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Organised Humanism in the Netherlands: 1945-2018

Bert Gasenbeek1


Abstract


‘The ability to give purpose and shape to one’s existence has been inherent to the Netherlands from the very outset. Creating land out of sea, building an international trade network, establishing freedom and tolerance in a world of violence and religious fanaticism: in short, turning the swamp into a paradise.’

Rob Tielman

2

 

From second-rate citizens to mainstream in the Netherlands

 

According to data from the Census of 1947, 83 % of Dutch people were members of a church community shortly after the Second World War; humanists were considered second-rate citizens and “pillarisation” (i.e. division of community into groups based on worldview or socio-economic grounds) was intensifying. The Netherlands was still a predominantly ecclesiastic country in the mid-1960s, where approximately half of the population regularly attended church and virtually half declared their belief in God. Humanists had been cautiously acknowledged by this time.

That country no longer exists in the Netherlands. ‘Regular church-goers and God-fearing believers are now a minority among the contemporary Dutch population. New spiritual values are widespread and strongly bear the hallmarks of an individualised and de-institutionalised society. Most Dutch citizens believe the meaning of life must be sought by pursuing unique inner experiences and developing personal capabilities’.3 Together with Humanitas and The Freedom of Thought (De Vrije Gedachte), the Dutch Humanist Association (Humanistisch Verbond – HV) represents the seemingly small following of the organised humanist movement (the existing humanist-based organisational structure). However, if one examines the worldview movements in the Netherlands, humanism can in fact be regarded as ‘mainstream’ (the relatively timeless humanist-labelled ideas and practices). After all, around 40 % of adults in the Netherlands feel strongly associated with the type of humanism expressed in central humanist values: equality, freedom, social justice, broad-mindedness and sense of responsibility.4

The HV has struggled to formulate a mission ever since the nineties. But guidelines for a renewed form of humanism were presented in 2000.5 On the one hand, new requirements were set for organised humanism within the social sphere. However, organised humanism was being given very little attention in the public debate. The media barely showed interest in explicit humanist visions that, moreover, did not deviate significantly from other visions. On the other hand, individual members were encouraged to assume a more cosmopolitan and socially aware approach to their humanism.

 

The humanist movement; a child of its time

 

Instead of using this contribution to describe the history and progression of organised humanism as an independent evolution, I have examined it against the backdrop of important economic, political, cultural and philosophical developments that took place in the Netherlands between 1946 and 2018. Focus on organised humanism as a ‘movement’ is an essential part of this approach. However, this contribution is too short to examine humanism as a mainstream within society which is based on relatively timeless humanist-coined ideas and practices. Unfortunately, it is also impossible to parry criticism from outside the movement, which claims that humanism that emphasises reasonable and moral principles is weak and powerless.

The following questions will be addressed. How did organised modern humanism come into being in the Netherlands after the Second World War? What were its social and philosophical goals? How did the humanists respond to social issues? What was the relationship with other secular worldview organisations, such as the freethinkers? And in a broader sense, was ‘(...) the humanist movement in many ways a child of its time’, as historian Vincent Stolk (1984) worded it. 6

This contribution is primarily based on secondary literature, thanks to the availability of a rich historiography on Dutch humanism.7

 

The humanist tradition

 

Humanism as a non-religious worldview did not simply fall out of the sky after the Second World War. Humanism is, in fact, much older and has its origins in classical Greece with Socrates. And historically speaking, humanism in its singular form has never existed and has always been referred to as ‘humanisms’, in plural form. It would thus be better to refer to this as a humanist tradition. For instance, humanism has no ‘humanist’ church, does not have rituals and does not have holy scriptures like the Bible, Koran or Torah. It does, however, have a very rich tradition. A tradition that Dutch freethinker and humanist Anton Constandse (1899-1985) described as ‘striving for spiritual liberation in culture’.8

The humanist tradition has three main characteristics:

  1. Critical and self-conscious reflection about religious authorities and dogmatic ways of thinking. Critical reflection about so-called eternal truths, which was witnessed during the emergence of modern science, has remained strong to this very day.
  2. Moral and political commitment towards social justice and resistance against forces of fascism and intolerance; against military violence and in favour of open dialogue.
  3. A clearly defined ideal concerning individual development, maturation and transformation (Bildung). Aesthetics and culture are at the forefront, but humanist education always involves ‘individuals as a whole’.9

Due to their ideologies and readiness to fight, numerous people and movements have helped us to move forward on the road that leads to democracy, personal freedom and tolerance.10

 

‘A home for humanists’: 1946-1966


 

‘Turning the swamp into a paradise’

 

This is how humanist Rob Tielman (1946) describes the Netherlands.11 It is by no means far-fetched to say that the Netherlands – that small country in Western Europe where a couple of big rivers flow into the North Sea – is marked by its eternal battle against water. After all, much of the land is below sea level and whole provinces have been created by reclaiming land from the sea.

The Netherlands won its independence during the Eighty Years’ War (1568- 1648), in which the Seventeen Provinces revolted against Spanish rule. The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands was established in 1581. Following French annexation (1795-1813), the Netherlands established itself as a nation state. Initially as the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815, which fell apart again due to the Belgian Revolution in 1830. The Netherlands has been a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy since 1848. A form of government that divides power between the king (or queen), ministers (including the prime minister) and the two houses of parliament (or Chambers).

When it comes to religion, Dutch people have a long-standing tradition of religious tolerance and pluralism, as well as religious freedom since Napoleonic times in the nineteenth century.12 During the two preceding centuries, the Dutch Reformed Church had enjoyed near complete dominance, although other religious groups were tolerated. After all, the Dutch have a strong humanist tradition with thinkers like Erasmus (1466-1536), Coornhert (1522-1590), Spinoza (1632-1677), Multatuli (1820-1887), Kousbroek (1929-2010) and many others.13

The first modern Dutch constitution from 1798 was a bill of rights that contained essential principles for establishing a secular, democratic state. The most important principle was that every citizen has the freedom to serve God in accordance with the conviction of his or her heart, but also included a radical separation of church and state. The Calvinists, who broke away from the Reformed Church in the nineteenth century, and the Catholics felt they were being treated as second-rate citizens in the second half of the nineteenth century and began organising themselves independently; they can be regarded a social movement based on religion. Their goal for emancipation was founded on the principle of equal rights, which resulted in an ideological division of society, sometimes referred to as the “pillarised” society. Society was divided vertically into segments or pillars, which is a metaphor for columns that stand side by side without actually connecting to one another, except via the roof they support. Each pillar had its own organisations, such as political parties, trade unions, newspapers, hospitals, broadcasting companies and social work organisations. People’s social lives were generally confined to their own community. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, there were two main communities or pillars based on religious ideologies: the Catholics and the Protestants. The third pillar included the socialists, while the non-religious liberals formed the fourth pillar, which is also known as the neutral pillar. This constellation was able to function because the four groups had agreed not to interfere with each other’s sphere of influence, and reached agreement on the principle of equal rights to facilities. This system worked well until around 1960, partly because the pillars were approximately equal in strength. But growing secularism caused the system to topple over.

 

Roots of organised humanism

 

Modern organised humanism appeared from nowhere in 1946.14 Humanism had existed as a concept in the inter-war period, although not always viewed positively because it was considered too weak but was not recognised as an organised worldview. Its roots can be traced back to around 1930 among social democrats and the pacifist youth organisation where many future humanists were initially active.

A dispute about party principles erupted among the ranks of the Sociaal- Democratische Arbeiderspartij (Social Democratic Workers’ Party – SDAP) in around 1930. It centred around replacing the Marxist class struggle with ‘democratic socialism’; thus placing cultural and moral aspects at the forefront. This change meant values like ‘respect for the human personality’, which were part of the party’s 1937 action programme, strongly resembled views conveyed by the Dutch Humanistisch Verbond (Humanist Association – HV) in terms of content as well as wording.15 Socialism served as a new worldview for many people who turned their backs on the church during the inter-war period; and non-religious individuals represented a majority within the SDAP. In that sense, the party was very much a centre of spiritual kinship.16

Another influential root of organised humanism lies in the radical-pacifist youth movement called the Jongeren Vredes Actie (Youth Peace Action – JVA), which existed between 1924 and 1940. With concepts like “pacifist public defence” and “spiritual resilience”, the JVA had devised a non-violent alternative to military national defence. People including Jaap van Praag (1911-1981), Garmt Stuiveling (1907-1985) and Jan Brandt Corstius (1908-1985), who later became important humanists, played key roles in this movement. After the war, Jaap van Praag, a prominent chairman of the Dutch HV in later years, looked back on the JVA as a humanist peace movement.17

 

Jaap van Praag: father of Dutch organised humanism

 

Jaap van Praag, born in a humble non-religious Jewish family, studied philosophy and became a humanist and director.18 During his period of hiding in 1943, he worked on his most important book on humanism, titled Modern Humanisme. Een renaissance?19 The book’s flyleaf says: ‘This book was born from the need for a responsible and non-religious worldview, which could serve as both a foundation for one’s personal life and a guideline for culture-creating endeavours. This philosophy of life is modern humanism, to which this book bears witness’. He devoted a lot of attention to the spiritual crisis and saw a solution in (once again) acknowledging the value of a worldview. This not only highlighted a task for churches but also for non- religious worldviews. ‘For now, we will refer to this worldview as (...) Humanism’.20

This was the first book in the Netherlands to offer an elaborate justification for a modern, non-religious humanist worldview. In the book’s justification, he stressed that experiences before and during the Second World War served as motivation for publishing the book: ‘it was born out of necessity’. Not only would Van Praag be the leading figure of the Dutch HV from 1946 to around 1970, he would also be the face, voice and pen of the movement.21 It is a common misconception that freethinkers from the De Dageraad (The Dawn) free-thought association (established in 1856) were forerunners of the Dutch Humanist Association. Although there were many similarities and also double memberships, freethinkers differed greatly in their outspoken atheist beliefs and anti-church convictions, whereas humanists included many agnostics and wanted to co-exist with the church(es). Freethinker and humanist Anton Constandse (1899-1985) believed that their ethical and philosophical principles were identical, but their colour, climate and political atmosphere were different: ‘Although De Dageraad was resurrected in 1945 and was able to somewhat adapt to the new circumstances, its “image”, i.e. the perception of being an aggressive association for the godless, stood in its way’.22 After the war, De Dageraad, which changed its name to De Vrije Gedachte (The Free Thought) in 1958, experienced a brief upsurge, but membership steadily declined, its members aged and the organisation stagnated. Even though the association primarily concentrated on criticising religion and freedom of expression, apparently it still was not appealing enough for ‘God-free people’23 to join its ranks.

