Rethinking Religion and Its Relevance in the Now

Hope, is not something innate. At least, I don’t believe so. Not like love or fear, I don’t think that we have hope when we were born. I don’t think we are even capable of expecting something really. I mean, literally,  we can’t even see back then. Let alone to hope for something that we don’t understand yet.

We learn hope. By interacting with our surroundings, with the people around us, we learn this humane trait of hope. Be it from being introduced into this dream of being a fireman, astronaut or Richie rich. Or even from something as simple as getting a new bike, because you just got good scores in our school report. This notions of winning something that we set a target for, that created hope. We were trained to hope.

Back in 2012, I spent almost 3 weeks in Cambodia volunteering at an orphanage. It was a fairly normal experience, life changing of course, but for a voluntary mission, it was fairly regular. There, I had to paint a classroom, teach English, treat kids hairs for lice, nail bamboos to make a floor for a simple house, those sorts of things.

The kids was of course very grateful and charming. They were all really sweet and full of smiles, different from the kids here in Jakarta (you know what I mean, those little bastards have had it coming), and they were all really discipline in their way. They would always clean whatever they used, they would help each other out, they would finish their homework and they would pray.

Now, this particular orphanage is run by a christian organisation. The guy that brought me there, which was a really inspiring teacher of mine, is a christian priest.

In the end of our mission, they held a service for us and prayed not only for their own blessings, but also for ours, who volunteered there for a week or so. These orphans, who doesn’t have a family apart from each other looked really happy at that time. They played music, they danced, they joke around and most importantly they smiled. Not the kind of smile when somebody open the door for us, not even the kind of smile when you finally got that amazon package we were waiting for. But a real genuine one. A big happy face smile.

These kids, who were not born into a family. Who lived in a country, that (only just around 10 years before) was massacred, tortured and enslaved. These kids who are supposed to hate the world for the unfairness that they are facing. These kids that could never dream of having a happy meal, while on the other side of the world, that very food was being thrown away just because they already got the toys. These kids can genuinely smile.

But how can they smile with their predicament? How can they smile when I can’t even smile that way, and I have all the privileges in the world of being a normal kid.

I asked that question every day after I got home from that mission. Until one day it hit me. They had hope. Their religion gave them hope.

They don’t need money, or new bikes or anything to give them a sense of hope, because in their mind (and heart) they have their God to wait for. They have their heaven to be hoping for. And that may just be enough to keep them happy everyday, knowing that they belong to the same heaven as anyone who may have more things that they have.

I am not a religious person myself. I was quite an avid prayer because of my mom when I was a kid, but now I rarely go to church or even pray. I pray for my food because it has become an involuntary habit, but other than that, as far as your concern, I’m the devil.

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But I am always fascinated by religion and how it affects people. Be it in a large group, small group or even in an individual level.

The laws of religion has rarely changed, but the way people interact with it, is very unique. I never think of religion as a problem or a solution. I always think of it as a way of life and a guidance to help you take your steps. You don’t necessarily need it, but some people prefer to have it anyway.

And for so long, this guidance has never change whatsoever. It has never made any attempt to adjust itself to be more relevant to the age that they are living in. That’s why you can always see conflicts like the blasphemy case in Jakarta every now and then. Be it with Gus Dur, Ahok or anyone that has not follow the guidance as is really. And that’s why (partly) we have terror groups and racism.

Yet, once or twice, you see figures like the Dalai Lama or Pope Francis saying something really far from the normal things that the guidance would say and it makes you wonder.

Just recently, Pope Francis hinted that He might be okay with married Priest in the catholic church. This is huge, considering that for the past 2000 years that this religion exist, this rule has always been there and is seen as one of the most important ones. Yet, with decreasing numbers of priests and followers, and with the changing nature of our society along with the ever-moving time, these supposedly stubborn guidance has showed its willingness to adapt. I mean the pope has an Instagram, if that’s not enough proof.

Does this mean religion is cool? I still don’t think so. I think religion is a personal experience, and whether we choose to follow a certain religion or not is totally an individual call. It has shown its ugly sides, yes, but it has also shown its willingness to adapt and to be more than just an archaic novelty from the past. It is with no doubt an important part for a lot of people’s life, and a source of annoyance for many others. But I think religion serves a certain purpose in life, and while its function might not be the same along the time, I think it is wrong to disregard it entirely.

For more than 2000 years, we’ve gotten used to a certain role of religion, when I think that role is overdue for a change. Its governance was a fit for the roman empire, but its old value needs to be adapted into a more open value that our society have already attain. Otherwise, the hope that a lot of people have, will only turn into terror, hatred and fear.

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind – AE

On Dog Eating and Religious Tolerance

Yesterday at work, we discussed about the circulation of dog meats around Jakarta, and how it is increasingly becoming an epidemic, where the media (of course) sort of picked it up and hyped it up to be some sort of “serious” issue. Thing is, here in Indonesia, it is a serious issue. With all the Halal fatwa and the strong religion background, we cannot just ignore these sorts of things. Yes, even in the year that we’re living on right now, freedoms, it seems, is a very farfetched idea.

Anyway, I was bracing myself from a really contentious debate about what Mohammad said and readying myself for a racial discussion and ostracism. But weirdly enough, it didn’t quite kick out that way. There was some mention of this and that religion and races, but that’s about it. We ended up just talking about controlling the meat quality to avoid rabies becoming an epidemic once again, in a city with 9,6 million people living in it. That’s almost half the total population of Australia. Crazy right?

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So, it seems that when it comes to consumption and cultural ritual, which somehow these people are looking at it as if people are eating dog for spiritual thingy, people tend to back off and play safe. There are less irrational debates, based on what they believe rather than the facts, statistics, or just pure common sense of being tolerant.

I remember reading somewhere, (pretty sure it was on Nat Geo), about an Eskimo tribe who are actually permitted to hunt and eat polar bear, despite of them being endangered and all. They can legally hunt polar bears down and eat them because it is a part of their culture.

It just amazes me that the world as a society, has gotten better in handling this cultural differences. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some idiots out there (yes I am talking to you Mr. Trump), but people are getting more and more understanding of their fellow humans that believe in different values.

We now have gay marriages legal in most of major western countries, women are still grossly underpaid but getting increasingly positive acknowledgements, and we have a white boy who everybody hates (baby, baby, baby oh). Just 10 years ago, all of those things would seem a bit impossible.

Anyway, all I’m saying is that, the dog meat epidemic in Jakarta has demonstrated that religion is not the thing that is holding anybody back from being understanding and reasonable. During the discussion, one Muslim woman told us that she is not quite expecting the act of consumption to be banned. She just needs to know that what she is eating adheres to her religious standards, all she wants is fair information about what she is consuming.

And don’t get me started on the Pope. I have to say though, that I am a catholic, so I might be biased. Although the last time I went to church was on Easter, and even then I can’t remember what the Pastor said. Anyway, Pope Francis spoke about how we should believe scientific findings regarding climate change, and he actually speaks the language of peace without hating anyone.

Meanwhile, there are another extreme of people with the same religion who misappropriates everything and using it to kill, to discriminate, and to abuse. And I’m not only talking about ISIS here, because for me, ISIS is just the tip of the iceberg, made of religious oblivion and misunderstanding.

All I’m saying is that, maybe, just maybe, we should stop blaming religion or using religion as label of who we are. But maybe, just maybe, if we actually use religion as guidance (what it was supposed to be at the first place), and keep it to ourselves without oppressing it, we could finally live in a world that’s in peace.

“I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one” – John