Indonesia: Secularization And The Toxic Identity War – OpEd


By Justin L. Wejak*

(UCA News) — The rise of sexual violence cases throughout the world is concerning. In Indonesia, reports of sexual violence are increasing rapidly.

In 2019, the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komisi Nasional Anti Kekerasanterhadap Perempuan or Komnas Perempuan) received 4,898 reports of cases of sexual violence. The reports show that sexual violence indeed affects a lot of people: women, children, people with disabilities and people of minority groups. They are the victims.

This problem, as well as other issues such as same-sex marriage, has contributed to the crisis of faith. People’s faith in religion has shifted, if not lost completely. No doubt, the problems have made certain religions less desirable.

Formerly very Catholic countries like Ireland have now become more secular and pragmatic. People, particularly the educated ones, are becoming increasingly critical of certain religious teachings and practices. They are becoming more vocal in raising their discomfort and concerns about abuses of power behind religious walls.

Secularization has indeed given way to large-scale de-Christianization — rethinking and reconstruction of what is more essential in Christianity.

There is currently a major crisis surrounding European identity and the place of religion in the public sphere. Faith in religion is increasingly eroding. This phenomenon is part of the long trajectory of the rise of secularism. This is the review of the French scholar Olivier Roy in his book Is Europe Christian?

The revised definitions of sexual, family, reproductive and parental roles were gradually reconstructed. Society is now governed by revised values. Society is reshaped by individualism and freedom.

Of course, this reflects social change and the long struggle for equality. Ideally, there should be no room for discrimination at all. Galatians 3:28 says: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

In Western countries, faith is no longer at the center. Many people may still identify as believers, but they reject the fundamental teachings of religion. Only a few strictly follow religious teachings or attend religious rituals. The number of people wanting a celibate lifestyle as clergy in the Catholic Church is decreasing.

In Australia, Christianity (Catholic, Anglican and Protestant) is still the dominant religion for the population. About 12 million people identify as Christians. However, that number has decreased.

In 2003, 68 percent of people called themselves Christians. By 2020, the figure dropped to 44 percent. At the same time, those who professed to be atheists, or had no religion, jumped from 26 percent to 45 percent. This is no surprise at all.

Black church leaders in the US used to be very famous, particularly in the 1960s. One of them was Martin Luther King Jr. He was then portrayed as a representation of the hopes and struggles of the oppressed and marginalized.

At that time, churches became the birthplace of the civil rights movement demanding equality and justice. However, many people then quipped that hope belonged only to a certain race. There was a sense of pessimism and hopelessness.

Today the problem of inequality remains, and it reflects something more fundamental and dangerous. Something seems to have weakened the bonds of tradition and family, community and faith. It influences changes in attitudes and perceptions about life.

Sociologist Phillip Rieff argues that humans have exchanged sacred order with social order.

Oliver Roy explains secularism’s challenge to faith. That challenge gave birth to modern Europe. In the 1960s a social revolution emerged. There was also the Second Vatican Council. Certainly, the Church was encouraged to adapt to the world of the 20th century, a century that is more secular in nature. Consequently, the Church has also become more secular and pragmatic than in previous eras.

The 17th-century Enlightenment placed reason above faith. Thinkers such as Rene Descartes, Immanuel Kant and David Hume attempted to redefine morality and ethics. They asked critical questions about truth and humanity. The Church was challenged.

The seeds sown during the Enlightenment, of course, were not necessarily equated with anti-religion, giving rise to philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche declared that God was dead, and humans were the killers.

Critical theorists — especially the Frankfurt School — emerged between the two world wars. Marxist and Freudian philosophers such as Walter Benjamin saw history as an endless catastrophe.

In addition, Theodor Adorno, who because of his pessimism rejected the idea of human progress, gave a little space for the creation of beauty and poetry. Meanwhile, Max Horkheimer argued that the loss of religion eroded meaning. He emphatically rejected philosophy without theology.

They were all great thinkers of the era. Yet most counter-enlightenment philosophers contributed to creating an age of pessimism and despair.

When Christianity receded in Europe, the number of followers of the Christian religion actually increased in several other countries in Africa, South America and the Pacific. Christianity is also growing rapidly in China even though the country is controlled by the Communist Party.

In her book The Vanishing: The Twilight of Christianity in the Middle East, veteran journalist Janine Di Giovanni chronicles the end of Christianity.

Violent fundamentalists have persecuted the Christian community. They had been brought to the brink of extinction. For example, in Egypt, Coptic Christians face legal and social discrimination. In Gaza, which in the fourth century was entirely Christian, there are now fewer than a thousand Christians left.

Di Giovanni has indeed covered the worst conflict zones in the world, too much war and suffering. Her book can be read as a book about how people pray for survival in the most turbulent times.

What a contrast. Europe is de-Christianizing; meanwhile, in the Middle East, Christians struggle to defend their faith.

In a pluralist, secular and democratic society, the role of religion, especially in public life, is always contested. However, it is not the formal separation of church and state that challenges what Olivier Roy calls the phenomenon of shifting faith as the epicenter and focus of social and cultural life.

Modern society seems obsessed with a toxic identity war. Obsession is like a cancer-eating democracy itself. There arose a lot of pessimism and despair. Today’s crisis is not just a value crisis but a reference crisis. Human beings today are getting poorer because of this crisis.

A Muslim governor of DKI Jakarta, Anies Basweden, recently sent his Christmas greetings to Christians in Indonesia. However, his greetings have been received with cynicism. Some doubted his sincerity. They regard him as a pragmatic person politically, especially approaching presidential elections in 2024.

*Justin Wejak studied philosophy in Indonesia, theology and anthropology in Australia, and currently teaches at the University of Melbourne. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

UCA News

The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News, UCAN) is the leading independent Catholic news source in Asia. A network of journalists and editors that spans East, South and Southeast Asia, UCA News has for four decades aimed to provide the most accurate and up-to-date news, feature, commentary and analysis, and multimedia content on social, political and religious developments that relate or are of interest to the Catholic Church in Asia.

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