Another important organisation that was closely based on humanist principles is the Stichting voor Maatschappelijk Werk op Humanistische Grondslag (Foundation for Social Work on Humanist Grounds), which was established on 31 May 1945 and later became known as Humanitas. The founders, who were mostly social democrats, wanted to restore human dignity that had been violated by the violence of the Second World War. In addition, they wanted to break away from the pre-war tradition of religious charity and approach people in need with human dignity. They chose a humanist foundation, rather than a socialist or social-democratic one, because they believed humanism would not only appeal to the non-religious, but also to liberal Christians. Under the banner of humanism, Humanitas was able to promote its beliefs to a broader group of people. It focuses on the individual and, from a (fellow) human perspective, its work is based on the humanist values of independence, equality and responsibility for yourself and your community.24 Over time, the areas in which it operates have changed depending on the hardships people experience; traditionally, the foundation – which mainly consisted of volunteers supported by professional aid workers – has been concerned with the elderly, children, the poor and, particularly, people who are being oppressed within society. Humanitas is mainly practice-oriented and places little emphasis on theory; this is also the biggest difference with the Humanist Association and sometimes the source of disagreement.

A lack of space forces me to leave these two important branches of the humanist tradition out of the equation in this contribution.25

 

Civilisation offensive

 

The inter-war period and the Second World War resulted in a deep economic, political and, in particular, spiritual crisis in the Netherlands between 1945 and 1950: ‘a spiritual state of emergency’.26 The future looked bleak for many due to the poor physical conditions and the threat of war, including one against communism. Historian Hans Blom characterised the mood in the Netherlands immediately after the Second World War as ‘years of discipline and asceticism’.27 Order needed to be restored, but the Dutch cabinet, under the leadership of Prime Minister Schermerhorn, and large influential groups in society, wanted to go further by shifting the boundaries. The idea was that society not only needed rigorous socio- economic and political change, but also spiritual and cultural renewal. There was an ongoing ‘civilisation offensive’, which aimed to establish well-behaved, decent and disciplined behaviour. In the late 1940s and during the 1950s, a new wave of moralising activities was directed at the whole population. The fierce morality campaign unleashed on society by the churches, trade movement and politicians during the first five years after the war was the result of, what they regarded as, moral feralisation of the population during the occupation and liberation in particular. Blom also considers the period after the Second World War as the continuation of a pillarised civil society. The civil value framework that focused on family, law and order, patriotism, work ethic, frugality and (self-)control. It represented consolidation in a time that was rife with shocking events.28

The Nederlandse Volksbeweging (Dutch People’s Movement – NVB (1945- 1951)) was crucial in conveying this ideology of moral reform. In order to combat this supposed degradation and moral feralisation, or the parochial mindset as “pillarisation” was referred to, there was a need for a national community. This had to be based on strict ethical standards originating from Christian and social-democratic principles. The NVB believed that pillarised political parties should become more open and that a national, progressive people’s party should be formed based on the so-called “breakthrough” notion.29 However, this optimistic sentiment for change ran out of steam because the existing parties and pillarised organisations regrouped. The pre-war system of “pillarisation” had thus been restored. However, a new party did emerge in early 1946 and based its ideas on the “breakthrough” notion. This party was the Partij van de Arbeid (Dutch Labour Party – PvdA) in which the SDAP, small groups of progressive liberals and a confessional progressive offshoot came together. The PvdA explicitly decided against basing its views on a worldview, because it wanted to open its doors to non-religious people as well as Christians.30

 

The ‘big’ and the ‘small’ fight

 

Humanist intellectuals including Jaap van Praag and Garmt Stuiveling were also concerned about the societal and spiritual crisis and wanted reform. The social climate quickly changed, however, when a discussion started about the causes of the Second World War. ‘The non-religious and humanists were blamed. They had turned their backs on God and Church and had therefore become susceptible to fascism. (...) This resulted in profound disappointment among the non-religious and humanist population, and their response was: now is the time for us to organise ourselves’.31 Furthermore, Van Praag and those who supported him had little faith in the NVB, despite the NVB’s promise that the spiritual foundation of Dutch civilisation would be based on the pillars of Christianity and humanism. They feared that, when push came to shove, Christianity would gain the upper hand. Did the press not attribute the atrocities of the Hitler regime to the fact that German people had strayed from God, and did it not warn for a spiritual crisis in the Netherlands?

It was against this backdrop that people like Jaap van Praag, Garmt Stuiveling and Jan Brandt Corstius – who, as mentioned earlier, knew each other from the JVA and similar associations – sat down together and paved the way for establishing ‘a Humanist Association’. After a brief preparation period, the Dutch Humanist Association was founded on 17 February 1946. Jaap van Praag gave a speech during the inaugural congress in which he stated:

‘It is clear that humanism must use this time to become organised so it can fully address the task we are facing. In the first instance, this task is to offer the large non-religious population a spiritually knowledgeable and morally responsible worldview. Surely, we cannot deny that the majority of non-religious people have been living in a state of spiritual nihilism (...). Yet this does not clarify the full meaning of a Humanist Association. In this era, there was clearly need to protect humanism against unsubstantiated attacks and even more so against thoughtless disregard’.32

These words by Jaap van Praag highlight the terms ‘big’ and ‘small’ fights of humanism, which are mentioned repeatedly in this document. The ‘big’ fight was aimed at supporting and offering a spiritual shelter to many people who had left the church, and who had no – or a primarily implicit – humanist belief, and were at risk of being condemned to nihilism. Memories of inhumane acts during the Second World War served as a breeding ground for this sentiment. The ‘small’ fight was the struggle to emancipate non-religious people and recognise them as equals alongside religious people in all areas of society. ‘Humanists clearly felt like second- rate citizens once again. [...] Those who called the shots in the Netherlands were the white, Christian men; that was the norm. [...] Officially there was separation between Church and State, but not in reality. Dutch society and the government were imbued in Christianity’.33

Another possible reason for the foundation of the Humanist Association was the establishment of the PvdA, which emphatically opened its doors to Christian socialists. This meant that non-religious people would no longer have a ‘natural’ place to contemplate worldview matters. The HV had to fill this void.

 

Which humanism?

 

The objectives of the HV were clear in 1946: to unite all humanists in the Netherlands and to deepen, disseminate and defend humanist philosophy. This was a much bigger challenge when it came to the Association’s founding principles because, although opinions on humanism differed greatly, the Association still wanted to have as wide a basis of support as possible. Who could be classed as a ‘humanist’ and which humanist denominator should be used?

The freethinkers, re-established in 1945, were atheistic and anticlerical. Talks took place with groups like the Vrije Gemeente (Free Community), which was established in 1877 and referred to itself as a universal religious-humanist movement that places personal religious practices above an ecclesiastic dogma, and the Religieus Humanistisch Verbond (Religious Humanist Association – RHV).34 For the RHV, it was extremely important to acknowledge ‘the essential need to experience the cosmic cohesion between things’. After lengthy discussions, this ‘cosmic’ aspect was added to Article 1 of the Humanist Association’s founding principles on 17 February 1946, thus bringing the RHV on board and creating room for pantheists, Spinozists and liberal protestants.35

This resulted in the following text:

‘Article 1. Humanism is defined as a worldview that, without regard to the existence of a personal deity, is based on respect for fellow man as a special part of the cosmic whole, as a bearer of standards that are not subject to personal arbitrariness, and as creator and sharer of religious values.’

Religious humanism was not without its controversies, however. Intensive discussions continued until the founding principles were revised in 1973.36

 

Humanism and politics

 

It is striking that the founding principles of the Humanist Association speak of a worldview but avoid terms like liberalism, atheism, socialism and social democracy. And that is precisely the criticism that a group of humanists, who had united around the magazine De Nieuwe Stem (The New Voice), had on the Association. This left- wing, non-communist monthly magazine about politics and culture (1946-1967) was, to a degree, the successor of the pre-war magazine De Stem (1921-1941). The prospectus from the autumn of 1945 formulates its underlying principle as follows: ‘Its own viewpoint can best be described as embedded in Humanism (...) Because humanism has now taken on a new form, which can be characterised as radical social humanism’.37

According to historian Annie Romein-Verschoor (1895-1978), who wrote many articles for De Nieuwe Stem, the editorial staff represented a new and particularly pragmatic and social, and essentially socialist, form of humanism.38 The relationship between the Humanist Association and De Nieuwe Stem was good at first, but over time it became clearer that there was a ‘fundamental contradiction between the radical, political and social humanism of De Nieuwe Stem and the worldview of the Association, whose primary goal was to take over some of the tasks performed by churches’.39

De Nieuwe Stem mainly differed from the Humanist Association when it came to the question of whether humanism had a political agenda. Those that wanted the Humanist Association to have an active role in politics were in the minority. The majority believed that focus on politics was important, but only to encourage supporters to form an opinion.40 In 1946, member of the board of the Dutch Humanist Association, Jan Brandt Corstius, succinctly stated the following: ‘Humanism is the source of the political convictions of all humanists, however widespread they may be. One thing that all humanist have in common is their view on politics’.41s In other words, a clear choice for party political pluralism, which, for example, lead to the Humanist Association not making a statement about the often violent Dutch intervention during the so-called Second Police Action in Indonesia.42 We will also see later – specifically on the topic of nuclear weapons – that the complex relationship between politics and worldview caused havoc within the Dutch Humanist Association.

