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Column: Han van der Maas

No church attendance under the age of 16 

In a new plan, the ChristenUnie advocates a drug-free society: with our liberal policy we roll out the red carpet for drug criminals from all over the world. Of course, this is incorrect. The war on drugs itself is the cause of the huge profits made by organized crime. In countries with more repressive policies, drug abuse and crime are still a problem. Legalized drugs, like alcohol, do not lead to organized crime. 


The author, Stieneke van der Graaf, refers to her conversations with a number of ex-addicts. She wants to protect these weak members of society. Her verdict: drug use is not normal. There is one thing clear to her: no one ever gets a better life from drugs. How and why Van der Graaf can and may determine this for other people is unclear to me. It shows an impulse to decide how other people should live their life. A drug-free society is for her a dot on the horizon. . But do we really want a drug-free society? I assume that Van der Graaf also means alcohol, a hard drug according to every scientific classification. Eighty to ninety percent of Dutch adults use alcohol at least once a week, which makes them hard drug users. Many Dutch people use these substances, as well as cannabis and XTC, with great pleasure and with limited health damage. Not to mention the medicinal use of, for example, cannabis. 


I think that we want a society with as little reliance as possible on these kinds of substances. We need to achieve this goal by giving out the right information, the restriction of marketing and by providing proper health care. This applies to illegal drugs, but also to other substances, like sugar. Worldwide more than a billion people are seriously overweight, resulting in millions of deaths each year. Is that a reason to ban sugar? Is the fact that some people can’t control the use of a certain substance enough reason to withhold it from others?

Let’s compare drugs with religion, the opium of the people according to Marx. As a teetotaler I could place a religion-free society as a dot on the horizon. After all, religion is not normal. There is no evidence whatsoever for the existence of a god or other higher powers. The very idea of a god defies logic and the excesses of religion are shocking. Just as Van der Graaf can come up with stories of ex-addicts, I can tell harrowing stories about victims of a Calvinist upbringing, sexual abuse in the church or Islamic terror attacks. Just like organized crime, organized religion has left a trail of misery.


And yet I am not a supporter of this dot on the horizon. I am a liberal and I believe in individual freedom. If Stieneke van der Graaf want to believe in a god, and she doesn’t bother anyone with it, that’s what she should do. I can live with the fact that this belief sometimes turns into dependence. I don’t want to tell Van der Graaf how she should live her life.   


But there are limits to my liberal tolerance. I don’t think it is ‘normal’ to confront young children with religion. Church attendance should be banned until the age of 16 and churches within 250 meters of schools should be closed. 



Han van der Maas is professor of Psychology at the University of Amsterdam. He developed, a game-like online learning platform where children learn in a playful manner and where their progress can be monitored. Occasianally Van der Maas contributes to the public debate with publications in, for example, Het Parool.

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