Indonesia’s Amazing Rootless Tree

By Richard Boughton

I was reading something on the Indonesian government and the ideology of Pancasila. I was skimming it, really. Skimming is something I learned to do at university about a hundred years ago, an acquisition of the intellect necessitated by the assignment of War and Peace, Anna Karenina and the Brothers Karamazov as the reading material for one term in Russian Literature, a cruel affront both to the harried student and the masterful efforts of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, and yet a needful one for the turning out of graduates who know just about nothing about just about everything, which in itself is the essential business of higher education.

Skimming is the art of putting three-quarters of the brain on autopilot while leaving one-quarter watching the various flight indicators and keeping generally quiet unless something seems particularly amiss. The main point is for the plane to plummet forward as relentlessly as possible, and yet not fail to take note of potentially important blips in the airspace – a mountain peak, for instance, or oncoming air traffic.

So it happened in the course of the skimming at hand that something flashed as it passed by, a bit of turbulence irritated forward progress, inspiring that one-quarter of the brain to sit upright, come to attention, apply the brakes.


The Indonesian government, I read, formally recognizes six religions. They are Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Confucianism.

Beep, beep, beep, says the autopilot unit.

At first it is not clear. The mountain peak is still in the fog. Has a major character died? Or fallen in love? Or fallen out of love? Or jumped in front of a train?

I read the passage again, and again. I’m hanging in midair, suspending forward progress, losing altitude. Something is missing, something has happened, something is wrong.

Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Confucianism … And what? What?

What happened to Judaism?

And so I read the list again. The fault must be mine, and not the book’s. Yes, my eyes are surely bleary, my attention yet impaired. But no matter how many times I read the sentence, Judaism was not there.

Well then, it’s a misprint, a copy-reading error. I decide to consult the internet, just to reassure myself, despite the fact that valuable skimming minutes are ticking away.

“Recognised religions of Indonesia.” I read the list. The list is the same. The omission is not only real, but intentional. And so has a country once again shown itself to be ridiculous to the core. Because here’s the thing – if you deny Judaism as a religion, you must do away with Islam and Christianity as well. Their appearance on the list becomes perfectly meaningless, as impossible as a table that stands without legs. It’s like trying to make a loaf of bread without using any dough.

Christians trace their roots through Isaac, Muslims through Ishmael. Isaac and Ishmael were the sons of Abraham. Abraham, called “the friend of God,” was the father of The Chosen People, the Jews. It’s simple, really. Both the Bible and the Koran incorporate the Torah (the five books of Moses) along with the Psalms and others – in a foundational manner. Both Christianity and Islam arose from Judaism, as surely as Isaac and Ishmael proceeded from Abraham. If you subtract Judaism, you subtract Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Moses, David, the Torah – in short, you subtract your own faith from itself.

Did we of Jesus or we of Mohamed branch off and grow toward different slants of shade and sun? Yes. But did we spring up and grow in thin air, without soil, without water, without light. Impossible! God forbid that we should make ourselves so absurd.

The Apostle Paul stated the thing clearly enough in the book of Romans: “If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.”

Got it? You can’t have branches without a tree, and you can’t have a tree without a trunk.

How, then, can Judaism fail to be a recognised religion in Indonesia? It’s impossible. It’s absurd. And it’s hilarious in its own sad way.

Sad? Yes, because it is painfully clear that the chief ingredient in this particular cookery is anti-Semitism. They may as well have begun their list by declaring from the outset that theirs would be an anti-Semitic nation, the only other option being a formal acknowledgement of hypocrisy.

Dear folks in the Ministry of Religious Affairs, dear friends of the Indonesian government, I fear you’ve been skimming a little too blindly. Better slow down, go back, read your course work again – and take care to pay attention this time.


Filed under: Practical Paradise

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