In today’s popular culture debates about religion and society, it seems that often, at least in America, the topic of morality arises. To be more specific, does no religion mean one is immoral? Do morals only stem from religion? It’s a complex and multi-faceted debate, one that arose this weekend in a peculiar place: Amsterdam’s red-light district. More formally known as De Wallen, it’s a place most people assume is filled with prostitution and pot smoking. At the root level, those assumptions are right. The Dutch are quite liberal in their law making, but instead of letting those activities take over the entire city, they sectioned it off and kept it contained within three red-light districts (De Wallen is the biggest and most well known of the three). De Wallen is unlike any other place in the world; it is an area solely dedicated to what many would classify as sinning. While the Dutch government has tried to keep a hand on everything that goes on in the red-light districts of Amsterdam, there is still a significant amount of human and drug trafficking. It isn’t all bad in the red-light district, however, and that is where religion comes into play.
The Netherlands is one of the most secular countries in all of Western Europe with only 39% being religiously affiliated according to the Netherlands’ Social and Cultural Planning Office. One organization, however, is looking to bring a little faith, and a little help, to the red-light district. The Scharlaken Koord (Scarlet Cord in English) is a religious organization that aims to help prostitutes escape from the world they’re living in. Ironically, they seem to both reject and accept prostitution at the same time. The organization has stated that it condemns the actions of the prostitutes, but their organization is named after the scarlet cord that appears in the biblical story of Rahab, a prostitute herself that uses the cord to help two Israelites escape from the city of Jericho. It’s an interesting position they take by naming their organization after the story of a prostitute and helping sex workers, yet condemning the fact that they are prostitutes. Either way, it is nice to see a religious organization such as the Scharlaken Koord have a presence in such a controversial district. Prostitution is labeled as the oldest profession, and while Christianity may not be the oldest religion, it is certainly doing its job to help the red-light district.