Atheism—thank god !—is gaining in popularity and in converts. Our companion blog Socialist Courier highlighted that in Scotland humanist marriage cermonies now out-number Roman Catholic church weddings and it is projected that they will outnumber protestant Church of Scotland weddings by 2015.
SOYMB now reads here on the BBC of further secularisation of peoples beliefs.
A study by the Free University of Amsterdam found that one-in-six members of the clergy in the mainstream Protestant Church in the Netherlands and six other smaller denominations was either agnostic or atheist. One such church minister is the Rev Klaas Hendrikse at the Exodus Church in Gorinchem, central Holland.
"Personally I have no talent for believing in life after death," Hendrikse says. "No, for me our life, our task, is before death." Nor does Klaas Hendrikse believe that God exists at all as a supernatural thing. "When it happens, it happens down to earth, between you and me, between people, that's where it can happen. God is not a being at all... it's a word for experience, or human experience." Hendrikse describes the Bible's account of Jesus's life as a mythological story about a man who may never have existed, even if it is a valuable source of wisdom about how to lead a good life.
A special church meeting decided his views were too widely shared among church thinkers for him to be singled out for dismissal from the church's employment.
The Rev Kirsten Slattenaar, Exodus Church's regular priest, also rejects the idea - widely considered central to Christianity - that Jesus was divine as well as human. "I think 'Son of God' is a kind of title," she says. "I don't think he was a god or a half god. I think he was a man..."
Professor Hijme Stoeffels of the Free University in Amsterdam says "Christian churches are in a market situation. They can offer their ideas to a majority of the population which is interested in spirituality or some kind of religion." To compete in this market of ideas, some Christian groups seem ready virtually to reinvent Christianity.
Rikko Voorberg, who helps to run Stroom ("Stream") West, an experiment devised by one church to reach out to the young people, believes traditional Christianity places God in too restricted a box. (The young people at Stroom West write on plates the names of those things that prevent earth from being heaven - cancer, war, hunger - and destroy them symbolically. The new Christianity is already developing its own ritual.) He believes that in a post-modern society that no longer has the same belief in certainty, there is an urgent need to "...take God out of the box...The Church has to be alert to what is going on in society," he says. "It has to change to stay Christian. You can't preach heaven in the same way today as you did 2,000 years ago, and we have to think again what it is. We can use the same words and say something totally different." When asked whether he believed Jesus was the son of God Rikko looked uncomfortable. "That's a very tough question. I'm not sure what it means," he says.
"In our society it's called 'somethingism'," Prof. Stoeffels explains "There must be 'something' between heaven and earth, but to call it 'God', and even 'a personal God', for the majority of Dutch is a bridge too far..." Many churches are keen to work with anyone who believes in "something". They believe that only through adaptation can their religion survive.
Much of the above reflects much of what the Socialist Party has already observed about the evolution of religion. Nor is the development particularly new. In 1963, we saw the Bishop of Woolwich deny the existence of God.
Religion has combined with New Age beliefs, largely at the expense of the traditional religions whose emphasis on personal guilt, sexual repression and the inferiority of women have become unacceptable. This pick and mix approach can combine elements from the New Testament, Buddhism, psycho-analysis, paganism, astrology and various other bits of the occult.
A Socialist Standard article wrote "The old religions are dying in the West not because of a lack of proselytisation, the loss of God's favour, or any other cause which religions might claim, but because actual experience of the modern world has ripped them asunder...What remains is that "each man and woman is their own priest". As Marx put it, "Luther freed the body from its chains in order to put the heart in chains"; rather than obeying a priest, we choose the form of our own mental domination, just as in work we no longer slave for one master but can choose from hundreds to slave for. The pagan backdrop of Catholicism is filled by that of Hinduism, Buddhism, even Islam, removed from their own social contexts of native exploitation; all are grist to this mill, generating a thousand and one cults, sects..." And in that article we disparaged such religious developments " They are not revolutionary, as some might suppose, from their content of peace, love and contentment; they are escape, the only escape of the life prisoner staring from their cell window, and the form is the acceptance of their existence only as an ideal life, never as a fully material one. They are the product of personal inspiration, mental focussing, or good vibrations, not the actual powers of human beings living and breathing in and out all of the powers of nature...We would thus urge anyone who would see themselves as a 'New Ager'... to free themself from an imaginary world; there is a real world to be transformed, and that transformation itself contains within it the realisation of our social powers."
Atheists who only fight against religion — turning a blind eye to the hell of capitalism — ironically end up prolonging the life of their nemesis.