Thursday, February 05, 2009

Holland’s Muddy Waters

The following essay was emailed to Gates of Vienna today. The writer said that the ideas expressed in the email were too long for a comment, but needed to be understood by us in order that we might have an accurate picture of the political culture in the Netherlands (my paraphrase).

I have edited for clarity and syntax. Other than that, I hope I have remained faithful to the writer's intent. And if not, perhaps our author will appear in the comments to clear up any infelicities.

This essayist lived in the Netherlands for some years. These are his (or her) observations…



There is a problematic reality in Dutch society that is discussed only within its borders. However, this phenomenon gets little attention outside the country, and Gates of Vienna is no exception. Outsiders need to understand how this problem muddies a coherent understanding of Freedom of Speech as it is understood in the Netherlands.

That problem is: Alles Kan, Alles Mag.

Translated as “Everything is Possible, Everything is Allowed”, this is the leftist-liberal ethic that has been a sore spot, particularly amongst elderly Dutch. They will lament, for example, the possibility of exiting an antique store, housed in a beautiful seventeenth century canal house in the Red Light District, only to step into the street and have their eyes accosted with dildos displayed in the window of the next door sex shop.

One of the prizes that is always unwrapped and put on display by the Dutch is their love for gay rights. This example is used again and again as the bona fides of Dutch freedom. But even staunch supporters of gay rights, some of whom may not buy into the “rights” advocacy” phenomenon, will undoubtedly admit that there is something a bit unseemly in using this as the zenith of civil achievement.

Such a freedom… such an obsession and fixation on this one facet of human sexuality carries within it a counterculture disdain and active hatred for traditional values. Holland is full of this bias within leftist circles.

Theo Van Gogh exemplified this ethic. Even those considered left of centre felt he was over the top. The “Alles Kan, Alles Mag” advocates, having gained such traction within Dutch society are what, in an earlier time, would simply have been termed licentious. But of course “licentiousness” carries baggage, religious baggage, and there is no question that Christianity is “on the outs” in Dutch culture.

This leads me to Gregorius Nekschot. He embodies the Theo Van Gogh model of the cartoonist profession. I applaud them both. Without them, the sad dusting of so-called democrats in Dutch Parliament, led by Jan Peter Balkenende, would never be confronted with the sticky idea of Freedom of Speech. But Nekschot, et al, muddy the understanding of the core values necessary for any civil society, and here’s why. In the article he says:
- - - - - - - - -
The present governing coalition of orthodox Christians, Christian Democrats and Social-democrats is an outright disaster. The Christians in the cabinet try to rob the Dutch of their traditional small pleasures. A smoking ban, a ban on prostitution, a ban on smoking weed, and a ban on magic mushrooms have been introduced. The list is longer but, one by one, these are all attempts to teach the Dutch that their life on earth is not meant to be pleasant.

Nekschot conflates these issues with some form of Christian Puritanism. This muddies the argument. He places himself firmly in the camp with those whose sole concern is their petty pleasures. And the listing is his! He doesn’t lament, for example, the public ban on freely walking in the Dutch dunes due to environmental controls. He doesn’t lament onerous Dutch laws on sole proprietorship, or controls about where people are allowed to live or buy a house. These are ever-present controls. Some of them seriously limit Dutch freedoms… but no! He is worried about magic mushrooms!

I don’t say this lightly… we all, maybe, have equivalent pleasures… but for the “Alles Kan, Alles Mag” types in Dutch society the greatest offense is that their small obsession, their favourite “sin” is under attack, and for that transgression they will storm the Ridderzaal in the Hague.

In the name of “Alles Kan, Alles Mag” personal obsessions become national rights and these people perceive themselves as the vanguard for the whole of society as long as their group’s particular obsession gets not only respect and recognition, but affirmation. Meanwhile, others within Dutch society think differently, but they are shouted down, they get called out and labelled… that’s why Nekschot can get away with a drive-by smear against Christians - accusing them of robbing the Dutch of their freedoms. Calvinists in the Hague they may be, but Christians? Not really!

Nekschot goes further:

In Western culture, rationalism, science, humanism and democracy, in a lengthy and painful process, created the separation between Church and State. Freedom of Speech became a constitutional right in many countries. Thus, ridiculing Christianity, without fear of losing one’s life, has been possible for quite some time.

He is quite right, but he does what every post-modern Christian basher does. He only gets half the picture - he does not see that the Enlightenment was cradled in the lap of Christianity. Without Christianity there would be no Enlightenment. Not only does he typically misunderstand the idea of separation of Church and State (that in America it means the protection of the Church from the State while Canada, for example, sees no such need for this constitutional provision at all), he makes the same mistake that all Post-modernists make, namely that Freedom of Speech was necessary to free people from Christianity. He has it precisely backwards.

