Religion and Violence
-an Indonesian case
Indonesia was born out of the struggle against Dutch colonialism, and
after 1965, was reshaped by the so-called "New Order". The unity was created
from outside and from above. The different cultures, races, ethics, religions and
political groups have never found the authentic unity. Sometimes the traditional values of
culture are abused to manipulate people to keep silent towards the "imperialistic
father in an over-extended family" (corruption, collusion and nepotism). Instead of
being critical to traditional values in the context of post-traditional social order,
these values have been abused for economical and political domination.
The result of the general election (June 7, 1999) has given new
prospect for serious political reform. The reformed and just structural "rules of the
game" have to be established in such a way that peoples sovereignty can be
guaranteed. The transformation of Indonesia idealizes a democratic way of life, in which
the human right for participation of the minorities and the marginalized people is
guaranteed. Nevertheless, the way of reform is an arduous way, since injustice has
penetrated vertically and horizontally, all areas and levels of societal and political
life during more than 30 years of the so-called New Order in the context of globalization.
1. Collective Violence and Religions:
In the Shadow of Unjust Power and Anxious Rivalry
In Indonesia the problem of SARA has been very much politicized. SARA
is the acronym for: suku (ethnic groups), agama (religions), ras (races), aliran/antar
golongan (classes, groups). Instead of working out differences for enriching each other,
prejudices, fear, and unhealthy rivalry among different groups have developed. This
becomes more complicated if the issues are mixed up with social jealousy, economic and
political interest. They can become instruments of hegemony for the authoritarian
Indonesia 1995 2000 has been massively marked by unrest and
collective violence. Those collective violence, in which religions were involved,
destroyed houses, market, shops, factories, banks, cars, police outposts,
governments office, courts building, churches, mosques and ophanages. More
than that, people were cruelly treated, tortured and killed. Almost all unrest and
collective violence carried a religious dimension. What is really behind that violence?
How can we explain?
Research Center for Rural and Regional Development (Pusat Penelitian
Pembangunan Pedesaan dan Kawasan) at Gajah Mada University, Yogyakarta, in cooperation
with the Department of Religion, Indonesia, has done a research on seven cases of these
collective violence that happened in Indonesia between 1995 1997 (P3PK, 1998:
299-313). Generally speaking, the characteristic of conflict and collective violence
is related to political violence in the society. At a deeper level, violence happens at
the level of state and social structure, carried our by state apparatus and the agents of
Nevertheless religion is not free from violence. That they are so
easily manipulated, shows the reality of the fragile relationship among religions in
Indonesia. The socialization of religious teaching may sow the seeds of conflicts and
support fanaticism. The demographic problem makes the situation more complicated. The
local society feels pushed down culturally, politically and economically. In that kind of
situation, religious differences are very easily turned into motivation for conflict and
violence. Therefore, the elements of politics, economics, ethnic, race, migrant, as well
religion appear together as interconnected.
The government exercises oppression in many ways. It has means like
military, laws and ideology that often are supported by cultures and religions. The
corrupt government knows the importance of economy and on the other side the agents of big
business need the support from the government. They act in collusion with each other with
the expense of workers, farmers and victimized people. We can depict the domination as
The diagram shows how the struggle for social change has to face
structural power moved by (1) ideology (strengthened often by cultures and religions), (2)
information, (3) laws and (4) military. Therefore, the farmers and the workers (men and
women) should organize themselves. By so doing the farmers can become more independent and
autonomous. Unlike now, rather than being producers, they are more consumers of seeds,
artificial fertilizer and pesticide that are controlled by the fabrics. The workers should
organize themselves, so that they are strong enough to struggle for their interest, so
that they can participate in the process of production and take part in the profit. As
many people and groups as possible should take part. But the first actors should be the
poor, the exploited, the marginalized. Without their participation there will be no real
social change. In other words, the way to follow is empowering the poor, promoting
movement from below.
