Template:Journal of Sociology and Social Theory
Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam
Date: August 2008
By: Tudor Georgescu, BSc (now drs. Tudor Georgescu)
Student no.: 1384562
Thesis supervisor: dr. ir. Sytze Kingma
- 1 Foreword
- 2 Introduction
- 3 Theoretical Framework
- 4 Methods
- 5 An Overview of the Field
- 6 Religious breaching
- 6.1 Field Report and Field Conclusions
- 6.1.1 The Method of Religious Breaching in Practice
- 6.1.2 Flaming
- 6.1.3 Partial Fanaticism and Intolerance
- 6.1.4 God Defilement and the Partial Fanatics
- 6.1.5 Exorcism is Kind of Complicated
- 6.1.6 Is Catholic Baptism Ok?
- 6.1.7 How Evangelization Works?
- 6.1.8 Alternative Life-styles
- 6.1.9 Social Theory
- 6.2 Conclusions about Identity Construction
- 6.1 Field Report and Field Conclusions
- 7 Interviews, Logs, Private Messages, Data Sheets
- 8 Overview of the Conclusions
- 9 Bibliography
- 10 End Notes
This is the Master thesis of Tudor Georgescu, BSc, a student of Culture, Organization and Management at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.
I express my gratitude to dr. ir. Sytze Kingma, who agreed to guide my thesis at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. I owe him turning my incomprehensible abstract musings into a coherent and understandable scientific thesis.
This research applies theories of economical rationality to other fields than the economy. The purpose of this research is to present an original method meant to explore human rationality.
‘hi! i will come to amsterdam mid april and i have no contact, friend or known person who could help me with advice or information about how things are going there... this is because i would like to stay as long as possible... i would like to know if it is worth it and if i have any chance to make true what i have in mind, because i have no university diploma and i do not speak the dutch language. is it then difficult to find work, given the circumstances? i am very adaptable, but i would use some advice. thanks’
‘If you chose for Amsterdam, you have to come in the city by passing under the South Gate. There are the Romanians expected to come into the city. You should have an extra pair of shoes, because you will pass upon an alley called RomanianSTARS, where you will have to let your print on the pavement. At the end of the alley you will get a plate with sliced bread and tulips. You should eat the bread; tulips are there just as a symbol. Then there will be a feast dinner table full of multicolor STICKERS. You have to apply them on your ID card. The Dutch people appreciate very much this gesture. If you have a driver’s license, they will offer you a red-metallic BMW. Those without driver’s license will get an automatic Rolls. The Dutch people do not need such vehicles, because they use bicycles, as the Vietnamese. Usually, at this point people wake up from their dream; look again at the map of Europe they throw the dart and if it comes upon the same point... then you may surely come to Amsterdam.’(Quoted and translated from Romanians.nl)
The Subject of This Research
I chose these quotes because they are the most pleasant way of introducing the subject of my research. This research concerns identity formation upon the mentioned site. The quote rendered above shows how a Romanian gets self-reflective in a funny way about the position of Romanians in the Netherlands, as published on the site Romanians.nl. Humor is an integral part of Romanian self-reflection. Especially under ‘bitter’ circumstances, Romanians are likely to make fun of their bitter situation. (E.g. during the communist regime, political jokes were a manner of expressing passive resistance towards the regime.) Self-reflection can be studied in so far as a human individual makes known his/her own thoughts in respect to his/her own position in society. One’s position in society could be defined by factors such as: income, class, gender, ethnicity, profession, education, age and so on.
One thing a Dutch person could think of immigrants in the Netherlands is asking the question ‘Who are they? What is their identity?’ From a social sciences standpoint, this is a naïve question. It supposes that ‘they’ (the immigrants, or let us say, the Romanians) have only one identity, which could be described in its essence. In this line of thought those who have this essence are truly Romanians, and those who do not have this essence are no true Romanians. In logics, this amounts to a sophism called ‘no true Scotsman’ (see mathew, 1997 for a jumpstart in logics). It assumes that, let us say, all Scotsmen have certain absolute characteristics. When confronted with the falsification that ‘Mr. Patrick O’Brian is a Scotsman and he does not have such characteristic’, the naïve immunization against it is claiming that ‘Because so and so, Mr. O’Brian is no true Scotsman’. So, the essentialist definition of ethnic identity is quite problematic from a logical point of view.
Well, speaking of logics, such question misses the point again, producing a sophism which is called ‘begging the question’. It simply assumes something to be true and then it tries to fill in the details for this presumed fact. The reason for this is that those who belong to an ethnic group do not have one identity, but for each ethnic group there is a whole spectrum of identities.
Assuming that people belonging to an ethnic group have one and only one identity is indulging in stereotypical thoughts and prejudices. Of course, it could be researched what prejudices exist in the Dutch society in respect to this or that ethnic minority. But, in this study I will seek to answer another question, namely:
‘How do people employ the site Romanians.nl in order to construct and/or maintain their religious identity? How rational are they in expressing such views?’
Why Research Religious Identity?
We might very well presume that defining one’s identity according to religious affiliation is an universal phenomenon, being applicable not only to Romanians, but to almost every other ethnic group. Therefore, I will have to say why religion is so important for Romanians: during the communist regime, religion was marginalized by the propaganda machine of the ideological state. The Romanian state officially promoted atheism as state ideology. This made religion play a somewhat marginal role in Romanian society. Unlike in the case of Albania, religion was not totally prohibited in Romania, but it was attacked by means of state propaganda and tolerated by law and in practice. Religion was not banned, but it was discouraged. The state considered it officially a collection of awkward superstitions, but not a serious threat which would call for repression.
I know this for I experienced it myself: those who wanted to attend cultic rituals in the churches were not prevented to do it (which is true at least for the Ceausescu regime). Romanian Communist Party members were officially not allowed to take part in religious rituals, but in practice many of them did that. This is not a bit of a contradiction, since Marxist communism, as Kautsky’s study shows, has its roots in Christian communism (to be more precise: in the subversive character of the Christian Messiah, cf. Kaustky, 1908: Book IV, Ch. II, ‘Jesus as a Rebel’). So, there were many members of the Communist Party who were (informally) adepts of Christian communism.
One of my grandmothers was a Romanian Communist Party member and a practicing Eastern Orthodox Christian. For her, the social equality proclaimed by the communists was simply an application of the message of the Gospels. When my father remarried, he married the daughter of Virgil Trofin, a former vice-prime-minister of Romania, turned dissident against Ceausescu. Virgil Trofin’s wife, my father’s wife’s mother, was a fervent communist and a fervent Eastern Orthodox believer.
After the fall of the communist regime, a religious rebirth took place, people feeling free to express their religious choices, from mainstream Eastern Orthodox to marginal Neo‑Protestant cults and New Age orientations. And, since the state atheist propaganda no longer existed, many Romanians were searching for new moral guidelines, in order to reorient themselves amidst of profound social-political changes.
According to http://stiri.kappa.ro/politica/romanii-au-multa-incredere-in-biserica-presa-armata-si-nato/stire_31177.html , reporting about a GSS opinion poll from 2005, 86.02% of the Romanian citizens show high or very high trust (confidence) in the Church (as a social institution). The Army is likewise trusted by 65.04% of the Romanian citizens, NATO by 60.35% and European Union by 59.52%. This makes the Church the most respected institution in Romania.
In order to close this introduction to the matter, I hope I showed due reasons why religious identity is so relevant for Romanian identities. Further I will show the reasons why I study a site of the Romanians from the Netherlands.
