As we travel through all these countries, we are confronted with religion everywhere.
Religious buildings such as cathedrals, monasteries or chapels, synagogues, mosques, Protestant, Buddhist or other temples, whether sacralized or desacralized, makes people curious. And it is heavily commercialized. Cultural tourism.
Entrance fees are charged, restaurants and hammams open, merchants set up shop at the entrances, festivals are organized, and pilgrimages take place. Religion as a leisure activity, as a tourist destination.
Wealthy believers, who have become VIPs, are offered exceptional comfort beyond the standards.
This leads to the emergence of a tourist divide, ranging from mass tourism aimed at the general public (sleeping outdoors or in tents) to elite luxury tourism (accommodation in palaces). Religion as a commodity suitable for the masses.
Personally, I don’t care much. I don’t put much stock in visiting such places. But it shows how religion can be used. And there is much more possible. I’m sure there is. All in the name of religion. The mass of people can be guided by it. Like puppets. The puppeteers, they are just a few.
And no, I don’t believe in a God
I’m far too curious and I simply can’t be told that everything is settled if I behave the way it’s written in any of these books. Just as I reject tradition as “inescapable” , “shack-like” or “irrevocable”, because then we would surely be burning witches, I also reject a view that is predetermined to me and I am not looking for “THE solution” in religion, but an understanding of things in people and our earth.
Our feeling that in some societies religiosity has increased recently (e.g. in Poland, India, Turkey, Indonesia or Iran) is deceptive. Rather, there has been a politicization of religion – with serious consequences for young people. Koranic courses are on the rise, scientific education is on the decline. The more we travel, the more we experience, the more my feeling solidifies that religion is a great evil for people. Religious people, full of rage, bash on others. Verbally or with weapons. And the few who try to stand up against it, they are just not loud enough. If they were, they would join the ranks of the fanatics.
A vicious circle.
And while all this is going through my mind, I think of the blessing from Rev. Eric Haussmann from Berlin when I said goodbye to him in April 2022. We had loose contact for a few years. At that time I was taking care of the digitization of the old photos of the Parochial Church. A blessing that felt good for the start of our journey. And so I decided to write a letter about our journey so far.
Dear Mr. Haussmann,
Do you remember me? I think more often of our parting in the stairwell.
We are still on the road, traveling our wonderful earth by bicycle, meeting inspiring people, laughing, crying, exhausted and then so full of energy again.
Sometimes we want to give up, sometimes we bury our heads in the sand and then we get up again and ride on or help organize some young people better opportunities for their future. Or we are present and show them: we are behind you, we believe in you, you are the future.
As I write this I am in Indonesia on a ferry. I don’t want to describe what it looks like here, but I would like to mention one thing: the singing of a muezzin resounds from the loudspeakers, and the word Allah can’t be ignored on the whole ship.
A few days ago, while we were still rolling along the dusty, completely crowded roads, trucks and buses carrying their goods on one of the few possible roads from Jakarta to the east, covered with black dirt from the exhaust fumes in the evening, I wrote them this letter in my mind and now I am putting it on “paper”.
We have been on the road for almost 1.5 years now.
We have traveled through Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Emirates, Oman, India, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. As a bicycle traveler, less as a tourist.
Thinking of you and your blessing
And just now is such a time, when I rather discouraged roll along the streets and the benefits of religion so slowly believe to understand, but the nonsense of religion and its effects myself experience, I think of you and your blessing, when I said goodbye to you in the hallway in the spring of 2022.
Everywhere we also met dissatisfied, unhappy, sad people on our journey.
Preferably then religion is instrumentalized and own citizens are publicly beaten up on the street. Religion is supposed to spread fear. Religion is to secure power. Religion is supposed to justify one’s own existence. We have found shelter in mosques for the nights, we have been driven away from Christian communities. In Hinduism we were invited to lavish meals, Buddhism has long since arrived in lavishness as well.
Buddhist statues in gigantomania. There gigantic mosques are newly erected and several churches are built in a very confined space. But what people urgently need, access to free clean water, solutions to the garbage problem, bans (or at least more education about the dangers) of alcohol and cigarettes, better and more roads or an expansion of rail transport to transport the necessary goods more safely for the drivers and residents of the villages as well as more cost-effectively, where is that?
That people have to fish in polluted waters is a disgrace, that women are forced to wear headscarves, that there is no solution for all the civilization garbage, that people have no access to education and medical needs, that people have to prostitute themselves to feed their families, that children live on the streets begging or stealing and so much more. I could go on forever. I would have loved to see something different. Something where these institutions religion get more together, show that they are there, care, stand up against all the injustice.
The young people
Yes, there is that too, fortunately, but honestly, far too little, only sporadically. But there is another that not only gives me hope, but also gives me confidence in people: young people.
These young people who cut off the old braids, who ride bicycles together, men and women, in Iran (there, especially in Tehran, riding bicycles is forbidden for women), young men and women in India, who talk about the understanding of democracy, think about the environment, get involved in waste disposal projects. The young people, e.g. in Cambodia, who are active in the field of art, who organize themselves and “cut off” old braids, the old cruel history and look into the future, think about the future and act actively with all their power.
I would still have a lot to write about them and I am so glad and grateful that they exist, that they are active, that they are shaping the future.
Why am I writing all this to you?
Well, because I can, because we are experiencing it, and because I feel it cannot be said often enough. Young people are the future. We had our chance. Let’s support them. Also in Germany and also in Berlin.
I think we should support them all, without resentment, and even if sometimes we might not agree, we should support them everywhere in the world with all our possibilities. Invite them to talk to us, ask us to actively support them in this or that.
We owe this to them, I think. Because a lot of what I see on our journey is getting in their way more. The old, the greedy, the power-obsessed, the ones who are afraid of being held up a mirror and possibly stripped of their power. We must stand in their way.
We will go further, have more experiences and I am looking forward to it. As long as we have the strength for it we will go to them, look at their activities and report about it.
Sunny greetings to Berlin,
Yours, Andrea Künstle