Sat, 09 Dec 2000

Religions can be wrong, says theologist

JAKARTA (JP): Can religions be wrong? Yes, they can, according to a speaker in a discussion here on Friday.

"Every time bloody religious conflict breaks out in Indonesia, people say that it is the believers who are in the wrong and not the religion," says Haryatmoko, lecturer in theology at the Yogyakarta-based Sanata Darma University, at a discussion on the German philosopher Nietzsche. "If we stick with that line of thinking, then we won't get anywhere," he said.

He asked his audience of 200 people that packed the Bentara Budaya hall to ask themselves whether they had learned something from Nietzsche's criticism of religion.

"Have we learned nothing from history?" he asked. History had shown, he said, that too many people had died in the name of religion.

He cited the European wars of religion between Protestants and Catholics in which millions died.

He said Nietzsche's ideas were a significant contribution to the concept of humanity.

Two other speakers presented their views in the discussion to commemorate the demise of Nietzsche 100 years ago. They were Sindhunata, chief editor of Basis cultural magazine and Bernhard Kieser, lecturer in theology at Sanata Darma University. The three speakers were all Catholic priests.

Sindhunata said that Nietzsche's thoughts as well as those of Freud and Marx were a wake up call to Western theological thinking.

"The contribution of criticism on religion is that it can make us better believers," he said.

God was not killed by Nietzsche, Sindhunata said echoing the oft-repeated attribution to the great philosopher, because God is full of love.

"Nietzsche allows us to reexamine the fundamental meaning of being a religious person if we would only care to explore his criticism on religion," Sindhunata said.

He added that such a discussion, however, was very difficult to hold in Indonesia as most people were still haunted by the repression of the former regime where the discussion of religion was considered taboo.

Kieser said that Nietzsche grappled with the question of the fundamental meaning of life.

"In Indonesia, believers live in suspicion of one another. If we have a basic conviction of what life is all about we will no longer have to debate the number of Muslims in percentage terms as opposed to the number of Christians," Kieser said.

"But can religion let its believers learn about faith?" he asked, "... the significant meaning of life that we are convinced of?"

Nietzsche gave us no new religious teachings nor new rituals but an appreciation of the depth of life, he said.


Replying to a question from a participant on whether religion was still relevant to Indonesia, Sindhunata said: "If I were Nietzsche I would say that it was not relevant."

The same participant had earlier said that what was happening in Indonesia today was exactly what Nietzsche did in the past.

"He pursued God and killed Him. Here we witness people killing each other, robbing and raping," she said.

Sindhunata added that Nietzsche's widely known thoughts included basic questions like whether we truly loved other human beings, and what was the relevance of religion if people did not love one another.

"What is the use of religion if its empty promises and threats of later punishment create a fearful human being?" Sindhunata said quoting Nietzsche, who was described in the words of moderator Karlina Leksono of the University of Indonesia as an "authentic and honest" person.

Haryatmoko said religion was no longer relevant if we could not talk about it. The relevancy of Nietzsche's ideas was precisely because they were doing autocriticism on religion, he said.

In answer to a question about whether the three speakers, who were all Catholic priests, were employing Nietzsche to attack a certain religion, Haryatmoko said: "What is the need for attacking a certain religious group by employing Nietzsche?"

Nietzsche asked us to keep a distance from religions so that we could live not in a reactionary way but in an affirmative way, he said.

"So that we are not haunted by fears but we are able to actualize ourselves," he added. (hbk)