Hand in hand

Today I read a newspaper article / essay written by the Dutch Minister for Development Aid, Agnes van Ardenne. The things she says are the same as what I had already been thinking about myself already for a long time. She says that good effective development aid is impossible without paying attention to religion. In the Netherlands religion is often only associated with negative issues like terrorism and wars, but in the mean time many people in the world are inspired by their faith everyday to do good works. Not only with regard to development aid, but also in general, religion is a big taboo topic in the Netherlands (more than e.g. sex, in fact ;-)). You don't speak about religion, you do as if it doesn't exist, it is something completely personal and completely irrelevant when you investigate social problems in societies. Not only should the state and the church be completely separated, the whole public domain is considered to be secular, so religion should be kept out of it. This exceptional Dutch way of thinking is very strange e.g. for Africans, for instance in Senegal, where no more than 2 percent of the population will consist of real atheists, if they exist there at all. It's ridiculous to offer delevopment aid there without paying attention to religion as a phenonomenon with such a central crucial function in the society.

The Minister says that it's a pity that in the present Dutch ideological climate religion is more often seen as part of the problem than as part of the solution. This doesn't only lead to polarisation in the Netherlands but also that people fail to see chances with regard to development aid. More than half of the education and healthcare in Africa is financed by religious organisations, where the state doesn't help, the hole is filled up by local religious organisations. These organisations are able - often better than the state - to mobilise society in a positive way.

Needless to say that many people in underdeveloped countries feel more related to the religious organisations that help them than to the state which often doesn't seem to care. Violent fundamentalistic organisations can misuse this principle to promote their perverse views towards religion and to recruit 'soldiers'. "Nevertheless, I am convinced" - says Van Ardenne - "that the biggest majority of religious organisations acts out of goodness, out of motives of charity, helping the poor". The Dutch organisations for development aid should cooperate with these good religious organisation. And at the same time the good Dutch and good local organisations should try together to keep the poor children away from the extremist religious schools and to let them go to good schools. That would be a much more effective way of prevention against terrorism than to fight the former students of the radical schools in our own streets (in the Netherlands / Europe / US).

This lack of attention for religion and the distrust, ignorance and denial of the importance of the factor religion in a society, doesn't only apply to Dutch development workers, but to the Dutch society in general. Tolerance towards religious expressions in the Netherlands decreases every day. Of course the state should keep it's secular character, but this doesn't count for the public domain, since this domain is independent from the state and belongs to the society. Many immigrants in the Netherlands don't understand this radical secularism. People in underdeveloped countries understand it even less. It is clear that we will have to dig up our own religious roots if we want to have real contact with other groups, both with immigrants in the Netherlands and with local people in underdeveloped countries (of which the majority is religious). To improve the contact between different groups in the Netherlands, an interreligious dialogue could for instance be promoted. Interreligious and intercultural discussion and decision making platforms could be established, as it exists in many countries. Van Ardenne thinks that there will certainly be enough topics that can be discussed there. She also thinks that the Netherlands isn't that secular as would be expected if you look at how empty the churches are getting. Humans will always ask questions about the meaning of life and the past, present and future of the universe. Humans will always look for some kind of religious or spiritual support to find answers to their questions.

Ik ben het er wel mee eens.
Misschien is het juist omdat wij zo weinig religieus zijn (uitzonderingen daargelaten) dat we dit zouden kunnen doen. Nu ik in Ierland woon, zie ik de keerzijde: men is nog vrij religieus, en ong. 80 procent van de charitatieve instellingen hier is dat ook. Maar vrijwel al deze instellingen hebben wel een agenda: hun eigen geloof propageren. In elke winkel wemelt het van de collectebusjes voor de missie (!) naar Afrika en Azië. Ook instanties met een minder opvallende naam zijn vaak religieus. Als atheïst (bij mooi weer soms agnost) staat het me toch tegen deze instellingen te steunen, al doen ze ongetwijfeld ook geweldig werk. Deze instellingen hebben ook niet veel aandacht voor andere geloven die ter plekke aangehangen zouden kunnen worden. Ze zijn dan ook niet altijd welkom en worden soms als neokolonisten beschouwd. Juist als relatief seculier land zou je die aantijgingen uit de weg kunnen gaan en gewoon diverse goede doelen kunnen steunen, zowel religieus (tot op zekere hoogte) als seculier. Die steun zou dan iig niet zo snel als een poging tot evangelisatie gezien kunnen worden.
Its a nice way of discribing Religion and sex as a taboo LOL...
Yes, so you can see there are some similarities between sex and religion, with regard to taboos ;)

But I think it's really true that Dutch people are more afraid to talk about religion than to talk about sex, maybe as the only country in the world...
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