Aku menulis maka aku belajar

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Part 2 - Church and Religious Conflict: Some Experiences of Theological Reflection during Years of Riots in Maluku

Conflict and Forgotten Problems of Cultural Dispute

It is as simple as everyone shrinking their own theological reflections. Moreover, conflict occurs when one experiences the clash between the inner self that is influenced by religious reflection and reality. So I will attempt to provide a pattern that Maluku Christians (who are involved in the battle) can use to construct their theological reflections contextually. Unfortunately, these reflections are often challenged by ‘official’ interpretations of biblical text by church leaders or priests. During the conflict and crucial situations, some theological questions arose over the Christian point of view and attitude from below. Often theological disputes emerged between priests and lay people about, for example, the existence of God. Who is our God? Does God love us? Is he compassionate? Or does he hate us and show his wrath for our sins? Did God hear our cries? Why did God allow our children and family to die? Is this violence God’s will and design for us? The opposing reaction was a formed theological stand such as ‘God is our Commander,’ ‘We are God’s Army’ and so forth. These are few questions that keep surfacing in the theological discourse in Maluku. In short, theological constructions occurred as result of the dialectic of text and context.

Conflict also revealed an empty space within religion. The cultural perspective of ancestors and adat (local tradition) had not been a serious concern within theological reflection for long time. During his research, Bartels found most influential church leaders held a negative view of adapt. They simply categorized adapt into two kinds: ‘bad’ adat and ‘good’ adat.[1] The church even demonized the ancestors (a pillar of adat) and equated them with the force of Satan. Maluku Christians had lost their cultural roots that had established our identity. The general questions that need to be asked are: Should being a Christian eradicate our cultural characteristics? Does God love Maluku with our native identity and culture or must we be ‘white’ or ‘western’? These are simple questions. They become more significant when people begin to encounter simplistic prejudices that to be Christian means to be ‘western.’ It also means to be like colonizers. This historical inheritance was bequeathed to the Maluku Christians in Indonesia and became a stumbling block that interferes with our relationships with people of other religions. Sadly, cultural discourse is seldom included in a critical scrutiny about how theology responds to cultural expression that gives people meaning in their identity and in thinking about their culture. Instead they become forgotten problems in our church.

Constructing Theological Reflections: Some Experiences

In this passage I would like to describe some theological reflections that were formulated by congregational members during the years of violence in Maluku. The following reflections became strongly impregnated in their structure of social consciousness through their experiences as victims or survivors of conflict situations.

1. Self-Identification to Israel as a Superior Nation

In the early phase of the conflict a view emerged that identified Christianity with the people of Israel. Despite being a minority group, Israel was regarded as a superior nation that was not defeated by the stronger, larger nations surrounding her. The Bible records that Israel became stronger than other nations because the God of Israel blessed them and was always with them. It is this ‘belonging to’ that they claimed when they opposed other nations. The biblical tradition demonstrates that this God is the same God of the Christian. This self-identification pushes the spirit of those who fight others on behalf of faith inward. But they have one demand: they have to diminish adat as traditional belief system. It must be denied and prohibited as an occultism practice. Otherwise they fear that the enemy will destroy them since God will not remain with them while they disobey Him. On the contrary, some pro-adat supporters claim that this mission is their identity as indigenous people. God granted it to their community as a heritage from the ancestors.

2. Self-identification as God’s Chosen People

As result of the prolonged violence, the number of victims increased. Even particular governmental policies forced Christians into a corner. Within the uncertain situation, people developed theological notions that positioned Christians as ‘God’s chosen people’ who reacted against challenges as strong as was possible. Certainly they must remain in the faith: God always protects those who are devoted to live in holiness from the threats and attacks of their opponents. This conception commented the idea of exclusivity among the Christians. Therefore there is no way to hold dialogue between them and the Muslims in order to bridge the gap within the communication. The Christians are simply preoccupied with their own internal ceremonies and with praying. This praxis is conceived to be reflection of the ways of God’s chosen people. But some problem still remain about the rising perception of adapt.

