Sunday, March 06, 2011

Running in Circles

I was reading a book on Ancient Egypt to my son (I swear he chose the book) when a friendly sentence caught my attention. Paraphrasing:

We call the Egyptians ancient because they lived as a society since 8000 years ago. They were good farmers, established complex court systems and was led by Pharaohs. Can you imagine what people 5000 years from now would say about the way we live today?

Last night I did some obsessive-compulsive Googling about South Asia and I couldn't help but wonder. That all of us, in-exclusively, are part of a great power play. Our belief system, our religion, the language we speak, are shaped by those who are in power. It has happened for thousands of years and it will not stop unless the world does.

I remember reading somewhere (at some point I lose track) that if we were born in pre-Islamic Middle East we would worship the sun, if we were born in 10th century Rome we would believe in Catholicism, and if we were born a 'mere' 500 years ago in the same exact place I am in now we would believe in either Kejawen, Hinduism, Buddhism or Animism.

I have in fact been aware of this reality since I lecture about it as well. And this is just one of the moments where I realise the more I find out, the more I realise it's true. The more I realise it's true, the more I feel the need to establish my own belief system - one that is apart from who has power over my mind on a socio-economic and political level.

And I end this inner dialogue with a recycled quote from Kierkegaard (which just goes to show that I'm just running in circles most of the time).

Our life always expresses the result of dominant thoughts. That's why people demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.

Have a good Sunday.


adearmando said...

You amaze me.... Tulisanmu bagus sekali... Kesadaran tentang apa yang kamu tulis itu baru belakangan hadir di kepalaku... Kamu tahu, aku pernah percaya bahwa orang Kristen itu akan masuk neraka, kecuali dia bertobat di akhir khayatnya... Kalau sekarang aku kenang kembali masa itu, I was really stupid at that time ya????

Inaya Rakhmani said...

I don't think we can ever know for sure, Bang. And I'm okay with not knowing, so long as I don't lose the will to find out.

I think I think too much though. Untung ada Bang Ade dan Takoru.

Boris Anggoro said...

This blog post has risen up my childhood question. I was taught that Islam is the best and the rest will be burning in hell. And people around me told we should be lucky we born as moslem. Then I wonder, if it so, how many people in every age of civilization will be in hell because they're not muslim or dont even know moslem is? I asked my ustadz buthe leaved me unsatisfied.
Should I think I'm lucky or should I pity myself for not thinking that I should've known more?

mer said...

great writing... i had this kind of discussion with my husband about 2 weeks ago... (yeah, repeat one and still never came to any conclusion)..
i always wonder how could someone be so sure about that one truth -- God, after-life etc..
perhaps people like us will never be sure..


p.s. i read max dimont's "max dimont jews god and history" when i was 16 and it changed the way i saw things (esp. religion)

Inaya Rakhmani said...

A strong grasp to a single truth comes with great insecurity, I think. I don't want to live like that.

Hmm I have a stupid question, Teh Mer. Why can't I post a comment on your blog?

calvin said...

a thought provoking and straightforward post too... ironic that these ancient religions now considered evil

matt tavares said...

From an American perspective, what you're saying isn't exactly true. Sure, we are influenced by the powers that be to some extent. However, I would argue that in America, people are far more shaped by the entertainment industry far more than any government power or religion. As an example, by your conclusions I should be a Protestant Christian, being that the majority of my country are Protestant. However, I happen to be Catholic. Additionally, most of the people I keep company with are are atheist, agnostic, and most certainly not practicing any religion. In other words, I don't really have anything making this decision for me. I'm afraid what you're leaving us with is what my university education left me with, which is that we can't be sure of anything and that your personal mind is the greatest authority. I can certainly see the appeal to that, but that seems to short change any real in-depth look at anything. For instance, you could know everything about Judaism, but you really have no idea what it is until you start keeping Shabbos, and understanding it's far more than who's going to "heaven" or "hell", however you define those. My concern here is the growing to trend to discount religion due to one principle of each one. It's an excuse to ignore the God question, and I'm wondering why it shouldn't always be a question? We are sitting here, spinning in space at a thousand miles an hour in this beautiful order. We spend most of our time in buildings now, and think we get it. I would argue those ancients got some things more than us. I do think you're right, that someday people will look back at us as ancients. And if things continue the way they are technologically, there will be many things we have greater insight in, but they will still call us idiots.

Inaya Rakhmani said...

Hi Matt!

American society works very differently from Indonesian society, so when I refer to a 'belief system' - here it's religion, there it's (perhaps) popular culture. Something we all live by without questioning because it's a taken-for-granted reality. 'It's the way things are supposed to be, because it works.'

And yes, I was over-generalising to make a point. Of course there will always be minorities, who could either adopt 'faith' consciously or unconsciously. But here, because the majority have accepted a belief system unthinkingly, minorities become the alien. Whatever that is different must be wrong. It has come to that point in Indonesian society.

Having said that, I quote your words:

'My concern here is the growing to trend to discount religion due to one principle of each one. It's an excuse to ignore the God question, and I'm wondering why it shouldn't always be a question? We are sitting here, spinning in space at a thousand miles an hour in this beautiful order. We spend most of our time in buildings now, and think we get it.'

And I couldn't agree more.

I love your writing.

matt tavares said...

I see your distinction now and I agree in that sense, but I saw the comments to your post were going in a direction that suggested we could never be sure of anything in life. This concerned me and is becoming a trend in our younger generation's way of thinking. However, I do think that Americans experience the same acceptance of what you describe as "the way it is", so I guess our cultures have that in common. It just manifests itself in different ways. This is an extremely intriguing discussion, and so long as it doesn't end with "we can never be sure of anything", I'm happy with it.

Take care,

Inaya Rakhmani said...

Hi Matt (I'm really enjoying this. In a good way)! But I always end discussions with 'we can never know for sure'. It's the space within which we give everything the benefit of the doubt. For me, at least personally, it makes me reconsider ideas I would otherwise brush off - and I end up learning more than I would have if I was too sure of something. I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing, but it's worth clarifying.