Motivation for this Research
Being myself a Romanian immigrant in the Netherlands, I find interesting to research the position of Romanians in the Netherlands and their religious options. The Romanian religious identity could be considered a given, i.e. something which exists by default, since one cannot change his/her place of birth. But, of course, this is only half of the story: one cannot change his/her place of birth but (as we generally assume) he/she is able to change his/her own future (including one’s religious faith). Giddens has developed the idea of agency, i.e. how given individuals actively cope with the problems in their lives, how they manage their social relationships and how the make efforts to shape their own future (cf. Rose, Jones and Truex, 2005).
In order to understand the position of the Romanians in the Netherlands, I have to say a few things about Romania: it is a member of the European Union (having temporary restrictions in respect to the right of its citizens to work abroad and/or stay there for other purposes than tourism), a country of high human development, according to UN Human Development Report (60th most developed country), but according to the CIA World Fact Book, it is the 91st country in respect to GDP per capita (PPP). This means the average Romanian earnings are less than each of the average earnings of a Russian, Mexican, Chilean, Malaysian, Gabonian and Botswanian (in respect to the purchasing power those people have in their own country).
This already says something about the tension between the social-cultural development of Romania and its economical development. Being highly developed culturally and socially, Romania has a mediocre economical development. This explains the huge exodus of young and capable Romanians to the richer countries of the European Union: they are well prepared educationally but they remain in a rather poor country, while working in richer countries they could earn better (Romanians working abroad sent home Euro 5 300 000 000 in the year 2006, which is about 5.3% of the Romanian GDP).
What about the internet? Is it as undeveloped as the economy of the country is? According to http://speedtest.net , Romania scores on February 15, 2008 in the top 5 countries worldwide in respect to the speed of its internet connections:
This means that, although Romanians are poor, they are very well capable of paying for broadband internet connections and we must suppose therefore that they make good use of the Internet. (Otherwise there is no need to pay for broadband access, seen their meager earnings; we assume that they behave as economically rational as any other people in this world.)
We also have to consider that people living in relative isolation (as immigrants often do), are more prone to employ communication technology in order to maintain contact with their relatives from abroad. This could be one of the reasons why some of the Romanians living in the Netherlands understand to use such forums as http://dirobenelu.com/ , http://ropromo.org/ and http://romanians.nl . Another reason is that people living in such relative isolation are establishing social contacts, maintaining their social networks or simply exchanging useful information with their peers. And of course, the ever present human desire of being entertained is always present, as on these sites appear frequent jokes and many links to funny videos from YouTube or so.
Having presented my motivation for this research, I have to say some words about how could one research such a subject. The most general claim which can be done in this respect is that in order to study a certain social issue, one has to make assumptions about the social world in general and of the ‘social animal’ (as Aristotle defined the human being) in particular. As in any science, it is an unwritten norm that one has to make theoretical assumptions in order to be able to study a certain field. Assumptions play the role of organizing our knowledge, telling scientists what they should research and how they should do that. In the operationalist view, they are the foundation whereupon theories may be built, with testable hypotheses as their cornerstones. Any scientifically informed person will recognize herein one of the most common places of doing science. In the following paragraph, I will introduce the assumptions I make in this research.
The Science of the Irrational
My theoretical framework includes ideas as moral intuitionism, bounded rationality and ecological rationality as opposed to constructivist rationality. Such theories are championed by Jonathan Haidt, Daniel Kahneman and Vernon L. Smith, respectively.
In his Nobel lecture, Kahneman (2002:480), defines bounded rationality. According to him, people make choices which are manifestly suboptimal (from the viewpoint of the researcher), but such suboptimality is not manifest to them when making such choice.
In his Nobel lecture, Vernon L. Smith (2002:506,507,511,552) defines the debate between constructivist rationalism and ecological rationalism. The gist of such argument is that social institutions are not a product of elaborate (i.e. constructivist) rational design, but rather of a selection of institutions based upon the survival of the fittest institution.
Jonathan Haidt (2001:6) writes upon moral attitudes in general as consisting mainly of gut reactions, the point of such argument being that philosophers and those high on need for cognition are the only ideal-type of people who are able to employ reason and rational reflection when making a moral choice (ibidem:10).
So, this is how present-day science understands irrational phenomena. Based upon such insights, I developed the method of internet breaching. This method will be explained infra, since we have first to tackle the theoretical problems pertaining to internet ethnography.
The Virtual and the Real-world Social Groups
Table 2.1 The virtual and the concrete
|Real (existing)||Possible (not existing)|
|Ideal||virtual (ideally real)||abstract (possible ideal)|
|Actual||concrete present (actually real)||probable (actual possibility)|
This table means that the virtual is distinct, in Shields’ (2003:29) view, from the abstract, the concrete and the probable.
According to W.I. Thomas’ theorem, whatever is perceived as real, it has real consequences. E.g., a great deal of our real existence is determined by finance, as it is most obvious during an economic crisis. Finance is subject to whims and rumors and the most basic human emotions could have a terrible influence upon this aspect of the world economy. Anxiety could trigger a recession; trust could trigger an economic boom. As such, we begin to realize in how far our real world becomes an object subjected to our fantasies. The idea of virtual simply accounts for the terrible power which phantasms hold upon the real existence. If people around the world would become persuaded they should not exchange their currencies into dollars, a global economic crisis would ensue (cf. van Broekhoven, 2005). We are at the mercy of our imagination.
Speaking of the virtual, according to Benedict Anderson (1991:4,6), one of the ways of imagining ourselves is thinking that we belong to certain social groups. We virtually associate our own selves with memories, places, objects, people, events and groups. Accordingly, people use virtual stuff as messages posted on Romanians.nl in order to construct and maintain their identities, meaning that they recall memories, deeds, thoughts, places and cultural products which could be significant not only in their own identity construction, but it could be readily employed by others in order to reflect on their own identities, and reframe them if needed. Upon such explorations of identity I will write in the paragraph infra.
De Groot (2004:30) speaks about Rheingold’s (1993) theories, namely of his concept of ‘intellectual playgrounds’, made possible by the freedom existing in a world bereft of physical bodies. De Groot writes (translating): ‘People could use virtual communities to research aspects of personal and group identity from certain positions.’ (loc. cit.).
The gist of this argument is that people use the internet in order to explore (or: play) with certain ways of life, which they would not do it in the real world, since there applies a much stronger social control. Such aware exploration of lifestyle orientations amounts to a rational prospecting of other viewpoints and lifestyle alternatives.
Having presented my theoretical framework, I have to say a few things about my research methods. This will be done in the following paragraph. For, in order to explore such ideas, I will have to employ certain methods.
As I have to research an internet site, I will use document analysis (i.e. qualitative analysis by consulting the site http://romanians.nl ). A discussion forum may be an opportunity for some individuals to open their souls for others, at least in some respects. If we depart from the idea that the human self is not necessary unitary (idea documented since 1 Thessalonians 5:23 was written), then we have to disagree with Stivers’s idea (2003:62) that internet fosters depersonalized discourse. True, the internet forum discourse may be ‘directed toward an abstract audience of consumers’ (ibidem:61). But, what matters is that specific individuals express their views in ways which are censored and/or self-censored in media other than the internet (cf. ibidem:62 on the removal of the self-censorship ordinarily associated with personal responsibility on the internet).
This information was checked through the prism of taking interviews from users of Romanians.nl and from other Romanians living in the Netherlands.
This site is a huge collection of records, most of which are publicly available. So, a huge barrier to privacy issues has been broken by the participants themselves, if and when they chose to reveal their real names. Otherwise, they just remain some nicknames on the internet. These records could be consulted by anyone with internet access. Mr. Sybrand van Hulst, the AIVD director, referred in the Buitenhof TV program to AIVD scanning reactions to Dutch nationalist utterances (like Fortuyn’s and Wilders’) on Dutch Islamic websites, so I would not be the first or the last to employ such methods. Of course, he insisted that AIVD does not seek to do political police, but mostly to obtain reliable information which is necessary in a democracy for the good working of the society, like tracking the radicals, offering advice to politicians and informing the public.
