My grandmother is living in a retirement home. She has trouble remembering the name of her eldest brother, and whether he still lives (he doesn’t). There are suggestions she might have Alzheimer’s disease. But when I asked her what spiritual teacher of the last century had inspired her most – the following conversation occurred (I’m translating from my Dutch notes). She gave permission for me to publish this in my ‘online column’.
The spiritual teachers that inspired me most were ministers of the reformed protestant church in the Netherlands. Reasonably modern people who were culturally interested and integrated that into their sermons. That’s the kind of people I met at bible class (catechesatie, not sure about the English translation of that word) when I was 15 or so (she’s now 86). It was more liberal than what I heard about in church.
In what sense was it more liberal?
It was more critical theologically speaking. More open to left-wing ideas for instance. Very different from the things the sermons discussed.
Another church in the center of Amsterdam had more youth, my parents went there (working class people), students and the intelligentia. Teens did not automatically go to the same church as their parents. Many did of course but this church also drew teens through the bible classes in school. The usual services had far less teens. These teens would then follow bible classes in a different church from the one their parents attended.
Their parents were probably happy to see them go to any church.
So all this took place before world war 2?
Yes, and in world war two. Some of these ministers were part of the church resistance (kerkelijk verzet) against the German occupation.
What I admired was really a group of ministers that you saw in most churches. Ministers with a critical openness. Many churches didn’t have such ministers – they had a more traditional message. So that wasn’t the kind of church I went to.
Those ministers needed to have a certain amount of guts, if only because of the Germans. The atmosphere in those more traditional churches was like ‘the government is always right’.
So they would implicitly support the occupation.
Yes. The more liberal ministers were diametrically opposed to that attitude. I didn’t like the atmosphere in those other churches: the traditional atmosphere of obedient citizens still alive in many churches you know.