Geest Geestig Geestelijk
Be content to remember that those who can make omelettes properly can do nothing else.
Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) thanks rob!
So I’m going to Free University in Amsterdam (Vrije Universiteit) to do a Master of Theology. But wait, I hear you cry. You are crazy! Going back to study at your age! And haven’t you already got a PhD? And, more importantly, theology WTF? Aren’t you an atheist? The answer to all of those questions is yes, except perhaps the last one, because as you would know if you’ve read my book, I am agnostic about atheism… :) When it seems appropriate and necessary to mark out my opposition to any and all forms of organised religion, which is frequently, I align myself with atheists but really, I am not an atheist but neither am I an agnostic. But it seems so wishy washy to say ‘agnostic’, as if you don’t really know - but you do, it’s just that you don’t know exactly how to find the words to say what you believe in.
If I have to say I am a something-ist, I’ll say: I am a posthumanist.
You could say that I’m on the look out for instances of what might be (to use the old language which I really don’t want to) ‘holy’ or ‘sacred’ phenomena - and other ways that humans can connect with things that are bigger than themselves which historically were appropriated by organised religion. To my way of thinking these things were and are being hijacked and repurposed by those who had a vested interest in controlling people’s experiences of that which connects them with something bigger than themselves - and/or making a profit out of it. There are people who want to be that ‘thing’, or at least to be seen as representing it, as having a direct connection with it and indeed to be authorised by it and speaking on its behalf.
The Theology Masters at VU has a Spiritual Care specialisation that specifically accommodates atheists and that’s what I’ll be doing. The qualification enables you to register and practice as a Geestelijk Verzorger in the Netherlands. I am still figuring this out but by law 1 every institution in The Netherlands that looks after people has to offer professional ‘spiritual care’. And people who are not in an institution but being cared for at home are also reimbursed by their health insurance or through the tax system. Quite enlightened when you come from a primitive country like Australia. But what about people who are not unwell? A person who is healthy but experiencing an existential crisis also needs access to ‘spiritual care’.
Not to be confused with ‘geest’ which is a ghost or ‘geestig’ which means funny, cute, or witty, the word ‘geestelijk’ has no exact equivalent in English. It has the functions of several different English words simultaneously, intellectual, psychic, psychological, mental as well as spiritual and clerical as in ecclesiastical - and ‘geesteswetenschappen’ means humanities. The course is taught 50/50 in English and Dutch and so I am going to struggle but I am allowed to do all my written submissions in English, which is a relief because although since I have been living here again I am slowly gaining the ability to articulate my ideas in Dutch if I’m talking when I fail I resort to English - and writing in Dutch would be just too cumbersome and time consuming.
1: Artikel 3 van de Kwaliteitswet Zorginstellingen