Wednesday, October 1, 2014


When you stop writing you get rusty, and when you look at the blank white screen again it is not warmth you feel but terror.  Mind blank, fingers creaking.  I hate TV, I hate the iPhone with all its colorful apps bringing me information that I need not digest in order to consume.  In a way it is like fast food.  Consuming but not really digesting anything because after all what is in it but chemicals and flavorings.  

I’m supposed to write an article about mix-religion marriages, something intelligent and insightful on why it is important and particularly feasible to achieve in Indonesia.  The earliest recollection I have of this issue is perhaps when I was 20, back in a friend's house, practicing for the competition selections with a red-headed foul-mouthed Irish woman we all adored to bits.   She would talk of human rights from behind her cigarette smoke and make it sound natural and rebellious at the same time.  One day without prelude she said, “you know what Indonesia has got to fix guys? That whole having to marry with a person in the same religion thing.  Come on, guys.  That is against human rights.”

The thought had never occurred to me that it was a mistake, let alone it being a matter that could violate the ICCPR, so I was slightly taken aback by this.  And then at the time I shrugged it off, thinking, “foreigners”, and then didn’t really give it much more thought.  I wanted to graduate, get married with an intelligent Muslim boy, and have an exciting career that would still allow me to raise children. 

A few years passed and the country changed.  Slowly, but perceptibly.  Maybe I changed too.  I traveled, I lived in a foreign country, I dated different men. I met people who were profoundly kind, profoundly interesting, profoundly thoughtful and wise, and lived like they enjoyed life.  It is apparently not true that God punishes those who do not pray 5 times a day, at least not on earth.  Maybe they might still all go to hell one day, but it is a hard conclusion to come to.  At best, it feels very unfair.  They all had their faiths handed down from their parents and the cultures they were brought up in, like myself, so how is it that these kind, gracious, and happy people ought to be burned in hell for not choosing the right religion?   There was absolutely nothing inherently mistaken about their values. 

I found peace among these people.  They sought meaning in life by being of value to others, and they never burdened themselves with guilt when enjoying a dance, a glass of wine, a sexual experience.  Happiness wasn’t the ultimate notion of heaven, but was the incremental daily happiness achieved by being with soulmates, living to appreciate and nurture the world, respecting people and earning respect.  They spent charity not because it was required but because it was the right thing to do.  They respected elders not because they were coerced to do so but because their elders were truly respectable.  They loved not because of God but because they simply felt love and they knew it to be sacred.  And what made me most shocked was that they did not judge.

I have always lived in a country of judges. And when I came back, I found that they had multiplied.  They judged my thin hair, how dark my skin had gotten, how much weight I’d put on.  They told me to find a husband. They asked me if I had dated foreigners, and if so, whether I had sex with them?  More and more of them wore the hijab, got married and changed into a person who had nothing better to do than to be religious and overshare stories of their little toddler children who had just finished reading the Qur’an (in Arabic) from cover to cover.   

I suppose the bitterness of my tone and the way I stereotype suggests that I fall under the suspicious category of being a liberal. Maybe I have a bigoted hatred towards bigots.  Mother recently quite randomly asked me how it was that Mr. Six could possibly marry a catholic girl.  She wondered out loud why he wasn’t “thinking long term”.   I told her of course he was thinking long term.  I told her he first needed to wage a battle with himself and fight the values ingrained in him over the course of his lifetime.  And when that was done he then had to wage a battle with his parents to gain their consent.  I told her it couldn’t have been a decision he took merely for the short-term benefit of it.   Not surprisingly she was unimpressed by my answer.  She said, “but what about the children?”

There is something about a religious society and a conformist culture that fears anomalies so much.  Mother thinks I’m reckless, whereas I think I’m just better informed.  What's different here may be commonplace somewhere else, which therefore begs us to reconsider calling something different "bad".  All the other articles I’ve read about mix-religion marriages can’t help but discuss the morals of the issue.  Vehemently leaking out phrases like “Our country is based on God and religion,” and, sarcastically, “if the country wants to legalize mixed marriages they might as well officiate atheism”.

Now I’m going to write that article and it’s going to be informative and argumentative, and it's not going to mention morality at all, not once.

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