Intellectual laziness and lack of ideology give Europe an emptiness that is filled with insults, threats and ‘desperate screeching’ (De Gruyter in the liberal daily NRC Handelsblad, May 28th). What De Gruyter says is recognizable and has been mentioned many times. Is there a remedy? He who ventures to come up with a vision will be scorned by the audience – if any. Take, for example, the reactions on vice-chairman Timmermans’s plea for solidarity (Broederschap, 2015). In order to be able to make progress it will be necessary to know clearly where we are. De Gruyter’s column reminded me of a number of contributions by NRC-columnist J.L. Heldring. Twelve years ago he asked the attention for what De Tocqueville (1805-1859) calls the paradox of democracy. This paradox consists of people’s falling into the most suppressive intellectual conformism and their ultimate ceasing to think at all. Apparently we have arrived there, in the meantime. We do not think anymore. We insult, threat and ’shriek desperately’. Grumbling over a situation or exaggerating it does not help. We will have to face the fact that the crisis we are in now is a risk which apparently accompanies our way of life: the democratic society.
Yet the situation cannot remain as it is. Exactly on this issue Mr. Heldring made an interesting suggestion. In the contribution mentioned before he pointed at De Tocqueville’s interest in religion for a properly functioning democracy. As religion stresses immortality and eternity it enables people to rise above direct earthly desires, as Heldring quoted this Frenchman. How important this point was for Mr. Heldring appeared from the fact that he mentioned it in his retrospection on fifty years of opinion writing (NRC Handelsblad, Jan.4st 2010).
Those who view the Netherlands from this perspective, will see a risky development. A hunt has been launched of which the trophy consists of everything that has to do with our christian past. The Law on Sunday rest , the law on scornful blasphemy, the civil servant who, based on his religious conviction, refuses to conclude same-sex-marriages (‘weigerambtenaar’) and ‘by the Grace of God’; one by one these matters are dispatched without any substitution. And in the meantime people complain about an emptiness filled up with all sorts of follies! As a reverse of the same medal there is work to do for Christians. The feeling of relief that ‘faith connected’ laws are abolished must make people contemplate. Instead of using faith as a means of pressure or exchange, it is important to listen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) . This resistance theologist thought that the faithful in an emancipated society should present themselves etsi deus non daretur (as if God does not exist). An example of such an attitude was shown in Zwolle. Although ChristenUnie was the major party in the recent elections, this party consented in relieving the opening hours for shops on Sundays.
I do not know if it helps that the importance of religion is understood and that believers have an attitude without God. In a situation of ‘desperate shrieking’ this might be an attractive alternative.
NRC Handelsblad and NRC Next, June 11th 2016
Cf. Europe needs a new and credible story (June 30th 2016)