The question “What’s your religion?” always strucks as a lightening and paralyzes the answerer for a moment.
“What’s your name, where are you from,” the children are one by one pulling our shirts just after we’ve moved into our new home. There’s seven of us living here and everyone has to answer the obligatory questions. We laugh with the children when we’re trying to explain where our countries are on a map, in the noisy yard we’re explaining about Brasil, Russia, New York, Singapour and Estonia. The sun is shining, the mood is cheerful, the children coquet and we giggle. Until a really little brat with his eyes innocent and big like saucers asks: “But what’s your religion?”
All the thoughts that at least I have in connection with religion are complicated and actually, I haven’t fully decoded them, and when I’d start explaining them the children would become bored and run away, and when surrounded by friends we usually avoid the topic of religion, as it’s impossible to analyse, as much as we avoid politics. But here the question is put right into my face – deal with it!
In Indonesia it’s easy: your fixed religion is the religion that’s marked on your ID card, next to your occupation: “Accountant. Muslim.” As all this religion system has to fit into a little box then the words full of meaning can either mark those who fasted the whole September and who wake in the middle of the night to pray, or those who enjoy eating pork and have seen a mosque only from the distance. Soon the marking is only nominal and stated by the government. Our friend Agus, whose one parent is a Buddhist and the other Confucianist, has tried to get rid of the Christian status for years, but with no results – the government does not approve. He also hasn’t found a word that could explain his situation, but he believes that Buddhism has the closest vibration to it.
But to tell that I don’t believe at all – they really don’t understand it here. What do you mean you don’t go to any temple, what do you mean you don’t know how to pray, how do you live your life? “You’ll find it, you’ll find it,” an old man with a compassionate look pats my shoulder and shows me a colourful book explaining how the Bible had foreseen the flight of Boeing 707 and Obama coming to power.
Then I need to explain that no one put religion as an everyday matter into me when I was a child, and thus it hasn’t become a habit without any doubts, and now when travelling I’ve seen into how many supra and natural objects it is possible to believe in, thus my critical mind has grown and I cannot support institutionalized religion. But still I’m happy there are so many religions in the world, because there’s nothing more interesting for a hobby anthropologist to discover than the invisible inner world of a person with its ritual manifestations.
Usually the conversations don’t reach the analysis and while the children from across the street are still waiting for their answer, while Jana is philosophizing about postmodern cosmopolites, we quickly need to invent a “word” that would fill in the empty slot. Suddenly Publio looks at Jana’s T-shirt and tells convincingly: “I believe in yellow orange.”