Thursday, January 05, 2006


First published in The Jakarta Post, November 4, 2005


Ahmad Fuad Fanani and Alpha Amirrachman, Jakarta

This current era of consumerism has appallingly become our lifestyle, and it is obvious that human beings are increasingly dependent upon ever-developing technology. Consciously or not, our lives now greatly depend on the commercials that splash out at us in different media, virtually every minute.

The existence of human beings as a "sacred" creature being blessed with an ability to think and create has been steadily "taken over" by technology, which has always come in a new form with a new menu offered.

This circumstance is now underpinned by a global system, which grants a wider sphere to the growth of capitalism and global corporations. Consequently, human beings are competing more passionately to search for both individual satisfaction and material gain. It often happens with less concern towards other segments of society, who are not fortunate enough to be able to join the "competition". It also pushes us all toward the destruction of social and environmental health.

Capitalistic international institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank and WTO have become the "Unholy Trinity" whose advice has always become a "mantra" for the majority of world citizens.

Admittedly or not, under these circumstances, our religiosity has been under great influence due to the sociological fact that religiosity has always been intimately connected with the prevailing social and economic norms of the day. In the past, religion was referred to as a guiding torch to lead people to reach serenity and to cleanse them of sins.

For the underprivileged, religion can ease their tough lives. For others who suffer from "ivory tower syndrome", religion might be seen as knowledge of philosophy to be intellectually discussed, instead of putting it into socially beneficial practice. All of these forms of religiosity, in essence, are manifestations of the religion of modern human beings.

There are at least six models of religiosity in this era of consumerism.

First, there is a traditional model that defends "old" conventions in dealing with the socially pervasive problems. For example, in dealing with accusations that one particular religion is a trigger of terrorism; but those who follow this model would blame this on their own fellow followers. They simultaneously and paradoxically adopt and practice religious teachings and foreign values without filtering them.

Second, there is a fundamental model that tends to blame others without a willingness to conduct internal criticism or evaluation of one's own group. As the followers declare that their religion is the only righteous interpretation and manifestation of the divine, others that are not part of their faction would be regarded as wrong, and therefore heretical.

These kinds of people are often trapped in the thinking of conspiracy theories and tend to try to answer today's problems with answers used in past times, meaning that they merely believe completely -- without earnestly paying attention to context -- that the past glory can serve as a final answer to today's moral destruction, political failures and social bankruptcy.

Third, there is a virtuous model, like the one Indonesian scholar Moeslim Abdrurrahman (2004) identifies. This model has little enthusiasm about giving enough space to thinking or contemplating. The followers tend to regard the prevailing problems as things that need to be dealt with using concrete social actions. Thinking and contemplating have been considered alienating activities, and the major agenda of religiosity is to help each other. They consider the most religious person is one who is mostly committed to social work such, as generously assisting the underprivileged.

Fourth, there is a "packaging" model, which offers an instant "parcel" of religion. The people that embrace this tend to think that they become religious once they are able to fulfill all their "formal" religious duties, such as performing a pilgrimage to Mecca. They usually decorate their cars and houses with religious symbols and simply think that they can be religious in a clean and fragrant room. They likewise tend to help the underprivileged, but mostly on a superficial and symbolic level.
Fifth, there is the sufistic model, which mostly concentrates on nurturing sincere hearts and purifying personalities, widely known in Indonesia as manajemen qolbu. They tend to guard themselves against moral destruction that may result from their perceived socially degraded surroundings. They are fond of asking people to routinely gather and pray together; mostly because, according to this model, social destruction is the foreseeable result of collective misdeeds of society. They are also fond of asking fellow group members to cry together to ask for forgiveness from God.

The aforementioned models are actually a kind of contest to win God's patronage, and they emerge as a reaction to prevalent consumerism. These phenomena have surfaced also to a degree because religiosity consists of deeply personal experiences, which collectively form a diverse segment of society.

Indeed, one group might be idealistic, others might be pragmatic. However, one does not need to feel doubt about earnestly practicing what is believed because religiosity is the protected right of human beings. While each group might claim to the be the only righteous one, this contest is actually constructive when each group can truthfully appreciate the existence of others.

On the other hand, religious tension and violence can inevitably erupt when the spirit of dialog and tolerance is not well cherished. It is, therefore, vital to note that one group must not see itself as superior to others. Wallahu a'lam bisshawab.

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