite quotation from the philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand today: “The Church can only help mankind to draw back from the precipice upon which it is poised if the vineyard of the Lord blossoms anew. And therefore we must storm heaven with the prayer that the spirit of St Pius X might once again fill the hierarchy, that the great words ‘anathema sit’ might once again ring out against all heretics and especially against all members of the ‘fifth column’ within the Church.”

Isn’t this just what Michael Voris is trying to do as a dedicated Catholic layman?
The Exodus church in Holland might echo in its title the journey of the Israelites to the Promised Land; in practice it reflects the wholesale exodus from traditional Christian belief in Europe – and that goes for this country too.

  • Ken Purdie

    I don t think we are quite at this stage yet. Though if I remember correctly Dutch Dominicans suggested that anyone could offer Mass.  There are lots of off the wall comments on sites  like “Pray Tell” and The National ” Catholic” Reporter. So it may be the Church in America is heading this way.
     Perhaps another fruit of the misuse of Vatican 2?

  • Broken branches

    Good luck getting an “anathema sit” out of Archbishop’s House.

  • Rob Willox

    “in practice it reflects the wholesale exodus from traditional Christian belief in Europe – and that goes for this country too.”
    But, is that a bad thing? It is just that ‘belief’ with the same ‘probably’ deeply routed in it as neither proposition has been or can be proved! Or can it?

    For obvious and from logical reasoning we know that a negative cannot be proved but a positive can. All the evidence tends to support the negative, however, and the positive remains still a belief.

  • Anonymous

    People who are trying to live well, by the morals taught in the Bible and through the actions and life of Jesus Christ.

    I really find little to dislike – what exactly is the damage caused here? 
    God should save regardless of explicit belief, rather judge us on our actions. To do otherwise would be immoral.

  • Ken Purdie

    Oh you mean the way you have just attepmted to judge God.

  • ms catholic state

    Nothing is more logical than Catholicism!  Read the Catechism and find out.  Atheism is completely illogical in its first basic assumption that Creation is Creatorless.  An oxymoron if ever there was one.

  • Anonymous

    For me, if God is not real, He’s not worth bothering with.  Or as St. Paul put it “If Christ is not risen, our faith is in vain.  We might as well eat drink and be happy, for tomorrow we die” I don’t think there is too much damage caused by ministers that don’t believe in God, they usually don’t have much of a following.

    As for the question of salvation, if you reject God in this world by not believing in Him, why would you want to share heaven with Him in the next?  There is sufficient evidence of His existence for those that want to believe, but there will never be enough proof for those that don’t.

    This is in answer to paulsays – it should be under his post.

  • guest

    If God were to judge us on our actions none of us would get to heaven “For all have sinned” we all rely on mercy to attain heaven, and to get mercy you have realise the need for it and ask for it.  It is true that those who, through no fault of their own have never heard the good news will be judged differently from those who have heard it and rejected it; but here we are talking about people who purport to be messengers of the gospel whilst not believing in God- can you ask for mercy from a human experience?

  • Anonymous

    I do not judge what God does as immoral, because I do not believe God can act in an immoral way. 
    Therefore it is my belief that God would not judge on belief over and above our actions and our moral standards.

    I am not judging God, but questioning those that describe God as acting in ways which are logically immoral. 

    Why is, for example, a man that has faith in God, but is an adulterer, may have a better chance of being saved than an atheist who devotes his time to caring for the homeless?

    One thing we can agree on is that Disqus is quite useless!

  • Parasum

    “Isn’t this just what Michael Voris is trying to do as a dedicated Catholic layman?”

    If that expects an answer, one possible answer is “Not exactly”.

    MV does not attend to how people think – he notices a particular kind or set of unorthodoxies, those he scouts as “liberal”, then tries to shoo those who hold those unorthodoxies out of the Church. As his videos show. The possibility that his own position is less than Catholic seems not to occur to him, because his approach is not that of the philosopher. MV’s is much more like the attitude of St. Pius X, who was a parish priest, not a philosopher. An anti-Modernist terror like that under St. Pius X is not what a Christian body needs. If there were another:
    (1) it would probably include many of those who attack “liberals”, since the orthodox are never orthodox enough for those who are even less accommodating than they (MV is criticised in a video in just this way, even as he criticises “liberals”); &
    (2) wanting “the good old days” of Pope X or St. Y back, is not the same as discovering they were not quite as ideal as distance can paint them. Would MV really like to being ruled by a Catholic dictator ? Not if it happened – he has the luxury of wanting it, because his desire for it won’t be tested by its ever happening. If there were a re-run of the repression under St. Pius X, complete with the suspicion and intrigue, it’s a safe a bet he would not be happy.

    So wanting things to be tough for “all heretics and especially against all members of the ‘fifth column’ within the Church”, is not wise. Those who set snares to catch others, cannot really complain if they are taken in them. Those whose scorn patience toward others, must not expect to be shown consideration & patience & mercy. So dialogue & charity & patience are far better than the harshness some people seem to want. Unfortunately, no Saint Thomas, to combine serene examination of what people think, with an equally serene orthodoxy, seems to be around today. It’s not the spirit of a Pope we need, but the Holy Spirit of Christ.