I sampled the material which I considered most relevant for answering the questions of the present research. The sampled material was cut and pasted into MAXQDA 2007, in order to be used for qualitative analysis.
Also, I held interviews with users of Romanians.nl and with other Romanians living in the Netherlands, inquiring about their use of internet in general and of Romanians.nl in particular. The interviews have also been subjected to qualitative analysis.
The Question of Doing Violence to the Field Data
As stated by Glaeser (2000:14) it is very relevant that the theoretical framework does not do violence to the field data. I will show this is not the case, for: (i) the internet is by definition virtual space (ii) exchange of information, opinions, emotions, etc. is by definition exchange of virtual stuff (even if its carrier, say body language, can be seen as objectively existing) and (iii) ‘ethnographic adequacy is thus a rather vague concept’ (loc. cit.) and (iv) religion is generally considered a phenomenon whose development would pertain to the irrational.
Doing violence to the field means imposing upon the field a theoretical framework which does not do justice to the field situation, e.g., following Allan Bloom’s (1987:220) thought: being like analyzing Salvador Dali’s artistic success in terms of ownership of the means of production. Things could be seen that way but it is rather strange to classify Dali’s art as either proletarian or bourgeois product, since this misses the whole point that Dali was a unique individual, with a unique artistic style.
As said, the question of doing violence to the field is related to the idea that scientists should handle their work ‘objectively’, and, to put it in a Bloomian way, to allow nature (or reality) to speak rather than their own imaginations (Bloom 1987:182, 371). In the following paragraph I will discuss this concern, pertaining to the kind of objectivity which is specific to ethnographic research.
The Question of Objectivity
Being myself a participant of this site, sometimes highly polemical in my value judgments, there could be a question if I would handle this task ‘objectively’. There are some things to say about this: (v) in participant observation one is never value-free (vi) value freedom is, according to Alvin Gouldner (1962:199), putting it simply, Max Weber’s political ideology and political intrigue (vii) the very notion of dialogue supposes that wrong insights be corrected, and this applies to everyone, including the ego (viii) even when something is highly debatable one may still affirm his own position while recognizing that, from the opponent’s standpoint, it is perfectly justified to offer this or that reply to the issue.
A sociologist is not primarily interested if someone’s opinions are true or false, but in how would act someone having such opinions. It is not about the voters of the PvdA being ‘scientifically correct’ about voting for PvdA (cf. Georgescu, 2007:15). It is about their real votes for such party. And, regardless of the position taken, pro or against something or somebody, one could still research the abstract process by which identity is being produced.
Besides, an internet forum offers an excellent opportunity for a benign form of breaching, namely confronting people with apparently absurd utterances, which could be proven to be true. What one is interested then is how they produce the accounting of such world vision breaker, not if they are competent enough to offer a sophisticated intellectual answer to such breaching.
In respect of producing generalizations of ethnographic study, I may paraphrase what Crawford and Gosling (2004:479) wrote, writing that my study does not aim to provide broad generalizations about the identity of immigrants in the Netherlands, but rather to provide a consideration of the experiences and attitudes of some of the users of Romanians.nl.
As dr. ir. Kingma mentioned, the objectivity (or rather said adequacy) specific to ethnographic research is not necessarily vague, but it is contextual, it is valid up to a certain extent. As mentioned by Crawford and Gosling, their research does not indulge in overly broad generalizations, but it studied a local social phenomenon. It falsified a myth about the ‘Puck Bunny’ in a given social context. It did not attempt to falsify such urban legends in general or such urban legend in any other social context whatsoever. In ethnographic research, it is impossible to study all social contexts.
Therefore, I will have to say that I study one website, named Romanians.nl, in a specific period of time. Speaking of sites, I have to present the methodological issues which pertain to websites, i.e. communication employing internet technology.
From a technical viewpoint, the forum is a php Nuke (see for details http://phpnuke.org ) web forum running on a Linux machine (Linux is a generic name for various brands of free operating systems, derived from Unix, Linux being a gratis alternative to Windows).
As far as the reliability of the data extracted from internet is concerned, Hine (2003:49) writes upon technological mediated communication: ‘The point for the ethnographer is not to bring some external criterion for judging whether it is safe to believe what informants say, but rather to come to understand how it is that informants judge authenticity. … Assuming a priori that authenticity is a problem for the inhabitants of cyberspace is the same kind of ethnographic mistake as assuming that the Azande have a problem in dealing with contradictions inherent in their belief about witchcraft.’
Beyond its technological aspect, the site Romanians.nl could be seen as a more or less formal organization which facilitates social contacts between people who choose to be part of it. Although it does not ask a monetary fee for belonging to such virtual social group, it displays advertising from different companies. For those a bit familiar with internet business, it is no secret that big organizations such as Google and Yahoo derive most of their economical resources from internet advertising. The same could be said about Romanians.nl, mutatis mutandis. In the following paragraph we will zoom in on the organizational aspect of Romanians.nl.
The site http://romanians.nl may be seen as a network organization, wherein members are exchanging information, job offers, and tips for coping with authorities, emotions, value judgments, political stances, jokes, news and so on.
A network organization can be defined, internally, as: a community wherein relationships of equality of value predominate over the hierarchical relationships, wherein leaders are in service of the members rather than members in service of the leaders, and which has a flat organizational structure (flat organizing chart).
Defining network relationships which are external to an organization, Kinnie c.s. (2003) speak about the ‘relational approach to research wherein firms are seen to exist in a complex web of relationships and networks.’ If we apply this to the site, we have the following: without being wholly dependent on instances as IND, Dutch communes (or municipalities, in Dutch language: gemeenten), CWI and so on, Romanians.nl exists inside such a mesh of weak organizational links. For, serious concerns of its members refer to the activities of such organizations and it is not completely unlikely that, by influencing individual behavior, Romanians.nl could influence the activity of such institutions.
This site may be seen as a market or stock exchange for exchanging information (well, on a voluntary, non-paid basis). It could be seen as an arena wherein people are trying to construct for themselves some social status, which they do not have in real world. The virtual society of others, most of them known only by their nickname, creates for them virtual social status and a virtual sense of community.
Their roots, which perhaps no longer exist in the real world, are sought to be recovered by re-inventing them in the virtual world. This is what Dr. Ghorashi discovered about the Iranian refugees in the Netherlands: they have concocted a virtual Iran which gives them a sense of selfhood inside the Dutch society. Such virtual Iran has little to do with the real Iran, past or present. This virtual Iran belongs to the mythical realm, wherein identity could be more easily constructed than in the real world, for the material needed to build it is readily available: day‑dreaming and imagination. Mrs. Ghorashi’s findings support Benedict Anderson’s thesis about imagined communities.
There is an old saying: epistula non erubescit. Its corollary is that a person who makes extreme utterances on the internet would not do so in the real life. It lies in the nature of the internet that people write down things which are closer to the extremes than in real life. This idea was mentioned in Stivers (2003:61-62): ‘With the computer, everyone can actively engage in anonymous discourse and can say anything, no matter how preposterous and hurtful, without any risks.’ But, one’s worry may be precisely what turns the internet into a ‘gold mine’ for another.
