Religion and Violence
-an Indonesian case


J.B. Banawiratma


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 people’s 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 government.

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, government’s office, court’s 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 big business.

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 follows.

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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 fulfillment.

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 of equipment.

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.

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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 God’s kinship and Anti-God’s 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 Christ’s 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 … sinners as much as the rich. (…) Their victimhood, is therefore, the sole basis of their election. (…) Their holiness consists … in responding to their calling to be God’s 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 God’s 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 women’s 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 God’s 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 contextual liberation.

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 maior.

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 one’s 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 God’s 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 God’s favor hopefully strengthen our hope in God’s 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 God’s 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 God’s will, i.e. fulfil our specific mission within God’s 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: 33).

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 God’s 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 God’s kinship. The return to the value of God’s 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 external-oriented.

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 liberation’s 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 societal life.

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 God’s 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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