After many years being oppressed, post-Suharto Indonesian people
appreciate the freedom of speech and to organize themselves. However, this freedom has
also manifested itself in the form of communalism. It is a psycho-sociological attitude -
looking at others as outsiders. The relationship with others is between "us" and
"them". Communalistic way of life cannot perceive "we, Indonesians" or
"we, human beings", and conflicts occur horizontally.
The national situation is also influenced by the phenomenon of
globalization. Globalization is not neutral; it is pregnant with ambiguity, with unfair
competition and unjust relationship in all areas of life. The economic domination and
political imperialism are supported by cultural aggression driven by the new technologies.
The hidden and evil agenda of advertising is to produce an illusion that buying,
possessing or consuming goods and services are the guarantee of human satisfaction and
One of the impacts of globalization is the rise of fundamentalism (cf.
Giddens 1994: 6-7, 245) that shows itself not onlu in religion, but also in family
(nepotism), in ethnicity and race (primordialism) as well as in gender (patriarchy). The
so-called process of globalization has brought also its influence to the growing
communalistic way of life mentioned above. The danger of communalistic way of life is its
refusal to dialogue and its potential for violence. Christians are not free from this
temptation. Hence, it has not been difficult for the military, and other interested
parties (local elites), to use religion and ethnicity in order to set one group against
the other and to divide and rule, devide et impera. The dominated and marginalized people
become more powerless.
However, in the case of Maluku, the post-Suharto era has different
settings. Gerry van Klinken, Editor of Inside Indonesia magazine, has been doing extensive
research on the Maluku wars of 1999. His analysis and conclusion can help us to enlighten
the situation and to find possibilities for actions. The Maluku wars 1999 have shown not
how powerful the centralistic machinery was. On the contrary, the state has been powerless
and has failed to provide security to the citizens. The state remains crippled by a lack
It is true that the security apparatus were in control of the security
in March and December 1999. In May 1999 a new military area command (KODAM) was erected.
In November 1999, the organizational status of the police were lifted. All of these would
show the progress of the security apparatus. However, at certain times, the military
solution neededto find other paths to develop democracy, processes where the people really
participate in political life.
Gerry van Klinken showed that the wars have been socially rooted in the
extensive clientelist (client-patron) networks. In order to win elections and to
inaugurate a new province the local elites mobilized people using their religious
(Christian and Islamic) passions. Rather than being influenced by Jakarta, they were tried
to influence Jakarta. The society then becmes more divided horizontally and along
religious lines. This religious dimension becomes more powerful when it is supported also
by traditional (village or kampong) myths and magic that separae insiders from outsiders,
like in the case of violence against Butonese in early 1999. In this situation we notice
how complex the situation is. It is pregnant with political, economic and religious
dimension as well as demographic problem.
The clientelist networks have also tied each segment of the society
vertically to an elite that supplies them with civil service opportunities. In the midst
of youth unemployment, civil services are highly desired. Not only for the sake of the
employment, the civil services can also guarantee business that are linked to bureaucratic
interests. The local political elites struggle to protect their interests in the context
of economic crisis. This created more anxiety in the society that has built rival
networks. The result is religious warfare, first in Ambon, and then in
Ternate. The rivalry among elites in North Maluku can be traced to the colonial era, when
they worked together with or fought against Portugal, Spain or the Dutch Trading Company
(VOC) relative to the advantage of the local elites (lihat CLC 1971, 15-32; Heuken 1991:
101-102). We can depict the Maluku situation as follows.
Learning from the violence in the last years, where religions were
involved, inter-religious dialogue and cooperation should try to solve social and
political problems, through involvement in societal life as well as action through
political power. Religious people cannot deny the fact of being a part of the society and
politics. They cannot avoid nurturing responsible attitudes toward politics. To be neutral
means to support the powerful persons or groups. From a theological point of view
religious people are called to be committed to the common good, where the powerless people
are helped to empower themselves. Inter-religious harmony without common concern and
struggle for social justice would become false and unjust harmony.