 

Decent citizens

 

What kind of perception did the first generation of organised humanists actually create? To be honest, they rather subserviently followed the opinions of the majority of the population. The Association was adamant on not wanting to offend anyone with its viewpoints. This is particularly evident from the weekly radio broadcasts by the Dutch Humanist Association from 1946 to the mid-1970s, which included over fifteen hundred episodes of ‘Geestelijk Leven’ (Spiritual Life). An analysis of the broadcasts shows that ‘(...) the Humanist Association presented itself as a decent mob of well-mannered citizens. They may not have been church-goers, but this did not mean they were without morality. Non-religion by no means entailed anti- clericalism, and foul words were never spoken about the church. Humanists avoided a radical image: sensitive issues like abortion, euthanasia and homosexuality only entered the debate from around the mid-sixties, after these topics had become more publicly accepted’.43 According to historian Carla van Baalen (1958), humanists during the 1950s and 1960s had to contend with the notion that being a non-believer was uncivilised: ‘After the war, humanists had the ambition to forge a widespread movement for non-religious people. They wanted to be respected in the Netherlands after the Second World War. And to gain that respect, they had to show how decent they were. (...) You also see that once they acquired their position in Dutch society, deviating ideas indeed start to emerge’.44

 

‘Small fight’

 

But the Association first had to be constructed from nothing. They started in the home of Van den Berkhof – the first administrator/director – with a borrowed desk and typewriter. Van den Berkhof had given up his well-paid job at Philips in order to ‘get things moving’ together with chairman Jaap van Praag. Despite its extremely limited resources, the Dutch Humanist Association grew into a well-oiled machine. They established themselves in local communities and published their own periodicals, for instance the association circular Mens en Wereld but also Rekenschap, a magazine for science and culture. The radio broadcasts mentioned earlier were not just meaningful to members, but also created ‘positive’ publicity for the Association within the community.45

During the first twenty years of the Humanist Association, the greatest effort went into the ‘small’ fight for equal rights of non-religious and religious people, and the struggle for recognition of non-religious humanism and the Dutch Humanist Association.46 The battle was fought with great verve in a period of “pillarisation”, i.e. the compartmentalisation of society into worldviews or ideologically organised groups (‘pillars’), which have no connection with each other except via the tops of these pillars to support the ‘roof’ of the country.47 Humanists made clever use, albeit reluctantly, of arrangements enabled by this system. They used the same weapons that their opponents – especially Catholics and Protestants – had developed in their own struggle for emancipation. Firstly, non-intervention in each other’s sphere of influence and, secondly, the principle of equal rights for the different worldview groups. Crucial to the position of organised humanism after the Second World War is that the Humanist Association was able to benefit from this equal rights principle early on – between 1946 and 1970 – by setting up all kinds of organisations for practical work that were (and still are) for a large part funded by the government.48

As said earlier, humanists hesitantly made us of “pillarisation” because they strongly opposed the idea of compartmentalisation, and the Humanist Association certainly wasn’t a pillar like Carla van Baalen had argued: ‘looking solely at the HV as a worldview organisation that surrounds itself with a network of organisations, with or without a party, in order to emancipate itself as a group, the Dutch Humanist Association was definitely pillarising society’.49 My biggest objections to her conclusion are that there were no ‘humanist’ newspapers, no ‘humanist’ schools, hospitals and sports associations, and certainly no ‘humanist’ political party. Humanists were by and large great supporters of the social-democratic labour party PvdA or, to a lesser extent, the liberal parties. From the late 1960s, they started voting for the progressive-liberal D66 party or the progressive left-wing Green Party (Groen Links). And as there was no ‘humanist’ political party, they were not able to participate in the formation of new governments.

The ‘small fight’ mainly focused on shaping several forms of so-called ‘practical humanism’, such as humanist marriage counselling, humanist holiday camps for children, agencies to help with life and family issues based on humanism, a humanist broadcasting station, development cooperation based on humanist principles and humanist education. But most of this fight concentrated on humanist counselling in the armed forces, prisons and in healthcare.50 More on this later.

 

International humanism

 

Another form of practical humanism was encountered when the HV became one of the five founding organisations of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU, now Humanists International (HI)) in 1952. As of 1949, the Dutch Humanist Association, with Jaap van Praag and Henriëtte Polak-Schwarz at the helm (1893-1974), played a key role in its establishment. Former IHEU director Babu Gogineni (1968) believes ‘(...) the Netherlands is the mother country of modern organised International Humanism and it was here [Amsterdam] that the fledgling IHEU founded in 1952 was nurtured and guided’.51 During the inaugural meeting in Amsterdam, Jaap van Praag, chairman of the preparation committee, gave the opening speech: ‘One must first have a hand before making a fist. Our first task is to give international humanism hands now. (...) So our first duty is to develop our national movements and to gather the scattered sparks of humanism all over the world’.52 The Dutch Humanist Association was a strong supporter of the IHEU and, for example, the IHEU secretariat was based in Utrecht until 1997. Prominent Dutch humanists like Jaap van Praag, Piet Thoenes (1921-1995) and Rob Tielman (1946) were also board members of the IHEU.53

 

On an equal footing

 

The small fight was essentially resolved around 1966 and humanists were socially acknowledged ‘on an equal footing’ with the religious population: ‘The battle has principally been overcome; in essence, equal rights are barely being contested now; however, in a practical sense, some wishes remain unfulfilled.’ These are the words that Jaap van Praag used at the anniversary congress on 19 February 1966 when taking stock of the emancipation battle of organised humanists. In 1965, humanism was generally recognised, along with the Jewish-Christian belief, as an important foundation of Dutch tradition: Prime Minister Mr Jo Cals (1914-1971) said in the 1965 government declaration: ‘(...) that this policy will be supported by the spiritual values expressed in Christianity and Humanism’.

Humanism was thus finally on an equal footing with Christianity, which had been unthinkable when the Dutch Humanist Association was founded back in 1946. What brought this surprisingly short and successful emancipation battle to an end? The following circumstances certainly contributed in my view. The first and crucial reason was the ongoing secularisation of society. Add to this the framework enabled by the pillarised welfare state. Thirdly, a small group of board members worked hard day in, day out for the Association. They were also very assertive and representative intellectuals who made excellent use of the networks in which they operated. The fourth reason is that it was extremely important that they used the weapons of dialogue and argument, and that they made clear that no religion by no means meant no morals.54

 

From recognition to being recognised (1966-1987)


 

Cultural revolution

 

A cultural revolution is what historian Hans Blom calls the period of change in the 1960s. For many people in the Netherlands, 1966 is symbolised by riots that took place on the wedding day of crown princess Beatrix (1938) and her fiancé Claus (1926-2002),55 the founding of new political party D66, Nieuw Links (the new left- wing movement within the PvdA) and Provo. Spectacular events and important changes occurred during this era of so-called cultural revolution. Although Blom also sees continuity and stability, the intensity and speed of the social, political and cultural changes increased considerably. This was a time of individual growth, self- determination, democratisation and participation.56

The major changes during the ‘endless 1960s’, as the period was described by historian Hans Righart, were primarily socio-cultural in nature, according to him and other professional historians. Secularisation and the sexual revolution were integral components of that.57 The break with the past could be attributed to economic growth and prosperity, expansion of social security, socio-economic tensions, political change and radicalism, depillarisation, secularisation, the emergence of television, increased sexual freedom and the rise of youth culture and student movements.58

The main point was to ‘decolonise individuals’, who had to be freed from the domination of political pillarisation – as journalist Henk Hofland (1927-2016) words it in his brilliant essay. With the ‘cultural revolution’, the Netherlands had taken a major leap towards ‘deruralising’ a large village-based country into a small international country.59 This was aimed at self-governance by citizens, radical democratisation in all kinds of social areas, and eventually the emancipation of individuals.

Secularisation continued at great speed as of the 1960s. In the period from 1966 to 1996, there was a major shift in the Christian, theistic belief in a God that takes care of each individual person on earth. In 1966, 47 % of Dutch citizens said they believed in such a God. By 1979, an intermediate study showed that this percentage had dropped to 33 %, and this number fell even further to 24 % by 1996: nearly a 50 % decline in just thirty years. Atheism increased in the same period from 6 % to 10 %, while agnosticism had grown from 16 % to 27 % in 1997.60

 

Change in direction

 

The Dutch Humanist Association had dedicated the past twenty years to obtaining a position in Dutch society. However, growth in its membership failed to live up to expectations, fundamental principles became a point of debate and the cultural revolution would also leave its marks on the Humanist Association.

The battle for recognition may have been fought and won, but a new battle for acceptance would start in 1966. Member of the board Piet Spigt (1919-1990) wrote: ‘After twenty years we have more or less managed to be acknowledged as non- religious citizens of our country. We are accepted in different areas as equal partners in our dealings and discussions with, and our actions and initiatives for, community life. But is it really who we are?’ He later stated that ‘(...) besides basic equal rights, a serious attempt must also be made to clearly formulate and make people aware of what makes us unique and different – and not to repudiate our stance’.61 Humanists had to become more recognisable.

Formative education, humanist counselling and scientific work became the three pillars of the Association’s work. Besides deepening and debating the Association’s own position in worldview greater focus was needed for points of social discussion. This would become a recurring theme and point of debate within the Association from 1969.

 

Principles of humanism

 

Many members felt the Association’s founding principles were outdated and needed to explain humanism in a more appealing manner. In 1973, upon request from the Board of the Dutch Humanist Association, Spigt rewrote the principles of humanism in clear and succinct words and explained the goal of the Humanist Association:

‘Humanism is a worldview that tries to understand life and the world purely with human faculties. It is considered essential for man’s ability to form clear judgements, for which nobody or no-one except him can be held accountable. Humanism is characterised by: constant willingness to show responsibility in thought and action with regard to standards of reason and morality; helping care for your fellow man so he can develop and achieve a full life of self-determination; striving for a society based on freedom, justice, tolerance, respect for human dignity and humanity’.62

Compared with the original founding principles from 1946, the 1973 version has lost its religious-idealistic tone and the reference to cosmic coherence has disappeared. According to Flokstra, Wieling and Kuijlman (1972) it seems as if ‘for the first time, reason is serving as the norm’.63 Although religious humanism was kept alive as a sub- movement within the Dutch Humanist Association, the rationalists (‘understanders’) had the upper hand over religious humanists (‘experiencers’) within the Association. However, this movement resurfaced again in the Eighties in the shape of more attention to spirituality and (humanist) rituals.64

 

Rob Tielman: an inspired humanist65

 

‘Few people embody humanism in the Netherlands as much as Rob Tielman’.66 As chairman from 1977 to 1987, the young sociologist Rob Tielman was able to successfully present the Dutch Humanist Association in the public eye as an organisation that focused its humanist vision on individual self-determination and solidarity with people who need help. Under his leadership, the Association mainly devoted its efforts to the emancipation of homosexuals, young people and women. By giving humanism a clear identity and voice on radio and television, in newspapers and magazines, through the motto ‘giving purpose and shape to one’s own life’, the Dutch Humanist Association gained media attention for humanist views; newspaper Trouw called him ‘the cardinal of the Humanist Netherlands’.67 He found a way of connecting current social themes with a humanist vision.68 The Humanist Association was by no means a pioneer in these themes and did not go against the flow. But based on the central ideas of individualisation and solidarity, the Humanist Association was able to find a connection with already existing social developments. As chairman in very turbulent times at the beginning of the 1980s, Tielman protected the Dutch Humanist Association from falling apart.

