My name is Karl Karnadi and I’m an Indonesian. It has been 4 years since I first questioned my childhood beliefs, 2 years since I became openly atheist, and just a year since I founded “Indonesian Atheists,” an online community of Indonesian nonbelievers. Life has been happier and more beautiful since I left religion. And fortunately, I now live and study in Germany, a highly secular country. But being an Indonesian atheist is still hard, wherever I live. I just can’t pretend that I know nothing about what happens in my country, and I can’t disconnect from my friends and families there.
Indonesia is, or should I say was, a moderate, loving, diverse country with religious tolerance and a strong culture toward respecting diversity (of course the reality is it has never been that perfect). But when we Indonesians say religious tolerance, it means tolerance toward five (now six) acknowledged religions, with atheists, agnostics, and other religions and sects never officially recognized. In every form, even citizens’ ID, Indonesians have to fill in the ‘Religion’ column, with just six options — ’empty’ is not an option. Birth and marriage certificates and all kinds of forms also use the same ‘religion’ column with the same options. You and your spouse even have to have the same religion and go through the marriage ritual from that religion to be officially married. All of these are enforced by our national laws.
You may think that this is bad, but let me tell you something: it got worse in the last decade. Islamism and the Islamic political party got bigger and more influential. If In the past the government supported the six religions, it is now getting closer and closer to favor Islam only.
Now what is the role of the Indonesian atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and other nonbelievers? Right now it is practically none, and it is not possible to be active openly. Being a non-believer in Indonesia is not a problem only if you never talk about it. There is an anti-blasphemy criminal law with a maximum 5 years jail time for anyone offending or insulting any religion (from the six acknowledged, of course) and for encouraging anyone to be a nonbeliever. When I go home to my beloved country, anyone can prosecute me with that law, and after they easily collect the evidence, law enforcers would certainly arrest me.
Why is this important?
Now, you may ask, why all of this is important for you. Well you, my friend, have a chance to be much more vocal, much more active, in a real movement in the Philippines than we Indonesians ever have. Now, ‘Islamism’ is not just a problem for the Islam-dominated countries but for the whole world. And Indonesia, as the world’s most populous Muslim country, is slipping into the abyss of Islamic fundamentalism. To speak more generally, religious fundamentalism is a big problem that the whole world should solve. Catholicism, Christianity, Scientology, and other religions bring a lot of problem to our life. From anti-condom use, terrorism, and the homophobic sentiment it teaches. Any person who comes from a religious family or religious neighborhood knows exactly what I meant with “problem.”
Some of you may be anti-religious people that want to wipe out all religion from the whole planet. Others may love religion, and don’t want to do anything to disturb it. And the rest are moderates. Whatever your attitude toward religion, you have to care about what happens in the world. Read newspapers, internet articles, find out what happens in your country, in other countries in the world. And most importantly, be active! Go out in the street, do everything you can to help the cause that you care about, that can create a change in the world. A change for the better.
Many religious people said that without religion, one cannot have any purpose in life. It is obviously not true, because I know exactly what is mine. My purpose in life is to make the world a better place to live. And I will do whatever I can, regardless how dangerous it would be, to be able to achieve that.
What is yours?