It is important to keep in mind that plurality exists not only in term
of inter-religious relationship, but also intra-religious. Moslem-Christian dialogue in
Indonesia is not an isolated phenomenon. As it was during the time of colonialism, so is
now, the political choice and commitment might separate people more than the difference of
religion. Hence, what counts is not religions (Islam or Christian) or races (Javanese or
non-Javanese) but social commitment for humanity and justice. On the one side, the
intra-religious or internal pluralism within Christianity and Islam can hinder dialogue.
On the other side, the intra-religious pluralism has the advantage to promote universal
human values beyond the limit of religions. Those values surpass the walls of religions;
they go beyond institutional features. Dialogue and relationship should happen not from an
abstract concept but from concrete life and values of concern. The religious people in
Maluku and elsewhere in Indonesia should pass the test of social commitments that are
non-elitist and non-sectarian.
2. Religion and Culture:
In the Obedience to God or in the Service of Mammon?
From the example of the Indonesian situation we can draw some lines of
reflection. Religious people cannot deny the fact of being a part of the society and
politics. They can not avoid building responsible attitude toward politics. To be neutral
means to support the powerful persons or group. From a theological point of view religious
people are called to be committed to the common good. Inter-religious harmony without
common concern and struggle for social justice would become false and unjust harmony.
2.1. The Victims, the Poor, and the Marginalized: The Vicars of Christ
To be Christian is to follow Jesus Christ as the Way. With the poor,
God has an agreement to ally against Mammon, against the absolute power of wealth. Jesus
is the symbol of the conflict between God and Mammon, between Gods kinship and
Anti-Gods kinship, between positive and negative power. The criterion of following
the Way is preferential option for and with the victims, the poor and marginalized whose
primacy should be struggled for.
Aloysius Pieris distinction of two categories of the poor is very
helpful for us to see the really decisive way in following Jesus Christ, the Way. The
first category of the poor are the victims of Mammon as vicars of Christ (1999:58-61).
"These are the victims of nations who act as the eschatological
judge of nations (Mt 25:36ff). They are the least sisters and brothers of Jesus who
receive our love in Christs name and thus open the gate of the Kingdom for us."
) Their poverty is forced upon them because of a wrong house-management
(oiko-nomia) of the world by mammon-worshippers. (
) The poor are
much as the rich. (
) Their victimhood, is therefore, the sole basis of their
) Their holiness consists
in responding to their calling to be
Gods covenant partners, to be liberating force in the world". (Pieris 1999:59)
The second category of the poor includes the renouncers of Mammon as
followers of Christ.
"These have voluntarily made themselves poor for the sake of
entering the Kingdom as demanded by Jesus. Their poverty is known as evangelical, as it is
undertaken for the sake of the gospel. They alone are qualified to preach the Good News of
the kingdom to the (first category of the) poor. (
) The old formula no
salvation outside the church is now replaced by no salvation outside
Gods covenant with the poor. (
) The evangelically poor receive their
mission through their solidarity with the socially poor" (1999:60).
The Church's preferential option for and with the poor and the
marginalized need to be manifested concretely in all areas of life, economics, politics,
culture and ecology. We should be aware, however, that the poor are not just objects of
charity, they are agents of social change. As for all human beings, their dignity comes
from being the image of God, being co-responsible for the creation. Therefore, the most
appreciative service to them is to be with them in such a way that they are able to
empower themselves and to take control of their own lives (cf. Giddens 1993:208-231; 1994:
14-15). The efforts for the empowerment of the poor are the manifestations of the option
for the poor, that is centered in the poor themselves.
The farmers and the workers (men and women) should organize themselves.
By so doing the farmers can become more independent and autonomous. Unlike now, rather
than being producers they are more consumers of seeds, artificial fertilizer and pesticide
that are controlled by the enterprises. The workers should organize themselves, so that
they are strong enough to struggle for their interest, so that they can participate in the
process of production and take part in the profit. People and groups as many as possible
should take part. But the first actors are the poor, the exploited, the marginalized.
