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.)