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Strange Gods, Foreign Altars

A great many Americans and Indonesians seem to labor under a similar misconception, though the circumstances are slightly different.

Ask a random sample of Americans, and the majority will likely say that the US is a Christian country.  In Indonesia, the same question is liable to get the majority response that this is an Islamic country.

Both majorities are wrong.

The US was neither founded by Christians, nor was it intended to be a "Christian" country.  In fact, many of the founders of the US were Deists, which are defined as folks who believe the Creator is separate from the Creation, and that Humanity is allowed to go its own way within the Laws of Nature.  They reject the supernatural and shy away from revelations and miracles, preferring a more scientific approach to things.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it's because the ideas are woven into the US Declaration of Independence and its Constitution, especially the part where it says, "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion, or prohibiting the free practice thereof..."

We must keep in mind that a large number of folks who came to the New World from Europe were, if fact, religious heretics and nut cases (by some accounts) and roundly persecuted for it back home.  All the wanted, really, was to be left the hell alone so they could do whatever it was that fulfilled their spiritual needs.

It's a slightly different situation in Indonesia, but the impulse is the same.

When the founders were trying to forge a nation out of a bunch of wildly different cultures with widely varying beliefs stretched out for thousands of miles across thousands of islands, that had all been colonized for centuries, they had to placate many different beliefs.

What eventually made it into the Indonesian Constitution is:

Article 29
(1) The State shall be based upon the belief in the One and Only God.
(2) The State guarantees all persons the freedom of worship, each according to
his/her own religion or belief.

In actual practice, this has come to mean that you are free to worship if you belong to one of the six "recognized" religions - Roman Catholic, Protestant, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, or Islam - and oh, by the way, Islam is more equal than all the others.

This was no more apparent than in a recent story out of Medan.  In brief, a baby boy was found nearly frozen in a cardboard box, abandoned in the town of Binjai, in Sumatera.  A Christian policewoman wanted to adopt the child, but was told she could not because only Muslims are allowed to adopt abandoned children.  Consequently, the evil Social Services (same in every country) snatched the child away and put him in an orphanage in Medan.  Obviously, they are really concerned for the welfare of the child, since an orphanage is preferable to a loving home.

The article goes on to state:
"...A national law, Government Regulation no. 54/2007 on Adoption, states in article 3, “In cases in which the origin of the child is unknown, then the child’s religion is conformed to the religion of the majority of the local population.”
In Indonesia, the religions may not be mingled.   Marriages and adoptions may only be among those of the same (or assumed) religions.  This law is primarily to protect Muslims from internarriage and/or the shameful possibility that children could be raised with liberal ideas concerning religions, such as may happen in a "mixed" marriage or cross-adoption.

To be fair, the Roman Catholics have done the same thing for centuries, though in this supposedly Enlightened Era, this kind of practice seems draconian, if not down-right medieval.

Indonesia is often referred to as the largest Islamic nation on Earth.  It is not.  It has the largest Muslim population under one flag, but it is supposedly composed of six equal religions.  In practice, however, this is obviously not true.

Not only are mixed marriages and adoptions forbidden, but Muslims receive preferenctial treatment by the government's Ministry of Religion, converts TO Islam are perfectly acceptable, but FROM Islam can and often do result in disinheritance, excommunication and even death in some areas.  Everyone is expected to respect (even follow) Muslim practices such as Ramadhan, but Muslims routinely ignore those fasting for Lent.  Mosques are built roughly every 200m all over the country, and their loudspeakers are cranked to 11 with no recourse, but churches and temples are highly regulated and frequently destroyed before construction is finished.

Had a Muslim policewoman, such as in the story, found an abandoned baby in a predominantly Christian area and wanted to adopt, I would likely not be writing this article, as it would never have become an issue of national attention.

I frequently hear local Muslims grousing about the way Muslims are treated in Europe and the US, and even Myanmar.  It is difficult to point out that perhaps some Islamic practices and demands rub the wrong way on others.  Perhaps, I want to say, intolerance begets intolerance.  Perhaps the willingness to heap suffering even on the innocent causes others to recoil in disgust, maybe even horror.

Certainly the upwelling of indignation in Indonesia over this particular case shows that a large number - even a majority - of people in this country want fairness, compassion and generosity, over dogma, inflexibility and favoratism.

Perhaps it's time for Muslims in Indonesia (and elsewhere) to re-examine the meaning of Pancasila and the founding principles of this nation.  People are either free or they are not, there are no partial steps or gradients.

A woman's love and care of a child is endowed by God - not your god or my god, but THE God.  Only a man could find it acceptable to put a child in an orphanage to "save" it from a life under the "wrong" religion and deny a woman's instinct to care for and protect a child.

It's time to ask what is more important, a book or a life?

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