A GROWING number of atheists in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country are using the internet to express their scepticism.
An encouraging report at the weekend by Aubrey Belford revealed that:
Scores of young Indonesian atheists have found refuge on the Internet, harnessing web tools such as social networking sites, mailing lists, blogs and wikis to communicate with like-minded people in a country where declaring there is no God can turn someone into an outcast.
Said Didi, a 29-year-old architect:
For me personally (going online) is just to share my thoughts and to meet people who think the same way I do, because I don’t see many in my real life. It’s easier to say that you’re gay than an atheist.
Dewi, a 21-year-old student fond of sardonic put-downs of religion and superstition, agreed. In her life in the West Java city of Bandung, she keeps her absence of piety secret from all but her closest friends.
Both women, who refused to give their real names, go online daily to debate religion with fellow atheists – and the few believers hardy enough to brave their barbs – from safely behind their computer screens.
Asked what she would be without the Internet, Didi laughed:
I would be a full-closet atheist.
It is impossible to know how many atheists there are in Indonesia, a country of 234 million people that is nearly 90 percent Muslim, and where non-believers officially don’t exist.
Every Indonesian must carry an identity card stating his or her adherence to one of six official religionsÂ -Â Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or Confucianism
In 2004, a 35-year-old teacher from West Sumatra, known online as “XYZMan” started an email mailing list to allow atheists to discuss their beliefs. The list now has more than 350 members.
Despite the success of the mailing list, XYZMan said he is forced to keep his own atheism secret in the real world, and has already suffered the breakdown of a marriage with a Muslim woman due to his non-belief.
If everyone knew that I’m an atheist, I could lose my job, my family would hate me and also some friends. It’s also more likely that I could be physically attacked or killed because I’m a kafir (unbeliever) and my blood is halal (allowed to be spilled) according to Islam.
Although small in number, Indonesia’s online atheists have been quick to adapt to the so-called “Web 2.0” innovations of blogs, wikis and social networking sites.
Karl Karnadi, a 25-year-old Indonesian student studying in Germany who is behind many of the web projects, said:
We use every means possible (Facebook, Friendster, Multiply etc) to show our existence, and gather people.
Apart from connecting atheists, the web presence also serves to break the language barrier that leaves Indonesians unaware of prominent English-language atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, Karnadi said.
The web presence also acts as a kind of support service. The Facebook group also has discussions on how to broach the subject of religion with friends and family, with most members confessing they think it wisest to keep “wearing a mask”.
It is a task that he conceded is much easier to do from abroad.
I have my freedom here … and I can do anything – create an atheist website, groups, criticise religion etc – openly, without being afraid of any jail sentence or any fundies that would kill me.