Without their participation there will be no real social change. In other words, the way
to follow is empowering the poor, promoting movement from below.
We need to be grateful that, in Asia, there are movements of justice,
compassion and solidarity. We observe among the youth, intellectuals, legal advocates and
non-governmental organizations, inter-faith movements, efforts to empower people, to stand
at the side of the victims, to defend the rights of children and women. The womens
movement supporting the victims and struggling against violence has manifested sensitivity
for life and brought extensive impact. The community consciousness of legal values,
freedom and justice, as well as cultural and traditional rights is increasing. We also
experience universal trends to cooperate in the promotion of human dignity and human
rights as well as democracy. All of these are the signs of Gods presence and action
in our life in Asia.
It is also a very promising sign that Asian contextual liberative
theologies are flourishing everywhere (see Pieris 1988, 1996; Amaladoss 1997). Hopefully
these theologies can serve not only as intellectus fidei but also as intellectus amoris et
compassionis to help people of faith to be compassionate and loving God and the inflicted.
2.2. The Culture and Religion:
In the Service to the Covenant of God or to the Power of Mammon?
Culture can be understood as the way in which a group of people live,
think, feel, organize themselves, celebrate and share of life. In every culture there are
underlying systems of values, meanings, and views of the world, which are expressed,
visibly, in language, gestures, symbols, rituals and styles. Sociologically religion can
be seen as a part of culture or a cultural phenomenon (Banawiratma and Mueller 1999:
81-83). However, it differs from culture by relying in the transcendent dimension or a
special revelation. Like culture, religion offers interpetation (hermeneutic) and guidance
(ethic) of life.
Culture and religion exercise mutual influence in positive or negative
ways. For example, religious people who struggle for just relationships criticize the
Javanese culture with its feudalism and patriarchy. On the other side the Javanese culture
criticizes the rigid teachings and practices of religion (cf. Mangunwijaya 1994). From
their functions and performances it is clear that culture and religion are not neutral.
They can legitimize unjust power or support the poor and marginalized people. Both
religion and culture are ambivalent. Women and human rights movements for equality and
participation, for example, need to challenge the aspects of religion and culture that are
oppressive (cf. Ackermann 1944:225). Common cultural concern can draw people of differrent
religions to dialogue and collaborate for progress and humanity (cf. Abdul-Azis Kamel
1987). In any case religion and culture, i.e. the sustaining people, have to define
themselves critically towards power, either it is political, economical or religious (cf.
Ayrookuzhiel 1986; Minz 1986).
Especially in Asia, we need to be aware of false prophets of harmony
abusing holistic language to preserve the political status quo. Holistic or cosmic
paradigm should exclude none and nothing. All take part in solidarity for the better
transformation. The voice of common people of lower classes should be listened to and
taken into consideration. The authorities are supposed to be able to make broad
considerations and correct decisions for the world's welfare. In the holistic view, the
struggle for human rights should prioritize the right of the poor and the marginalized
over the right of the rich and the powerful people. In other words, speaking about
responsibility should mean that the rich and the powerful people are obliged to take the
burden of working for the most urgent need of the most suffering part. Otherwise there
would be no holistic welfare.
The role of cultures and religions depends on the movement of the
sustaining groups. They are very important to resist against the negative impacts of
globalization. The groups can react to the process of globalization by the way of
fundamentalism, conservatism or eclectisism, but they can also face it critically and turn
the challenges into creative forces. The latest response is very important for the
The call for global ethic can be put in a framework of globalization of
solidarity, or "globalization from below". The imperialistic globalization
should be met with a counter strategy, namely, a culture of networking among contextual
communities towards globalization without marginalization, towards building a worldwide
community of justice, peace and integrity of creation. God is calling us to be faithful
disciples of Jesus Christ in praxis; we are called to live out risk-taking solidarity with
the victims. The credibility of our witness needs to be gained through our honest and
sincere attitudes, words and acts.