  • Aging Papist

    It’s little wonder the Dutch Reformed clergy don’t believe in God.  They’ve been taught the bible is the inerrant word of God, so it is infallible.  For anyone believing such childish rubbish is most likely bound to believe in palmistry, witchcraft, papal infallibility, and other forms of  deception.  That person is bound to lose his or her faith in due course.

  • Peter

    One doesn’t even have to be religious to know that an omnipotent immaterial creative power exists.  This knowledge can be acquired through reason alone.

    The latest physics talks of a multiverse, an infinite array of successive and co-existent spacetimes, of which our universe is just one.

    If the multiverse is infinite, then that which causes it to exist instead of not exist, and to function at every moment instead of ceasing to function and therefore no longer exist, must be of infinite power.

    Furthermore, if the multiverse represents everything physical that there is in existence, then that infinite power which is responsible for the multiverse existing instead of not existing, cannot be physical.

    The creative power responsible for the existence of the multiverse is infinite and immaterial.

  • Gordon Hide

    To be an atheist no particular view on “creation” is necessary except that gods were not responsible.

  • Gordon Hide

    Well, I don’t know any more than you do why there is something rather than nothing but what if nothing is inherently unstable? Perhaps all matter and energy was created as a result of this instability?

  • Gordon Hide

    Is this not close to one of the horns of the Euthyphro dilemma? You appear to have unconsciously decided that moral tenets exist independent of God?

  • ms catholic state

    Have you got proof of this extraordinarily illogical atheist position?!

  • Peter

    What created the inherent instabiltiy of nothing ?  Why does inherent instability have to exist instead of not existing?

  • Saved for Eternity

    Repent…2 peter 2 1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will
    be false teachers!! among you. They will secretly introduce destructive
    heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift
    destruction on themselves.
    2Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.

    The people who do this are the people who have not met the lord but have adopted christianity as a philosophy they deny the power of the holy spirit to change hearts DONT LISTEN TO THEM.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t see how I suggested this. As i said I believe it is impossible for God to act in an immoral manner, and therefore his actions and teachings define morality itself. 

  • Gordon Hide

    Does something have to have created the properties of nothing? After all, you are proposing to answer the question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” by postulating the existence of something which existed alongside nothing and made it unstable.

  • Gordon Hide

    Yes, you’re right. It’s possible to read your first line to mean that whatever god does is good by definition because he did it. (The other horn of the dilemma). Yet you presume to know what God would judge in moral terms as though you had access to knowledge of morals that didn’t come from God?  Surely it’s not necessary for you to presume what he will judge because whatever his judgement it must be good and moral because it comes from him?

  • Anonymous

    You d better ask God that. I do not know his mind. I cannot begin to even contemplate it. As only God knows the real heart of man. One can only suppose he has more information than we do. Our vision is really restricted.
     Is the adulterer all he seems? Is the athiest really so?????etc

  • peregrinus

    Gordon.  Nothing has no properties. That is what “nothing” means.  To say that instability is a property of nothingness is a contradiction in terms, because “nothing” has no properties.  The fact that things exist means that “nothingness” is not, and never was, reality.  

  • Viewpoint

    There is no inconsistency between the views of this Dutch clergyman and the ture message of the Gospels. The Kingdom of God is within you (as Luke tells us). Rilke suggested it is better to consider God as a direction not a ‘thing’ or being with tangible existence. The 13th century Cloud of Unknowing  tells us of the God that can be known and the unknowable God beyond the Cloud. This is also consistent with the Dao of Eastern thought.

    Speaking of ‘God’ as something or someone – making the assumption we have the capacity to ‘know’ the ultimate reality is simply not credible for many people. Repetition of outdated notions does not make them any more believable. The symbolic meaning fo the Gospels is completely credible and timeless – a simplistic, literalistic interpretation is not. Which is probably why the churches are empty!

  • Gordon Hide

    Ah, arguing about nothing. How very appropriate for the internet. So nothing is neither stable nor unstable. Does that mean that nothing has the property of being two opposing thinfs at the same time? Or perhaps nothing does not have the property of being two opposing things at the same time. Is nothing transparent or opaque? Does nothing have zero mass? I would say that we cannot know whether nothing has properties as we have no experience.

  • calumcille

    One has do distinguish between positive properties and null properties, which are situation based.  Thus my table has the positive property of being round and the negative property of being square.  Its squareness has a 0 value, ie, nothing.  Nothingness has null properties.  Instability would exhibit positive characteristics, not null characteristics.

  • Gordon Hide

    Why is the instability of nothing a positive property while its stability is a “null situation based property”?
    I mention this because Professor Krauss the theoretical physicist uses this idea in his book “A Universe From Nothing”.

  • Gordon Hide

    Why is the instability of nothing a positive property while its stability is a “null situation based property”?
    I mention this because Professor Krauss the theoretical physicist uses this idea in his book “A Universe From Nothing”.