 

Social engagement and internal polarisation

 

In the 1960s, humanists were generally activated by conservative resistance based on religion – for instance, when it came to abortion law, legalising the sale of contraceptives and divorce law. The response of humanists was not based on revolutionary notions, but was often rooted in anger: ‘It did not want to be lectured like a young child, nor did it want other worldviews to impose restrictions on its comings and goings’.69 The fact that the Humanist Association made very few public statements during that time was basically due to the rule that all twenty board members had to approve the statement: one vote against was still okay, but not three.70

After the change of direction in 1973, besides deepening its own worldview, the Association decided to take an active stance on topical issues. In 1977, the year in which Rob Tielman was appointed chairman, the first issue of Humanistisch Perspectief (Humanist perspective) was released. It included fifteen social themes that merited attention from a humanist viewpoint, such as democratisation, tolerance, environment, sexuality, development cooperation and euthanasia.71 In the ten years from 1979 until 1989, the Humanist Association publicised 35 statements and standpoints on matters such as abortion, euthanasia, separation of church and state, and no fewer than five on the issue of nuclear weapons.72 However, the latter caused such a row within the Association that there was major risk of a break-away.

Social engagement was also apparent among a section of the Association’s staff, as well as among many young members. Unsurprisingly, conflicts thus ensued when the Association faced public calls for more democracy and political statements. These conflicts were mainly between conservative board members like chairman Max Rood (1927-2001) and members of the Humanisties Jongeren Sentrum (Humanist Youth Centre), who drew inspiration from the political views of Provos, gnomes and hippies,73 and were supported by the Association’s political coaches. Training courses were characterised by themes like anti-authoritarian education, day-care centres, life in communes, drug use and anarchy. Their main goal was to politicise ‘civil humanism’, and to transform the Association ‘(...) into a representative of a new, socio-critical, revolutionary or utopian form of socialist humanism.’ Eventually these radical officers were dismissed and many critical young members left the Association.

As already stated, there was a major rift in the Humanist Association between 1980 and 1984, which revolved around the question of how much the Humanist Association was allowed to say about objectives and means regarding certain social issues. Or, in other words, the relationship between worldview and politics. In concrete terms, it concerned the issue about NATO’s decision to station cruise missiles74 in the Netherlands. The goal – i.e. reducing numbers – was widely agreed within the ranks of the Dutch Humanist Association, but ‘the NATO Double-Track Decision’75 put several groups in diametrically opposite positions. Particularly when it came to the Humanist Association’s decision to not take a stance, even though the majority was in favour. In the background, antagonism arose between leftist members, who felt that the Dutch Humanist Association should voice its position on socio-political matters (for a short period united in the Beweging van Kritische Humanisten (Movement of Critical Humanists – BKH)), and liberal-minded members, who felt that their minority viewpoint was not receiving the attention it deserved (temporarily grouped in the Algemeen Humanistisch Trefpunt (General Humanist Assembly – AHT)). This was partly because the board had provided financial support to the newly founded Humanistisch Vredesberaad (Humanist Peace Council – HVB), which called on all humanists to demonstrate at the anti-nuclear protest in Amsterdam.76

One can see the hand of Rob Tielman in the solution to this virtually unsolvable problem. Tielman was a strong advocate of pluralism within the Dutch Humanist Association, or, in other words, unity in diversity. At a special congress in 1983, the board presented a new proposal that basically said that the board would still make a statement even if it was not able to reach a consensus. In doing so, different viewpoints would be highlighted in such a way that all board members could endorse the statement. As such, the minority would also be able to present its views and the majority would no longer have to speak on behalf of the minority. The official viewpoint, however, had to be decisive in terms of policy.77

Criticism from the BKH was fundamental: they were clear in their disapproval of the course adopted by the Humanist Association; on the one hand, they criticised the precarious division between worldview and politics and, on the other, the dilution of humanism. They saw this dilution in humanism’s identification with non-religion as wanting to position itself alongside the churches. In the BKH’s view, a humanist is therefore ‘(...) someone who does not believe in God but is still nice. While there is great anti-humanism among the non-religious, there is also humanism among the religious because humanism promotes, by definition, the liberation of people from economic as well as ideological structures’.78

 

‘Stones rather than bread’

 

Practical humanism simply continued during the 1950s and 1960s. Humanist counselling was able to get off the ground as a non-religious variant of Christian pastoral care thanks to the principle of equal rights of life views. The long delay in humanists actually being granted access to this care could be attributed to the reluctance of religious politicians and parties. Minister of Justice Hendrik Mulderije (1896-1970), for instance, was quite crude in his statement on 18 December 1951 in the First Chamber, when he declared that when the Humanist Association provided humanist counselling to prisoners, it was ‘then like giving the people “stones rather than bread”’, and therefore the Association had no place here.79 After much opposition and various advisory commissions and research, mental care for the armed forces was permitted for a trial period of three years. It was a milestone when, in 1967, the government granted the first humanist counsellor official access to military barracks: at the time, the Netherlands was the only NATO country with this facility.80

Over two hundred volunteer humanist counsellors were already working across the country by 1960, for example in labour camps, hospitals, telephone helpline centres, humanist agencies for life and family problems, prisons, military institutions and local communities of the Humanist Association. As of the mid-1960s, counselling work developed from a practical form of humanism by volunteers into a professional career that concentrated on the armed forces (1964), justice (1968), hospitals, foster care and elderly care (1968).81 These fields were further professionalised in the years that followed, although this was done far away from the Humanist Association and with great suspicion towards religious colleagues. The fight for more government positions that do greater justice to high demand for specific humanist counselling work and to many non-religious people, started at this time and continues to this day.82

During the same period, the Humanist Association lobbied tirelessly to receive subsidies for establishing important initiatives for humanists. In 1966, the Humanist Association received a very limited broadcasting time of ten minutes a week on the radio and ten minutes a month on television. When the Humanistisch Instituut voor Ontwikkelingssamenwerking (Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation – HIVOS) was founded in 1968, the Humanist Association wanted to break the monopoly that religious groups had in the field of development work. The Humanist Association also placed greater focus on human rights: the Humanistisch Overleg Mensenrechten (Humanist Discussion on Human Rights) was initiated in 1981.83

 

Who is an organised ‘humanist’?

 

But even with the subsidies it received, practical humanism still cost a lot of money. That is why the Humanist Association was concerned about its low membership and limited growth from the early Seventies onwards. On average, membership fluctuated between 11.000 and 15.000 between 1961 and 1970. This concern stemmed from the limited support to finance the Humanist Association’s services on the one hand, and the question why more people did not want to join the Association in this era of rapid secularisation on the other. When it was founded, initiators expected large numbers of people to join. In 1969, it appeared that of the 7 % of Dutch peopl e who called themselves ‘humanists’, only 0.2 % were members.84

So who were these members? Research showed that ‘(...) the humanist is someone who is not very authoritarian. He is highly interested in social, aesthetic and theoretical values (...) but shows little interest in religious values. (...) The majority had a political preference towards progressive, left-wing political parties. The PvdA proved to be particularly popular. (...) Most humanists held middle- management positions or higher in the service sector and had a surprisingly high level of education. (...) In 50 % of cases, this involved education at academic or bachelor level. (...) Humanists usually fall in the ‘middle-aged or older’ age category. (...) Unmarried women aged 50 and older appeared to account for a sizeable portion of the Association’s total membership’.85

Despite this and many future studies,86 and the various membership campaigns, numbers continued to fluctuate around the 15.000 mark. In his typical style of humour, Piet Spigt, vice-chairman of the Humanist Association at the time, manages to put this low membership into perspective. Instead of being surprised about the Humanist Association only having 15.000 members, he was surprised it had so many: ‘Just look at all the criteria that accompanies such membership (...) A member must: A. be non-religious; B. have a certain sensitivity towards worldview issues; C. possess a certain maturity that goes beyond searching for immediate practical solutions like young people often do; D. have a certain level of schooling’.87

 

Success and still in dire straits

 

A huge milestone in humanism was reached when the new Dutch Constitution of 1983 entered into force. Article 1 states that: ‘All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, worldview, political opinion, race, or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.’ This article was a pivotal moment in the history of freethinkers and humanists because, for the very first time, the constitution stipulated that religion and (the non-religious) worldview should be treated equally. Article 10 is also worth mentioning: ‘Everyone shall have the right to respect for his privacy, without prejudice to restrictions laid down by or pursuant to Act of Parliament.’ According to Tielman, this article is of great importance from the humanist principle that people have the right to give purpose and shape to their own lives as long as this does not affect the self-determination rights of others. Thanks to prominent humanists, as well as kindred-spirited members of the Second Chamber Hein Roethof (1921- 1996, PvdA) and Annelien Kappeyne van de Coppello (1936-1990, VVD), the Humanist Association could have an informal influence on its realisation.88

Despite its successes – (rejuvenated) membership of 16.000 people, more counsellors, much longer broadcast times for the humanist radio and TV network, and huge increase in the number of people working under the responsibility of the Humanist Association – the Dutch Humanist Association still ran into major financial and organisational difficulties. Drastic spending cuts were needed and far-reaching democratisation caused a huge chasm between the leadership and the work foundations and services.89 A reorganisation was paramount and a new course needed to be charted.