3. Interpretation of God’s Temptation in order to Purify Unfaithful People

During three years there was no announcement that the violence would end. The people felt anxiety after they realized that the situation occurred because of perplexing issues. Most people were sick and tired with all their repeating rituals and ceremonies while the chance existed that the violence could worsen and expand to other areas. With deep seated emotions they began to argue about whether the rituals and prayer were genuinely based on pure motives or not. If not, it meant that the prolonging violence was an ordeal that had the purpose to purify the Christians and to draw them back into faithfulness within God’s steadfast love and sovereignty.

4. Interpretation of ‘God as the Great Commander’ and ‘Holy War’

The government of Indonesia failed to (or can it be said, was reluctant to) restrain the penetration of paramilitary groups into Maluku. These groups argue that they have genuine motives to perform jihad in order to back-up their Muslim brothers/sisters who have suffered intimidation and abuse by Christians. In reaction, several Christian elements organized similar type of troops that were named ‘Christ’s Army,’ etc. The only reason that they were fighting was to defend Christianity and, thereby, God was posed as the great power and as their one ‘Great Commander’.

In sum, I wish to offer some theological reflections about the above unfolding models of contextual theology from the common perspective of people in Maluku. We cannot justify labeling them as theologically awkward or false since the nature and essence of theology includes the context of pertinent time and place. So I do not intend to speak here about theology as conceptual or philosophical, but rather as a performed theology. I am aware that Christianity had tradition-roots from the past in Maluku. Nevertheless, people who live in the modern age also reconstruct and modify their religious tradition to accompany their new experiences. Still I cannot avoid later efforts that formulate ‘universalistic’ perspective in order to avoid exaggerating the emphasis of particularistic dimensions. I am convinced that the forming of theology should consider and embrace both perspectives as core ingredients. Yet I will attempt to elaborate with some theological analysis on the basis of my own experience and faith as a Christian.

Faith and Violence: Continuity and Discontinuity of Power

It is known that the history of Christianity, colored by much deliberate and non-deliberate violence, has laid the ground work for religious/political/economic interests. When politics and religion merged into one interest, it made collaboration powerful energy.[2] Religion often provides transcendental legitimacy and a political infusion of power in order to subdue others. I suppose the problem becomes how to interpret between religious and political influences. Thus when we explore faith and violence, we must be aware that at least two of the interests perform as one entity. In faith the ultimate power is manifest through a divinity and that significantly reduces the human power of the other and also tends to contribute to bias that allows violence against another. That is why we worship God, because we recognize that human power is not comparable to God’s power. He alone is God and has creative power of love, not destruction.[3] The divine power limits the human’s bias toward power, but does not determine it. In faith we speak about the politics of God as an ultimate power that manages human power into right direction. In other words, God uses his power in order to further justice and peace for all humankind. I do not mean to say that we are like robots because God will not control the occasion for the finite’s self-actualization.[4] Human power is God’s greatest grace and possibility that he gives to human being in order to manage all creation and follow his own self-passions. As such, since divine power is granted within human beings, I named this as continuity of power.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, human being (as God’s creation) harnessed this inner-self power to order the earth and to create situation where everyone is free to express their self potential and build common life together. However, our history records that human power tends to corrupt and to violently compel others to follow their will.[5] When this occurs human being are in discontinuity with God’s power. The result of violence in turn creates new dimension of violence that is more structural. It is no longer individual violence but has been changed into social characteristic of human being. That violence performs a spiral that interweaves itself into all aspects of human life, including religion.

Between discontinuity and continuity there are always tensions. At this critical point, I suggest the role of theology. Theology can never be finally established because it is constantly becoming and reconstructing with plurality of faces that oppose single-minded definition. Theology is born out of a certain context of a creative tension between deity and humanity. God-human relationships are a critical relationship that must be renewed and adapted to be of relevance in a changing, contemporary world. God never changes, but human reflections toward God’s reign are capricious and dependent on context. The Bible itself described critical God-human relationships that must be continually renewed. In the process of ongoing continuity and discontinuity, the life with God is built.

Doing theology entails a readiness to enter the stream of tensions that exist between human power and God’s power. It is precisely in the stream of tensions that God invites us to understand his actions in our life situations. So can theology still be used as violence software? Of course, the answer is yes. When we choose to deny our engagement with God in order to understand his ways, we create another god that is better suited to meet our vested interest. Such a ‘god’ must follow our will. ‘He’ does not demand a borderline of restraint to our destroying power. The ‘god’ will be a supporter or mastermind of our actions of violence toward others.

