Debate on “Merry Christmas” Greeting: When Society’s Dynamic is Sustained

There is always one thing interesting occurring in Indonesia just when Christmas is getting closer: the debate about whether or not Moslems are allowed to give “Merry Christmas” greeting to their friends. It is actually a classic debate and is always repeated every year with more or less predicted result: they are not allowed. However this one is actually unique and its uniqueness is actually rendered due to its repetition.

At first, it does seem very clear that announcement made by Indonesia Ulama Council is made as a prevention for those who are not yet aware and as a reminder if someone has just forgotten about it. If the society wholly believes the MUI then a question arises: why does some people still then eager to have debate on this matter? The answers may vary. Someone may say that such a thing is undoubtedly unnecessary since MUI has no right to judge the degree of someone’s devoutness. Religion is a private matter that actually has something to do between God and thy people. This argument is then countered by the opposite one saying that this announcement is necessary since MUI has a right to determine which one is right and wrong to give a guideline for the Moslem people.

In respect to this matter, I have no right to determine which one is right and wrong since I am not a Moslem. However, this condition just lights Indonesians that the dynamic of this society regarding religion is still there. People still want to debate about the role of MUI in determining the “Merry Christmas” despite the fact that quite obvious result is always expected. This condition is actually important because through discussion and debate they can give arguments to back their claims and perhaps gaining some knowledge from others’ position. As always suggested by Jurgen Habermas: because it is public arena, everyone can raise their position backed by rational argument as long as it does make sense.

Perhaps, it may sound very utopia but only through this way can a society sustain its dynamic and prevent arbitrariness of others to get absolute power. Changing arguments can one day lead others to shift their position even though it is very difficult. It may take long time to achieve unanimous opinion in this matter. But the more important thing is they can have better argument each year and perhaps to rethink about their position later on next year and possibly to reach an agreement someday.

This kind of dynamic is actually needed. The thing that should be emphasized is violence is not permitted whatever the reasons behind them. And one thing that is quite important: since this is the case of Moslem people, it is better for the Christians to not intervene in the process unless they feel that they have sufficient degree of knowledge to enter the debate. Joining the debate without sufficient knowledge will only give negative impact. Because in this case, a reflective question may be risen: how important is it actually to be greeted “Merry Christmas” from other if they are not sincere in doing that? In my opinion, it is not that important as long as we respect each other.

Why Should People Debate About “Merry Christmas” Greeting?

Greeting “Merry Christmas” to Christians from Moslem people in Indonesia is debatable. Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) has long prohibited Moslem for doing such actions. The reasons behind such policy are indeed the private sphere of Moslem which I cannot explain at the very best way. In regard of the reason, I prefer readers to ask individually to MUI about the policy. What I would like to underline in this article is about emphasizing the importance for using our reason: the best gift endowed from Our Creator. Furthermore, I would also like to talk about the priority objection above the greeting case.

Using reason

“Merry Christmas” is a greeting. Moreover, it is only a phrase comprised of two words. It actually has no mean other than saying that “Merry Christmas.” Thus, why should it become a problem? As I have said before, it is not my objective to define and explain specifically the reasons. I would like rather to take account of it from the point of view of the Christians.

As I have also said that “Merry Christmas” is about a phrase. Thus, why should it be a source of debate? Why do not people also debate about saying “Good Morning” or anything else? Does it because it has something to do with religion then it should be taken seriously? From my point of view, there is nothing special in regard of the greeting. I know that I would feel that I am respected if I have been given such greeting. But, above all, I do not mind if my Moslem friends do not give the greeting because of their faith. Does life consist of choices and people are free to make their choice? If I am the defender of pluralism, why should I insist Moslem people to say “Merry Christmas” to me? Were it the case, I would become the very paradox of pluralist defender. Thus, I thought that it is actually not worth to debate about the greeting. I do not mind if I am not greeted but what I would take the opposite standpoint in regard of another case related to this.

It is true that people are free to make a choice regarding several issues. But, it would be very regrettable if people make choice arbitrarily and do not use their reason properly. In this case, they do not make proper consideration why they choose something. Rather, they have chosen something blindly. Why should then people choose something using their reason? It is because reason is the best gift ever endowed by God. If people never use their reason in considering their decision, it will be very useless the mind bestowed to them. Thus, in using reason and mind in considering their choices, people are really free; they are not bound by several dogmas that will prevent them from critical thinking. Moreover, by using them properly, people are really human beings and not the slave of others.

If then Moslem people have deliberated properly to not give a “Merry Christmas” greeting for their Christians’ friends, I thought it would be very well: we should respect their choice as free people. But, it would be very regrettable if they just follow the dogma without have to play their ability to critically think about everything. The later case that should be debatable rather than discussing about should I give my Christian friend a “Merry Christmas” greeting because it will depend upon their reason.

The priority objection

It is clear then from my point of view that “Merry Christmas” greeting is not that important if the people refuse for doing so have deliberated and choose not to do the action, not just by following the dogmatic phrase. Still overwhelmed by the Christmas atmosphere, the priority objection of the Day is not about greeting but about intolerance case that is still taking place in the country. This is the true problem that has to be faced by Indonesians and not just debate about “Merry Christmas” greeting.

In 2012 Christmas Day, GKI Yasmin and HKBP Filadelfia people still faced intolerance in regard of their worship building. They still cannot afford the permit to construct the worship-building. As has been reported from several activists, they then choose to conduct the mass in front of the Presidential Palace but as can be easily predicted, there is no conscience showed by the President or the Vice President in regard of the case. The question is: if President can give direct command in regard of KPK case, why cannot he give the same in regard of the intolerance case?

From my point of view, what does make the greeting case and intolerance case different is when the former is located in the private sphere, the later is actually located in public sphere. Tolerance is not about private sphere because it has something to do with giving others the chance to conduct their religious practices. It is about civic goodness rather than promoting individual goodness.

I will be very disturbed then if I know that there is a person who has consciously decided not to say “Merry Christmas” but on the other hand he/she does not promote tolerance and keep silence in regard of the GKI Yasmin and HKBP Filadelfia case. In the case, I would rather say that such people have not used their mind properly because when they have achieved the degree of consciousness where diversity is realized, they should actually promote tolerance in order to maintain the diversity.

From this short essay, what I would like to say is absolutely clear. It is not the greeting that Indonesia actually needs. This country, endowed with people with many diverse backgrounds, has a bigger issue rather than a greeting: intolerance case that always brings our brothers and sisters live in a horrible way of being assaulted by others. This is actually the value that we should promote in this Christmas Day, regardless of your view about giving the greeting if you have chosen it rationally.