What is the mark of a civilised nation? And is cycling a factor? I was asking myself these questions as we did a holiday tour of the Netherlands. The positives are; the Netherlands is obviously a very cohesive society. I saw no homeless people and there were no obvious signs of a big gap between rich and poor. We passed what was clearly social housing but the estates and buildings looked in good order. People were amazingly polite, helpful and friendly. There was a very relaxed atmosphere which is very hard to put into words, but is plain when you see it in front of you. On the camp-sites we stayed at it was “lights out” at 11pm and people did indeed shut up. There was no heavy drinking or drunkenness. We saw almost no obese people and those we did see were mainly not Dutch.
Life is not perfect. There is a lot of graffiti in cities (more than here) and driving on motorways leaves a lot to be desired. There Is also the drug culture. Whilst I think there are worst crimes than smoking a bit of weed, its not ideal.
The question I was does this relaxed polite culture have anything to do with the cycle being king? And what does it say about how Christian a nation is? At the time of the second world war the Netherlands was very Christian and Christians played a leading role in the resistance. The Dutch church was a confessing church that refused allegiance to the Nazis. Since then levels of Christian belief have plunged (as they have in all Western countries).
When I was the CU our missioner was asked a question about this kind of issue by a green minded non-Christian friend of mine. The missioner responded by saying that when everyone became Christians society would be fine. This didn’t satisfy him and it certainly didn’t satisfy me. None of us are perfect least of all Christians. On this holiday I was reading “What’s so amazing about Grace” by Philip Yancy. This book covers amongst other things the culture wars in the US and what does it mean to be a Christian nation. The Netherlands is the antithesis of everything right wing American evangelicals want and yet it works as a society and works well. Is it at least partly due to the strong cycling culture which in principle should make people more respectful and polite to those around them. Or is some of God’s original grace still visible tacked onto the countries past protestant history in which to kick the Spanish out there had to be cooperation between different protestant groups and even some Catholics? Or is it a bit of both? I don’t know but whatever the reason, it makes Holland a great place to live.