Not Every Square Inch but 25% of the Columns

Here is a good overview of what taking every square inch looked like in the Netherlands. The outcome was pluralism, not the magistrate enforcing both tables of the law. A Calvinist labor union, not rich Presbyterians living luxuriously:

For centuries, the Dutch knew just who they were: mostly blond- or red-haired, blue-eyed, white, straight-talking, Calvinist capitalists who believed in God, family, hard work, and doing the right thing. Looking around, a Dutchman saw himself in his neighbors, and that was reassuring. Collaborating with them, he built dikes, pushed back the sea, and established the shipping industry that made this low-lying country safe and prosperous.

By opening its borders to Jews and Protestants in search of freedom of religion (think of the Pilgrims who came to Holland before going to America), the Dutch gained a somewhat deserved reputation for tolerance. I say “somewhat” because this same openness did not extend to Catholics, whose religion was that of the hated Spanish king the Dutch had once been subject to. As a result, Catholicism was banned in the Netherlands in the 1580s, and the Catholic hierarchy was not allowed back in for two-and-a-half centuries. Still, even this conflict got smoothed out in time. Catholics eventually claimed their place in the twentieth century as one of the four “columns”—alongside the Protestants, socialists, and laissez-faire liberals—that upheld Dutch society. This created a unique social arrangement in which like associated with like, each in its own sector. Thus did each group have its own schools, trade unions, newspapers, and sports clubs.

This form of societal organization lasted until the late 1960s, when it quickly unraveled in the face of secularization and rising individualism. By this time, increasing numbers of mostly Muslim immigrants had begun arriving. The first group came from Indonesia, a former Dutch colony, in the 1940s. In subsequent decades, larger numbers of Muslims came from Turkey and Morocco as “guest workers.” Finding much to appreciate in Holland, many stayed on to raise families here, establishing in the process a largely Muslim economic underclass.

If this made the Dutch uneasy, that feeling has been exacerbated by the current migration crisis. The Dutch take pride in their reputation for inclusion and tolerance. (During the First World War, Holland took in a million Belgian refugees.) As a small country that was itself occupied by Germany in World War II, Holland knows the importance of helping people in wartime. But the rapid influx of refugees in 2015, when over a million came to Europe from the Middle East and Africa, caused concern. Just a short walk from my workplace, in Nijmegen, 3,000 refugees were given temporary housing. It was a generous humanitarian gesture that also sparked worries in the surrounding community; fortunately, the refugees were soon relocated to better, more permanent housing without any significant problems arising.

That kind of cultural transformation has a very different feel from the kind that keeps getting a second wind in North America, where cultural transformation is all about the arts, sciences, and professions, and has little to do with people making a living or governing a society. Like this:

Wherever Christians may be tempted toward slothful disengagement from the world, we want to raise up voices that can wake us from our doldrums. We want to feature the contributions of scholars, practitioners, and ordinary people who can draw our attention to corners of the world we may have forgotten.We want to find the places and activities that are shot through with God’s creational grace. In short, we want to be at the forefront of the grassroots resurgence of Christian engagement with the arts, culture, and society.

One place neo-Calvinists seem to have forgotten is Kuyper’s Netherlands.

6 thoughts on “Not Every Square Inch but 25% of the Columns

  1. Yep. Too bad it fell apart. I’ve said all along that present day neo-Calvinists (except perhaps the Skillen-types) aren’t really Kuyperian.

    Private Christian schools and universities seem to be as much pillarization as we can stomach. American civil religion is just too strong and too homogenizing.

    But it’s still every square inch of life. But recognizes the antithesis and that not everyone is a Christian.


  2. This is the crux in my craw,,…everything new and neo from tech giants, to media, to government to our protestant faith wants something special and transforming for me but none of it ends up having any real power. I just end up feeling hooked in the age of Hookya! When I need 40 less emails a day, I get 10 emails on mindfulness transformation and a mandatory mindfulness training. When I need my sin to die so that I can live, I get a program of doing harder it, longer and faster for more and more cause sure enough, “we’re going to change the world and do something new and amazing for the kingdom”. When I need the capacity generate, store and distribute electricity at home so I can grow my little Lambic brewing and fruit and vegetable business, I get a worthless smart phone. When I hope for conversation, I get 3 minutes of well honed verbiage and whirl of pointless images. I live in a global market awash in hydrocarbon fuel, but all I get are lies and sky high oil, gasoline and electricity bills. When I hear that it is a small world after all, I get a high tech weapons race to defend commodities markets. When I need high tech electrical generating and storage systems, I it get Tesla who wants to sell me worthless lithium ion batteries to make my home a little hotter. When I need viable electrical farm equipment I can power with my own generated and stored electricity, I get computerized cars that drive themselves. When I need more land, I am overwhelmed by an other real estate bubble land grab scheme. When I need real information, I get rivers of flowing dung. When I need partners, all I get are smug 60 year olds who can’t imagine thinking or working hard ever again cause of their bloated 401Ks, beautiful homes and Roth IRA’s. Thankfully, this Kingdom is passing away and nothing new and amazing is going to slow it down.

    Liked by 2 people

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