Religion in a developing country
By Anna Antoni, KF11 Indonesia
In Indonesia, a developing country where you can observe a lot of chaos and reasons for inconvenience, religion is obvious everywhere. Every religion is extremely prominent in daily life and I dare to state that for most Indonesians there is no part of life that is not influenced by religion.
And maybe this is one of the reasons why most people i met still seem to be more confident and happy in their life than people in countries with a higher standard of living (see “7 reasons to fall in love with not-perfect Indonesia”)
They believe in a certain way for them- whether one is guided by a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu god(s). As an Agnostic I enjoy observing the effect of spirituality and believing itself, and there probably is no country more suitable than Indonesia for understanding what religion and spirituality can do for people.
Why Indonesia? The Kiva field partner Koperasi Mitra Usaha Kecil (MUK) is a Christian organization. On a mainly Hindu island. In a mainly Islamic country. That’s exciting for an Agnostic who believes in the power of spirituality but is not guided by the Bible, Koran or other religious document. Even if I don’t pray in the morning bible-sessions at MUK, I enjoy the spirit of this half hour. Let me explain why, as it has parallels to the attitude of most Indonesians I met.
It starts with a song to worship god and life, followed by collective preying, reading the bible, interpreting it with the chance for every staff member to frankly reflect the passage on his or her life. Closed with another collective prayer, where Kiva is included every day. If one of the staff members or their family members is sick, he or she will be included and a huge group of people focuses positive thoughts on that person to overcome the challenge.
I had an injury and a MUK staff member said to me “you must see it positive. You will find something positive through it- it is all god’s way for you”. Even if it is hard for me to accept “god’s way” as an agnostic I appreciate the positive attitude. Focusing on the positive side of a challenge has a healing effect. It reduces pain, and if it persists it makes it more bearable. Believing in a positive outcome can keep you on moving forward even with heavy resistance. It is no coincidence that many people start believing in a religion or construct like fate or others in a crisis if they didn’t already grow into it. There are scientific studies that showed that patients who regularly pray have a faster healing process and the connection between positive thinking and a positive impact on health seems to be widely accepted.
The ugly dog
“Problems are like an ugly 3-legged dog. The more you tell him to leave, the more he will come back”. This quote of Sascha Lobo, co-author of a great book in German, became something like my motto and it seems to be for most people who believe in a certain way for them as well. It’s all about thinking positive and looking into the future with hope when you face challenges.
In a developing country are many obstacles to take. Seeing how others in far away countries live in TV doesn’t make it much easier to accept the situation. But people focus on moving forward and believe in a certain way for them and their country. Religion plays a huge role in this.
So here comes microfinance into the picture. Taking a microcredit isn’t something that instantly raises your standard. Maybe it takes a year or more with 1-5 loans until a major financial improvement is achieved. But there is something that instantly happens. If the trust in the future and positive thinking wasn’t already strong, it will become stronger. *
The community aspect
The community aspect is another important effect of religion besides the support in challenging situations and keeping a positive focus. Religion brings people together and provides a supportive environment that strengthens communities. At MUK I enjoy the morning worship very much because of the we-can-move-something-together-spirit that it produces. It supports that the team works in a trustful environment.
So here I am…
A person who doesn’t believe in god but in fate and several other things that keep me going in a crisis, in a country where you can’t ignore the presence of god(s) everywhere. I see headscarves, I hear calls for prayers from mosques, I see women carrying offerings to temples, I hear the bible being read and my best friends praying several times a day- to different gods.
The quote of Raden Ayu Kartini, an Indonesian heroine for emancipation of women reflected my perspective on religion before I came to Indonesia: “Religion must guard us against committing sins, but more often sins are committed in the name of religion”
Now I see millions of people using religion every day to overcome their challenges. Spirituality helps so many people that in my view it outweighs the use of religion and their communities for power, political reasons or terrorism. Poor societies are much more vulnerable to follow a harming use of religion, so a critical reflection of things done in the name of religion must be supported through education- both religious and general. For this is plenty of room for improvement, especially in developing countries.
* Of course there are exceptions- see my previous post “The license to kill” about similarities of Medicine and Microfinance.
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