Christianity was the impulse that informed the greatest advances against injustice, Wilberforce regarding slavery, or Lord Salisbury regarding child labour laws being just two such examples. Ayaan Hirsi-Ali, one of the bravest and brightest people to expose Islamization, unfortunately makes the same mistake about Western cultural history. She was educated by these Leiden elites who rigorously deny and reject any historic contribution of Christianity to civilization at all. Ms. Hirsi-Ali fell victim to the post-modernists’ indoctrination and to their bogus claims of humanism’s exclusive ownership of rationalism and democracy.

There has always been a complaint in Holland that all behaviour has been micro-managed; from dog poop in the streets to the neighbour’s bushes overhanging onto the adjoining property. On such a small land mass as Holland these small things are justifiably issues. And the small things in Holland that irritate become national causes.

I am not saying gay rights are not legitimate. It is a normal human pathology after all. But smoking dope! Magic mushrooms! Hookers in windows and the concomitant criminality that follows these behaviours! Are these also to be put forth as examples of authentic freedom?

The issue has never been one of Freedom of Behaviour and Freedom of Speech. I have the right to park my car, but I don’t have the right to park my car on my neighbour’s front lawn. There is a necessary limit to behaviour, but Freedom of Speech is always paramount and must never be limited. Behaviour is another category. In Lockean fashion, like it or not, the Social Contract still applies if society is to remain law-abiding.

Many Dutch lament that Freedom of Speech has become the water-boy for “Alles Kan, Alles Mag”. That was never at all the intent in establishing Freedom of Speech.

15 comments:

Czechmade said...

Very good article. There are generally two types of Christianity bashers: those who suffered under Christianity education at school, those who know absolutely nothing about Christianity.

It would be worthwhile to create some Christianity reader to bring the people on the level to be able just to discuss Christianity. There should be no incentive to make them convinced. Just bring them on a certain intellectual level which makes a dignified debate possible. Probably a non-Christian on a high level of understanding could do this job.
Go into details - do not spend much time on Christianity-Christianity-Christianity general(izing) talk.

Meanwhile most Christians (including top priests) are unable to discusss their own religion vis-a-vis islam, leftism etc. (for ex.)- unable to exploit their own proclaimed principles and put them in a very clear and transparent context.

This is amazing. Christianity is based on very simple and clear principles, many are extending over the span of a "religion".

This makes it great, many principles are able to live on their own!

Graham Dawson (Archonix) said...

Czechmade, such a primer might already exist in the writings of CS Lewis. Though, these days, his way of speaking is a little out of date... I know I keep bringing Lewis up all the time but that's because the man was a bleedin genius. Unlike just about every other prominent christian and most of the clergy of his day, he believed that the best way to tell people about christianity was to learn how they spoke and then tell them in their own language. Most of these cloth-wrapped priests and their attendants in the church seem to think that the only way to reach people is to talk to thyem inbig words and make them feel so small and cowed into submission that they will come begging for god to save them from their own pitiful selves. At least that's how I assume they think.

Evangelicals are no better. They replace big words with scary phrases like "Have you been washed in the blood?" I mean, good god, what are we? A cult?

Anyhoo, you're asking for someone of Lewis's calibre to appear and I agree.

On the subject of the article itself, well, it demonstrates if nothing else that distasteful alliances must be forged to combat Islam. I was fairly wary about this Nekschot guy from the start, having seen some of this work. To a certain extent he's a self-publicist and prone to stunts... but to a certain extent we need people like that. They use the issue to raise their own profile, but at the same time they raise the profile of the issue they're using and if hey can then be surrounded by enough sane and decent people, we can use the higher profile without necessarily succumbing to the problems raised in this article.

Sensei Mitch said...

It was a good article until the line near the end: "I am not saying gay rights are not legitimate. It is a normal human pathology after all."

Just another grocery store Christian who selects the parts of the religion they like best and leaves the rest on the shelf. That statement weakens their whole point. This statement also demonstrates how the Dutch society has affected their thinking. Or perhaps the writer was afraid of being "shouted down" for vilifying a generally accepted social norm.

All that aside the article does a great showing how far down the slipper slope we have traveled. It was also nice to see someone clearly stating the truth about Christianity being the driving force behind the freedoms we are working so hard to refute.

las said...