 

International humanism

 

But the Humanist Association’s practical work for the IHEU continued as before. Besides its facilitative services, the Dutch Humanist Association also initiated projects for the IHEU, like the Human Rights Ombudsman Project in 1978. This project was aimed at helping people who were being oppressed and persecuted for their non-religious beliefs.90 Meaningful exchanges about humanism between the Humanist Association and the IHEU were very limited due to major differences in how humanism was being organised. It seemed impossible for the IHEU to go any further than its generic description of humanism, the so-called Minimum Statement from 1991.91

 

The search for a topical and appealing form of humanism (1987-2018)


 

Neoliberalism and multiculturalism

 

The Association needed to look for a topical and appealing form of humanism, in an era of drastic socio-economic, cultural and political change. At socio-economic level, the Netherlands went through a string of far-reaching economic recessions that started in the early 1970s and lasted until the end of the 1980s, and which led to high unemployment and drastic budget cuts in the welfare state. In this case, it is important to note that the principles of neoliberalism – dominance of the free market above a socially guided market – would play a leading role is the structure of society.92

From a cultural perspective, there were serious concerns about maintaining one’s own (national) way of living and culture. Two issues were crucial in this. Firstly, Dutch culture would come under threat due to the presence of relatively large groups of ‘ethnic’ minorities; approximately 5 %, mainly Muslims. Secondly, many groups would lose their place in society as a result of the constant economic and political globalisation.93 Another important cultural change was rapid acceleration in the process of secularisation, which manifested itself, among other things, in ‘(...) far- reaching depillarisation and a much more prominent position of individual growth in the pattern of ruling standards and values’.94 In general, there was a sharp decline in ideological and religious engagement and churches were being confined to a marginal position in society.

In politics, the ‘Purple Cabinet’,95 which formed the Dutch government from 1994 to 2002 and leaned towards neoliberal policy, would introduce many progressive new laws.96 The multiculturalism embraced by the Association came under fire from many sides. Frits Bolkestein (1933) – prominent member of the VVD liberal party and former board member of the Humanist Association – argued, for instance, that migrants should no longer hold on to their old identity, but should adapt to Dutch standards and values. And publicist and PvdA member Paul Scheffer (1954) strongly criticised the consequences of multicultural policy and called for more integration and assimilation.97 All these developments would have an immediate effect on the Humanist Association’s search for a new direction.

 

A new direction

 

In 1987, philosopher of law and D66 politician Jan Glastra van Loon (1920-2001) was appointed chairman of the Dutch Humanist Association. With this prominent politician at the helm, the Humanist Association hoped to follow on from the many successes realised by his predecessor. But they never materialised. By the end of the 1980s, the Association’s only real successes were a doubling of the broadcast time for the Humanist Network and foundation of the Universiteit voor Humanistiek (University of Humanistic Studies – UVH) in 1989; the first university in the world based explicitly on humanist principles. This would be the last time that a humanist organisation would receive funding based on the “pillarisation” principle of equal rights. Decades of lobbying by the Association was needed to get this far in answering the huge need for scientific research from a humanist perspective. It was actually Minister of Education Wim Deetman (1945) of the Christian-democratic CDA who pushed through the recognition of the UvH as a university based on worldviews.98

At the same time, the Humanist Association – just like Humanitas – ran into a number of serious problems. Declining government subsidies99 and dwindling membership forced the Association to cut costs. Furthermore, there was great need to structure the organisation in a more contemporary and effective manner. During the course of the 1990s, the Humanist Association went through several organisational changes that focused on simplifying the organisational structure, broadening support and limiting core tasks to contemplation and humanisation. Contemplation was regarded as the deepening of humanism as a worldview and as the expressing of visions on social and cultural matters. The second task involved the humanisation of society via mental care and humanist tertiary studies.100

 

An unnecessary Association?

 

Under the chairmanship of Rob Tielman, the Humanist Association took on an identity that was clearly centred around individual self-determination. After he stepped down in 1987, the Association began the search for a new mission that, at the time, was being complicated by progressive laws introduced by the ‘purple’ coalition with regards to abortion, prostitution, euthanasia and recognition of same- sex marriage. Once a number of these so-called ‘immaterial topics’ had been adopted, many people no longer saw the need for the Humanist Association.101 In addition, due to ongoing secularisation and depillarisation of Dutch society, the dividing line between humanism and other worldviews started to become increasingly blurred. Since 1987, all chairpersons have advocated, to varying degrees, working together with socially engaged Christians, instead of working against them.

 

Paul Cliteur: for combative, secular and atheistic humanism

 

Chairman Paul Cliteur (1955) was an explicit exception to the trend of joining forces with other worldviews. Upon his appointment in 1993, he aimed for more combative, secular and anti-religious humanism. He believed the Humanist Association should not be a general platform for worldview contemplation of any kind. Cliteur:

‘I think we should have gone for a secular type of humanism. (...) The secular ideology (is) very important in society. (...) The original ideal on which the Humanist Association was once founded was (...) developing a worldview as a valid alternative to morality based on religion (...) I simply wanted to word it in sharp, contrasting terms in the public debate. (...) But I was clearly mistaken in my view that the entire movement had been overrun by postmodernists, Buddhists, holists and New Age-like spiritualists’.102

Cliteur’s direction proved to be very controversial; disappointed, he stepped down prematurely in 1995. Uncertain policy regarding the content of humanism prevented the Association from creating a clear identity and image.

 

Working with values

 

From the 1990s onwards, the Humanist Association found it increasingly difficult to distinguish itself and be heard in the public debate. This was mainly due to large scale de-churching and depillarisation. It also caused a significant drop in the number of governmental tasks based on religion and worldviews. And, more importantly, the media paid much less attention to religion and worldviews, and therefore also to humanism. It was as if humanism had been swept into the dusty corner of pillarisation and churches in a society that had already largely been humanised. Since the late 1980s, and in fact until today, the Humanist Association has struggled to formulate its mission. In 2000, roles for a renewed form of humanism were presented in Werken met waarden. Levenskunst en maatschappelijke betrokkenheid in de 21e eeuw (Working with values. The art of living and social engagement in the 21st century).103 On the one hand, new requirements were set for organised humanism within the public sphere. Debate from a humanist perspective was needed about issues like the multicultural society, far-reaching developments in technology and computerisation, care for the environment and citizenship. However, organised humanism was being given very little attention in the public debate. The media barely showed interest in explicit humanist visions that, moreover, did not deviate significantly from other visions. On the other hand, individual members were encouraged to assume a more cosmopolitan, in other words, more connected to humankind in general, and socially aware approach to their humanism. The Humanist Association performed better on this front.

 

Humanist cooperation

 

The humanist movement in the Netherlands has always been fragmented. The Dutch Humanist Association and Humanitas, the two biggest humanist organisations, developed independently from one another. But mutual cooperation between the many work foundations and sub-organisations within the Association itself was also far from ideal. Halfway through the 1990s, there was growing realisation that humanist organisations needed to work together more often and more effectively. The first female chairpersons, namely Marian Verkerk (1957) (chairperson 1996- 1998) and Liesbeth Mulder (chairperson 1998-2001), were particularly active on this front. In 1998, a group of humanist organisations established the Humanistisch Kenniscentrum (Humanist Knowledge Centre); its goal was to give this renewed humanism a new identity and new impetus, and to bundle the fragmented knowledge, experience and brainpower of participating organisations.104 A sensitive area was, of course, to what extent member organisations were prepared to give up their independence. Eventually, the University of Humanistic Studies paved the way in 2001 to set up a network organisation of humanist organisations in a federative union, called the Humanist Alliance. The Alliance was aimed at broadening and strengthening humanism; on the one hand, broadening participation and support and, on the other hand, broadening social issues and areas addressed by organised humanism. Within the Alliance, the Humanist Association wanted to assume the role of ‘worldview spokesperson’. But this intention was never really fulfilled. In my view, this is mainly because many organisations did not have the need to further develop humanism, or because people harboured different views on the essence of humanism. Of all people, it was the then chairman of the Alliance and dean of the UvH from 2000 to 2004, Harry Kunneman (1948), who radically attacked the prevailing humanism of, amongst others, the Humanist Association. Using the term ‘critical humanism’, he asserted that the worldview of humanism has three important myopicisms and blind spots. The first involves over-concentration on culture, thereby neglecting labour and physicality. Secondly, its portrayal of mankind is too positive and negates aggression and violence. Thirdly, there is a unilaterally anthropocentric view of man. And as final conclusion: ‘(...) a clear perspective on the future of organised humanism is still non-existent’.105 Although his criticism was not new and was, in fact, not incorrect, the timing and tone were very unfortunate. His vision that ‘(...) anti-religious motives were disproportionately given too much weight (...) in post-war humanism is wide of every historical mark’.106

 

International humanism

 

Dutch humanists like Rob Tielman and Rob Buitenweg (1939) were mainly responsible for founding the European Humanist Federation (1991) and the European Humanist Professionals (1994). Another key moment in the relationship between the Dutch humanist movement and the IHEU related to activities organised to celebrate the IHEU’s fiftieth anniversary at a large congress in Noordwijkerhout (the Netherlands). This is where the book entitled International Humanist and Ethical Union 1952-2002, which was published by the Humanistisch Historisch Centrum (official manager of the IHEU archives), was presented.

 

Boris van der Ham: for liberal humanism

 

In 2019, the Humanist Association is an open association with approximately 15.000 members and focuses on activities like lectures and training courses for members and sympathisers, while also addressing the art of living and ethical issues, and striving for a humane society. An example of the latter is demonstrated in its work on the annual Freedom of Thought Report, which gives a worldwide overview of the unsafe position of non-religious people.107 A driving force behind the support for non-religion in the Netherlands and beyond is Boris van der Ham (1973), politician, actor, publicist and, since 2012, chairman of the Humanist Association.108 This is in keeping with his vision on humanism, which is characterised by a liberal and open- minded stance, and not by emphasis on differences with religions.109

Humanitas, which is the other major humanist organisation, is still trying to overcome problems associated with declining funds and privatisation; it has 80 departments, 22.000 volunteers and over 300 professionals. Under the motto ‘do what you have to do’, it provides services to people in need in a manner that allows them to stay in control.

