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Religion in the Netherlands

The Netherlands have been religiously divided in a Roman Catholic part and a Protestant part since the Reformation, the church reforms in the 16th century. The dividing border roughly crossed the country from the southwest province of Zeeland to the northeast province of Groningen. Most people north of this line were protestant, whereas south of the imaginary border the vast majority enhanced the catholic beliefs. Many protestants from the Southern Netherlands fled to the north in the 16th century, when the catholic Spaniards under Philip II (who reigned in the southern part of the Netherlands) started their Inquisition.

Unlike their catholic counterparts, the protestants among themselves were divided in many smaller groups, such as the gereformeerden (Reformed, comparable to the Presbyterians and the Calvinists), vrijzinnig protestanten (liberal Protestantism) and Lutheranists.

From halfway the 20th century, the huge influence of religion on Dutch society started to decay. The tradition of enhancing or embracing the faith of one's parents came to an end. This first started in the protestant part of the Netherlands: fewer and fewer people visited the church on Sundays and more and more people gave up their membership of a religious society. About two decades after the protestants, the Dutch catholics also decreased heavily in numbers.

This was of immense importance for the development of Dutch society in the 20th century. Characteristic for the daily life in the Netherlands until the end of the century was verzuiling. The word refers to the existance of zuilen, the Dutch word for pillars: the ideological currents in Dutch society, of which the catholic, protestant, socialist and liberal were the most important. The consequence of the verzuiling was that for each organization or institution there could be four similar but only ideologically different versions, one for each pillar. Children went to their own pillar schools and people only had contact with other people from their own ideology.

The decrease of religious influence on Dutch society has made an end to the verzuiling (we call this ontzuiling). Of course many relics are still visible, like in the television world (counting more than ten different public - not commercial! - broadcasting companies) or the newspapers.

Because of immigration from countries as Suriname, Indonesia, Morocco and Turkey since the 1960's, the number of Muslims and Hindus in Holland is growing steadily. Freedom of religion has been established in the Constitution of 1848.

Thanks to Great Neb and fuzzy and blue for the remarks.

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