Response to Sensei Mitch:
You make a very good point. That’s why I inserted the caveat that homosexuality was a “normal human pathology after all.” I don’t believe I am being a grocery store Christian. Homosexuality is a reality, not a trend. Being Christian necessarily requires one to be a realist. I accept that a fallen world presents us with phenomena that rate our universe light years away from perfection. In acknowledging that reality, what I should have said was that the right to be gay is a legitimate one. That certainly does not mean that we have to accept every gay rights claim as legitimate. Do I believe in the right of gay marriage? No! For that I will definitely be “shouted down.” In the light of this clarification, have I left anything else on the shelf?

Czechmade said...

The logical move to give the Dutch more strength is (would be) to abandone "little pleasures" for as long as they are in the peril of loosing their freedom in big style.

It works in a subtle way. Also you do not go for little pleasures, when some of your close friends or relatives might be dying (i.e. freedom).

I have overlooked the sentence about homosexuality, yes - it is disturbing.

I will go for Lewis, my favourite one is Simone Weil (not the politician).

Sensei Mitch said...

Thank you for clarifying your position, that does make much more sense. Acceptance is the key word there. Being from America, I am all about personal freedom. While I in no way accept or condone 'the right to be gay' as legitimate, I do not deny it exists nor seek to police private practices. Unfortunately the gay movement has more to do with acceptance that rights. I would also caution the use of the word acceptance as in today's society and use it is synonymous with validation. As a Christian if you validate sin (ie through acceptance) then you are accountable for a portion of that sin.

Thank you again for your response, we seem to be more on the same page than not.

Henrik R Clausen said...

Very interesting, good points. Not everything that is indecent needs to be banned, but a strong common notion of what's immoral is useful.

Unfortunately, that strong common notion has gone completely down the drain over the last decades. Theodore Dalrymple (Frivolity of Evil) has described that decay in several wonderful essays.

Here in Denmark, socialists are now moving to ban prostitution. Yes, really. They don't have the term 'immoral' in their vocabolary, only the term 'ban'.

People should be free to sin - but clear about what constitutes sin. Then they have a choice.

Morality police? No thanks!

Afonso Henriques said...

Archonix,

"Most of these cloth-wrapped priests and their attendants in the church seem to think that the only way to reach people is to talk to thyem inbig words and make them feel so small and cowed into submission that they will come begging for god to save them from their own pitiful selves. At least that's how I assume they think."

Catholicism: I am a kind of pseudo-Catholic in a very complicated way. I am not but I admire great old Catholicism so I will speak about my view on this:

You see, for me, as a Catholic, nothing is more Transcendental than being overwhelmed by such superiority, being it a wonderfull Cathedral, or just the simple devotion of great faith a woman deposits in a small and humble family sanctuary.

Those priests used the same methods. In the 1920s (I guess) the mass was given in Latin with the priests in great clothes turned towards the Altar - with their backs towards the people.

All that was to create that sense of overwhelm. Untill fairy recently, there was no P.C. (let's call it so), the brain washing was minimal, and the people were very ignorant for nowadays standards so that all this posed a great overwhelm and the priests were overwhelmingly learned in comparison to the average person.

Now it is not the case. The priests are usually Communists driven for the desire to "help" people - especially materially but also - spiritually.

That and the nowadays not firm at all stance of the Church in everything (with the chief of the Portuguese church saying Catholic women to MERELY think twice before marrying a muslim instead of immediate excomungation to a woman who ever thought about that once, because a woman who considers to marry a muslim is simply not a Catholic) has pratically vanished any sense of overwhelming.

But ever since the fall of the Roman Empire to talk to people just in big words was for sure overwhelming and worked out fairly well.

Afonso Henriques said...

Two horrible sentences:

1st ... prostitutes.

Henrik, prostitutes will not cease to exist. I have never heard this in English but here once in a while we hear someone saying that the State ought to be a "person of good". Following this logic, and considering prostitution an immoral practice - and worse than immoral, detrimental to the majority of prostitutes who are exploited and subjected to not so good conditions, and for the public health as well in many ways - the State has the duty to ban prostitution.
Of course there are no effective ways to ban prostitution but it is the good virtuous principle of the state that counts. I am okay with this.

2nd... homossexuals, especially males.

My opinion is one and I doubt I have reasons to change it: What every homossexual does in his home with another homossexual adult is of their business only as long as they do not disturb anybody.
However, public manifestations of homossexuality should be banned and even repressed if needed be. As should all the anti-homophobic legislation, like the pro-homossexual one, be removed.

Dymphna said...

America recently lost her best Christian theologian of the last 50 years. Richard John Neuhaus (originally from Canada, btw) ran a magazine called First Things.