How do we prevent this type of theology from remaining in the way of non-violent theology? I think theology should be a sustainable discourse in the matter of human reality against God as is found in biblical reflection. Theology should not be allowed to stop constructing critical discourse that concerns human life. When theology stops this process, it becomes a rigid monument like a standing idol that does not offer relevance or meaning in a contemporary context.

As I have said above, the people who are reconstructing practical theology are doing that reconstruction from the view point that life is experienced. These perspectives are not final and may never be final. Instead the theology should be examined again and again within the specific context of life. The next phase is critical; all the chosen theological assumptions must be analyzed through the biblical texts, i.e. the hermeneutical phase. In this phase, Maluku’s self-identification with Israel placed God’s power within (and beyond) our history. The biblical Israel was not a superior nation. This description indicates that human reality – which is a metaphor to Israel – was a reality that accepted God’s power in order to build a life in the world with others. ‘God’s chosen people’ does not mean that Israel accepted a superior role over others, but that Israel had the responsibility to announce the power of God. And to announce that this was the God of history who considered human life. As Paul Tillich wrote,

‘The way in which Jahweh revealed himself to Israel as the God who is the first and the last, the beginning and the end of history, was very painful. Only the complete national breakdown made the remnants of Israel ready to receive this revelation in its universal meaning. And whenever the Jewish nation made the revelation a reason for national pride and transformed Jahweh into the god of their nation, the national breakdown followed. Jahweh as a national god is condemned by Jahweh as the God of history. This is the mystery of Judaism to this very day.’

So there was perspective continuity of God’s power. However, there was the possibility that it became a discontinuity of power if the system given to Israel was not the system for the whole human race.

Finally, I have no conclusion, but would rather choose to allow the issues to float within discourse in order to examine our theological mindset. I agreed with Max Stackhouse when he sounded the need for a universal ethic that deals with torture and terrorism and in implicitly rejecting such theological reflection from a particular context.[6] But my question is: which universal ethic do we need and who is competent to construct it if we never completely understand our particular context and share it each other? As John Cobb, Jr. states,

‘… without shared beliefs, no community can hold together for very long. One of the reasons for the current authoritarianism is to make sure that there are such shared beliefs and that they not be too seriously questioned or challenged. Theology has played a large role in the shaping of the several communities …’[7]

Otherwise I think everyone has a responsibility to know their context and to consider it. It is an obvious way to share our experiences and to avoid a theological, neo-colonialism inclination. We do not only need a universal ethic, but we also need particular reflection that enriches our insights and experiences in order to look forward to help others who suffer pain in different parts of the world. Therefore there is no more East and West or South and North to polarize our oikos, because every experience is valid and all concerns should be heard by everyone. We need theology that is derived from ‘listening’ to the word of God and the cries of the people in the one earth. Just through ‘listening’ people have the possibility to understand the existence of others, and this becomes starting point in order to evaluate the violence that is (sometimes) predominant in our ecumenical church life. The borderline between theology (church) and violence is too slight.

In memory of those who suffered along Maluku conflict - 19 January 1999 [steve gaspersz]

[1] D. Bartels, ‘Your God is No Longer Mine,’ 8.

[2] R.B. Coote and M.P. Coote, Power, Politics and the Making of Bible. An Introduction. Minneapolis 1990, 4.

[3] J.B. Cobb, Jr. and D.R. Griffin, Process Theology. An Introductory Exposition. Pennsylvania 1976, 51.

[4] J.B. Cobb, Jr. and D.R. Griffin, Process Theology, 53.

[5] See M.L. Stackhouse, ‘Torture, Terrorism and Theology. The Need for a Universal Ethic’ in: www.religion-online.org.

[6] M.L. Stackhouse, ‘Torture, Terrorism and Theology,’ 2.

[7] J.B. Cobb, Jr., Transforming Christianity and the World. A Way beyond Absolutism and Relativism, New York 1999, 52.

No comments:

Post a Comment

One Earth, Many Faces

One Earth, Many Faces