An Indonesian atheist puts freedom of religion to the test
The debate about God’s existence is as old as mankind itself. Such questionings have set many a man on a spiritual journey to search for the truth. Some find God, and what they believe to be the truth. Others find nothing, and they become atheists. In Indonesia, where 88 percent of its 240 million people ...
The debate about God's existence is as old as mankind itself. Such questionings have set many a man on a spiritual journey to search for the truth. Some find God, and what they believe to be the truth. Others find nothing, and they become atheists. In Indonesia, where 88 percent of its 240 million people are Muslims, merely posing that question in public can land you in deep trouble.
The debate about God’s existence is as old as mankind itself. Such questionings have set many a man on a spiritual journey to search for the truth. Some find God, and what they believe to be the truth. Others find nothing, and they become atheists. In Indonesia, where 88 percent of its 240 million people are Muslims, merely posing that question in public can land you in deep trouble.
The Indonesian police decision to arrest a man for posting the statement "God does not exist" in a Facebook message amounts to tampering with his freedom to inquire and seek the truth. Police say they were acting in response to public complaints. It is clear to all — except those blinded by their faith — who the sinner is here.
Alexander Aan, a 31-year old civil servant in Padang, the capital of the devoutly Muslim province of West Sumatra, faces charges of blasphemy for "insulting a major religion," an offense that carries a maximum five-year jail term. He was already the target of physical attacks by a group of radical Muslims before his arrest. He may as well stay in custody. There are people on the outside who are literally are clamoring for his head.
Although the Indonesian constitution guarantees freedom of religion, it also stipulates that every citizen must believe in one supreme god. Monotheism rules, at least technically. Indonesia is home to all the major world religions, but many of its people practice home-grown beliefs, including animism, at times in combination with their Islamic or Christian faiths. But while the nation appears to tolerate polytheism, there seems to be zero tolerance towards atheism.
The constitutional stipulation of monotheism was a compromise struck in the early days of the republic after Indonesia proclaimed independence from Dutch colonialism in 1945. Islamist politicians had earlier pushed for a theocratic state, but they eventually settled for the next best thing, the requirement that everyone must have a religion. This turned out to be a powerful and effective weapon to fend off the threat of communism, which was gaining a lot of traction in the nascent country. Rightly or wrongly, atheism was always closely associated with communism.
With the threat of communism as a political ideology in Indonesia now long gone, atheists are slowly coming out of the closet. Thanks to the proliferation of social media, many have turned to Facebook to build online communities in the country.
Alexander Aan is one of the few who have ventured out to publicly proclaim his belief that God does not exist. He runs a community of people who share his views called Ateis Minang. (The photo above shows a reader perusing the site.) Now he is paying a heavy price for his activism. Unlike their equivalents in the West, atheists in Indonesia shy away from attacking religions. They simply pose questions about their lack of freedom. In a country that professes to respect all types of freedom and human rights, people should not be persecuted for choosing to deny the existence of god.
His trial, if and when it begins, should rekindle the debate in Indonesia about whether the constitutional requirement to follow a religion is consistent with the notion of the freedom of faith itself. The article also happens to be a violation of one of the first principles in Islam — that "there shall be no coercion in matters of faith." It also negates the idea of free will, which Islam and most other major religions also recognize as God-given.
As applied to the state, this notion of the freedom of religion also implies the freedom not to believe. A separate law in Indonesia requiring people to adhere to one of the six religions recognized by the state (Islam, Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism) would also seem to violate the freedom of religion.
Free will and freedom are the essence of Islam and most major religions.
Since the question "Does God exist?" (which is another way of saying "God does not exist") is the starting point of a genuine search for truth, I would personally put my money on the likes of Alexander Aan finding God. Those who persecute him have, in all likelihood, blindly and unquestioningly accepted their faith. They will not find God, but God will surely find them.
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