Almost every shop person we saw was head bowed, playing on a cell phone. All day, every day, they were focused on tiny screens. Many young women are clearly Muslim (headscarves). I suspect most of the others are also Muslim. There would have been a few Christians. (Ten percent of Indonesia is Christian). Whatever the breakdown of religious affiliation, the constant focus on phones was the one common factor
Indonesia is a religious country. It is illegal to be an atheist. The city of Malang (2.25 million) in South West Java, is dominated by religion. Religion decides dress, diet, daily routines, social norms, aims and hopes. Its strictures apply to young and old.
But obviously, the place of cell phone in daily life has slipped through the cracks.
How is that religion has so much power to define and regulate almost every aspect of life (other than cell phones). The power of religion is that it holds the key to the next life.
All of the major religions talk of the next life. Fundamentalists assert that the next world is the ‘real thing’. In comparison, this world is but a shabby ante-room. Religion asserts it is worth doing anything, wearing anything, going without anything to obtain entrance to the next world. The next world, which can only be entered after death, has beauty, luxury, delight beyond imagining.
But what if there are no cell phones?
Will the silk cushions, gourmet food and perfumed air be enough to compensate for the young for the loss of these mobile companions? Will Revelations images of streets of gold, clear as crystal be enough to make us forget our devices?
Actually, I am angry at all religions which devalue this current world; that imply that this present time is of little value. I don’t believe that any of the religious creeds or their teachers know anything about the life after death.
Throughout history, stern-faced prophets, mostly men, have claimed to have had knowledge about life after death. On this basis they have enslaved whole nations, bankrupted empires, and caused immeasurable human misery. And still today mullahs, preachers and priests claim to have knowledge of the next life. In my view, either knowingly or unknowingly, they are all perpetuating versions of the greatest con-trick in history.
I do not believe that Jesus’ main intent was to focus people on the life after death. Daily, hourly he speaks to me about my neighbour and he defines ‘neighbour’ in universal terms. What my faith teaches me is that every moment is precious. The kingdom of God is around me and within me and the present is the gateway to the eternal.
And as for cell phones – well I don’t think they are going away in the near future. Fifteen years ago my friend John was given a swept up cell phone for his work. “Its an unwanted intrusion in my life” he told me. “I will switch it after work and on weekends”. I saw him recently and he now tells me his phone is his constant companion.
Hmm! Where is all this leading? I don’t know. No one knows.
Actually I am glad that the young shop assistants have something to relieve their boredom. As well as the games, it is connecting them to others and the wider world. It could be a fibre of community and a conduit for education. And that’s true for all of us. Being connected to the world 24/7 has never happened before. A source of information about the good the bad and the ugly of our whole human story now sits in the palm of our hands. What a privilege! What a resource! Then again we could just use these devices to play games?
But, there is no denying it. A new age is dawning and we are part of it, What shall we make of it? What shall we do with it?
Malang, Java, November 15, 2016