Christians the 'newest Dutch minority group'

Christians have become a minority group in the Netherlands as the once-pious public continues to desert its churches in droves, it was reported Thursday.

The drift away from the Christian denominations in the Netherlands continues to increase and now only 33 percent of the 16 million-strong population consider themselves part of a Christian Church, according to the latest survey highlighted in Liberal Protestant newspaper Trouw.

Eight years ago, more than 50 percent of the Dutch public felt they were part of a Christian Church. The main Christian denominations in the Netherlands are Roman Catholic, Dutch Reformed and Calvinist churches.

The latest stark figures are based on a study of religious observance and Bible usage in the Netherlands carried out by religious sociologist Hijme Stoffels.

The work — based on a sample group of 1,000 people — was carried out with the Dutch Bible Association, broadcaster NCRV, Amsterdam's Vrije Universiteit and Trouw.

The new figures are in stark contrast to a report into religious allegiances published by the Central Bureau of Statistics in 2002.

The CBS estimated then that six out of 10 Dutch people over the age of 18 felt they belonged to a church or religious group and this share had been stable for a decade.

A century and a half ago almost everyone belonged to a church or religious group and in 1971, about three quarters of the population still belonged to a church, the CBS said.

"In 2002, almost one third is Roman Catholic, 14 percent Dutch Reformed and 7 percent Calvinist. About 8 percent of the population belongs to the other denominations, including Islam. About 40 percent does not belong to any church."

More recently the CBS predicted that the Islamic community — the fastest grouping religious group in the Netherlands — would top 1 million people in 2006.

The once vibrant Jewish community in the Netherlands was decimated by the Nazi Holocaust in the Second World War, but there are still active Jewish groups here.

Trouw said Thursday that the latest poll on the Christian community found that Bible ownership in the Netherlands had also dropped from two thirds of the population eight years ago to about half of all households today.

A Protestant household is more lightly to have at least one copy, while households linked to Catholicism are less lightly to have one. This in itself is not remarkable as Catholics were traditionally discouraged by church elders from reading the Bible themselves.

Ironically though, the new survey found Hindu, Buddhist, non-Church going Christians and "New Age" households were more likely to have a Bible than a Catholic family.

Catholic Bishop Everard de Jong of Roermond confessed to Trouw this last statistic was a "bit of a let down".

But even in households with a copy of the book, it is now being read more infrequently as the people surveyed indicated the Bible was being increasingly seen as old-fashioned and of declining religious significance.

The survey found that the belief in a "personal God" is also losing ground. About half of the public believed in this 30 years ago, but now only one in five do and almost one in three people describe themselves as agnostic.

Another third are in the halfway "there must be a higher power" camp, while a 13 percent minority describes itself as atheist.

The report's author Stoffels summed up by saying two thirds of Dutch people are part of the "free-floating market" in terms of religion and belief. They are not secular, but their religious feelings are translating less and less into an association with a religious tradition or church.