 

HUMANIST in the Netherlands110

 

‘Religion is (finally) allowed again’. In recent years, we have been hearing the message in all kinds of media: religion is back on the social agenda in the Netherlands. The myth of a religious comeback is not only spread by religious representatives and confessional politicians, but also by scientists and renowned scientific institutes like the Dutch Sociaal Cultureel Planbureau (Social and Cultural Planning Office – SCP) and the Wetenschappelijke Raad voor het Regeringsbeleid (Scientific Council for Government Policy – WRR).111 The fact that the secular/humanist movement has actually become even more dominant in recent decades is often unjustly kept quiet. Because, is the Netherlands (still) a Jewish-Christian-Muslim nation? At the start of the twentieth century, it was generally believed that decent people were members of a church; according to the census of 1909, 95 % of the Dutch population was a member of a church or religious group.112 The book entitled God in the Netherlands 1996-2006 reveals that in 2006, the number of theists had halved over the past 40 years (from 47 to 24 %); the number of ietsists (“somethingism”, the belief there is something out there) had risen from 31 to 36 %; the number of agnostics had increased from 16 to 26 %, and atheists had more than doubled from 6 to 14 %.113 Other studies also imply that it is emphatically incorrect to describe the Netherlands as a religious nation. In the research study entitled Religious changes in the Netherlands, it is predicted that the percentage of non-religious people will rise to more than 70 %.114

If one were to also research underlying views and actual behaviour, it would show that 40 % of Dutch adults feel an association with humanism, that 10 to 15 % make use of humanist facilities and that 13 % believe that humanism is of vital importance for the future development of our society, compared to 12 % for protestantism, 9 % for Catholicism and 8 % for Islam.115 Similar results can be found in the study entitled Humanism in the Netherlands. This study shows that there is a group of over one million people in the Netherlands who find humanist values very important or of vital importance to their lives. These values include self-determination, equality, responsibility, tolerance, solidarity, reason and justice.116 ‘Among highly educated people with a cosmopolitan mentality, in particular, there is a relatively large group for whom humanist values play a key role in life. Humanism also occupies a significantly higher position than traditional religions among younger generations. Considering the average Dutch person has enjoyed a higher level of education in recent decades, and that older generations will be succeeded by younger generations over time, considerable support for humanism will only increase further in years to come’.117

Of course, the group of secular Dutch people ‘(...) should not automatically be regarded as the same as the group who have close affinity with humanist values.’ And ‘(...) a distinction can definitely be made between these groups. In other words, humanism has its own position within the Dutch society’.118

 

An uncertain world

 

Ever since the late 1990s, and in fact until today, (organised) humanism has been struggling to provide answers to the main socially, politically and culturally interdependent issues of our time – such as international migration, climate change, food shortages, depletion of natural resources, neoliberalism and globalisation, populism, the unequal distribution of capital and fundamentalist Islam. And, more generally, to ‘discontent’ within society.119 Based on its past and present, humanism has multi-faceted answers to these questions:

1. The essence of humanism.

The Humanist Association is finding it particularly difficult to retain its supporters and clearly present its identity. It is conceivable that, at a certain point, the ‘movement’ will disappear once its purpose has been served. A more serious matter, in my view, is the compelling criticism that humanism, and western culture as a whole, is being subjected to as a worldview. Specifically, when it comes to scientific belief, anthropocentric attitude regarding nature, and eurocentrism. This criticism is now also being expressed by humanist-inspired philosophers like Floris van den Berg (1973). He sees humanism as a project of Enlightenment and aims to expand and extend this tradition through his own eco-humanism theory by ‘(...) replacing the anthropocentric part of humanism with sentientism (placing the ability to suffer before morality) and taking the interests of future generations into account’.120

2. Defending humanist values once again.

It is important to note that, besides the ‘big fight’ that Van Praag waged against nihilism, people today have grave concerns about the erosion of precisely those accomplishments that the humanist movement worked so hard to achieve; namely defending humanist values like freedom of speech, equality and individual freedom of choice. However, there are different visions among humanists on how this defence should be tackled.

There is the view of philosopher and humanist Peter Derkx (1951), who believes that – in the Netherlands, where atheists have a lot of freedom – the ‘small fight’ is no longer needed and that those who still fight against everything religious will no longer be relevant. Now is the time for the big battle for human rights; for peace, a sustainable economy, and a cleaner and more beautiful natural environment. A humanist movement that mainly defines itself as non-religious or even anti-religious, has no future and will become anachronistic.121

Conversely, philosopher of law and freethinker Paul Cliteur, together with many explicitly atheistic humanists, is of the opinion that it is absolutely vital in this day and age to defend the values of the Enlightenment, freedom of speech and the right to criticise religion. It is vital because these values are being threatened by religion (by way of theoterrorism; violence inspired by ‘holy texts’) and the dominant beliefs of the western elite, who have no absolute wish to defend freedom of speech and prefer to close their eyes to the dangers of religion and specifically Islam.122

3. Spiritual resilience and neoliberalism.

The emancipation of citizens may have significantly improved individual freedom and equal rights at many levels of society, but a consumer society and the neoliberal market economy are also accompanied risks that could lead to an impoverished and eroded understanding of autonomy. Moreover, the risk of one-sided focus on individual well-being increases to the detriment of other people’s freedom and autonomy. The question is, how resilient are individuals and society as a whole in – as Jaap van Praag puts it – the fight against nihilism?123

Philosopher Joachim Duyndam (1954) sees an important role for humanism in that fight; humanism that he describes as a critical factor in a culture that serves to promote human dignity. In essence, it is an ongoing challenge to make people spiritually resilient against the lack of spiritual freedom because of temptations in today’s society, such as consumerism, media hypes, social pressure, etc.124

Following on from this, Henk Voets (1946) and myself (1953) have argued for a socio-political form of humanism in response to the currently dominant neoliberal model of society. Because humanism that doesn’t stand up in the face of threats to humane values, is incomplete humanism. Especially in times of major political and social tensions, it is up to worldview organisations like the Humanist Association, Humanitas and the Humanist Alliance to engage in debate about an equitable society based on a clear-cut vision on the socio-political aspects of humanism. One of the fundamental characteristics of humanism is that it contains a political and moral ambition with human dignity as core value, whereby classic (social-democratic) themes like the security of work and livelihood, housing, care and education must be safeguarded.125

 

Epilogue

 

As I now look back on almost 75 years of organised humanism in the Netherlands, and compare the situation when the humanist movement was founded in 1945 with the current situation in 2018, there have been many profound changes. I mainly see the following three developments:

1. Humanism: from second-rate citizens to the dominant worldview movement.

If one examines the various worldview movements in the Netherlands, humanism can in fact be regarded as mainstream. It is almost inconceivable that within a timespan of under 75 years, humanism has grown from a minority movement into the dominant movement. Humanist values are considered as a natural part of daily culture by a large part of society.

The success of organised humanism after the Second World War, in my opinion, can be attributed to three things. First of all, the strong growth of secularism in the Netherlands. Secondly, a small group of determined, hard-working, networking and especially respectable citizens managed to give non-religious humanism a permanent place as a respected worldview in the increasingly secular society of the Netherlands. In addition, my third argument is that the humanist movement was able to rely on the equal rights issue and take advantage of government-funded provisions for worldview organisations during the period of “pillarisation”. But as society starts becoming more humanist in nature, it is becoming more difficult for humanist organisations to promote themselves.

2. From uniform to multiform humanism.

As mentioned in the introduction, the concept of “humanism” has many forms and meanings. However, the humanist worldview of the Dutch Humanist Association has always remained prominent in all those years. Humanism in the moral and political sense is also used by individual humanists and humanist organisations to support their battle for a more humane society.126 Within the Association, one can find humanist views that range from atheistic and agnostic to religious.

A remarkable fact is that a large portion of Dutch society has a secular, perhaps implicitly humanist meaning of life – with opinions about matters like humanity, the world, freedom, determinism, etc. – and wants to personally decide what to believe in. These people are not nihilists, nor are they members of an explicit worldview organisation.

3. The bones of contention for organised humanism.

Together with other humanist organisations, the Humanist Association mainly fought ‘small’ fights up until the mid-1960s; battling for equal rights for non-religious people and particularly for humanist-based provisions like humanist counselling. Organised humanism then shifted its main focus towards the emancipation of young people, women and homosexuals and ethical issues like abortion, euthanasia, etc. Topical fields of battle include standing up for the rights of the non-religious (domestic and international), maintaining provisions and facilities on humanist principles and defending humanist values that are under threat, such as individualism, freedom, tolerance, respect and solidarity.

 

The tragedy of humanism

 

There is also a tragic side to humanism, in that it always has to be pessimistic because humanists are in constant conflict with people who do not regard tolerance and justice as the highest ideals. This is true today, but was perhaps even more true back in 1933 when Nazism reared its head. This pessimism and melancholy should, in my view, always be an integral part of humanism, as a necessary counter-melody against the constant threat of emerging evil. Philosopher and humanist Herman Wolf (1893-1942) used these words to aptly describe the position of humanists in inhumane times:

‘(...) he is unable to clarify this belief [in humanist values] and this conviction to others in concrete terms and symbols; time and time again he has to see how others, who avail themselves of the Blood, the Race, the People, the Church, the Party, find millions of supporters, followers and believers, and that others accuse him of weakness and half-heartedness because he is only capable of speaking in “vague terms” and “woolly words” about the “potential unity” of all that is human’.127

 

Footnotes

 

