Indonesia Green Chronicle

Yansen – University of Bengkulu, Indonesia

Religion and jailed morality

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The Jakarta Post, July 26, 2008

There is a diplomatic question that has formed in the minds of many Indonesians: Why do religious values and ethics not form the basis for our nation’s way of life?Indonesia is well known as a religious country. Atheism does not have a place in this Pancasila nation. Religious life in our society is improving. Religious doctrine is becoming more popular. Hundreds of thousands of copies of religious songs are sold every year.

In real life, however, this religious spirit has little impact. Transparency International still rates Indonesia as one of world’s most corrupt countries. We are just shocked by the many bribery cases allegedly involving House of Representative legislators, some of whom are from religion-based political parties. We are also surprised with what is happening in our justice institutions.

Why does this happen? Are religious messages failing? Do religious practices not compliment morality?We watched on our televisions as the FPI (Islam Defenders Front) violently attacked defenders of the religious sect Ahmadiyah. However, the public did not oppose the act. Corruptors are too easily forgiven, too lightly punished.

Failure to understand religious doctrine may be to blame. Idealistic values do not always translate into good deeds and a healthy society. A good and hard working public servant will not automatically be promoted to a higher post. In Indonesia, who you know is more important than who you are when it comes to being promoted.

In short, religious sentiments do not beget a healthy society. If we were to ask Talcott Parson, he would insist the problem is one of imperative functionalism; evil has to exist as a function of good. Without the bad, we cannot identify the good. Jallaludin Rahmat once joked that bad guys were needed, because without them there would be no police.

In Indonesia, instances of manipulation and corruption have reached incredible numbers, and not only at executive levels. Many NGOs, for example, have been implicated.

Morality has been jailed, and one cause of this is our tendency to take the “negative shortcut”. In schools, our children are familiar with cheating. They want to get good marks without studying hard. When competing for jobs, shortcuts are the name of the game, and bribery counts among them.

Unconsciously, this culture has compounded itself in our society. Consequently, people think that this is not just the only way, but also the right way. When legitimate action just doesn’t work and, moreover, when the wrong types of actions become commonplace, morals give way to pragmatism. We all have to live and eat, we have to think about ourselves. Lu lu, gue gue (I’m important, not you) has become the principle of our society.

Materialism is the winner, money ranks above all else, success is measured in material achievements; luxury cars, mansions. Most of us have become Machiavellian — concerned with the ends, and not the means. We, the Eastern world have embraced materialism to a greater degree than the capitalistic Western founders.

The problem is, doing things the right way doesn’t work. For example achieving a driver’s license by following procedures is difficult, so people tend to use a pimp. As a result, we have bred a pimp mentality — we have become a nation of pimps, happier to import rice and other foods than to increase national production.

Without expending much effort, we could capitalize on the margins between commodities’ buying and selling prices. Without a willingness to eradicate this tendency to take the shortcut options, we will not develop into a great nation. We have to say “no” to this damaging culture.

Moral and religious ethics are personal matters, but they must become part of our way of life, become the structure upon which this nation is based. Without these qualities, our justice system will be plagued by corruption.

Indonesia is a patron society. Leaders play influential roles in our lives. Therefore, it is also the responsibility of political and religious institutions to breed a better culture for this nation. If they do things wrong, the effects will be widespread and long enduring.

The writer is a lecturer at the University of Bengkulu, and an Australian Leadership Award Scholar. He can be reached at


Written by yansenbengkulu

October 27, 2008 at 7:12 pm

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