We Are the Paradox

By Mark Ulyseas
For The Bali Times

This week’s column is about the use, or should I say misuse, of religion to suit our personal needs on the isle. We hop, skip and jump between religions converting at the drop of a hat to get married in paradise. However, we never forget not to make the necessary legal changes in passports, names et al, including not following the teachings of the adopted religion, thereby keeping options open for a graceful retreat to the environs of our delusions. For many, religion has become a means to an end – happy endings in conjugal joy.

Marriages, apparently, are made in heaven. Or so they say. Reality in Bali reflects another picture: people changing their religion like they change their clothes to suit the fair of face that one is about to join in holy matrimony. Arguments abound defending these actions that resonate in the morals and ethics of a people who have arrived on the shores of Bali to reside with their memories. Some hope to relive the passions of the past by attempting to recreate a home with all the trappings of a family and donning the respectability of married life.

Many among us carry names like Mohammad, Yusuf or Ali hidden in our wallets. We are afraid to let anyone know who we have become by wearing a mask of pretence, which doesn’t fool anyone – except ourselves. We retain our names that we are born with, while at the same time pledging to follow the teachings of Islam and abide by its tenets.

Then there are others who have become Hindus whilst keeping alive the faith and culture of their upbringing for they are afraid of losing their identity in the maze of the enchanting living-breathing ethos of the Balinese.

And life carries on in Bali oblivious to the dumb charades that we play among ourselves.

No one is the wiser, except our God/s.

What is it that instigates us to abandon the religious teachings of childhood? Is it an easy way out of the morass of a society that tries to control our feelings and deliberately guides us down a path that appears to take us away from ourselves? These questions often seep through our consciousness to awaken us in the night to our dreams of our faith – faith in a religion we were born into.

Is it love, compassion or sheer carnal joy that makes us want to disrobe ourselves of our faith so that we can partake of and possess another person’s body, soul and religion? Some vehemently defend their actions with well-crafted words like “we must respect the other’s religion; we don’t want to hurt the sentiments of the spouse’s relatives,” conveniently ignoring the question of their own religion, just like a horse with blinkers in a stud farm that only sees the rear of one horse.

And there are others who have come to find themselves on the isle because their religiosity has faded and frayed by the continuous friction in the consumerist society from whence they cometh. These innocent folk delve into the realms of an ancient faith hoping to discover within its folds the ambrosia that would give them a new lease and meaning to life. They too marry into the faith, vainly attempting to “borrow” beliefs that could resuscitate their souls without first comprehending the language of a people which is the key to unlocking the knowledge of the “new world.”

According to a friend, it is conceivable that these folks have not really understood the religion that they have been brought up with and therefore have discarded it because of confused notions of it having failed them in their lives. Today religion is used as a means of transport from one culture to another and the tool that fixes personal aspects like marriage, when all else fails. For example, the solution to getting rid of a troublesome spouse left behind in the home country who refuses to give one a divorce is to change one’s religion in order to marry another on the isle.

A newlywed once told me that a change of one’s faith as a means to connubial bliss is a question of personal choice; therefore using it for one’s benefit is not wrong. I suppose this argument sustains itself insofar as untruth is concerned. The rest is disposable. For when we cross the threshold of one religion and enter another, we leave our reasoning behind, as we are afraid to accept the truth that we have abandoned the faith our parents taught us.

And if we beget children with our newfound culture, what happens then? What will we teach them? About the shopping malls we left behind or the truths of our childhood? When the children grow up, what will become of their faith? Will they too abandon what has been taught and scuttle to another culture, another faith, for shelter from their ignorance?

Let us revert to the earlier life – the one prior to Bali. A closer examination may reveal an alarming incongruity in our lifestyle that fuelled the urge to dump our faith and make haste to paradise with the idea of creating a meaning to life, a meaning to existing on this planet with a purpose.

The eastern religions beckon us with their intoxicating aromas and colorful customs that border on dreamscapes the likes of which we have never partaken of before. We reach out like drowning sewer rats trying desperately to keep afloat and to understand what life has to offer us in paradise. Some say it is this desperation that makes us do what we do – like converting to another religion.

In the end we overlook the fact we have only made farcical changes. Deep down, the hurt, loneliness and guilt reside like a recoiling, spitting cobra, ready to rise and strike us blind with reality. Usually it never does, except in extreme cases, when divorce ends the fairytale. Fortunately, the beginning of another “happy ending” quickly follows. So we continue our journey on the road of convenience – the convenience of changing one’s religion to match physical desires and misconceptions of the benefits of obtaining membership of another religion, another culture.

Could it be that we have unwittingly become the personification of a paradox in paradise that confuses and confounds and yet in a strange sort of way gives many of us a sense of belonging?

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Filed under: Paradox In Paradise

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