Breaching is a method of social research developed by Harold Garfinkel (cf. Garfinkel, 1967, 2004:344), which aims at revealing the routine grounds of everyday activities (cf. loc. cit.). As such, people get confronted with answers and/or gestures very out of the ordinary, imposing upon them an obligation to get out of the social routines they use in their daily lives and produce an answer which, in theory, would require aware reflection upon the routines they use in their daily lives and upon their grounds and their meaning.
A provocation is used to elicit such an answer. Although in theory people could just use their thinking and produce a lucid rational answer to the problem they are facing, in practice their responses are often based upon gut feelings (as irritation, anger, astonishment, bewilderment and so on) and they often bring into question the mental sanity of the person who makes such a provocation. In fact, they are not even aware they are being provoked, because in such a case they would definitely fall back on routines as either humor (derision) or caution (reserve). The response to such a provocation reveals their unreflected addiction to the routines which are supposed to define the social rationality of everyday interactions.
A creative use of internet ethnography is to employ the method of breaching, and apply it to internet communication. This has the purpose of revealing in how far people rely upon unreflected routines based upon intellectual habitude and guts feelings. Busz wrote, as aforementioned: ‘Human beings are pre-programmed in order to do things as the herd prescribes that the things have to be done.’ (Busz, 2005:32). This is also the point of Jonathan Haidt’s research (Haidt, 2001): he affirms that the philosophers and those high on cognition are only ideal type of people who employ reason in making moral choices.
This being the case, breaching is one of the methods which could be used in order to show that a relevant area of identity formation is not subject to rational discourse and rational argumentation. By this relevant area I mean religious affiliation and the moral choices which the users of Romanians.nl make.
An Example of Internet Breaching
I will have to show how I do this. I will show below an example, which, at least in theory, is one of the most perfect breaching messages which I have produced. Perhaps to the reader of this research my arguments may seem very funny or even abstruse, but the reader should mind that I have done my best to provide only truthful and scientifically sound arguments.
As such, I take great pride that I do not breach with fake sentences or make-believe standpoints. Since, if the internet breacher gets to be considered an internet ‘troll’, the whole enterprise of internet breaching has failed. All my breaching sentences have to be logically clear and grounded on scientific evidence. The principle behind my breaching is: always attack ideas (including the rationales of certain social systems and for modes of behavior), never attack persons. I never employed lies, false accusations and distorting the truth in such breaching. If I made affirmations which depart from the facts, it is merely due to the inherent human errancy in the pursuit of knowledge.
Besides… it is not mere breaching. The things I wrote honestly represented my viewpoints, at the time of writing such messages. I did not treat people like fools, as many researchers are tempted to do in the ordinary breaching. I considered them discussion partners endowed with personal thinking. Perhaps not intellectually sophisticated people, nevertheless as people endowed with reason, able to think without asking permission from somebody else to do it.
So, my aforementioned breaching message is published on the forum under section ‘Religion’, under the subject ‘Hitler the plagiarist’ I breached with the following message (translated from http://romanians.nl/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=10292 ):
‘After he remained in world history as a symbol of absolute evil, Hitler added to it plagiary: his ideas and his social-political operating methods are plagiaries.
‘- the idea of vital space is plagiarized from the Old Testament (the mandate given by God through Moses and Joshua to the Jewish people to exterminate the indigenes which inhabited the land allotted to Israel before the Jews set in);
‘- the idea that Aryans have the right to exterminate the non-Aryans is plagiarized from the Vedas (the Hindu scriptures);
‘- genocide and ethnical cleansing are methods plagiarized from the Old Testament;
‘- exterminating homosexual men is a method plagiarized from both the Old and the New Testaments (the theocratic Judaic law, which the apostles never refuted, but reaffirmed it in the New Testament, provides the death sentence for male homosexuality).
‘Thus, Hitler not only that he was unable to do any good, but even the evil he did was plagiarized from scriptures.’
This message is provocative because Christian believers hold that the Bible is the Word of God, Who is incapable of performing any evil. I confront them with Bible verses which show the opposite. Since few of them may have studied the dilemmas of theodicy, they get appalled by reading the breaching message. It is, however, the Bible verses themselves which appall them, because it is an undeniable fact that such verses exist inside the Bible.
For the message above, however perfect in theory, I did not get any responses. The most probable reason for not answering it is that I have previously breached ad nauseam about Bible and genocide before writing this message. Therefore the audience of the forum got saturated with insights about the Bible and genocide, and they were no longer appalled by such viewpoints (they got used to such arguments).
The Question of Representativity
Since breaching has a character totally different from other methods of social research, the researcher cannot guarantee that the viewpoints gathered through breaching apply to all people inside the large population of users of Romanians.nl.
What we may presume is that such viewpoints are characteristic for ideal types, instead of statistically representative, since if there were people who would strongly disagree with the answers given to breaching, they would give their own answers to such breaching. And, this is verified in practice, since a breaching message generates more than one answer. This, of course, cannot apply to the users who do not choose to post messages, and are content with merely lurking on the forum.
Since this research employs breaching as its main research method, this research stands or falls upon the question if breaching is a valid social research method.
An Overview of the Field
When one types http://romanians.nl in the address bar of his/her internet browser, the first thing to be seen is a Google logo with a Google search box below it. Below the search box there is an overview of the five latest used topics from the forum. On the left side there are options for the language of the interface to the forum (either Romanian or Dutch). Below such option are some options for making the site known to other and for contacting the webmaster. There is an online Dutch-Romanian dictionary, with a dictionary game below it (i.e. a game of guessing the meaning of a Dutch word from four answer options with various Romanian meanings). There are some other options as a restricted download section a forum search facility and so on.
Below the overview of the last posts, there is a list with the latest news. Such news is posted by members and appears on the site after they have been verified by the moderator(s).
On the forum, there is public Romanian language area and a public Dutch language area. There is also a restricted Romanian language area called ‘The Corner of the Pacifists’, which is available to a sub-group of the users of Romanians.nl, which understand to follow certain rules and which may have a stronger moderation policy than usual.
The public Romanian language section has a sub-section for discussions pertaining to the site, a section for events, one for friendship and social contacts, one for tourism, one from memories which have to do with tourism, one pertaining to cultural issues, one to religious issues, a sub-section dedicated to cooking, a sub-section from forum chatter, a sub-section for jokes, a sub-section about politics and economy, a sub-section about satellite TV, computers and internet, a sub-section for the video or photo of that day, a sub-section for sport, one dedicated to useful tips and useful information, one to the grammar of the Romanian language, one for advertising and notifications, one for parents, one for messages which ran out of control (flaming, rough language, and so on – this section is apparently not moderated), and a sub-section wherein new members may introduce themselves to other members of the forum.
The public Dutch language section has a similar structure, although with fewer sub-sections than the public Romanian language section. It has a sub-section dedicated to information for Dutch people who visit or live in Romania.
Dr. Kingma remarked that ‘in ethnography, the research tool is the researcher himself/herself’. From my experiences on this site, it can be said that in general some people use it to exchange tips for coping with authorities, some make fun of each other or flame each other, some make religious propaganda, some make atheist propaganda, when there is a hot political issue from Romania, the Netherlands or elsewhere, it gets passionately debated. Some use the site to know other Romanians living in the Netherlands (generally in villages and cities close to their own). Also, some meetings for the Romanians in the Netherlands are planned on this site.
Romanians in the Netherlands use the internet for all kind of purposes, seemingly without having a fundamental difference in such use, when compared with the ideal-typical Dutch internet user. E.g., a section of Romanians.nl is dedicated to computing, satellite and the internet, and people use it sometimes to discuss downloading music and films via the internet, and watching TV programs (especially soccer matches) via the internet.
