Jun 03, 2020 Last Updated 5:56 AM, Jun 2, 2020

Atheism in Indonesia

Published: May 04, 2020

Farwiza Farhan and Gerry van Klinken

In Europe, 20 percent of the population identify as atheist or irreligious. In France it is 40 percent. Yet in Indonesia we can hardly find even one prominent person who publicly identifies as atheist. (One is the comedian Coki Pardede). Ninety-nine percent of Indonesians say religion is ‘important’ in their lives. This is even more than in theocracies such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

This edition of Inside Indonesia lifts the veil on the personal experiences of some Indonesian atheists. It explores the identities of Indonesians who feel liberated by atheism, the new communities they have formed, and their way of communicating with (or hiding from) the broader society. Karina explains what it was it like to ‘come out’ to her family. Adii Robin writes with remarkable personal honesty as well as humour about being a gay atheist among Muslim gays. Budi Hartono, on the other hand, prefers to keep quiet. He tells us how painful it would be to him if he hurt the feelings of his office mates who belong to that religious 99 per cent.

Some contributors have chosen to write under a pseudonym. Organisations committed to atheism are banned (Perppu Ormas 2017, clause 59). Individuals, too, face the threat of jail for expressing atheist views.

That this edition appears during the holy month of Ramadan is pure coincidence. Perhaps, though, this period of peace and tolerance is a good moment to include an isolated group in the public discussion. None of the authors in this edition show any desire to insult anyone. None wish to convert anyone to their point of view. They merely ask for mutual human understanding, and for a civil dialogue. They ask, writes Wira Dillon, for a bit more of the spirit of Merdeka in which Indonesia was conceived in 1945.

The edition also explores wider questions. Is a civil dialogue about atheism possible at all in Indonesia? Internet forum admin Valbiant shares positive experiences. Are Indonesian atheists all progressives? The answer is No, according to Timo Duile's highly expert piece. What does the increasing attraction to atheism – as well as the growing threats against non-believers – tell us about democracy in Indonesia? In short, is atheism really as marginal as many think? A niche phenomenon that can be safely ignored? Or does it open an important window on what it means to be Indonesian in a post-authoritarian world?

Inside Indonesia 140: Apr-Jun 2020

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