Friday, December 31, 2010

Mistletoe and Whine

Deck the Halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la la la la la and further more la. I have no gift to bring, parumpa pum pum. Let's hope (but not pray, as that can get you into all kinds of trouble in this blessed country at the moment) that things remain peaceful this festive season. To be frank, it's not been a very good year for the country's religious minorities and a few months ago, I even found myself joining a group of demonstrating Christians up at Monas as they protested their increasing persecution.

I should stress that I myself am a non-believer, but that I believe it's important for people to be able to sustain their delusions of heavenly redemption unmolested by the tragically confused, stick wielding members of a rival religion (surely a worse experience than waking up on Christmas morning to find that Santa has clambered onto your roof, dropped his handsome, red felt trousers, sat on the chimney and let loose a volley of miniature Christmas puddings down onto the living room below.

Non-Muslim worship is indeed getting trickier here. For believers, plan A is obviously to build your own church (or temple, or synagogue... actually, scratch that last one, that's not going to happen). Current Indonesian law enforces a tyranny of the religious majority though and so that's not working out. So frustrated faith heads turn to plan B, namely inviting a few people over to their homes for a prayer session. Attempts at this have also resulted in a lot of purple faced shouting by various types claiming that the practice is both illegal (saying prayers at home, illegal?) and noisy (this complaint is certainly a case of, "Physician heal thyself.").

And so we moved swiftly along to plan C, i.e. trudge into a muddy field, hope it doesn't piss down with rain, and say a few prayers there. Alas though a couple of weeks after the aforementioned Christian demonstration that I attended, the vicar who had led the demo was stabbed in the stomach as he led his flock in muddy worship. So I think it’s fair to say that plan C hasn’t panned out too well either. Proselytizing to decent, Allah fearing earthworms is clearly not to be countenanced.

This leaves, most chillingly of all, plan D, which has been offered to the much persecuted Islamic Ahmadiyah sect over in Lombok. The local governor there can't understand why the Ahmadiyah community hasn't embraced with open arms an offer to relocate them all to a nearby island. Apartheid? Jewish ghettos? The Gulag? Concentration camps? Well, you can select your own ghastly historical parallel. I guess though that really committed orthodox militant types could still boat over to the island and have a go at them. Although a more striking image of a suicide bomber wearing a green helmet with a crescent moon and star symbol on it climbing into a cannon and being shot onto the island from the mainland as a human cannonball has just poked its way into my head.

I guess that moves us on to plan E, whatever that is. Several disused submarines anchored together on the ocean floor perhaps? This is all getting a bit negative though. Tis the season of goodwill towards all men after all (which is this Christmas to be secured by 87,000 police officers and security personnel. Warning: actual amount of goodwill towards all men may vary according to local factors, and the management and shareholders of Christmas PLC can't be held responsible for any disappointment caused by any of its products).

Last week however, I had the pleasure of attending a charity Christmas dinner, complete with a perhaps rather unconvincing Indonesian Santa Claus sporting a comedy beard that seemed to engulf his entire face. It may have been 30°c outside but I had no problem at all in scoffing several colon stretching plates of midwinter grub, and then came the entertainment. A group of kids from a local orphanage who were the beneficiaries of the charity dinner came up on stage to serenade us all with some jolly Christmas Carols.

It was a touching moment made all the more impressive by the fact that the kids couldn't speak a word of English and had clearly learned the carols phonetically, much like many of the rock covers bands that play in bars around town (not to mention people reading holy texts all over the country). What with Indonesia, and indeed many other places, currently flushing Enlightenment philosophy down the toilet, I half expected some FPI stormtroopers to barge in and trash the tables of turkey. Getting these presumably Muslim orphans to sing Christmas carols surely can’t be something they’d approve of.

It's depressing isn't it folks? And silly. As John Locke once noted, if human beings really are going to be judged by a god when they die, then you have to grant them the use of their own free will, so that they may choose a path through life from which such a judgement about them can then be made. Thus the very nature of religious faith itself is contradicted by compulsion. There you go, apply a bit of logic to the situation and the problem is solved. Anyway, happy midwinter solstice one and all. And pray hard for a peaceful New Year my children. Very hard indeed. Amen.