I was moved and inspired earlier this week when I learned that my friend Ben Rogers, a human rights activist working for the London-based group Christian Solidarity Worldwide, had arranged a brief visit with imprisoned atheist Alexander Aan in Indonesia. Rogers describes Aan as “a gentle, soft-spoken, highly intelligent young man who simply gave up his belief in God when he saw poverty, war, famine and disaster around the world.”
Aan is just 31 years old. He is a civil servant who was attacked and beaten near his home in Pulau Punjung in West Sumatra province by a group of Muslims accusing him of blasphemy. Why? Because he wrote the phrase “God does not exist…” on Facebook. Aan had also written, "If God exists then why do bad things happen?" along with "There should only be good things if God is merciful."
For his expressed thoughts, Alexander Aan is now facing up to five years in prison. Meanwhile, Muslim extremists in Indonesia continue to call for him to be beheaded.
Religious persecution has many layers. People of nearly every faith experience some form of persecution in some part of the world, and often those of no faith experience persecution simply for not believing.
But it goes without saying that there can be no freedom of faith in a society where people aren’t free to not believe.
Freedom of religion includes the freedom to convert to a new faith, to reject one’s previous faith, and even to reject faith entirely. As Christians we believe that God created humans with free will, with the ability to make our own choices. And that’s why as Christians, we should be the first to protect the rights of all those who are persecuted because they believe, or because they don’t believe.
That’s why I’m glad that Ben Rogers took the time to fly to Indonesia and visit with a man who deserves our attention, our advocacy, our prayers, and our support. In the words of Christ in Matthew 25:35-36, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
I hope that these words are true of each of us, as we seek to defend those who are persecuted and speak out for those who are oppressed, regardless of what they believe – or if they believe.
Kristin Wright is a columnist and contributing writer at ReligionToday.com, where she focuses on global human rights and religious freedom issues. Kristin has covered topics such as bride trafficking in North Korea, honor killings in Pakistan, the persecution of members of minority faiths in Iran, and the plight of Syrian refugees. She has visited with religious minorities in Pakistan, worked with children at risk in Mumbai's “Red Light” district, and interviewed individuals on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kristin can be contacted via her website at kristinwright.net or email at email@example.com.
Publication date: May 22, 2012