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.