  1. I would like to thank Ina Gasenbeek-Zwols, Jo Nabuurs, Niels de Nutte, Rob Tielman, Rudy Schreijnders and Wim Berkelaar for their critical revisions.
  2. Rob Tielman, “Is Nederland van God los?,” in Civis Mundi 33 (1994): 125.
  3. Joep de Hart, “Van vaste kaders naar verschuivende panelen. Religieuze ontwikkelingen in Nederland,” in Achter de zuilen: op zoek naar religie in naoorlogs Nederland, ed. Peter van Dam, James Kennedy and Friso Wielinga (Amsterdam: University Press, 2014), 132.
  4. Bert Gasenbeek and Rob Tielman, “Humanisme: de hoofdstroming van Nederland,” in Civis Mundi 47, 1 (2008): 199- 206.
  5. Marco Oostdijk, Werken met waarden. Levenskunst en maatschappelijke betrokkenheid in de 21e eeuw (Amsterdam: Boom, 2000).
  6. Vincent Stolk, Tussen autonomie en humaniteit. De geschiedenis van levensbeschouwelijk humanisme in relatie tot opvoeding en onderwijs tussen 1850 en 1970 (Breda: Papieren Tijger, 2015), 360.
  7. The Humanistisch Historisch Centrum (Humanist Historical Centre) and the J.P. van Praag Institute have done a lot of research over the past twenty years into the history of freethinking and organised humanism in the Netherlands. See https://www.uvh.nl/hhc.
  8. Anton Constandse, Geschiedenis van het humanisme in Nederland (The Hague: Kruseman, 1967), 5-6.
  9. See the guiding principles for the Humanist Canon: https://humanistischecanon.nl/overdecanon/.
  10. Bert Gasenbeek, Vrijdenken en humanisme in Nederland. 40 plekken van herinnering (Bussum: THOTH, 2016), 8-9.
  11. Rob Tielman, “Is Nederland van God los?,” 125.
  12. This paragraph is based on Bert Gasenbeek, “Humanism in the Netherlands,“ in The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief, ed. Tom Flynn (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2007), 564-567.
  13. See details: Bert Gasenbeek, Vrijdenken en humanisme in Nederland.
  14. For the history of the Dutch Humanist Association, see: Tjeerd Flokstra and Sjoerd Wieling, De geschiedenis van het Humanistisch Verbond 1946-1986 (Utrecht: Humanistisch Verbond, 1986); Bert Gasenbeek, Jules Brabers and Wouter Kuijlman, “‘Een huis voor humanisten’: het Humanistisch Verbond (1946-2006),” in Georganiseerd humanisme in Nederland: geschiedenis, visies en praktijken, ed. Bert Gasenbeek and Peter Derkx (Amsterdam: SWP, 2006), 37-59. For key aspects concerning the foundation and development of the Dutch Humanist Association, see: Vincent Stolk, Tussen autonomie en humaniteit; Elise van Alphen, Alles werd politiek. De verhouding tussen het politieke en het persoonlijke in de humanistische en de homolesbische beweging in Nederland, 1945-1980 (Breda: Papieren Tijger, 2016).
  15. Bart Tromp, Het sociaal-democratisch programma. De beginselprogramma’s van SDB, SDAP en PVDA 1878-1977 (Amsterdam: Bert Bakker, 2002), 231-232.
  16. Jan Brandt Corstius, De humanist en het moderne socialisme (Amsterdam: HV, 1947), 20-21.
  17. Bert Gasenbeek and Chris Hietland, Van jeugdig pacifisme naar geestelijke weerbaarheid. De Jongeren Vredes Actie (1924- 1940) (Breda: Papieren Tijger, 2012), 110-111, 127.
  18. This section relating to Van Praag is based on, among other things, my previous contributions: Bert Gasenbeek, “J.P. van Praag 1911-1981, om de geestelijke weerbaarheid van humanisten,” in Vrijdenken en humanisme in Nederland; 40 plekken van herinnering, ed. Bert Gasenbeek (Hilversum: Thoth, 2016), 148-153; Bert Gasenbeek, “De vooroorlogse weg van Jaap van Praag naar het humanisme,” in Tijdschrift voor Humanistiek 46, 12 (2011), 48-55.
  19. Jaap van Praag, Modern humanisme. Een Renaissance? (Amsterdam: Contact, 1947).
  20. Jaap van Praag, Modern humanisme. Een Renaissance?, 12.
  21. Books dedicated to his work and life include Peter Derkx and Bert Gasenbeek, J.P. van Praag, vader van het moderne Nederlandse humanisme (Utrecht: De Tijdstroom, 1997); Sjoerd Wieling, Het grondsop voor de goddelozen. Jaap van Praag en de buitenkerkelijken: een biografie (Amsterdam: Anybook Press, 2011).
  22. Anton Constandse, Geschiedenis van het humanisme in Nederland (The Hague: Kruseman, 1980), 174-175. For the historiography on freethinkers, see Bert Gasenbeek, Wouter Kuijlman and Jules Brabers, “Honderdvijftig jaar vrijdenkersbeweging. Een encyclopedisch overzicht 1856-2006,” in God noch autoriteit, ed. Bert Gasenbeek, Hans Blom and Jo Nabuurs (Amsterdam: Boom, 2006), 25-86.
  23. As Anton van Hooff, former chairman of De Vrije Gedachte, likes to call freethinkers.
  24. Nynke Zwierstra, Geen opgeheven vinger, maar een uitgestoken hand. Humanitas 1945-1995 (Amsterdam: Humanitas, 1995), 13-22.
  25. For a recent insight into freethinkers, see Leon Korteweg and Bert Gasenbeek, “Vrijdenkers in Nederland,” in Vrijdenken en humanisme in Nederland; 40 plekken van herinnering, ed. Bert Gasenbeek (Hilversum: Thoth, 2016), 100-105. And for Humanitas, see: Jules Brabers, “Humanitas. Doen wat je moet doen,” in Vrijdenken en humanisme in Nederland, 191-195.
  26. Tity de Vries, Complexe consensus. Amerikaanse en Nederlandse intellectuelen in debat over politiek en cultuur 1945-1960 (Hilversum: Verloren, 1996), 136.
  27. Hans Blom, “Jaren van tucht en ascese,” in Crisis, bezetting en herstel, ed. Hans Blom (The Hague: Nijgh, 1989), 213-214.
  28. Hans Blom and Emiel Lamberts, Geschiedenis der Nederlanden (Amsterdam: Prometheus, 2016), 413.
  29. Jan Bank, Opkomst en ondergang van de Nederlandse Volksbeweging (Deventer: Kluwer, 1978).
  30. Maarten van Rossem, Ed Jonker and Luuc Kooijmans, Een tevreden natie. Nederland van 1945 tot nu (Baarn: Tirion, 1993), 13-32.
  31. Bert Gasenbeek et al., ‘Een huis voor humanisten,’ 38.
  32. Idem.
  33. Idem, 39.
  34. Wouter Kuijlman, Een mantel met sterren. Religieus humanisme in het Humanistisch Verbond (Utrecht: Humanistisch Archief, 2001), 7-15.
  35. Idem, 10-11.
  36. Idem, see relevant chapter 3.
  37. Sjoerd van Faassen, “Een algemeen orgaan van hedendaagsche radicale stemmen en stroomingen. De oprichting van De Nieuwe Stem tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog,” in Tijdschrift voor tijdschriftstudies 21 (2007): 62.
  38. Annie Romein-Verschoor, “Terugblik op De Nieuwe Stem,” in Drielandenpunt. Essays, Annie Romein-Verschoor (Amsterdam: De Arbeiderspers, 1975), 268-277.
  39. Annie Romein-Verschoor, “Terugblik”, 271. She wrote elsewhere that she wanted nothing to do with the HV (Dutch Humanist Association) because it ‘wanted to act as a church together with the others.’
  40. Elise van Alphen, Alles werd politiek, 47-48.
  41. Idem, 47.
  42. Idem.
  43. Loman 2000: 6-7.
  44. Cited in: Gasenbeek, 40-41.
  45. Gasenbeek, 41.
  46. Historian Elise van Alphen believes the HV fought a ‘selective’ battle, with its priorities on matters that had a direct impact on the equal rights of its own humanist services, and to a lesser extent on all rights of non-religious people: Elise van Alphen, Alles werd politiek, 155-156. My personal opinion is that the Dutch Humanist association focused mainly on subjects that could help it to succeed within the framework of pillarised society.
  47. Author’s own wording. A key feature of this ‘pillarisation’ metaphor is the absence of an irrefutable and succinct definition for the term. In fact, the term has been the subject of debate ever since Peter van Rooden and Piet de Rooy criticised it for being of little scientific use. For details, see: Hans Blom, “Vernietigende kracht en nieuwe vergezichten,” in De verzuiling voorbij. Godsdienst, stand en natie in de lange negentiende eeuw, ed. Hans Blom and Jaap Talsma (Amsterdam: Het Spinhuis, 2000), 226-233. More recently, new criticism has emerged from the pen of young historian Peter van Dam. In his opinion, the pillarisation metaphor has ‘seriously distorted our view on dynamics within the post-war history of the Netherlands’. Instead, he proposes the concepts of ‘heavy’ and ‘light’ communities, and internal networks of organisations. These new concepts do not make matters any clearer for me, and certainly no more manageable. Peter van Dam, Staat van verzuiling. Over een Nederlandse mythe (Amsterdam: Wereldbibliotheek, 2011). That is why I share Blom’s conclusion: ‘As an expression that is extremely difficult to formulate succinctly, but still to the point and very useful in its associative aim, this metaphor of pillarisation can be effectively supported.’ Hans Blom, “Vernietigende kracht en nieuwe vergezichten,” 236.
  48. Gasenbeek, 39.
  49. Carla Van Baalen, “Humanisten tussen doorbraak en verzuiling,” 237.
  50. Tjeerd Flokstra and Sjoerd Wieling, De geschiedenis van het Humanistisch Verbond, 81-146.
  51. Babu Gogineni, “The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and Dutch Humanism,“ in Georganiseerd humanisme in Nederland, 94.
  52. Hans Van Deukeren, “From theory to practice – a history of IHEU 1952-2002,” in International Humanist and Ethical Union 1952-2002, ed. Bert Gasenbeek and Babu Gogineni, (Utrecht: De Tijdstroom, 2002), 23.
  53. Idem, 87, 65.
  54. Bert Gasenbeek, Het Humanistisch Verbond onder J.P. van Praag: een historisch perspectief (Utrecht: Humanistisch Studiecentrum Nederland, 1997), 7.
  55. This marriage was controversial because many felt that it was inappropriate for the crown princess to want to marry Claus van Amsberg, a German who certainly wasn’t Nazi but a forced member of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party), so soon after the Second World War.
  56. Hans Blom, Geschiedenis van de Nederlanden, 431.
  57. Hans Righart, De eindeloze jaren zestig. Geschiedenis van een generatieconflict (Amsterdam: Arbeiderspers, 1995) spec. 29-30. See also James Kennedy, Nieuw Babylon in aanbouw. Nederland in de jaren zestig (Meppel: Boom, 1995), who, incidentally, emphasises the tolerant attitude of the elite towards these changes.
