Atheist facing jail time in Indonesia for blasphemy

It’s easy to forget the right to express our disbelief is a fairly recent phenomenon. I recognize many fans were angry when I argued Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s reaction of the title ‘atheist’ was an act of intellectual cowardliness, but I voiced my anger precisely because I know how important it is for some to even express their disbelief. The bravery of those willing to stand up for what they believe (or in this case, disbelieve) is not something we often recognize. It’s why I found his dismissal of ‘the movement’ so insulting. There are real consequences to declaring your lack of belief, something Alex Aan of Indonesia is learning the hard way:

…after posting “God doesn’t exist” on Facebook, the soft-spoken civil servant, 30, faces up to 11 years in jail for what is considered blasphemy in Indonesia… From the medium-security rural prison where he has been held for the past two months, Aan has little hope for the future. He has been beaten by angry mobs, rejected by his community and endured public calls for his beheading.

Alex had no way of knowing the horrible consequences of rejecting the idea of God. While he inherited his bravery from the West, he has little hope for support half a world away. Our words gave him the audacity to question God, but it did not prepare him for the misery and abuse he would face as a consequence. What can we offer him in return? What words of comfort can alleviate his fear the world he lives in is getting worse in the light of a resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism, itself a direct consequences of our own war on religion?

“I only want to see a better world and help create a better world,” he says. “If I cannot … then I would prefer to die.”

Declaring my atheism isn’t just something I do for myself; I do it because like Alex, I want to make a better world, and the only way to do that is to fight the evils of religion head on.

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