Ietsism is the belief in some sort of higher power or divine force, without subscribing to any specific religion or doctrine. The word “ietsism” comes from the Dutch word “iets”, meaning “something”. Ietsists believe in “something” greater than themselves, but do not define or limit what that “something” is.
The core ideas of ietsism center around spirituality without religion. Ietsists may have a personal belief in God or a higher power, but do not follow any organized religious tradition. There are no set rituals, texts, or rules that ietsists adhere to. Rather, each person develops their own understanding of the divine on their own terms.
Some of the key beliefs and attitudes of ietsists include:
- Belief in a vague, undefined higher power or life force.
- Spirituality is an individual experience, not defined by religious institutions.
- No need for religious texts, dogma, or rituals.
- Openness to different religious ideas from various faiths.
- Focus on ethics, personal growth and fulfillment over religious duties.
- Skepticism of human ability to define the divine.
- Belief that spiritual truth is complex and can contradict itself.
Ietsism falls under the broader umbrella of philosophical theism, which includes belief in one or more gods without worship or religious practice. Other related philosophies include deism, pantheism and pandeism.
Origins and History of Ietsism
The core ideas behind ietsism trace back centuries, but the term itself was coined in the first half of the 20th century by two Dutch philosophers and writers – Cornelis Verhoeven and Jan Hendrik van Iets. In the aftermath of World War II, traditional religion was on the decline in the Netherlands while new spiritual ideas were on the rise. Verhoeven and van Iets captured this shifting culture by laying out a system of spirituality centered on individual freedom and experience rather than organized worship.
Ietsism built on earlier movements in the Netherlands such as Ethics, started in the 19th century to promote spirituality and morality outside of Christianity. Movements like the Ethical Society introduced alternative forms of rites of passage, marriage and funerals not tied to any church. Ietsism took this concept further by doing away with defined rituals and practices altogether.
The formal Dutch association De Vrije Gemeente (The Free Congregation) was founded in 1946 as one of the first ietsist organizations. A few years later in 1948, the Ietsist Meditation Center was established. These groups practiced solitary reflection over communal worship as a means of spiritual exploration.
Throughout the second half of the 20th century, ietsism spread through the Dutch population, though never achieving mass popularity. As of 2005, there were an estimated 250,000 ietsists in the Netherlands, or about 1.5% of the population. Some of its appeal lies in providing an alternative to religion in an increasingly secular society, while still nurturing spiritual self-discovery.
Relationship to Monotheistic Religions
Ietsists may believe in concepts like God, a creator or a prime mover, but remain open about the exact nature of such things. So ietsism shares some common ground with monotheistic religions that worship a single all-powerful divine being. However, ietsists do not subscribe to religious texts, intermediaries, or rituals associated with these faiths. Ietsism has drawn inspiration from monotheistic ideas without adhering to them in a dogmatic way.
Ietsism and Christianity
Some ietsists still identify as Christian or drew inspiration from Christianity, while not committing to all its creeds. For example, they may appreciate the moral example of Jesus without necessarily believing he was the literal son of God. Ietsism overlaps with Christian ideas like:
- Belief in a beneficent higher power.
- Humanistic values of compassion, forgiveness, humility.
- Concept of a soul that continues after death.
However, ietsists break from mainstream Christianity by not relying on revelation through scriptures and prophets. They do not accept Christian dogmas such as original sin or salvation through Christ.
Ietsism and Islam
Islam is an Abrahamic religion centered on total submission to the one God Allah. Some ietsists take inspiration from Islamic spirituality while dispensing with Islamic law, practice, and scriptural literalism. For instance, ietsists appreciate Sufi mysticism and its focus on personal, experiential connection to the divine light. Ideas in alignment include:
- Belief in an abstract supreme being.
- Emphasis on inward spiritual development.
- Unity and interconnectedness of existence.
However, ietsists do not adhere to Islamic pillars, rituals, hadiths and rules for behavior. Nor do they necessarily accept Muhammad as Allah’s final messenger.
Ietsism and Judaism
Ietsism agrees with Judaism’s ethical monotheism centered around one supreme being. Some ietsists identify with Jewish concepts like tikkun olam (repairing the world) and tzedakah (charity, righteousness). Shared ideas include:
- Belief in a single universal God.
- Importance of moral virtue and justice.
- Humanistic values over rituals.
However, ietsists do not follow Jewish religious laws, customs, holy texts or identity. They do not recognize Israel as a chosen land or agree on the covenant between God and the Jewish people.
Key Ietsist Principles and Values
While ietsists do not have set doctrines, there are some recurrent ideals that emerge repeatedly within the philosophy:
1. Individual spirituality over organized religion
Ietsists believe spirituality should be explored independently through inner contemplation. There is no need for mediation through religious institutions, rituals, texts or dogmas. Each person can seek the divine directly in their own way.