  58. Righart, 13.
  59. Henk Hofland, Tegels lichten of ware verhalen over de autoriteiten in het land van de voldongen feiten (Amsterdam: Contact, 1972).
  60. Gerard Dekker et al., God in Nederland, 1966-1996 (Amsterdam: Anthos, 1997), 18.
  61. Piet Spigt, “Van tijd tot tijd, fasen in de geschiedenis van het Humanistisch Verbond,” in Het Humanistisch Verbond (Utrecht: HV, 1968), 52-53.
  62. Piet Spigt, Uitgangspunten en doeleinden van het Humanistisch Verbond (Utrecht: HV, 1973), 2. This is still the prevailing principle of the HV today; in my opinion, still a current and important guideline.
  63. Tjeerd Flokstra and Sjoerd Wieling, De geschiedenis van het Humanistisch Verbond, 198-199; Wouter Kuijlman, Een mantel met sterren, 59. Personally, I believe sufficient room is provided for humanists who want space for religion and spirituality in their convictions of life, because the founding principles speak of ‘understanding life and the world purely with human faculties’ [underlined by author].
  64. Wouter Kuijlman, Een mantel met sterren, 38-50.
  65. For contributions about and by Rob Tielman, see: Bert Gasenbeek and Floris van den Berg, Rob Tielman. Een begeesterd humanist (Breda: Papieren Tijger, 2010). Tielman is one of the few people in the humanist tradition from whom an ego-document is available: Rob Tielman, Rob Tielman. Humanisme als zelfbeschikking. Levensherinneringen van een homohumanist (Breda: Papieren Tijger, 2016).
  66. Rein Zunderdorp in Bert Gasenbeek and Floris van den Berg, Rob Tielman, 7.
  67. Bert Gasenbeek and Floris van den Berg, Rob Tielman, 15.
  68. Rob Tielman, Voorontwerp Humanistisch Perspektief (Utrecht: HV, 1983).
  69. Thea van Biemen, Het Humanistisch Verbond 1946-1977. Historisch onderzoek naar het denken over liefde, sex, arbeid en emancipatie (Rotterdam: Erasmus Universiteit, 1987), 124.
  70. Idem, 126.
  71. Humanistisch Perspectief: maatschappelijke doeleinden (Utrecht: Humanistisch Verbond, 1977). An adapted version was published in 1988.
  72. Ingrid Cramer, Tien jaar standpunten & uitspraken van het Humanistisch Verbond 1979-1989 (Utrecht: Humanistisch Verbond, 1989).
  73. These were groups of anti-authoritarian youths.
  74. A cruise missile is a guided self-propelled bomb.
  75. The NATO Double-Track Decision is the decision of the NATO from 12 December 1979 to deploy American missiles to Europe in response to the stationing of SS-20 missiles by the Soviet Union.
  76. See details: Paul Breekveldt, Vredesduif op eigen vleugels: 25 jaar Humanistisch Vredesberaad (Breda: Papieren Tijger, 2009). Subsidies were provided to both supporters and opponents of cruise missiles among humanists. These funds were only implemented by the opponents.
  77. Bert Gasenbeek et al., “Een huis voor humanisten,” 46-47.
  78. D. Bijdevaate et al., Het Humanistisch Verbond: een institutie in beweging (Rotterdam: Erasmus Universiteit, 1984), 192-194.
  79. Anne Bos, De kwestie van de humanistisch geestelijke verzorging in het parlement 1946-1967 (Nijmegen: KUN, 2001), 16-17.
  80. Idem, 60-64.
  81. Based on the anniversary publications: Jules Brabers, Van pioniers tot professionals. De Dienst humanistisch geestelijke verzorging bij de krijgsmacht (1964-2004) (Utrecht: De Tijdstroom, 2006) and Elise van Alphen and Wouter Kuijlman, Zingeving achter de tralies. Veertig jaar Humanistisch Geestelijke Verzorging bij de inrichtingen van Justitie (Breda: Papieren Tijger, 2008).
  82. Jules Brabers, “Humanistisch geestelijk werk“ in Georganiseerd humanisme in Nederland: geschiedenis, visies en praktijken, ed. Bert Gasenbeek and Peter Derkx (Amsterdam: SWP, 2006), 34-35.
  83. Flokstra and Wieling, 115-140.
  84. Gerard Kosse, Het georganiseerde humanisme in Nederland (Amsterdam: UvA, 1974), 76.
  85. Gerard Kosse, Persoonlijkheidseigenschappen van de georganiseerde humanist (Amsterdam: UvA, 1975), 127.
  86. See also A.J. Wichers et al., Humanisme en onkerkelijkheid II. Verslag van een aanvullend onderzoek (Utrecht: Universiteit Utrecht, 1981). This research was based on 124 interviews.
  87. Spigt is cited in: Rex Brico, “Humanistisch Verbond in nood,” Elsevier 1971, 5 June, 98.
  88. Rob Tielman, “De Grondwet van 1983” in Bert Gasenbeek, Vrijdenken en humanisme in Nederland, 233-237.
  89. B. Gasenbeek et al., “Een huis voor humanisten”, 47.
  90. Bert Gasenbeek and Babu Gogineni, International Humanist and Ethical Union 1952-2002 (Utrecht: De Tijdstroom, 2002), 69.
  91. Idem, 91 and 103.
  92. James Kennedy, Een beknopte geschiedenis van Nederland, 365-368; Hans Blom, Geschiedenis van de Nederlanden, 443- 448.
  93. Hans Blom, Geschiedenis van de Nederlanden, 446-448.
  94. Idem, 438.
  95. The first cabinet since the 1980s without a Christian political party. The coalition consisted of the social democratic PvdA, the liberal VVD and the social-liberal D66.
  96. Hans Blom, Geschiedenis van de Nederlanden, 446.
  97. On 6 September 1991, Frits Bolkestein held a speech in the Swiss city of Luzern in which he addressed the subject. Paul Scheffer, “Het multiculturele drama: een repliek,” 29 January 2000 in NRC Handelsblad.
  98. Peter Derkx, “De Universiteit voor Humanistiek,” in Bert Gasenbeek, Vrijdenken en humanisme in Nederland, 240.
  99. The relevance for the humanist movement was that, due to a declining church-going and religious population, disproportionately high subsidies were being given to provisions for religious purposes. The Hirsch Ballin commission adopted a fairer subsidy distribution, which no longer focused on the baptism figures, but on proven social needs. Overheid, godsdienst en levensovertuiging (The Hague: 1988).
  100. Koersbepaling Humanistisch Verbond (Utrecht: HV, 1991).
  101. Peter Derkx, “Modern Humanism in the Netherlands,” in Empowering Humanity. State of the art in Humanistics (Utrecht: De Tijdstroom, 2002), 68-70.
  102. Bert Boelaars, interview with Paul Cliteur on 7 October 2005: the HHC collection.
  103. Marco Oostdijk, Werken met waarden. Levenskunst en maatschappelijke betrokkenheid in de 21e eeuw (Amsterdam: Boom, 2000).
  104. Gasenbeek et al., 51-52.
  105. Harry Kunneman, Voorbij het dikke-ik. Bouwstenen voor een kritisch humanisme (Amsterdam: SWP, 2005), 201-214, specifically 206 and 208.
  106. Idem, 207. For a correction on his vision, see: Bert Gasenbeek, Het Humanistisch Verbond onder J.P. van Praag: een historisch perspectief (Utrecht: HSN, 1997).
  107. 107 Humanists International, “Freedom of Thought Report”, accessed 30 July 2018, https://freethoughtreport.com/.
  108. Boris van der Ham and Rachid Benhammou, Nieuwe vrijdenkers. 12 voormalige moslims vertellen hun verhaal (Amsterdam: Prometheus, 2018).
  109. Boris van der Ham, De vrije moraal (Amsterdam: Bert Bakker, 2012).
  110. This title is a critical commentary on GOD research studies in the Netherlands.
  111. For an extensive analysis of this phenomenon, see August-Hans den Boef, “Geloof als hype of het gelijk van de stroman,” De Humanist issue no. 1 (2007) 20-25.
  112. Hans Knippenberg, De religieuze kaart van Nederland (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1992), 227.
  113. Ton Bernts et al., God in Nederland 1996-2006 (Kampen: Ten Have, 2007).
  114. Jos Becker and Joep de Hart, Godsdienstige veranderingen in Nederland: verschuivingen in de binding met de kerken en de christelijke traditie (The Hague: SCP, 2006).
  115. R. Lammerts et al., Humanisme in beeld: een onderzoek naar daadwerkelijke affiniteit met het humanisme (Utrecht: Verwey-Jonker Instituut, 2004).
  116. Peter van Waart and Martijn Lampert, Humanisme in Nederland (Amsterdam: Motivaction, 2004), 1, 6.
  117. Idem, 14.
  118. Idem, 1.
  119. For the topic of discontent in society, see: Bas Heijne, Onbehagen. Nieuw licht op de beschaafde mens (Amsterdam: Ambo, 2016) and Femke Halsema, Macht en verbeelding (Amsterdam: Ambo, 2018).
  120. Floris van den Berg, Beter weten. Filosofie van het ecohumanisme (Antwerp: Houtekiet, 2015).
  121. Peter Derkx, “The Future of Humanism,” in The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Humanism, eds. Andrew Copson and A.C. Grayling (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2015), 434-436.
  122. Paul Cliteur and Dirk Verhofstadt, In naam van God (Antwerp: Houtekiet, 2018), 7, 262. See also: Paul Cliteur, The Secular Outlook. In defense of moral and political secularism (New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).
  123. For the roots and current status of the ‘spiritual resilience’ concept, see: Bert Gasenbeek and Vincent Stolk, Individual resilience? Collective resistance! The Roots of Resilience in Dutch Humanism (forthcoming).
  124. Joachim Duyndam, “Humanism as a Positive outcome of Secularism,” in The Oxford Handbook of Secularism, Phil Zuckerman and John R. Shook (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).
  125. Bert Gasenbeek and Henk Voets, “Humanistische antwoorden op de financieel-economische crisis?” Tijdschrift voor Humanistiek 13, no. 50/51 (2012), 49-62.
  126. Peter Derkx, Modern humanism, 78.
  127. For the exceptional biography about his grandfather and remarkable humanist thinker, see: Paul Scheffer, Alles doet mee aan de werkelijkheid. Herman Wolf 1893-1942 (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 2013).

 

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Gasenbeek, Bert. “ Organised Humanism in the Netherlands: 1945-2018 ” In Looking Back to Look Forward, edited by Niels De Nutte and Bert Gasenbeek, 115-149. Brussels: VUBPress, 2019.

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