And no religion, too…
Indonesia’s parliament is struggling with the preparation of a draft “religious harmony” bill. Its creation in parliamentary committee was contentious and, as the preliminary form that the local press has seen has predictably satisfied no-one, it is likely to become an even greater source of disharmony.
Indonesia’s are remarkably diverse cultures. They are spread over the world’s largest archipelago, some 17,000 islands stretching from Sumatra in the Indian Ocean toPapua in the South pacific. They comprise everything from various versions of Islam, which form about 90% of the population to Balinese animists, Papuan headhunters, and Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Hindus. And while there is some tolerance among these diverse groups, Indonesia is also home to some ofthe more brutal, if localized, sectarian violence seen anywhere.
|Theological discussion in Indonesia|
On Java, and in the suburbs of Jakarta, Christian worshippers are routinely physically prevented from practicing their devotions by equally devout Muslims who are affronted by these infidels in their midst. Churches are attacked and bombed by Islamic extremists andmosques are burned by Christian fanatics. Ambon, in the Province of Maluku, hasrecently been the scene of Christian – Islamic mob violence leaving severalpeople dead. Within Islam itself, splinter groups are regularly accused ofheresy and their services are violently disrupted by true believers; evenChristians have been charged by the country’s religious watchdogs for hereticaldepartures from accepted norms of practice and belief.
By some lights,therefore, it makes some kind of sense to try to draft laws that would ensurereligious harmony.
This attempt, however,is only symptomatic treatment of a deeper problem. The legislative basis forIndonesia’s disharmony can be laid at the feet of Pancasila, the officialphilosophical foundation of the Indonesian state. Made up of two Sanskrit words(panca=five and sila=principles), Pancasila is the ultimate basis for allIndonesian legislation and even the constitution.
|The opposing view|
Where Pancasila goeswrong is in its very first principle: “Ketuhanan yang maha esa. (Belief in God)”This is enshrined even more specifically in the 1945 Constitution which refinesit and restates it thus: “The state shall be based on the belief in the one andonly true God.” That principle – in combination with the naturally exclusionaryand combative attitudes that religion nurtures, it can be argued – is at the veryroot of Indonesia’s intolerance.
Once a state expressesas a fundamental principle, one that underlies the very foundations of thenation, a metaphysical belief set, the conditions and justification forinhumanity to fellow members of that state have been established; religiousviolence is written into the constitution. Religion, and particularly themonotheistic version enshrined in Pancasila and the Indonesian Constitution, isby its very nature divisive and exclusionary. And given that there is noargument even theoretically possible to legitimize one version of monotheismover any other, it is guaranteed that disagreements will be contentious; and itis virtually certain that violence will result when each side is convinced thatthe constitution speaks specifically to them.
Monotheistic religionis exclusionary. It offers special perks to members of the club and itencourages members to dismiss outsiders as less than fully human, and certainlyas beneath members in the eyes of God. It is divisive because that it what itis intended to be; it sets up an us v. them world view and encourages people tofocus on the differences between members of the various cults. Enshrinereligion in the constitution and you have state sanctioned and supportedsectarian friction; a sure road to violence. Voltaire, as usual, put itsuccinctly:
“Which is moredangerous: fanaticism or atheism? Fanaticism is certainly a thousand times moredeadly; for atheism inspires no bloody passion whereas fanaticism does; atheismis opposed to crime and fanaticism causes crimes to be committed.”
|Religion brings peaceful, thoughtful spirituality|
In Indonesia, thanks toPancasila and the Constitution, adherence to, or at least nominally espousing,a religion is a legal requirement. That is partly because Indonesia, in herattempts to appear to be a tolerant nation, recognises religions other thanIslam, that of the vast majority of the people of the nation. Indonesia legallyrecognises six religions: Islam,Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. Allgovernment forms require that one fill in the blank marked “RELIGION…” with oneof those six. And all government forms, from tax returns to drivers’ licenseapplications, contain that blank. Leaving it empty or adding “other” is not anoption. It doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish….for legal purposes you have to pickone of the six; it forms part of your legal identity.
This is reflected inthe culture. In Indonesia where total strangers will often buttonholeforeigners and ask them the most personal questions, one of the questions oneis usually asked is, “What is your religion?” To answer, “None” would be likeanswering “Nowhere” to “Where do you come from”. Presumably, one could answer “atheist”,but the follow up question would undoubtedly be like the Irish version, “Sure,but are ye a Catholic or a Protestant atheist?” but with six options.
A solution…not one thathas any chance of being adopted any time soon…would be to strike at the legal rootof the problem. Get rid of the first of the five principles and expunge anymention of religion from the constitution. If there absolutely must be anymention of religion in foundation documents of the state – any state – it shouldonly be as a prohibition against attempts to pass legislation based on any religiousprecepts.
If the power ofreligion to intrude into our lives and the lives of people with differentbeliefs was eliminated, if religion was treated as an absurd but essentiallyharmless set of beliefs, we would be well on the way to creating a better,secular world. Religious belief – any religious belief – ought to be treated asan indication of narrow-minded bigotry and as a distasteful indication of a lackof education and intellectual effort. It should not be something that isbrought up in civilised society. If, asJohn Lennon proposed, we could have a religion-free world, the general level ofhappiness would almost certainly go up and the level of violence would go down.
And just to forestallthe clichéd objection to the proposal of eliminating religion, “What will replace it?” I give you Voltaire’s response which applies to all religions,although he refers only to Christianity:
“Every sensibleman, every honest man, must hold the Christian sect in horror. But what shallwe substitute in its place? you say. What? A ferocious animal has sucked theblood of my relatives. I tell you to rid yourselves of this beast, and you askme what you shall put in its place?”
Just kindness and decency to one’s fellow creatures.