ACAM: Indonesia

I’ve been reading The Indonesia Reader: History, Culture, Politics; ed. Tineke Hellwig and Eric Tagliacozzo, and so far what’s really standing out is neither deep nor original, but here it is: Indonesia is a collection of islands that has been inhabited for thousands of years. And in those thousands of years, never once has Christianity been the dominant religion. Hinduism, Buddhism, and for the last several centuries, Islam, yes, but not Christianity. This is true of most of the world, of course, but that’s easy to forget here in the United States. Here, in a country founded by Christians (not the land, which was inhabited by tens of thousands of people who were doing fine without Christianity, but the country the United States), we think of a mostly Christian nation as the norm.

There’s a giant, stupid political fight going on right now because some non-Christians want to build a community center and some Christians are really upset about it. While it’s natural to center your own experiences at the expense of taking others’ experiences and needs into account, it doesn’t make for good policy. There’s a whole lot more about this fight that I’m not going to get into, but I wanted to bring it up to point out just how ridiculously narrow this point of view is. There’s so much more to the world than those people are willing to admit, or if they do, it’s only because it scares them.

Indonesia is especially interesting to me in this respect, because so much of the spread of religion there was peaceful. Considering the violence religious groups perpetrate against one another, and the force with which many people are made to convert to various religions, this is rather remarkable. Hinduism and Buddhism arrived with Indian traders early on, and Islam spread mostly through Arab traders visiting the spice islands of Java, Sumatra, etc. Sadly, in the twentieth century, religion played a major role in some terrible, deadly conflicts in the country, and tensions remain high.

Okay, I realize both posts this week seem a bit preachy, but sometimes that’s how it goes. Stay tuned tomorrow for The Good, The Bad, and The Silly, which always includes a bit of preaching but then a good dose of fun or bizarre as well — that spoonful of sugar always helps.

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