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Interview with atheist Dutch reverend

I read an article in today's (24th December) issue of the Volkskrant with much interest. It concerns the Dutch dominee (reverend) who doesn't believe god exists but preaches as a member of the Dutch Protestant Church. I have translated the article and am interested in what opinions there are of it.

The article can be found only behind a paywall of the Volkskrant's website.

Interview atheist reverend klaas hendrikse

'Without people, god is nowhere'

The atheist reverend Klaas Hendrikse wrote the book 'God bestaat niet en Jezus is zijn zoon' (God doesn't exist and Jesus is his son'.

Middelburg: Reverend Klaas Hendrikse (64) from Middelburg contines to torment his employer, the Protestante Kerk in Nederland (PKN, the Protestant Church of the Netherlands). He recently published a follow-up to his besteller 'Geloven in een God die niet bestaat' (2007, Belief in a god that doesn't exist): 'God bestaat niet en Jezus is zijn zoon' (God doesn't exist and Jesus is his son). He remains, remarkably, a Protestant reverend who preaches in liberal communities in Middelburg and Zierikzee and drily maintains that God doesn't exist. His first book has sold 35 thousand copies. Many readers were also intrigued as to his vision of Jesus, the son of a non-existent god. Hendrikse decided to dedicate a book to a man that, according to Christian teachings, was born 2011 years ago in a stall in Bethlehem.

You believe in God, but you don't believe he exists. Can you explain that in a few sentences?
"I don't believe in a God as a being that exists anywhere. The idea of a God existing, albeit without beard, has stronger pagan writings than biblical ones. God, for me, is a word for human experience. That's why I prefer to say 'God happens' rather than God exists. There are things that can happen between people that you call God. I see people quit [the church] because they can no longer believe in a distant god which they don't experience. Belief is only tenable if it is based on what you yourself experience. And we don't undergo experiences alone - there are always others involved. Go, and I will go with you; God goes with people who are on their way. Without people, God is nowhere."

Do you believe in Jesus? Or did Jesus not exist either?
"Undoubtedly there existed an impressive person named Jesus. Otherwise they wouldn't have written about him. But what the evangelists have written about him has no historical foundation. Who Jesus really was, has disappeared behind what they [the evangelists] have made of him. When the New Testament was written, early Christianity was gaining a place for itself amongst the accessible religions of the time. To make Jesus more believable than his competitors, he had, at least, to be able to do what they could. So, he could walk on water, multiply bread, turn water into wine and, the biggest miracle - rise from the dead. In the bible there is not a single miracle not also attributed to a pagan god or that was not erected by an Old Testament prophet. The question of whether Jesus performed miracles is not important. But because they are attributed to him, he is significant.

Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. What do you celebrate and what do you preach at Christmas?
Christmas is a nice opportunity to contemplate the meaning of Jesus. His birth isn't the most important thing. Of course, the Christmas story is at the forefront but in my opinion it concerns what Jesus did as an adult. In him, I see a person who turned no-one away, who tried to remain in touch with the source of life which he called 'his father' and who helped people to their feet. It's not at all unique but it is exceptional.

Do you consider yourself an atheist?
No, but I feel connected to that [atheism]. Many people who claim to believe that 'something exists' avoid using the word God because there are so many religious connotations bound up to it. I suspect that the religious convictions of atheists and christians hardly differ at all. Who can tell me the difference between 'I have experienced something' and 'I have experienced God'? I try to stay close to atheists in my choice of words and as far away as possible to the jargon of the church.

You could leave the PKN and start your own religious community.
I have never considered doing so. I would rather remain as a louse in the fur of the PKN and work for change. That doesn't take away my impending departure: this coming 1st September I will be 65 and then I am finished with work.



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