Reforming Morality

A secular based moral education system is the way forward for Indonesia, says Ben.

A sense of déjà vu was in the air when I watched the news of current upheaval in the Middle East. Tunisians, Egyptians, Iranians, Libyans etc just a bit more than us, are in a state of exhaustion, weary due to the many years of hollow promises and minuscule economic progress. Although unlike them we are (almost) free from the clutches of a militaristic regime, in many ways we are sadly similar. Human rights violations still run high, religious freedom is highly questionable and the unity of our nation is to some extent nonexistent except when there's a football match or a natural disaster.

It is thus not unusual if our society and many political analysts fears a domino effect. Could Indonesians, like Egyptians, be inspired to revolt once again against a government that has performed dismally these past few years in many ways? Especially in many social areas ranging from our flimsy economy to our  shameful human rights track record which has been even more stained by the recent torture towards Papua’s separatist by some individuals in the military.

Looking back at the many various social troubles taking place after our reform, history shows that it takes much more than sporadic social problems to trigger a national revolution or reform. But the lack of such upheaval here does not mean that Indonesia hasn't overlooked more than a few problems these past years.

Every country that has undergone a revolution or reform hopes for nothing less than a change in the social-political situation of society itself. But what many countries often overlook, including Indonesia, is that it takes much more than political reform to make such a change. To have a successful transformation is not by merely overthrowing the current government and placing a “reformed” government in its place but is about having and understanding the need of a holistic reform that encompasses not only the government but also larger society.

In layman’s terms, society itself must also be reformed.

The public at large must evolve into a more democratic society. We are foolish to separate government and society because they are in fact one. The solution is not only within the government but it is also in the society itself.

We have not understood that the problem which lies within the society may also be solved by the society itself. Yet before this comes to be, the society must understand that it is always a part of the solution. That is why the reformation of the society, of the people, is of utmost importance because the society has not entirely reached this level of understanding.

Looking at our governments policies in handling social problems(such as religious matters) in Indonesia, our government seems not to have taken this into account, largely because the image of our president seems to be the more pressing issue ever at hand.

How can the people achieve reform? By nothing less than morally educating our society. An ignorant mind is an easily corrupted mind. If we are to be free from any continuing oppression, we must also be free from ourselves — our ignorant selves. The more morally uneducated we are, the more lost we'll become.

We as Indonesians would be lying to ourselves if we denied the fact that we are morally unhealthy. Although I do not wish to generalize our society as a whole, but if we see the rise of intolerance(may it be religious or perhaps racial)that has manifested into violence there is certainly some sort of moral digression in our society.  Those who are aware of our unhealthy morality have tried using religion as the remedy. Although to some degree this may indeed work, it is certainly not a panacea.

There is disorder in our consciousness which has manifested violence and if we are to bring order we cannot depend fully on religion to straighten our tangled minds. Teaching religion without first having an adequate moral education as its foundation may result in nothing more than a corrupted version of that religion and spawn a new generation of terrorists. Teaching morality which is based on religion may form a biased type of moral education.

But what is morality itself? A definition must be clear in order for us to educate our society with the much needed morality. Morality can be defined as some sort of a guideline or rules that most members of society believe in and is vital in maintaining civility in our society. Basically its a set of social norms that most of us have acknowledged. Which in our case is a set of rules that can be and should be based on our pluralistic and praiseworthy Pancasila.

Yes, we do have an education on Pancasila but that is about Pancasila not Pancasila as the basis of our morality. Adding to this our educational system has often been passive, and seeing what Indonesia’s young minds has been able to depressingly do, (violent student riots, violent motorcycle gangs, basically being violent) passively teaching morality has shown very minimal use. There must be a change on how we educate. An active form of moral education must be implemented.

And this where our government has not been able to see.

Our government does not know on how to morally educate our society, instead it has relied heavily on religion to do so. It sees our nation’s morality as a trivial matter. From my personal experience as a recently graduated university student, moral education in the form of Pancasila and civil-moral education is only to be memorized in order for students to advance to the next grade. The actual practice of actively practicing morality is not available for the students.

Such an absurd understanding of moral education will only hinder its progress. Moral education is much more than merely memorizing a set of moralistic guidelines; like practicing chemistry in a lab; morality must also be practiced in a form of “social laboratory.” It must not be memorized but understood and actively practiced so that the individual may evolve into a morally adequate human being.

The individual must have an active participation when it comes to moral education.

If we take examples such as France, which has spearheaded the need for a secular active moral education, it has done an amazing job at implementing active learning moral education by engaging its students in a debate on morality itself. Questioning the moral foundations of society so that the students may not only memorize but understand thoroughly on the morality and the ethics of their society. The students cognition when learning morality is forced to become active. They are forced to question the very foundations of their society, thus producing students that are critical on the defined form of their society’s morality.

Indonesia on the other hand has closed its doors towards any reinterpretation of it’s moral foundation. Questioning religion is blasphemy and questioning our Pancasila, which has been used as the basis of our moral education, is seen to disrespect our forefathers. It is unsurprising that many parts of our society has become incredibly defensive when questioned of these sensitive matters, Indonesia’s culture seems to not be accustomed towards criticism especially in these personal issues.

Yet critical thinking alone towards the foundation of our society is not enough, as said above, a form of “social laboratory” is needed. Countries such as Belgium and the United States has seen the need of a hands on approach towards actively teaching moral education hence forcing the students to actively practice their morality outside the classes and directly into society. It is what in the United States is known as community service. The aim of community service is clear, it is not only done to give a certain service to our community that is in need of service but it is also is done to morally sensitize and enhance the social responsibilities of the anyone participating in the community service. It is an activity that is much needed for our students to understand the importance of having an adequate sense of morality.

If our government is able to learn from these examples then perhaps our students have a better chance at becoming a morally sound individual that understands the use of religion as a tool to do good not as a weapon of destruction.

It is hoped that by teaching the correct form of moral education, a moral education that is based on Pancasila rather religion and a moral education that has a more hands on approach it will trigger an inward revolution within the individual. Because as finely and accurately said by the great Indian Philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, “Change in society is of secondary importance; that will come about naturally, inevitably, when you as human beings bring about change in yourself.”

A secular based moral education that bases itself on our country’s pluralistic ideologies, must  be put into place and although it is our responsibilities to teach our children of this moral education, it is the government that has the power to reform the educational system of our nation.

Yes it does sound rather idealistic but if we take examples from history such as rights for the African Americans in the early 20th century and compare them now, utopia seems to only reside in our minds. As long as we perceive a certain matter as idealistic that matter will always remain idealistic and if we remain like so, we have learned nothing from history.

Any country undergoing reform in its government must understand the importance of moral education in society. Without first reforming our society by morally educating it, no lasting political reform can ever be achieved.

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