De Groot (2004:83) says, referring to Quake users constructing a social reality, (translated into English) ‘The Quake III Arena is a world with rules and social conventions.’ The same way, the site Romanians.nl constructs a social reality, just as people construct the ordinary (real-world) social reality in their daily interactions. On this site, group processes take place, as it is evident in banning a Romanian jurist from the site, mainly because she was considered arrogant. In fact, Romanians.nl does not exist outside of the social realities elsewhere, but it is a small piece of social reality, existing in an ethnic niche of the Dutch internet domains.
Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It that ‘all the world’s a stage’. In being virtual, Romanians.nl resembles a stage. In discussing the social reality in the Netherlands and in the world, Romanians.nl is an aware reflection upon real world events. So, such sites as Romanians.nl are sites wherein stage and world (real and virtual) meet each other and tend to fuse. The objective gestures of pressing keys on the keyboard feed the virtual internet presence of the site. The virtual insights gathered from the site become applied in the daily life of the people who consult such site.
The identities on display on this site vary from pre-modern religiously obscurantist and vehemently nationalist identities, to enlightened devotion pertaining to or similar to the New Age, postmodern quests for personal identity and alternative lifestyles and of course the typical modern infatuation about the technical-scientific achievements from all over the world (opposed to the pre-modern and to the postmodern). Some use the site to complain about their failures, to complain of how they are treated by the ethnic majority, while others give others good examples of successful integration by seeking to censor the laments of the former or by boasting their personal success in the country which has become their new home.
Field Report and Field Conclusions
I will report further upon my breaching endeavor and below each topic I will draw the conclusions which follow from it. The report may seem somewhat arbitrary, but the logic behind it is to cover as many areas of religious belief as possible, in order to test what the users of the forum respond to such breaching.
It is like sending research satellites and probes vehicles to another planet, willing to get information about an area as large as possible. That is random because one does not know in advance what it will be found there. This is why studying something is an anarchical endeavor.
As the post-modern theorists insist, as explained by Dr. Yanow, their research has to render the messiness of the field, namely the fact that the field does not coherently obey one theoretical insight, but it is a interplay of various aspects and identities, therefore various and often contradictory theoretical insights have to be used in order to render its empirical messiness and complexity, as opposed to theoretical coherence and simplicity.
The Method of Religious Breaching in Practice
On http://romanians.nl/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=9977&start=0 there is a discussion about a so-called ‘mystery of death’. Somebody wrote about losing someone dear and the consolation she received from the doctrine of post-existence. Without hurting her feelings, I wrote that Buddhists consider that Hell is on this Earth and that for them death means liberation. I have also pointed that the Bible is not very clear about the post-existence of soul. I pointed then to some Biblical quotes which support the idea of karma and reincarnation.
Discussing this topic with other people, I rendered the classical arguments with the African children dying in pain while God is good. But, not in order to disprove His existence, but only in order to disprove that He is good. (The topic has been reedited by the site administrator, because of the discussion being affected by red herrings).
This shows the concept behind my breaching: admit the existence of God but not the widespread Christian dogma of privatio boni. Since most Christians hold that God can do no harm, they are likely to become appalled by expressing evidence to the contrary. They may then feel some irritation and write messages which advance a rationalization for the reasons why a good God allowed so much evil to exist in our world.
Under the subject ‘The healing power of fasting’ paul_a subtly advocated a symbiosis of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and bio-energy insights drawn from yoga and parapsychology, on http://romanians.nl/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=10307
I breached his claims with hard facts from Prof. Dr. Katan’s book about nutrition (Wat is nu gezond?). An attempted falsification of Katan’s views was produced by a forum user discussing about flavonoids. I answered that Katan considers that research about flavonoids is research from more than twenty years ago, with no experimental reproduction of such findings. I added that Katan considers very improbable that flavonoids are of any good to humans.
paul_a discussed then the prayer of the heart (Eastern Orthodox mystical prayer-meditation technique). I breached with Jungian remark that the Bible considers the human heart the source of most evil and corruption, then quoting from the Ecclesiastes that ‘the heart of the fools is at their left’, and giving documentary evidence to support the Jungian claim about the Bible’s standpoint on the human heart, namely as source of all evil and moral corruption.
Noris put a rhetorical question, namely asking if pedophile Catholic priests do respect fasting rituals, documented with press evidence about people sexually abused by US Catholic priests.
There was some discussion about fruits and cardiovascular diseases, and I presented Katan’s viewpoint in detail. RamonaTim answered with reproducing a NRC Handelsblad weblog article wherein a journalist was irritated by Katan’s remarks that meat-crockets are healthy, while that journalist tried his best to avoid such products in the past decennia, in order to preserve his health.
Cristeo has shown great amazement for Katan’s conclusion that it is easier for a heroin junkie to renounce his/her addiction than for an overweight person to lose weight and then keep a healthy weight for a long period of time. I answered her back with briefly documenting the statistical evidence for Katan’s conclusion, and I drew the conclusion that it was easier for that junkie than for a young criminal to become rehabilitated in Glenn Mills schools (based upon statistics from the Netwerk critical emission about Glenn Mills schools).
My discussion touched then aspects of lifestyle seminaries for overweight persons, considered as brainwashing and proselytizing events. I rendered Katan’s comment on why diets work (short-term) and why every losing weight diet is just as good any other diet.
We see that atheists seem to derive either fun or boredom from such disputes, and they make use of such opportunities in order to mock the irrationality and retrogradeness of the former (which is an allochronization), in which the former are considered to be ideal-typical models for all religious believers (cf. Hendrikse, 2007:42-49). An example of this flaming is Noris’ message reported above.
We see thus that in a diverse forum the internet breaching passes very well for a genuine forum contribution. In fact, it is essential not to give the users the impression that they are being provoked without due reason, since then the authenticity of their responses would be lost.
Partial Fanaticism and Intolerance
On http://romanians.nl/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=8621 I quoted some quotes from http://religioustolerance.org , such as:
‘“If we apply sola scriptura to slavery, I’m afraid the abolitionists are on relatively weak ground. Nowhere is slavery in the Bible lambasted as an oppressive and evil institution:” Vaughn Roste, United Church of Canada staff.’
This breaching engendered a serious discussion about the social-political message of the Gospels, a discussion full of theological and metaphysical arguments. The answers given there by forum users show the political and moral ambiguity or religion. Religion is embraced by people of different identities, ranging from obscurantist and pre-modern to modern and enlightened postmodern spirituality (based upon ‘jouissance’).
On the forum I have discussed religious matters with Mr. Dan Brancea, who made it no secret that he is a Neo-Protestant believer. Under the cover of making propaganda for religious practice in general (like advices to attend churchly services, regardless of the church denomination and online preaching by priests and pastors), he unmistakably revealed himself as a Neo-Protestant busy with evangelizing.
I asked this Neo-Protestant: if he pretends to apply Sola Scriptura, why does he deny the Word of Christ, Who testified through the word of Gospel that all people who heard the Scripture are gods and goddesses (Psalms 82:6; John 10:33-36). His answer was that people do not ‘have’ to be coherent and consequent in their beliefs. This reminds me of the quote from Hine (2003:49), offered in the theoretical chapter of this study. It seems that in this respect there is little difference between Christians and the Azande. Neither highly value the coherence of their own beliefs.
He replied a few pages further that he knew it and he said it before that I am the Antichrist, because I would deny that Jesus Christ is Son of God. Indeed, in another context he explained that this is not his personal view, but it is the view of the Bible, documented with a Bible quote. Logically, his point does not make sense, because I had already affirmed then (and he knew it) that ‘God has many Sons, cf. Genesis 6:1-4, therefore Jesus Christ could be one of God’s Sons’. He also wrote in Dutch ‘je bent helemaal in de war’ (translated: ‘you’re totally out of your mind’).