How do we live out the reality of religious plurality? In the last
decades, Christian theologies have intensively and extensively discussed on the reality of
religious plurality. Being Christian is to follow Jesus Christ as the Way, to be with Him
where He is and to do what He did and is doing. Orthopraxis has priority over orthodoxy,
and both need to be contextually performed. Christians witness that manifestation of God
in the world happens in Jesus and in the Spirit. However, no worldly manifestation of God
(also in Jesus) can exhaustively absorb God, who is always greater. Furthermore, our
capability to understand and to accept the incomprehensible God is limited. Deus semper
The proper attitude in religious plurality is to accept the uniqueness
and meaning of every religion recognizing that each can learn from the other. These can
also be called dialogical pluralism, an attitude of "open integrity." We need to
be critical in using paradigm of inclusivism and pluralism. What do they really mean?
Inclusivism can ignore the identity of other traditions by covering or assimilating them
in ones own tradition. In this sense inclusivism is a form of paternalistic
exclusivism or colonialism. We need also to distinguish between indifferent pluralism and
dialogical pluralism. The former has no integrity and the later is open integrity. Open
integrity takes seriously one's faith and religion as well as the faith and religion of
others, and thus offers the best possibility for dialogue and mutual enrichment (symbiosis
and synergy). Every religious tradition has its own meaning in the historical
manifestation of God, and therefore inter-religious dialogue and cooperation are needed to
understand and to come closer to the Mystery of God. To be religious today is to be
inter-religious. In holistic paradigm all people of all religions in pluralistic society
are expected to contribute for the better of the whole.
3. Spirituality of Religious and Cultural Transformation
We find out that our religions and cultures are ambivalent. They can
strengthen the power of Mammon or become the part of Gods poor and marginalized
people. We are always at the crossroad and need to define the way to response. Following
the way of Christ we need to be critical, either affirming or confronting the religious
and cultural movement in order to transform them into the force of liberation. Our
spirituality, namely our way to respond the data of experiences, moves towards religious
and cultural transformation in the solidarity with the poor and marginalized. The year of
jubilee, the year of Gods favor hopefully strengthen our hope in Gods promise
that moves us to change injustice to justice, lie to truth, fragmentation to
reconciliation. We are called to answer serious question: "Quo vadis?" Is the
event of Jesus Christ really decisive for our Churches? Or religion, race, group, economic
and political interests become Mammon replacing God?
The foundational value of Gods Reign should guide our orientation
and activities. We need to reconsider what we call the source and summit of our Christian
life. Pieris mentions three dimensions of spirituality, namely (1) personal prayer life,
(2) social engagement or apostolic life, and (3) communal celebrations or sacramental life
(Pieris 1999: 32, 65). The source as well as summit is the apostolic life or liturgy of
life that place us in the life of God.
"More precisely, the coherence of these three dimensions of
spirituality or aspects of worship is rooted in the Liturgy of Life, i.e. our
own day to day struggle to do Gods will, i.e. fulfil our specific mission within
Gods Reign specially by participating in the struggle of the poor. It is this
liturgy of Life that serves as the Source and Summit of both the personal interior life
and the ecclesial sacramental life of Christians. It constitutes the centre of Christian
life and ministry; it gathers into itself as well as radiates from itself all personal and
ecclesial aspects of our spirituality. If the church fails to be one continuous body with
the centre (Christ in the poor), what paschal mystery is it celebrating in its liturgy?
There is no worship of God without a liberative service to the poor" (Pieris 1999:
The personal prayer and ecclesial celebration have their own role for
living in God. Personal prayer interiorizes the love of God personally, and communal
prayer kindles our faith and hope in Gods promise.
"These common celebrations prevent personal prayer from
degenerating into self-centered introversion (my prayer saves me), and social engagement
into a pathological messianism (I/we alone can save the world)" (Pieris 1999:32).
