'Liberal' Dutch Turn to Bible Belt

Known abroad for its liberal policies on sex, drugs and homosexuality, many people in the Netherlands are now deserting the major cities for the "Bible Belt".

'Liberal' Dutch Turn to Bible Belt

"Certainly the social control in a village is much more than in the cities," Eelke Lap, a local undertaker, told Reuters on Monday, March 12.

"I know my neighbors and they know me, but I have to say these are perfect people here."

Lap brought his family to the village of Staphorst, just 90 minutes' drive from Amsterdam and its temptations, seven years ago.

In the village, people look so devout that swearing is banned, women refuse to wear trousers and the bank machine does not dispense cash on a Sunday.

It has well-kept thatched houses, bright-green doors, and austere mood that are seen as the epitome of a rural Dutch settlement.

"People gave me funny looks when I first said I was moving to Staphorst -- as an outsider you probably think that time has stood still here," said Lap.

Staphorst and similar villages make up what is now known as the Protestant "Bible Belt."

Many Dutch are now abandoning big cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam and are moving for the countryside in search for a more moral, compassionate society.

According to official figures 41 percent of Dutch have no religion, 30 percent are Catholics, 12 percent Protestants, 6 percent Reformed Protestants and 6 percent are Muslims.

About 10 percent of the Dutch electorate is of immigrant origin.

Bible Belt

Lap said the European country's permissive policies on drugs, prostitution and euthanasia make him feel ashamed.

The Netherlands is one of the most liberal countries in the world . Its policies when it comes to drugs, prostitution, same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia.

But now, this tradition is taking a U-turn.

"Permissive society is over," said Andre Krouwel, a political scientist at Amsterdam's Free University.

"Now you have a new generation concerned about what was lost during that age."

Gerard Vroegindeweij, a political correspondent with the Reformatorisch Dagblad, a Protestant newspaper, agrees.

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"Our base has always traditionally been in the Bible Belt," said Henk van Rhee

"Society has opted for more traditional values, for principles such as security and community feeling," he said.

"There is a sense that these values continued to flourish in the countryside whereas they vanished in the city."

Political Clout

Now a small political party long associated with the Bible Belt, the Christen Unie (United Christians or CU), is benefiting from the surge of support outside its rural heartland triggered by nostalgia for a more moral, compassionate society.

"Our base has always traditionally been in the Bible Belt, but recently it has broadened and we are gaining in the big cities and the Catholic south," said CU Director Henk van Rhee.

The CU has become the kingmaker in the Dutch new centrist coalition government, after almost doubling its vote in last November' general election to 4%.

Many Dutch voters see the CU's social conservatism a natural fit, believing it is the most appropriate party for them.

"There are those who think that the CU should carry on doing what they have always done up to now -- bearing witness to the word of God in parliament," said Vroegindeweij.

But the rise of the CU, led by fresh-faced father-of-five Andre Rouvoet, has alarmed some of those who support the more liberal Dutch society.

"The farmers have seized the power," a columnist wrote in the national daily NRC Handelsblad.

"The Netherlands has opted for nostalgia for the past ... for small-minded bourgeois suspicion, and national pride," he argued.

But CU Communications Manager Shahied Badoella, a Christian convert of Surinamese Indian origin, dismissed these fears.

"The traditional image of us no longer applies. We are a fresh, modern, realistic, though orthodox Christian party," he said.

Krouwel, the political scientist, said the Cu could easily draw more voters if it shed some policies such as opposition to gay marriage.

"There is a huge potential electorate there for them."

Agencies

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16
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