Tonight I am thinking about an excellent New York Times report by Aubrey Belford entitled ‘Chinese Preachers Bridge Indonesia Ethnic Gap.’ Belford illuminates the Indonesian circumstance and indirectly suggests crucial questions about the nature of religion important to our own future. At stake in Indonesia is the future of new democratic states, especially how they treat religious pluralism. Though religious pluralism in Indonesia has been a source of violence, the report suggests a more hopeful possibility. We should, where possible, encourage its emergence, at home as well as abroad.
Belford’s report shows how several high and medium-profile Chinese converts to Islam are crossing barriers of ethnicity and religion to forge a new Indonesian possibility. The report is compelling, for in its brief treatment of history, religion, and ethnicity, life’s complexities shine through, and a new kind of integration is revealed as an almost-miracle. A maligned (Chinese) minority is winning access to a larger world of commercial and cultural possibilities by carefully (and not so carefully) making ad hoc adjustments in religion, culture, and values.
Conversion is a key part of the story. Often, even in the West, with our Liberal and voluntarist understanding of religion, we tend to be somewhat suspicious of conversion. We imagine someone handing out pamphlets, holding a placard consigning us all to hell, or knocking on our door during dinner.
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