The ecclesial celebrations have vital role, only not the source and the
summit, even they can become illusive (cf. 1 John 4:20). The true liturgy comes out of and
flows back to the liturgy of life.
What we expect from culture, society as well as state to change is also
true for our own church. We need not only cultural and political change, but also
ecclesial change. The Church is called to live not for herself, but to be open to follow
the way of Jesus Christ, the symbol of Gods kinship. The return to the value of
Gods Reign with the liturgy of Life as source and summit mean to shift the
orientation and activities of our Churches, namely from internal-oriented to
4. New Ways of Being Church:
Dialogical and Transformative Communion of Contextual Communities
In the context of religious pluralism we can develop a new way of being
Church, the Church in dialogue and social transformation. The struggle for world's
transformation, for social justice, peace and integrity of creation is an indispensable
part of the true evangelization. As a human and limited reality the Church can only
exercise her mission and become dynamic communities of faith if she becomes community of
dialogue and transformation. Only so, the Church lives as the communities of Christ's
disciples who are "not from this world", but "in this world" and can
be the sign and means of salvation. The synthesis between dialogue and evangelization
happens within the concrete life of the Christians (personal and communal) in searching,
living out and sharing her Truth.
It is useful to remember again the new way of being and living Church
that is more open to the current challenges. The Church as communion of contextual
communities can find its shape in Basic Christian (Ecumenical) Community towards Basic
Human Community and Basic Inter-Faith Community as a community of dialogue and
transformation. This community can be described as a small community involved in social
activities to eliminate suffering, to struggle for a just sustainable society and
environment (Pieris, 1988: 57-58; 112; 121). It is primarily a community of poor people
and only secondarily includes their facilitator. It can be a territorial or a categorical
(functional). Its concern is not only about practical matters carrying out certain
projects, but also about a fundamental one related to Christian orthopraxis. In Christian
language, it is a community of God's Reign; it is a response to the demand of Christian
faith that supports a preferential option for the poor in our multicultural and
multi-religious context. In our pluralistic world our spirituality needs to enter into
inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue and collaboration (cf. Samartha 1996).
The way of the Basic Communitiy is no way of exclusivism or elitism.
Experiences have taught us that the liberations force need to be supported by people
as many as possible, who participates in the movement. The role of NGOs, mass media and
whatever can not be ignored (cf. Amaladoss 1992: 17-18). In the wholistic paradigm
participation of all is important. Crossing the boundaries of religions and beliefs,
communities are united in a life situation and a life concern. This new way of being and
living Church is not only more flexible to face current challenges, it help us to
experience and encounter Christ contextually. Other ways of encountering Christ would
offer a Christ of colonialism.
The spirituality of dialogue is following Jesus' spirituality, that is
a spirituality of kenosis, self-emptying until the final consequence. Spirituality is
related to what is experienced, either human beings, or the universe, or God. It can be
understood as a way of responding to the data of experience. Jesus lived out of the
spirituality of solidarity with the world. He was born in solidarity with the homeless.
His words and actions delighted the sick, the hungry and the suffering. We are used to the
concept of "the Word became flesh" without being aware of the fact that the Word
became servant washing the feet of the disciples and that he died on the cross.
Incarnation is only the beginning of the kenotic way of Christ. Following Jesus
kenotic way, the disciple of Jesus is transformed to become more similar to Him. This
self-transformation stimulates deeper solidarity for a new step, the transformation of
The various levels of honest dialogue will involve the important
elements of the Christian life, which are conversion and forgiveness. To be converted
means to be aware of the sins and faults that one has committed and, at the same time, to
believe in the mercy of God's unlimited forgiveness. Conversion is a new hope, because one
is not imprisoned by the past, because the future is open. The willingness to forgive is a
sign that one is ready to receive Gods forgiveness. On the contrary, an
unwillingness to forgive others is a sign that one is not yet ready to receive God's mercy
and pardon. Conversion and forgiveness are important elements in the movement of dialogue
and common praxis.
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