Beforehand, the correspondent ‘aha’ (an adept of Eastern Orthodoxy) suggested that what I need is Prozac, seemingly because the problems I dare to discuss are too profound and difficult, suggesting that every common sense person knows there is simply no proper rational answer for such existential questions, and it would be not done to discuss such aporias of theodicy.
As this breaching show, people like the Neo-Protestant and Eastern Orthodox conservatives are less likely to analyze rationally theological issues, least able to answer theological aporias and they are vehement in unmasking the work of Devil in the arguments of their opponents. Basically, a falsification of their dogmas does not arise from the fact that their dogma is imperfect, but it is because the Devil (or someone’s mental illness) has put there a temptation.
E.g., inside the topic ‘Who is Jesus?’ I was three of four times suggested to take Prozac, called mentally insane at least twice, and at least once I was called the Antichrist. The history of Christianity is full of accusations of being the Antichrist, the most notable being the fact that Martin Luther and the Pope unmasked each other as being the ‘Antichrist’. It is thus not something out of the ordinary, considered the Christian past. In fact, I may consider myself happy for not being burned at stake for my research practice.
God Defilement and the Partial Fanatics
There was a discussion about God defilement in Dutch penal law, on http://romanians.nl/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=7793&start=0
I remarked there that God defilement constitutes a crime both in the Netherlands and Afghanistan, quoting from a journal about an Afghan student sentenced to death for God defilement, and asking the rhetorical question if there is some essential difference between the Dutch and the Afghan penal laws. (Well, obviously, nobody gets the death penalty for offending God in the Netherlands, although Calvinists seem to have a whole history of lynching the heretics.)
Lavinia, a Neo-Protestant believer, expressed her frustration with God defilement in the following message (translated from Romanian): ‘Oops, if you draw a cartoon of Mohamed, it is seen as instigation to violence; but if you draw one of Jesus, it is seen as art.’
Checking what most forum users affirmed in other sections of the forum and even inside this very section, they all seem to take pride into affirming their tolerance. Their profiles seem those of modern, no-nonsense people, at least in whatever does not concern morality and religion. I call this attitude ‘partial fanaticism’: they behave as average modern persons in all areas of life, except morality and religion.
For such people, religion is truly sacred and God defilement is a crime against the social order. Other people do not have to believe in their idols, but at least they should avoid at any cost to insult their idols. In general, others have to respect their faith, and for them religious satire is simply not done, because it brings offense to somebody’s idols.
Voltaire is a good guy for them because he preached tolerance, which allows them to exercise their religious creed, without interference from the state. But, the same Voltaire is a bad guy insofar as he mocked God, priests and religion. They do not actually have to know who Voltaire was or what he stood for, but this would certainly be their stance in respect to him if they reflected upon his stance (I use Voltaire as an ideal type). Tolerance is good for them insofar as it promotes freedom to exercise religion as desired (well, with the exception of producing fringe cults, they would say). Any critique expressed about religion should be considered not done, this is their viewpoint.
This viewpoint is manifest in how they have answered the breaching, as rendered in my field report. The breacher was considered by them if not a criminal then at least a madman (this also counts as producing an account of the situation). For such people it is incomprehensible how somebody who reads the Bible and claims that he has faith in God and the Savior could attack the basics of all Christian dogmas. So, this makes them utter the accuse of mental illness.
Of course, it could be a rhetorical device for flaming the opponent, but seen how vehemently it gets stated, we have all reasons to believe that it is the expression of their moral reprobation for the breacher, stemming from their gut feelings about moral and religious choices, when they are forced, so to speak, to either reflect rationally or utter a gut feeling.
The explanation of partial fanaticism came to my mind thinking about my grandfather, who was an atheistic national-communist (unlike my grandmother, who was a Christian communist). He did approve of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie ‘because he offended their religion and their nation [group]’. He considered that Rushdie deserves such punishment simply because he has done something which is not done. Otherwise, my grandfather despised the violence, fanaticism, irrationality and superstitions often associated with religious beliefs. I think that Voltaire for him was simply a good guy, because Voltaire was a militant for the cause of social progress.
Exorcism is Kind of Complicated
On http://romanians.nl/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=9727 a forum user has initiated a discussion about a case of exorcism from a Romanian monastery, which resulted in the death of the exorcised person (it became a big scandal in Romania). I blamed there the religious fanaticism, offered comments inspired by C.G. Jung and put a link to the site of a Dutch exorcist, Roelof Tichelaar, suggesting that it is not necessary that exorcism results in death, or that it would be harmful to people.
Such breaching was not responded, possibly because people are either opposed or in favor of performing exorcisms, and admitting an intermediary position, based upon Jung’s insights in religious matters it a too complicated reasoning for most of the forum readers.
Is Catholic Baptism Ok?
On http://romanians.nl/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=9939 it has been discussed the topic of baptism. Eastern-Orthodox Christians are required to baptize their infants.
‘Aangetekend’ affirmed that she will baptize her infant at a Catholic church, although she remains an Eastern Orthodox. She affirmed that what is important for her is that the child gets baptized, and the religion wherein he/she is baptized has less relevance.
As we can see from what ‘Aangetekend’ thinks about baptizing her infant, most of the Eastern Orthodox immigrants are formally (nominally) religious believers, and religion plays for them a formal, ceremonial role (marking the big events in their lives, like birth, marriage and burial). Most of the time, they do not practice their religion, and religion is not a major component in their life. Since there are only two Romanian churches, only one priest serving both, she finds more convenient to baptize the infant at a Catholic church. E.g., there are enough catholic churches in any big Dutch town, therefore she will not have to travel hundreds of kilometers for performing the baptism.
Her position shows that among the Romanians living in the Netherlands is also present a form of enlightened Eastern Orthodoxy, which builds upon traditional values adapted for no‑nonsense intellectuals. I have met some of these people and they told me they consult sometimes the forum Romanians.nl, but they are not very active on the forum. Sometimes they have their own gatherings in the Netherlands, and they are good in networking with their peers. Some of them wear bracelets with wooden balls as a distinctive sign. They differ from the Pentecostal bracelets in being made of medium-size wooden balls instead of smaller plastic balls, and their color is brown, instead of the symbolic colors used by the Pentecostals.
How Evangelization Works?
In kind of an obscurantist mood, Mihaela affirmed she was impure and in need of purification because she just gave birth. Laura_Laurene found that affirmation ridiculous. Happily for Mihaela’s line of argument, I answered with the Old Testament quote from Leviticus 12, wherein Moses states that a woman is unclean after giving birth and she has to purify herself ritually. Dominique answered my quote with saying that for her the Bible was a source of great fun and ridicule, reading it as an awkward humoristic book to pass the time at school, implying that the Biblical uncleanness rules are awkward and ridicule.
Katherina addressed in this topic an invitation to attend (view) a baptism at some Neo-Protestant church for the Romanians in the Netherlands. This was again a source for ridicule, Cristeo asking if Evangelic Christians have another sort of baptism water than the Catholics and the Orthodox. ‘aha’ answered that the Catholics and the Orthodox baptize with holy water, and baptize their infants naked, while in the Neo-Testamentary baptism get baptized (mostly) adult persons, using ordinary water, and public morality does not allow them to show themselves naked at having their own baptism.
Lavinia prompted that it was only an invitation, and that ‘nobody wanted to convert them’ to other denomination. It is funny that nobody accused her of wanting to convert anyone, and she just refuted an accusation which has not been made, but existed so to speak ‘between her ears’ (in her own subconscious). This is because the view of the Neo-Protestant on the adepts of traditional religions is that they are dead in their sins, and the view of those adepts upon the Neo-Protestant is that they are proselytizing cultists.
