What We Really Forgot: To Pray or to Love?

Disasters that struck Indonesia leave us with one big question: What is wrong? Have we done very bad things that make us deserve the catastrophes? According to Prosperous Justice Party’s Tifatul Sembiring, the answer is yes. The disasters were a curse for our unfaithfulness. The panacea is simple, be reminded of God and keep aloof from sin.

As a religious country, such effort to relate disasters with spiritual cause is not very surprising and can easily be seen. Worship houses arranged special praying for the victims as well as asking forgiveness from God, which affirmed the disasters were really caused by our sin. Religious leaders asked for “introspection” from the whole country. Even media cannot free themselves from this spiritual euphoria. The use of phrase “Pray for Indonesia” when reporting Mentawai’s tsunami or Merapi’s eruption showed the need to seek spiritual assurance.

Surely there is nothing wrong with praying. Studies have shown that praying is comforting and helping individuals to better cope with tragedies. But the question is, were the disasters really caused by our lack of pray and our disobedience of God? In other words, had we prayed more, could the disasters be avoided? I am afraid the answer tends to no. The reason is simple: we are already too religious so it is hardly possible that we could be more religious without sacrificing our sanity.

The evidence for our religiosity is ubiquitous. In Mujani’s (2006) Muslim Demokrat, we could find that in 2002, 99% of all Muslims surveyed claimed to practice shalat routinely. 91% also said they fasted during Ramadhan. The 2001 World Values Survey’s study also found that 99.5% of Indonesian cross-religion sample believed in God and 96.9% considered God as very important in their lives. Aside from the statistics, we could even see how religious we are by observing various invitations for massive religious gatherings presented on billboards, complete with the photos of the clerics.

So, if we are religious, why do disasters strike us? Anyone expects this writing to answer that question will be disappointed because it is still very much beyond human comprehension. To date, quake, tsunami, and volcanic eruption are for no human to control. Disasters also seem to have no relation with God or religion. The 2006 tsunami struck Aceh which is Muslim, Thailand which is Buddhist, and India which is Hindu. Portugal’s 1755 quake hit Christian countries.

Apparently no matter to which God we pray, we all are disaster-prone. Should we feel helpless then? Yes and no. ‘Yes’ if we use praying only as a means to keep us distant from misfortune. ‘No’ if we give our praying social dimension, that is to grow inside us empathy and love for fellow human being. Praying, in this perspective, is not an escape strategy from tragedies but part of self-transformation to make us better people.

Unfortunately, in Indonesia praying is more about avoiding bad things than achieving good things. We expect our praying to save us from disasters but rarely use it to transform us into friendlier and nicer people. We are one of the most religious countries in the world, yet we are also notorious for corruption, intolerance, even religious violence. It would give more benefit if we pay less attention to things we have little control, for example preventing disasters through praying, and give more work to things we can achieve, such as building social harmony. No matter how we pray, disasters will always happen. Earth is not meant to be paradise in the context of free from tragedies. But it can be made heaven-like by filling it with love.

Love, not praying, is apparently the one we forget. We are too God-oriented that sometimes we forget that we live in the world of human that needs real empathy and real love, instead of mere praying. Encouraging this country to deal with disasters only by praying and asking for repentance just makes vicious cycle of self-pity and self-blaming. We already did the praying. We already asked for the repentance. It is now time to speak with fellow mankind as much as we speak with God, not for saving us from disasters but to build the best world we could have. (Nathanael Gratias)