2. Flexibility over absolutes
Ietsists tend to think in shades of gray rather than black and white. There are no absolute truths about the divine, only personal perceptions. Spiritual wisdom may even be contradictory. Remaining open and flexible is more valuable than concrete definitions.
Most ietsists believe that despite different manifestations across cultures, there is a fundamental spiritual unity between all human beings. Distinctions melt away within the light of the universal life force.
4. Integration with society
Ietsists do not separate themselves from the world or put spirituality above normal social participation. Living ethically engaged with others is just as important as inner development.
5. Connection to nature
Appreciating and spending time in nature is encouraged as a means of becoming more attuned to creation’s divine essence. The regular world embodies the same life force present within.
6. Service and justice
Caring for others through charitable service and promoting social justice are natural extensions of spiritual growth. Compassion in action expresses one’s values.
Introspection to understand one’s true self is crucial for spiritual progress. Inner work enables wisdom and positive change.
Criticisms and Controversies
Ietsism’s nonspecific notion of the divine alienates those seeking solid answers. Its lack of structure means moral guidance gets relegated to the individual. And its openness to customization makes it seem wishy-washy to skeptics. Some common critiques include:
- Seems like an “anything goes” philosophy with no standards of evaluation.
- Dismisses value of religious community, heritage and hard-won wisdom.
- Lack of shared rituals and practices isolates members.
- Devalues reason by embracing contradiction.
- Naïve or lazy to believe in divine without proof.
- Leaves members without moral direction.
- Just a faddish variant of the “New Age”
Proponents counter that moral guidance comes from one’s own conscience, not external authority. Community is redefined as celebrating universal humanity versus shared creed. And accepting paradoxes is the most philosophically mature approach to a complex world.
Although never a major visible force, ietsism has drawn interest from various philosophers, writers, and public figures over the years, including:
- Baruch Spinoza – 17th century rationalist philosopher who believed the divine is present in the orderly harmony of existence.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – 18th century German writer and thinker who de-emphasized formal religion.
- Mahatma Gandhi – Indian civil rights pioneer who appreciated Christ’s message while rejecting formal Christianity.
- Albert Einstein – Physicist who spoke of “cosmic religious feeling” and appreciation for the rational order behind the universe.
- Bruce Lee – Martial artist and philosopher who formed his own individual spirituality borrowed from various traditions.
Other quasi-ietsist figures come from movements like Transcendentalism, Theosophy, and the Quaker tradition of inner light.
Demographics of Ietsism
Precise statistics on ietsists are difficult to come by, since it is not tracked as a religious affiliation. Based on available data, a few demographic patterns stand out:
- Far more common in northern Europe, especially the Netherlands, than elsewhere.
- Around equal gender distribution, if not slightly more women.
- Tends to appeal to intellectuals, academics and artists.
- Attracts those dissatisfied with organized religion but still spiritual.
- Core age range is 35-65 years old.
- Probably no more than several hundred thousand globally.
One comprehensive 2007 survey in the Netherlands found ietsists tended to be politically progressive, middle income, and educated – most holding a university degree. But there are no set demographic limitations on who can be drawn to ietsist ideas.
The Bible on Ietsism
The open-ended conception of the divine in ietsism has some commonalities with Scriptural teachings, but also clear points of divergence:
Potential Meeting Points
- God is ultimately beyond human comprehension – Isaiah 55:8-9.
- Idolatry caution from overly defining God – Exodus 32.
- Rejecting public displays of religion for personal devotion – Matthew 6:5-6.
- Universality of being made in divine image – Genesis 1:26-27.
Points of Contention
- The Bible presents defined attributes of God – Romans 11:33-36.
- Its histories and rules claim divine revelation – 2 Timothy 3:16.
- Worship of God, not just internal belief – Colossians 2:20-23.
- Christ as exclusive path to salvation – John 14:6.
So the open-ended divine in ietsism can resonate with some Biblical cautions against limiting God. But the definitive revelation of God through Scripture challenges ietsism’s reluctance to specify divine attributes or demand public commitment. At essence, ietsism focuses more on the human experience of the divine, while the Bible focuses on defining the divine nature and will itself.
The Future of Ietsism
Looking ahead, ietsism remains a marginal philosophy unlikely to displace major religions. But it could grow or merge with parallel movements in the modern search for spirituality unfettered by tradition. Potential futures include:
- Remaining a quiet subculture in northern Europe.
- Merging with other open-ended spiritualities globally.
- Dissolving as succeeding generations see it as directionless.
- Providing an alternative for disillusioned believers.
- Renewed interest in response to religious fractionalization.
- Growing digital community through social media connections.
Given ietsism’s diffuse, individualist nature, it likely lacks the unified identity and drive to become a major religion. But it taps into inclinations that contribute to the broader tapestry of modern metaphysical seeking. The evolved search for spiritual truth and meaning continues, even if no specific path ever dominates again. Ietsism offers but one stop along the way.