In the view of the Neo-Protestant some of the traditionally religious may still wake up to the call of the Gospel, if the Neo-Protestant keeps evangelizing well enough. Neo‑Protestants of other denominations than their own are responding to the call of the Gospel, but for some strange reason they did not get the whole truth, and they still persist in some error. If the adepts have time and patience for them, they may sooner or later join the adepts of that denomination, and get thus a ticket to Paradise.
For some, in the past, Neo-Protestant groups were an easy way for receiving welfare, jobs and build their social networks in their new country. But, as Tarzan affirms on http://romanians.nl/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=9888 , that is mostly a thing of the past. Presumably due to the reason that a Romanian Neo-Protestant may no longer seriously pretend he/she is being prosecuted for his/her faith by the Romanian state, so the fraternal compassion diminishes accordingly.
From my past experience in Romania, Neo-Protestants play kind of children’s game. One week some Adventists go to the services of the Baptists, in order to convert some Baptists to Adventism; some Baptists attend the services of the Pentecostals, with a similar purpose in mind, and some Pentecostals attend the services of the Adventists. The next week, they change the place wherein they want to convert people, the Pentecostals attending Baptist services, the Baptist attending Adventist services, and the Adventists attending Pentecostal services. This is something for the daring Neo-Protestants to do, because if they are not daring (or fanatic) enough, it is they who will be converted. Perhaps this is kind of caricature, but it remains true to some extent, besides, it explains the missionary zeal manifest on the internet.
On http://romanians.nl/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=9328&start=0 the site owner put a link about the similarities between the Bible and the Koran. tezeu answered with atheistic propaganda diatribes. I breached with a quote from that very site, namely ‘Lot... offered his daughters to the mass of men’ [to be raped by them], saying (in Romanian language) ‘Such book, such parents’ which could also be translated as ‘So are the books, so are the parents’.
RamonaTim rendered the viewpoint of an article stating scientific considerations that Biblical patriarchs and prophets using hallucinogenic products, like those from the Acacia tree. Then the discussion continued about Gert Wilder’s film, Fitna. I offered a Usenet link for downloading it (it is perfectly legal to offer such download links to Usenet files in the Netherlands). The discussion turned into considerations about democracy, racism, and hidden intentions of Turkish people to take over the Netherlands.
We see thus that the internet is a medium for spreading one’s religious opinions, for seeking adepts for one’s religious denomination, for flaming others who hold different opinions (as a way of confirming one’s own opinions in the company of others), seeking answers to existential questions which cannot easily be discussed with a priest or spiritual counselor, and, as RamonaTim’s post shows, it can be used to explore alternative life-styles (New Age or modern/enlightened forms of Christian worship, more affable to modern life).
Inside the same topic, Mr. Brancea poured gas on the fire with stating the Biblical roots of the conflict between Jews and Arabs (Israel and Ishmael). Social justice and poverty aspects were discussed by the forum owner, there were also discussed the homelessness and alienation of the immigrants (discussed by Max, who said elsewhere that he is a sociologist, earning well enough for the Dutch middle class). Roadmin (the site owner) made pertinent reflections about the correlation between poverty, frustrations and the willingness of Muslim immigrants for becoming suicide terrorists. Oritje posted there an abstract about Willem Schinkel’s book Denken in een tijd van sociale hypochondrie.
Her post shows how social theory influences society, in a feedback loop: the analysis of society is synthesized in theories, and these theories, in their turn, loop back to society, changing it through making it reflect on itself.
Conclusions about Identity Construction
On Romanians.nl, religious affiliation is often a reason for flaming each other. Because Romanians have many religious denominations, religion is not a factor capable of uniting the Romanian community, but it disunites them. It could be true that most of the Romanian immigrants are Eastern Orthodox. The Eastern Orthodox traditionalists gather together once in a while, and so seem to do some of the Evangelical Romanians. Each group has its own gathering, and has scorn for the other group.
People refuse to use their thinking in respect to their own moral and religious preferences. They do use arguments in order to convince others of the correctness of their religious and moral beliefs, but they would not listen themselves to such arguments. At least, they would not consider such arguments seriously. As such an integral part of one’s identity remains unreflected. This area of identity remains a twilight zone, wherein the light of reason seldom enters. Argumentation seems inside this area more like rationalization rather than reflection. Insofar as reflection gets in their way, it is something scandalous and it should be avoided at any cost.
The above field report was only a sketch rendering some insight in this issue, but on the discussed forum I verified over and over again the fact that the adepts of brotherly love would rather utter a gut feeling than resort to rational reflection.
The Function of Proselytizing
Proselytizing is not, as people may believe inside this section of the forum, about producing reasons for becoming an adept of this or that denomination, but it is mostly a way of producing rationalizations for remaining an adept of such denomination. The choice for a denomination is not taken rationally, and it has to do with very peculiar events in one’s life, an event like being cured of leukemia getting associated with religious prayers and conversion, and rationalized as a Godly miracle for a condition claimed to be medically hopeless (it happened in real life, to one of the forum members, who confessed her new faith on the analyzed internet site), instead admitting that all forms of cancer may have in certain cases spontaneous remissions, as one of the forum participants prompted.
This insight on proselytizing says something about the function of evangelizing in the Neo‑Protestant communities: it is not so much a question of producing adepts for the cult, but a way of proving oneself and to his/her own peers that he/she is busy with spreading the good news of the Gospel. As such, the evangelizer continuously confirms and reconfirms his/her own religious practice, rather than raise adepts for the cult.
What is seemingly aimed at people outside the community is in fact functional for people inside the community. It is not about producing adepts through being missionary, but just about having the required missionary spirit (which is assumed to be characteristic for a proper Neo-Protestant believer).
E.g. I was myself amazed that after an internationally orchestrated missionary campaign, only one or two people joined the Neo-Protestant community I was part of, the rest of the baptism candidates coming from families of older members of the community (their offspring and one older member in need to expiate the sin of breaching the Sabbath rest by getting baptized again).
Interviews, Logs, Private Messages, Data Sheets
This section deals with data collected from other sources than the internet forum as such, e.g. by employing its private messaging option, chatting via Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger, taking real-life interviews, and receiving data sheets with answers via e‑mail. The role of this overview is to augment the conclusions from ‘Religious breaching’, namely that in everyday matters, the users of Romanians.nl are down-to-earth, no-nonsense people, being thus ordinary people.
From the interviews and data sheets we have the following situation:
Interview no. Class of origin Class in the Netherlands Employed
1 [Middle] Middle Yes
2 Lower-middle Lower Yes
3 Middle Lower Yes
4 Lower-middle Lower-middle No
Data sheet Class of origin Class in the Netherlands Employed
1 Lower-middle Lower-middle Yes
2 Middle Middle Yes
We have thus two cases of decrease in social status and four cases of status conservation. From the reported data the evidence about loss of social status is not so evident. But, we notice that we have to do with a small, self-selected population, those with a higher education being more likely to respond to interviewing/research requests.
We notice that three respondents of the interviews use some Dutch words instead of Romanian words. This could be due to the fact that many years wherein they had to speak the Dutch language made them forget some of the Romanian words, or, in any case made them not remember such words fast enough. One data sheet uses the Dutch name of the Dutch study which the respondent has graduated. Another data sheet uses an English job title, presumably because there are no proper Romanian words for such job titles.
In one interview the site Romanians.nl was confused with ropromo.org, in kind of a Freudian slip. In another interview a woman spoke about working for a foundation, when it is most probably the case of an enterprise. This is probably due to the fact that Romanians have the public sector and (now) the private sector, while in the Netherlands there are three sectors of economy: private, particular and public, wherein the particular sector is a mixture of private and public sector, e.g. private organizations fulfilling public tasks.
