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Dutch Leaving Churches at Faster Rate

Just one in five still attend church regularly.

Amsterdam Netherlands
Amsterdam, the Netherlands at night (iStock/Bogdan Lazar)

The Netherlands continues to secularize at a rapid pace. A survey conducted every ten years by the country’s largest Christian broadcaster finds that fewer than one in five still attend church regularly.

A quarter of respondents describe themselves as atheist, up from 14 percent in 2006.

A quarter worry the country’s dwindling religiosity could precipitate a moral decline, down from 40 percent ten years ago. A majority believes faith should play no major role in either politics or education.

Christian nation

Despite its liberal reputation, the Netherlands is historically a Christian nation. Our briefing on Dutch society argues that Calvinists, although few in number, were able to impose such values as hard work, obedience to rules and thrift on the whole country.

Into the 1950s, Catholics and Protestants lived largely segregated lives in accordance with the Neo-Calvinist doctrine of “sphere sovereignty,” which allows for the coexistence of diverse social and religious groups in a single society. (Which goes some way to explaining the Netherlands’ “live and let live” attitude.) The religious blocs had their own newspapers, political parties, school and trade unions.

Many of those institutions survive. Some 70 percent of public schools in the Netherlands are nominally Christian (or Islamic). Christian democratic parties were the dominant force in Dutch politics up until a few years ago.

Relevance

Yet only a quarter of the Dutch belong to a Christian church anymore. 5 percent are Muslim. Another 2 percent adhere to a different religion.

Catholics are secularizing at the fastest rate. Half say the Church of Rome is no longer relevant to their way of life. A third of Protestants say the same about their church.

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