Johan Van der Vloet’s position: ‘Religion is for people’

The zeal with which religion was dismissed as an obscure phenomenon, at best tolerated behind the front door, is slowly disappearing. To begin with, there is something pedantic about the attitude of a writer-columnist Christophe Vekeman rightly notes in the interview on pages 2-3: Believing that atheism is a normal everyday belief is a form of Eurocentrism.

Relevant question

In addition, religion is rediscovered as a form of much-needed sense of meaning. In that case, she will get a new interpretation. Just read the ‘Christmas piece’ Catherine Swartenbroux in The morning with the title: Turning your back on religion may not have been a very good move. The young journalist starts from a desire to my childhood Christmas infamy, but doesn’t know how to reconcile it with her enlightened mind. Why do we prefer to throw ourselves into the many prescriptions of diet, fitness and spiritual gurus? Her relevant questions are: Don’t we put a lot of energy into reinventing concepts that have always existed? What we’ve always needed? Her suggestion? Let’s interpret faith in a modern way, let’s detach it from colonization by institutions or right-wing parties. Religion has a functional meaning for Swartenbroux: what can it mean for our central need for meaning? She calls herself a heathen. She thinks so at the same time secular people can also learn from religions, for example when it comes to issues such as ethics, education and the arts. And more: By banning the institutions and doctrines, we also immediately rejected our deep human need for meaning, ritual, and community. Her column confirms the research findings of sociologists of religion: the existence of God is no longer a central question, but how you find orientation for your life and actions in religious beliefs. Truth gives way to experience. Religions then become sources and orientations that you can shape in your own way.

New religious figure

To restore religion to the people because it is an essential part of life: it becomes the new figure of religion. The politicians don’t seem to understand that. All too often they sweep opinion and religion under the rug, even more so in Flanders than in our neighboring countries. There is still a tendency here to deal with the Roman past, when the church had a lot of power. Some liberals continue to believe they must settle a score that dates back to the 19th century.

The Church all too often sees the relationship between faith and modernity as a dilemma.

In that case, Swartenbroux’s analysis sounds like horror to the ears of the institutional believers. Understandable, because she seems to disrupt everything. But doesn’t the gospel refuse to colonize life and faith in law and sanhedrin? In the end, isn’t Jesus also the ultimate liberator from the straitjacket of religion to open the space of the Spirit who, like the wind, ‘blows where it will’?

Identity as a false dilemma

The new view of religion is not without problems. On the one hand, she looks for anchor points, breaks through the urge for pure autonomy and seeks ‘solidity’. On the other hand, she puts the brakes on when it comes to true transcendence. The question of truth remains vague. It was for the late Pope Benedict XVI the main reason for being pessimistic about Western culture. At the same time: don’t we meet the ‘truth’ along the way?

This new vision of religion challenges the church to venture into the ways of the world as she is, ‘without bag or staff’ as Jesus commands his disciples.

Absolutely avoidable is the highly fruitless fear that Christians will give up their identity if they dare to stand at the crossroads between faith and the world. The opposite is true: their identity lies precisely in that movement. Every age tells us about God’s incarnation. It is up to Christians to make it a ‘kairos’ moment, an auspicious time.

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