The uses for internet that have been reported vary from work-purposes, keeping in touch with news from Romania, maintaining one’s social contacts, keeping in touch with Romanian friends and relatives, entertainment, cheap (or: gratis) phone communication, etc.
The self-reported degree of integration in the Dutch society varies from pretty high to very low, function of respondent having a job or not having one.
I have to say that neither in my interviews nor in my dialogues with forum users I have met any delusional idea, which would suggest that forum users would be something else than no‑nonsense people, with the only exception of the interventions of imigrant08, upon which there are already some suspicions on the forum that they would be faked or grossly exaggerated with conscious intent.
Overview of the Conclusions
In the beginning of this study I asked the question:
‘How do people employ the site Romanians.nl in order to construct and/or maintain their religious identity? How rational are they in expressing such views?’
The answer (or: answers) to this question has (or: have) been given in the previous pages. Here I will summarize its main conclusions:
In religious questions we may speak of ‘partial fanaticism’, i.e. how modern, no-nonsense people in every other respect except morality and religion, believe prophets from a time marked by genocides, killing the homosexual men and burning the witches, who should decide how they lead their modern lives.
This is a typical post-modern phenomenon, wherein the modern identity fuses with pre-modern identity in order to construct an identity wherein the modern and the archaic fuse. This identity has (partly) a dark area, wherein no light of reason is allowed to enter.
People often use black and white (binary) thinking in order to reflect on moral and religious issues.
Flaming: people use their differences in their beliefs (or: choices) in order to mock each other. In open societies, it is a sign of tolerance to endure the fact that one’s beliefs are being mocked, fact which in other countries would produce a death penalty.
Internet may be used for breaching: Garfinkel’s method of social research may be used on the internet, fairly conveniently and bereft of ethical dilemmas in doing such breaching. The only risk taken is that people who are being breached begin to question the mental sanity of the breacher (if his/her identity is known to them).
People use the internet to explore alternate life-styles, as other religions and New-Age orientations. (If this contradicts a paragraph supra, it is not my own contradiction, but it is a contradiction contained by the field itself.)
Evangelizing may be functional mostly inside the religious community which practices evangelization. It is for them a question of having the proper missionary spirit; it is rather about not spilling any opportunity to raise a proselyte than about bringing many proselytes to the cause. If they do not bring any adept, but they do not spill such opportunities, they may sleep with a clean moral conscience.
Social Construction of Social Reality
When I was a little child, my father explained to me what is that a madman. He said: ‘If I hold my index finger pointed above, a madman begins to laugh and he laughs on and on about it. Normal people laugh at jokes and comedies.’
Now, a group of people may decide that they want to laugh when an index finger is pointed above. This does not mean that they are crazy, but it means that they have conferred meaning to that gesture. E.g., figurants in a quiz or a talk show could be expected to laugh when an index finger is pointed above, because they are there to create the atmosphere for that show. For them, it makes sense to laugh of an index finger pointed above.
Religious rituals seem to have arisen from similar conventions, although such conventions have alienated from people and they are seen as a commandment from God. The problems with such alienation are first that people no longer know what such gestures mean (if they ever knew it...) and second they no longer rationally reflect on and censure the obedience to such conventional signs.
So, this religious phenomenon says something about how people build the social reality and about how they build their own identities, according to this social reality. From my research, it cannot be decided if identity is either constructed or a given. To be sincere, such a question has to be unmasked here as a false dilemma: it is not an ‘either-or’ choice, it is an ‘and-and’ option: identities of the Romanians from Romanians.nl are both given and constructed. Their Romanian birth and culture are a given, but further they have shaped their own identity from an extremely diverse contents which is available in Romanian culture and elsewhere. They are constructed by their background, yet their background is so diverse and rich in behavioral patterns and cultural role models, that we may say that they have co-created themselves, during their lifetimes.
Romanian identities are various and rich precisely because the Romanian culture (which is a part of the world culture) is rich and various, and that it got enriched in its diversity by cultural imports (e.g. Hollywood films and the internet). This does not mean that a national culture would be ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it is simply there, it fulfills a function, and all we have to fear is that people become increasingly dependent upon social phenomena wherein the light of rational dialogue is unwelcome.
Constructivism and Ecological Rationality
In respect to constructivist rationality, the existence of religion could be explained away as due to popular stupidity and lack of education, or to some rational calculation to collect huge bonuses after one’s own death. In this respect, the religious breaching produces the verdict that people are irrational, or that they are lured by huge prospects of winning in the afterlife.
But, in respect to ecological rationality, the existence of religion makes sense. Since religious institutions survived in time, they have performed and perform a social function, be it even of classifying people in ‘godly’ and ‘ungodly’ (ungodly meaning that they cannot be trusted or even that they may have intentions inimical to the interests of one’s social group).
In the Romanian past, religion ensured the Romanian national cohesion and it built (or helped build) the unity of the national state. But since then, people have become a bit wiser than paying absolute reverence to their national idols.
I have to make here the mention that I do not pretend to have proven my insights beyond any doubt. The purpose of qualitative research is not demonstrative. Its role is to be explorative research, and the more conjectures it generates, the better it is. It does not have to offer much proof for such conjectures, but it simply has to make such conjectures known. The conjectures made about the religious affiliation of Romanians are universalizable, in the meaning that they may be researched in any other ethnic and/or social context.
In this meaning, Romanians are in no way a ‘ganz andere’, when compared to other nations. They are simply one of these nations. The ways in which religion plays a role in Romanian identity formation are not strictly Romanian. What makes them be Romanian is that they occupy a given position in the universal culture, just as the French, the Belgian and the Dutch have their own place in the world community. Their fundamentalism may have specific forms, function of their religion and their national history, but it is part of the worldwide revival of fundamentalist beliefs, which got noticed at least since Alvin Toffler published his Third Wave.
I make here the following observation: if my language does not appear ‘scientific enough’, this is because I principally oppose the ‘wooden language’ (xyloglossy) of science. Using the scientific jargon when one could have been better use plain language could be a sign that the social sciences tend to alienate from society. But as the abstract posted by Oritje showed to the users of Romanians.nl, speaking of ‘society’ could be considered a part of the problem, not a part of the solution. In such a case, the users of fussy language may have a point.
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- The author prefers to write his own name without using a capital letter.
- By ‘we’ I mean: me, author and you, reader. Since this paper will be read by different people, I assume the participation of an ideal-typical reader, whose mind is stimulated by what I wrote. Although apparently a monologue, any piece of writing is an invitation to a dialogue, since one could give an answer to it, orally or in writing.
- Cf. http://romanians.nl/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=8933
- According to the trade register of the Dutch Chamber of Commerce, this site is registered for E. Iftinca, Jacobus van Looystraat 2, 4532 GC TERNEUZEN, Netherlands. A Google search refers to Iftinca Hosting & ICT Diensten, Franz Lisztstraat 20, 4536 EB TERNEUZEN, NEDERLAND, t: 06 46736384, w: http://www.iftinca.com . So, it has the characteristics of something existing in an organizational context, like a domain name attributed by SIDN and paid by Mr. Iftinca.
- Numeri 31, cf. http://members.home.nl/tgeorgescu/wilders-en.html
- Gerard Jolling and Gordon should be killed without pardon, according to Leviticus 20:13, cf. http://members.home.nl/tgeorgescu/wilders-en.html
- Susan Smit should not be allowed to live, according to Exodus 22:18, cf http://members.home.nl/tgeorgescu/wilders-en.html