Virtual Voices

Atheist believer

Religion

This year, Americans made bestsellers out of Christopher Hitchens' blunt book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great About Christianity? Hitchens and D'Souza hotly debated the merits of religion, but another book seems to have muddled the debate.

In the Netherlands, this book about God's existence (or nonexistence, rather) hit the bestsellers list, too. The title is full of paradoxes: Believing in a God Who Does Not Exist: Manifesto of an Atheist Pastor. So is the author: Klaas Hendrikse, a Dutch Protestant pastor for over 20 years, and an avowed atheist.

Hendrikse rejects the idea of God's existence but embraces the language of religion, using the word God to refer to relationships between human beings. "God is for me not a being, but a word for what can happen between people," Hendrikse writes. "Someone says to you, for example, 'I will not abandon you' and then makes those words come true. It would be perfectly alright to call that [relationship] God."

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Hendrikse's book is in its third printing, but Ecumenical News International said both atheists and religious people are looking at Hendrikse askance. The Volksrant, a secular newspaper, called his outlook "bizarre" and compared the pastor to a vegetarian working as a butcher. Bas Plaisier, general secretary of the Netherland's Protestant church said Hendrikse treats Christianity "as a dogma that can be put out with the rubbish."

She said, however, that the denomination will not discipline the pastor: "What we as a church, church board and synod can do now above all, is to give personal witness of our faith."

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