At Protestant churches in Holland, the preachers admit to the the congregants that God does not exist, there is no afterlife, and Jesus was a mortal, if he existed at all. It’s Christianity for a post-belief world. The BBC writes:
“Make the most of life on earth, because it will probably be the only one you get”. The Rev Klaas Hendrikse can offer his congregation little hope of life after death, and he’s not the sort of man to sugar the pill. Mr Hendrikse presides over the Sunday service at the Exodus Church in Gorinchem, central Holland.
It is part of the mainstream Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN), and the service is conventional enough, with hymns, readings from the Bible, and the Lord’s Prayer.
“Personally I have no talent for believing in life after death,” Mr Hendrikse says. “No, for me our life, our task, is before death.” Nor does Klaas Hendrikse believe that God exists at all as a supernatural thing. “When it happens, it happens down to earth, between you and me, between people, that’s where it can happen. God is not a being at all… it’s a word for experience, or human experience.”
His book Believing in a Non-Existent God led to calls from more traditionalist Christians for him to be removed. However, a special church meeting decided his views were too widely shared among church thinkers for him to be singled out. A study by the Free University of Amsterdam found that one-in-six clergy in the PKN and six other smaller denominations was either agnostic or atheist.
Dienie van Wijngaarden, who’s been going to Exodus Church for 20 years, is among lay people attracted to such free thinking. “I think it’s very liberating. [Klaas Hendrikse] is using the Bible in a metaphorical way so I can bring it to my own way of thinking, my own way of doing.”
Wim De Jong says, “Here you can believe what you want to think for yourself, what you really feel and believe is true.”
Churches in Amsterdam were hoping to attract such people with a recent open evening. At the Old Church “in the hottest part of the red light district”, the attractions included “speed-dating”.
Professor Hijme Stoffels of the VU University Amsterdam says it is in such concepts as love that people base their diffuse ideas of religion. “In our society it’s called ‘somethingism’,” he says. “There must be ‘something’ between heaven and earth, but to call it ‘God’, and even ‘a personal God’, for the majority of Dutch is a bridge too far.
“Christian churches are in a market situation. They can offer their ideas to a majority of the population which is interested in spirituality or some kind of religion.” To compete in this market of ideas, some Christian groups seem ready virtually to reinvent Christianity. They want the Netherlands to be a laboratory for Christianity, experimenting with radical new ways of understanding the faith.