Thursday, April 21, 2005

Dan Bloom's Great Letter, Atheism, and Taiwan

Except at Internet Infidels I am not what one would call a public atheist, so I do not plan to write about my religious beliefs in here very often. But I would like to comment about one of Taiwan's best features: its religious tolerance.

One of the really great things in life is finding out someone you have always liked is a fellow atheist. And so it was with Dan Bloom's excellent letter to the Taipei Times today. Referring to the nasty comments made by a local foreign priest, Bloom observes:

The Dutch clergyman and longtime Taiwan resident was invited to go to Rome with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to attend the Pope's funeral, and what does he do upon returning to these shores? After Chen lauds Father van Aert in public at a press conference as an "unknown hero who promotes the power of reconciliation and faith in peace," the clergyman a few days later tells a reporter, explaining his religious faith: "I pity people who do not know [Jesus]. They have little comfort in their sufferings."

So van Aert presumably "pities" Chen and most of the people in Taiwan -- about 90 percent of the 23 million people who live here who are Buddhists or Taoists -- because they do not know Jesus? And this comes from the mouth of a "hero who promotes the power of reconciliation and faith in peace?"

The incredible arrogance of the Christian faith was definitely on display with that one. Cardinal Ratzinger didn't help things one bit, with his announcement upon taking the Papal throne that he was going to unify all Christians. Just like Beijing wants to unify all Chinese, and for the same implacable, authoritarian reasons: the inability to stand even one place that might lie outside the Power and Control of the Authority. Everyone knows what Ratzinger means by "unify" -- he means place all Christians under the thumb of Rome. Now that corporate revenues falling and millions switching to exciting new brands like Evangelical Christianity, or even giving up the product all together, Rome is proposing a merger.....

Those of you wondering what kind of man Ratzinger is might enjoy this insight into the man's character from the well-known ANE scholar Greg Doudna. Ratzinger is not a conservative but a raving reactionary who argued in 1992 that the civil rights of homosexuals could be legitimately curtailed. He had predicted earlier that Buddhism would replace Marxism as the main enemy of Christianity. Earth to Ratzinger: Buddhism is not the enemy of anything, except hateful centralized authority beliefs. Buddhists have no trouble living with Christianity. It is Christianity that cannot abide other beliefs.

One thing about atheists: there are quite a lot of us here in Taiwan. Taiwan is a place where there is a high level of tolerance for religion, and people take a very practical attitude toward its benefits. Hence many have nothing to do with it, and nobody, believer or skeptic, seems to mind what anyone else thinks. The only missionaries I have met here have been Mormons and JWs. For an atheist used to the West, where people actually take seriously the ideas like angelic intervention, the Virgin Birth and the Trinity, and where the culture is absolutely saturated with Christianity, life in easygoing Taiwan will be a welcome relief.

Many times I have heard my fellow foreigner atheists express their joy at living in a place where religion is a private affair and not a public club to force others to align with oneself. Someday I hope that the US returns to the level of tolerance and sanity on religious issues displayed by the islanders here.


Anonymous said...

You are so right, sir. What makes Taiwan and other Asian countries relaxing places to live is that the local people are very tolerant of all religious beliefs, even kooky UFO beliefs, and they let everyone live in peace, without TV evangelicals hitting people over the head with their Jesus Saves [Greentamps] message.

Actually, compared to life in the intolerant Middle East, where people kill for a living, or Northern Ireland, ditto, or any other White Christian Country run by Jesuskissers.... like USA or Oz or NZ or in Taiwan can be downright blissful for those with non-religious leanings.

The Taiwanese do not give a fig about this Godshit. They were never indoctrinated or brainwashed by priests or rabbis or Muslim clergy or Protestant pastors.

To live in a non-Christian culture is pure bliss. More refugees from the West should try it. They will LIKE it. I do. I can't imagine living any other place now.

Fuck the Christian West. Sick sick sick society, and Middle East and Arab countries just a sick.

Buddha rules. No gods, just some rules to follow. Is life so hard?

clockworkcanary said...

Greetings - first, I just wanted you to know how great your site is -I plan to go to Taiwan soon to be with my new "friend" :) and have found your info very useful.

So, reading your blog today, I came across this topic of Atheism and your comments just reinforce why I want to go -tolerance! I have longed to live, at least, in a community that doesn't care about my lack of belief. I would rather be in a culture that isn't spoon-fed JesusSpeak from birth where everyone is ok with whatever belief. This made my day heh.

Anyway -just wanted to say thanks and that you have a great web site -I'm sure you put a lot of work into it. You and your family seem very happy! Thanks again

Michael Turton said...

Thanks for the comments! There are clearly a lot of us atheists out here!

Anonymous said...

QUOTE: "...your comments just reinforce why I want to go -tolerance! I have longed to live, at least, in a community that doesn't care about my lack of belief. I would rather be in a culture that isn't spoon-fed JesusSpeak from birth where everyone is ok with whatever belief. This made my day heh."

You know, there is a BOOK here, in English for a Western audience. Theme: "How living in a tolerant non-Christian society has many many pluses and just a few minuses,well, actually, none...."

Professor Turton, maybe u can write it?

Anonymous said...

There is a school of thought which argues that Jesus was influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism.

So possibly Buddhists *do* know Jesus back from when he visited circa 20-25 A.D.

Historical accounts of the Buddha's life were interpreted as the hagiography of a Christian saint, and the Church recognized Buddha as Saint Jehosophat. I don't think the canonization was ever rescinded...

Anonymous said...

Dan Bloom adds note to Michael's original post, above:

The Taipei Times newspaper ran a nice followup letter by the Dutch missionary mentioned in the news article and my subsequent letter, and he wrote:

Letter: Mea culpa

By Father Jan van Aert

Saturday, Apr 30, 2005,
Page 8

Advertising I need to apologize to people who felt offended because it was, and is not, my intention to offend the Taiwanese people. [Father Jan van Aert was quoted in the article, "Dutch father surprised by Chen's invitation to the Pope's funeral," Apr. 16, page 2 - Ed.]
The sentence: I feel "pity" (probably much too strong a word) for people who do not believe in Jesus Christ should be I feel "sorry" for all people who do not have faith, because according to me, faith is very important in our lives, whatever faith we have.

At the end of the article I say no matter whether people choose to believe in Buddhism or Christianity, they have to think seriously about what they believe. I often advise Buddhist people to be good Buddhists.

The faith of the new Pope Benedict XVI could be an example for us all. The new Pope says, "I feel the Lord near to me, as if holding my hand. And he says to me `Do not be afraid.'"

If we all have this kind of faith according to our own religion, then reconciliation and peace is possible. With Dan Bloom the reconciliation has already taken place [Bloom's letter "Locals suffer? More's the pity" appeared on Apr. 21, page 8 - Ed.]

So again, my apologies, and I hope we all become stronger in our faith. (If you like another word besides faith, you can say conviction, vision, inspiration or even love.) Wishing you all the best, I am thankful that the president chose me to go with him to Rome.

May we all receive strength from our faith, because between the four seas we are all brothers and sisters.

Father Jan van Aert

St. Anne's Home

Tien-mou TAIPEI, Taiwan

This letter has been viewed 15,405 times.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. Taiwan is a tolerant place, not only in terms of religious beliefs but also sexual orientation. I think it might have something to do with the idea of "you're not in my family so I don't need to care about what you are doing" combined with not wanting to cause confrontations because they might lead to a loss of face. We might also want to consider the impact religion, or at least right-wing religious zealotry, has had on our own culture. Thanks for bringing Dan Bloom's letter to my attention.

Anonymous said...

The amount of social work undertaken by christians in Taiwan is phenomenal....from drug rehab centers and prison visits, to legal assistance to overseas brides and local orphanages. I have interviewed several missionaries in Taipei in relation to research projects, and they were all excellent and unselfish people, none of whom tried to convert me (thank God). Most Christian missionaries are fine people, too bad their faith is exclusivistic.

Anonymous said...

You said: "Many times I have heard my fellow foreigner atheists express their joy at living in a place where religion is a private affair and not a public club to force others to align with oneself."

BRAVO!!!! I live in America and I'm crazy about Jesus but would rather eat dirt than call myself "Christian" - it's such an ugly word, created by ugly people, to bash over the heads of an ugly society.

You're absolutely RIGHT. Faith should NOT be a club with a secret handshake that'll get you in the door of heaven. It's not a fashion show or a contest to see how many yuppies in the church can race to adopt foreign "status symbol" babies. Ridiculous! It's a personal decision.

So for as much as you write about the ugliness of it - from the outside looking in - I fight it too, but from the inside. It's harder for me because, ugh, I'm ONE of them. It's embarrassing.

I'm outspoken about it, and not very well liked for it. So much for loving thy neighbor, eh?

Trevor said...

I agree with most of the insights here but, as an atheist living and working in Yuli, I must disagree with the statement that "these people have not been indoctrinated with christianity". I would say a majority of rural Taiwan has in fact been steeped deeply in Christian mythology.

My students wear their church shirts, the cross necklaces and are clearly coming from families that pray to jesus. I have had many confrontations with expat priests here...and young missionaries...they are everywhere. I would consider this a problem that, because Taiwanese culture is so open and carefree about beliefs, they are open to indoctrination easily.

And Buddha does have gods, and a horrid past, but they are certainly the brighter side of moden day religiosity.