I thought it was on our blogroll but don't see it now. That omission will be rectified.

I like Simone Weil, but I think she and C.S. Lewis belong to the ages now, as does my particular favorite, Gabriel Marcel. He worked in the French underground. You can google him for relevant information. All these years after his death, there is a society (several of them) devoted to keeping his work available. My favorite of his is "Creative Fidelity"...he's been translated into a number of languages.

For current Christian issues, one needs to read mags like First Things. There are some excellent ones out there.

Christianity is definitely a going concern in America...

Have you noticed that the people most willing to pronounce Christianity as anathema are often those who've never read any writings on Christian ethics or history...

BTW, turns out that one of the Pope's favorite authors is Herman Hesse, esp. Glass Bead Game...

Czechmade said...

The best of Simone Weil is in her Cahiers I. II. Cahiers d´Amerique.

After reading that I could not stand any French "penseur".

Lucid, simple, exact.

Tuan Jim said...

"First Things" is a good mag - although I haven't reviewed it for a few years now. Similarly, "The Glass Bead Game" is an excellent book (might have to read it again sometime) - much better than Siddhartha!

A contemporary Christian mag I used to read was "Cornerstone" - interesting counter-culture style - although sometimes a little more "off-beat" than I would like - granted I'm not sure what you'd expect to see coming out of a commune (JPUSA), but there you go.

Lewis like Francis Schaeffer may well be one for the ages at this stage in the game, but some truths (like Chesterton) are still timeless - and some just come round more relevant every few decades ;p

costin said...

I think that this quote I found on GoV's "Lawlessness as Freedom" post explains a whole lot of what is happening in the west:

“Our democracy is destroying itself because it abused the rights of freedom and equality, because it taught the citizens to consider insolence a right, lawlessness as freedom, the audacity of words as equality and anarchy as bliss….”

— Isocrates (436B.C-338 B.C)


It also says something about Nekschot's ideas with which I still tend to overwhelmingly agree. Also, in my opinion, in his speech he didn't put Christianity in a bad light. He stressed the difference of approach with Islam regarding freedom of speech, and it seemed to me that he didn't really think of Balkenende and the Christians Democrats as Christians, because he did say that Christians don't restrict freedom (at least in comparison with Islam).

About the Catholicism, Afonso was ssaying:

"You see, for me, as a Catholic, nothing is more Transcendental than being overwhelmed by such superiority, being it a wonderfull Cathedral, or just the simple devotion of great faith a woman deposits in a small and humble family sanctuary."

I consider myslef an Orthodox Christian and Orthodoxy doesn't have this feeling of being overwhelmed in church and in front of the priest, ...as I undestood until now, I just started learning.

In catholicism God is something big, overwhelming, even distant. In Orthodoxy the accent is put much more on the personal God, on the spiritual part of relating to God and reality, not so much a set of rules to follow, but more of a way of being, feeling, of perceiving the world.

Dymphna said...

costin---

You're describing two different experiences human beings have of God: the Transcendent and the Immanent.

In Roman Catholicism, as in the Orthodox Church, both experiences are validated by their respective theologies. The transcendent experience, what has been called "the numinous" might be likened to the First Person of the Trinity.

Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, is the personification of the immanent, the aspect of God that is close and personal and very human.

It's when we get to the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, that the Latin Church and the Orthodox parted ways. They never could resolve their differences.

That's the thing about theology. It can only ever be a shadow of the reality. We codify and then we separate over our codifications. An unfortunate but very human characteristic, this need to define and to pin everything down.

Our need for order drives us to make ever finer distinctions because we never get to experience the whole elephant. Some of this think the tail is "it", some clamor that the trunk is the Whole Truth, while still others are feeling those ivory tusks and can't understand what the first two could possibly be talking about.

We're stuck with our partial views and convinced that they are whole (because for us, they indeed are). People have killed one another over these differences and are doing so still.

The last two people left on earth, as the sun bakes our globe to crisp, will be very likely arguing about creedal differences.

One thing I love about Jewish scripture is the transparent sense of humor Yahweh has about his chosen ones.

In Christian scripture, this becomes a kind of irony. We have become so familiar with the Gospels we no longer see the humor.

What a loss.

DP111 said...

Not just the abolition of slavery, but the nursing profession brought about by Florence Nightingale, the Red Cross, the care, compassion and hope for sufferers of leprosy when everyone else ostracised them, just to name a few more, was the work of devout Christians.

One of the reasons why our societies are suffering, is that we have cut the sources of the virtues of our societies from its roots - the Christian faith. G K Chesterton puts this succinctly - When a religious scheme is shattered, it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone.