Family life and freedom of religion

How William of Orange didn’t succeed in his claim for freedom of religion and how that affected the life of my family.

Writing about my family is probably a good start for a first mission and introduction.  I am born in 1968 in the East of the Netherlands, grew up in a midsized town and I have three elder brothers and one twin sister.

But let me first tell more about my parents. They also grew up in the East of the Netherlands, in two separate small villages. Both were born in 1936 as the younger ones in large Catholic families. My father has in total thirteen brothers and sisters, my mother has eight. So we are speaking of 23 people, including my parents. All of them, except for one uncle who was suffering from mental illnesses and stayed single, married with a Catholic partner.  Only one of them divorced, all the other marriages have sustained until today.

For my parents and their brother & sisters it was out of the question to marry a person who was not Catholic. However, I never got the idea that my parents were raised in a very strict manner. It could be that some uncles or aunts fell in love with a boy or girl they weren’t allowed to marry but I have never heard anything that indicates that these things happened. Somehow, the idea that you could only marry a person with the same religious background was incorporated as a normal fact of life in my family.

When I was born, secularisation and the removal of traditional religious and socio-political barriers in the Netherlands were well on their way. I still was baptized, sent to a Catholic primary school, but religion was no longer part of the lives of my parents. By the time I was old enough to date with boys, there were absolute no issues about religious backgrounds.

In 1986 I went to Amsterdam to study, among others, Political Science. And shortly after that I started to live together with the guy I would marry in 1995. Before our marriage we already bought our first house (1992) en in 1997 we started to build our second house. In 1998 our first daughter was born, followed by a second daughter in 2000. In 1995 I was appointed as CFO of a small retail bank, which my parents considered as quite a achievement as they themselves were blue collar workers with no more than primary education.

For me however, being 37 years old, it was the moment where I really started thinking about my life. I outgrew my parents in terms of education and career but did I really do what I wanted to do. What did I do with the ideas I had when starting to study political science? And what about my marriage, was I really living the life I wanted or was it just a matter of doing the things I ought to do, influenced by societal conventions.

Two years later I was divorced, gave up my job as a CFO and headed back to Amsterdam. I was totally okay with the idea of being single and when thinking about a new relationship, I always imagined that it would be with a male approximately  the same age I was and with a regular career. But totally out of the blue I fell in love with a 12 year young woman, still studying at the university.  She had been in love with women before. For me it was a big surprise to be in love with a woman. But I quickly got used to the idea. I also had to get used to the idea of having a relationship with someone so much younger. The thing that puzzled me most however, was the idea of how ñshe as a young woman could fell in love with me, a middle aged woman.

Suddenly the idea struck me that I unconsciously considered myself as an acceptable partner for a middle age male but not acceptable for a younger female. That was really funny, because in any relationship I would be the same person. And then I realized how preconditioned we are in any choice we make.

I am married to her now, she gave birth to our son in 2011. And my daughters are very happy with my partner and their little brother. And my family, including all those highly aged uncles and aunts are totally fine with my family situation. It is amazing what has changed in the past 40 years. People can adapt very easily is my personal experience. But we have to tell stories like this to people to make them realize what is possible. This is very important

That brings me to one last story I want to tell in this mission. I always had the idea that in the 16th century, when The Reformation took place, that people were highly religious. And that the barriers between the Catholic and the Protestant communities which were so profound  in the lives of my parents was a consequence of choices made by those communities themselves. I found out that most people in the 16th century, by the time all the battles were settled, were really very indifferent about religion.

This was also the case for the new regents who were going to govern the Dutch Republic from the year 1581 and further on. Especially their leader, William of Orange, was very tolerant about religion. However he couldn’t convince his fellows to build a society with total freedom of religion and without any government interference in this domain. The dominant view at the time was that people could only by governed by having a dominant state religion and the fear for God as the ultimate instrument to let people behave in a way that was good for society. So the regents made an agreement that, whatever their personal beliefs were, they would act as if they were really very religious and in favour of the Protestant religion. After some years fiction became reality and people took their religion very serious.  And almost 400 years later people were still marrying only within their own religious community.

