Sun, 10 Oct 1999

Reflection of dry religiosity

Membakar Rumah Tuhan, Pergulatan Agama Privat dan Publik (Burning Down God's House, A Private and Public Stuggle of Religion); By Ulil Anshar-Abdallah; PT Remaja Rosdakarya Bandung, 1999; XXI and 257 pages including index; Rp 19,500

JAKARTA (JP): The burning down of places of worship, especially churches in Situbondo, East Java, between 1996 and 1997, showed the shallowness of theological understanding about places of worship. That most of people here still have something against other people's places of worship is true. Cases in Situbondo and Tasikmalaya, West Java, are the best examples.

Places of worship actually have the same function. Hans Kung, a liberal Christian theologist, says that they are only a medium used by worshipers to express themselves.

It is Jehove according to Jews, Jesus according to Christians, Allah according to Islam and so on.

If places of worship are referred to as a medium to transform religious values to God, why are there people who destroy other people's places of worship?

This book tries to get to the core of the problem, if not offering a solution about the tension between different religions.

In conclusion, Ulil Abshar-Abdallah points out two elements that have caused aggression, from religion versus religion to people versus others of different religions.

Firstly, the burning down of places of worship is a vulgar form of preaching. Preaching, in its truest sense, is an invitation to attend a supreme reception with the intention of delivering a mission just like during the early period of the Prophet Muhammad in Mecca. With the development of religion, that has started to show normative limits (of teachings) and an empiric socio-history (of religious institutions), preaching began to transform.

There are plenty of logical impacts (even the worst) caused by preachings that have faced transformation. One that needs to be mentioned is the death or the disappearance of the congregation's critical ability because of the one way communication method.

This method benefits preachers who offer the congregation religious arguments they consider valid. In fact, real intention is often mixed up with political interests: to provoke or even to corner other groups. As a result, conflicts among worshipers -- which are often marred by the burning down of places of worship -- are a by-product of preachings that are filled with political interests.

Secondly, because of religious politicking religion has been used as a means of political bargaining to fulfill certain purposes. "God's house" (place of worship) is not free from such practices.

Ulil gives an interesting description of the use of places of worship as a means of political bargaining. Ulil calls such places "fake God's houses".

"There are thousands of fake mosques and hundreds of fake churches that have lost their auras, because they are filled with political interests that have deadened religion," he says (page xix).

Two main assumptions expressed by Ulil in this book are not new. Theological problems that have caused misunderstanding between worshipers up until today have been raised long before this book was written.

The book is simply a collection of thoughts spread in the mass media. It focuses on chronological events based on the time of certain occurrences, just like the Situbondo and Tasikmalaya cases. In some parts, one will even find repetition of arguments publicly expressed by intellectuals in the mass media or in their original works.

However, one will also find sharp analysis from the young scholar who does not want to be trapped by thinking consumers.

So, the compilation of works is not morally bad, but many times, has resulted in cynicism from readers. It creates an impression that Indonesian intellectuals, although not all of them, are not serious in studying analysis, only part of it.

Essays that are compiled into books are not too important, considering the content of the analysis. Essays usually are not too in-depth because the content is either explained globally or significantly related to limited spaces provided by the media.

In the first part of Burning Down God's House, one cannot find an in-depth and thorough explanation concerning theological handicaps within worshipers themselves. It is also the same with excuses expressed by the religious and bureaucracy elite. No matter what, essays always deal with both.

But the book, at the very least, is a contribution to Indonesian intellectualism. Regarding cases of the violation of religious people's human rights, the book can be used as a starting point to develop those who have dignity and do not shy from religious awareness.

The entire book calls every group, such as religious leaders, bureaucrats and sociologists, to work together actively. Ulil's efforts to understand theological problems in the book is not a one sided work, like the method used in preaching, but the work of many sides. One of them is dialog because in dialog, due to its two-way communication process, there will be no tyrant of the minority or majority.

-- Chusnul Murtafiin

The reviewer is a student of religious comparison at the State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN) Sunan Kalijaga in Yogyakarta.