Again, the stories we tell each other are very important. If our dominant view is that people are selfish, most people will behave selfish. But in our lives we see so many examples of people behaving otherwise. Especially now this is happening; due to internet and new technologies we see many new forms of voluntary cooperation among people. We have to emphasize this new form of cooperation. (And if you want to read more about it, I recommend Yochai Benkler’s latest books.)


Wow, Carlien, thank you for sharing this. I had never thought of backtracking to the religion wars period in Europe to look for the sources of our own ways of life! This might be because religion was always a non-issue in my native Italy: people are Catholic, full stop.

Now, Catholics come in all sizes and shapes, but that was always assumed to be OK (-ish): just like William of Orange’s contemporaries, the Catholic church wants people to observe certain formalities and pay lip service to religion, but it does not actually demand that they really spend their time communing with God and all that. Catholics have a pretty sophisticated way to deal with wayward sheep in the flock: it consists of administering God’s forgiveness for one’s sins. The price you pay for that, of course, is abiding the formality of the administering: only priests can get God to grant forgiveness, you can’t get it on your own. It is very hard to argue seriously with people like that! No, “three strikes, you are out”, it’s almost impossible to get kicked out of the religion. Whatever criticism you come up with, very smart priests will happily agree with you and then tell you that your very critique proves that you are engaged with religion, and therefore, to some extent, religious. Being anything other than superficial Catholics in Italy is so hard that most people don’t even make the effort. Consequence: to this day, most weddings happen between (nominal) Catholics.

But you are absolutely right: if we tell people they are selfish, they will behave selfishly. Online community managers like to say “if you design your system for trolls, your users will be trolls” (though to be fair they think troll-designed systems attract trolls, they don’t turn non-troll users into trolls).


Hi Roberto, I recognize the superficial aspect. I never got the idea that my family was very involved with the spiritual ideas behind the catholic religion. For them it was just a way of life to pay lip service to religion. That makes is even more startling that my parents and their brothers & sisters all structured their lifes , including something so private as the choice for a partner in life, within the boundaries of what their religion prescribes. It is not like in Italy that everybody was catholic. There were also lots of protestants families living in the same villages. They knew each other very well, but they didn’t live together. And from a certain point of view it worked very well, the communities were living peacefully next to each other for hundred of years. Sure, after the Reformation took place the protestant religion was the only religion which was accepted and the catholics had to go underground. But even that worked out pretty well because no one was bothering them. From a societal point of view the Dutch did very well in being so tolerant. On the other hand, the decisions of the regents at the end of the 16th century very much affected the lifes of individuals even almost 400 years later.

And when you think about the crisis in our current economic system, we have to remember that most of the current system is based on financial innovations which were done in the beginning of the 17th century. The dominant belief then was that people were selfish and only behaved themselves in a proper way because of the fear for God. The religion thing we have settled in the last decennia, at least in most western countries. The thing about people being selfish we have to re-examine again in order to get the economic problems fixed. Enough stuff to write about in future missions!


Interesting insight. Let me rephrase: finance is designed for trolls and greedy people. Therefore… interesting.

Did you know that there are at least 5-6 people in Edgeryders who are actually involved in designing currencies? See for example this mission by Matthias in Germany. Lots of interesting comments! You will see some from Jacky in Iceland: he has a mission of his own from which it is clear that he has spent a great deal of time looking at money supply statistics worldwide. Interesting bunch!

+150 for great content

Carlien, I am re-reading this and I really think it is one of the better mission reports on the past month. I am awarding you +150 reputation in gratitude for honesty and clarity.

Interesting times ahead

Fascinating story, indeed. I wonder what of our modern orthodoxies will look as strange as religious law looks to us now, given our history in Europe of ever-increasing freedom from the whims of the organized church and discinplinary State…

We forget, sometimes, many of us at least, how repressive the regimes of the rest of the world are, and how damn narrow most traditional cultures are when you actually look at their practicies in detail.

What do you think is the next orthodoxy we will choose to forget :slight_smile: ?

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No lack of candidates

Washington consensus economics?

Weberian rationality?

Party politics? Whoops… I forget you are in a party - albeit a pretty strange one :slight_smile: