Thursday, November 30, 2006

Intercultural Religion Mis-interpretation

Here's a question that I've always wanted answered....I was reading the blog for Jon Benda's intercultural communication class (what? I thought intercultural communication was all done with hand signals) -- which must surely be a blast to teach -- and I came across this highly confused paragraph:

Moreover, I suggest that Wikipedia could provide further discussion about other religions in Taiwan, such as Christianity, Mormon, and Catholic. It is better that Wikipedia makes a comparison of the three main American religious influences. It could provide the reader a clearer macro point of view to know the deeper part of Taiwanese religions.
In addition to erroneously observing that Catholicism and "Christianity" originally entered Taiwan from the US, it reproduces the common misconception that Catholicism and Christianity are separate entities. Foreigners in Taiwan are often asked whether they are Catholic or Christian. What I'm wondering about is the origin of the confusion. Is it because the words for Catholic and Christian in Chinese are different, and the Protestant flavors all denote themselves by Christian? Is the the result of right-wing missionaries who claim that Catholics aren't really Christians? Or what? Idly speculating minds want to know.


amida said...

I always assumed that this confusion on the part of many Taiwanese was created intentionally by those missionaries you mention. That and the common notion that "jidu jiao" is the worship of Jesus and "tianzhu jiao" is the worship of Mary.

Another confusion in that paragraph: "Wikipedia" as an entity doesn't "provide" any discussion. If the author thinks something is missing, he/she should edit the page and provide it him/herself!

Jonathan Benda said...

It's not just a Taiwanese thing, Michael. It's also a problem in China. I think historically it has to do with the Catholics using the term "Tianzhu" (天主) for God (Lord of Heaven) and the Protestants emphasizing the use of "Yesu" (耶穌) or "Jidu" (基督) for Christ. Joseph Tse-Hei Lee, in an article entitled "The Lord of Heaven versus Jesus Christ: Christian Sectarian Violence in Late-Nineteenth-Century South China", claims that competing Catholic and Protestant missionaries were using these words as "separate Chinese terms to refer to Christianity"--it appears that the Protestants won that little competition...

Jason said...

Koreans do that, too. Maybe the misnomer came from Protestant missionaries claiming to teach the "true word", hence the assumption that Catholicism is not "Christian"?

Anonymous said...

What? The words for Catholic and Christian are different in English too. Also, how about how people identify themselves in the US? People will often say they are Catholic if they are Catholic. But Protestants often just say that they are Christian.

Some Protestants don't recognize Catholics as being Christian and if you go back a few hundred years, it was pretty bad. It wasn't, oh yeah, we're pretty similar so let's try to maintain peace within the big umbrella. It was more like... "what? you are saying what about my mama's religion? come say that again to my sword..."

And actually Christians are Jews right? It's just that Christians are Jews that think Jew Jews have been out of fashion for the last 2000 years.

You know what the cultural misinterpretation is though?

It's that Taiwanese don't really give a crap about what religion you are, and they don't really understand why you would believe in one religion and say all the other ones are wrong. So this sort of desire for mutual religious understanding, i.e. tolerance training, makes a lot of sense in a Western context, but to most Taiwanese, they don't even have this concept of lines in the sand when it comes to religions.

Michael Turton said...

I totally agree, anon, with your analysis of Christianity. I was just curious about the origin of the misunderstanding here. Even though Catholic and Christian are different words in the West, nobody ever asks whether you are Catholic or Christian.


Battlepanda said...

Actually, my friend once refused a missionary at her door ( in North Carolina) by saying that she is a Catholic. The missionary, without missing a beat, told her that if she ever wanted to give Christianity a try sometime she should not hesitate to call. :)

I think that the Christians, catholic and non catholic alike, tend to be more zealous than the average christian in the U.S., maybe this is why they have picked up more extreme habits.

Anonymous said...

I remember growing up in Taipei and went to Sunday Mass with relatives sometimes... Not that I was raised within a religion; it was just that it was Sunday and there was nothing else to do. And I liked all the singing.

So Anon is right about many of us just don't get it, don't care about the differences, and don't make much effort to figure out the differences. Religious belief is totally personal and not something to be discussed or debated. I have friends who are non-denominational Christians, Catholics, Mormons, Buddhists, and maybe some Muslims. Religion was never a wedge or an obstacle because it had nothing to do with what went on around us. Plus, discussing or debating religion is pointless; who is going to convince whom his religious experience is superior than the rest? Not like in the US where one's religious belief is closely tied to his identity, it is not the case in Taiwan. For example, while I know the US President Bush is a Methodist, and John Kerry is a Catholic, I wonder how many folks in Taiwan care about A-bien's and Ma's religious affiliations? So while you contemplate why the confusion among the Taiwanese, we are just not that fixate about it.

Michael Turton said...

Not like in the US where one's religious belief is closely tied to his identity, it is not the case in Taiwan.

Yes, of course. That's why temple fuctions are so unimportant in the community....

...hey! Wait a second....!

Anonymous said...

Christianity, to academics, is an umbrella term that includes protestants and catholics. At a more pedestrian level, the term denotes protestants as opposed to Catholics.

When I lived in the US at a very fundamentalist-influenced university campus I was constantly asked by bible thumpers if I was Catholic or Christian. It led to a lot of debates.

As is most things with religion, it's all about creating identity.

Anonymous said...

Mmm, I heard this one for the first time from my Taiwanese wife. Never heard about this differentiation anywhere in Europe. Very surprised to hear that there are americans actually thinking that way. However I feel also in Europe we start to reimport the "christian values", mainly as a reaction to the perceived threat from Islam.

As a "good Catholic" (yeah right :-) however I am happy to report that, when my wife uses the word "christian", she actually means all the annoying heretics ringing our doorbell at the most inconvenient times to tell about the approaching apocalyps. "Christian" according to her definition would therefore also include Mormons I guess.

What interests me is why Taiwanese can just add christianity without any problem. Are they thinking: Oohh he says he is the only one. He clearly must have a mental problem to think he is the only one. Better watch out with those mental cases in the heavens and do some extra bai bai to keep this social degenerated megalomaniac quiet???


Anonymous said...

Mr. Turton, I am a Taichunger who is a Christian. (Of no particular denomination, though I like various point of the main 4, as well as Anglican and other non-cults.) I have mates here who are Christian and Catholic. I also have mates in other country who are from Catholic-heavy countries, such as the Philippines, other Latin American countries such as Mexico, Peru, Argentina; and other Pacific countries such as Western Samoa, Tonga, Papa New Guinea; as well as a mate from Ireland.

I got away a few times by calling Catholics from various regions follows Christian, but only just; I was a close mates of theirs and I was a Christian and not an atheist. Many Catholics don’t mind being called Christians, but enough Catholics do mind, be them Taiwanese or otherwise. The reverse could also be true. (And I also have a lot of family and friend who is any number of any other things, such as Confucianist, Buddhist, Daoist, Chinese gods, Ancestor worship, Jews, Hindu, Various Moslim sect, devil worship, etc; just so you know. In fact, I was deeply raised in Confu, Buddha, Dao, Chi god, the very devout of the typical Taiwanese with heavy ancestor worship add to the mix.)

There is one huge and three smaller foreign communities right here in Taichung, who are here with what I consider to be meaningful purposes. But I am going to do them a favor by not going further on where they gather to your ilk.

Out of the three small groups, the first group is the amusing out-of-places fellas called the Mormons, who are always formally-dressed American Caucasian young male typically fresh out of Utah, traveling dangerously in pairs on bicycles.

The second group is the Jehovah’s witness, who tends to have a more even mix of foreigners; such as ethnic Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese, etc. They are just as friendly as the former group, except they are not as in-you-face and not as out-of-place. They don’t even do the knock on the door routine such as elsewhere, and it’s probably more appropriate here.

The third group is the Catholic fathers and the like, who are VERY well-respected by many people for their contribution in MANY fields here, and are respected as ONE OF US. They often chose to live with the most less-fortunate amongst us. Quiet a few of them are masters with their language, other European languages, as well as our languages and dialects. They don’t bring any ideological baggage with them and ask for nothing in return. Quite a few of them are what I consider cream of the crop from Europe, with the skills they have. I could go on all day, you get the picture. Personally, had it not been theological differences and the Vatican’s position and attitude from the middle till the colonial ages, I would have loved to become a Catholic.

Sir, if you are wise, you should read and learn; instead of spewing ignorant opinions that annoys even people who would somewhat agree. If you truly wish to learn, loaded questions with words like “right-wing missionaries” will often cause you to be ignored by knowledgeable people. (Not that I am claiming to be knowledgeable.) Since you have already made up your mind and thus they will not waste their time. The result would be that the only people you have left are like-minded people. Oh wait, that is what you are already doing with many of the rest of your blog, nevermind.

Moving on to the largest group, they are a huge gathering community of mainly Missionaries. More then enough of them American Caucasian Protestant missionaries, who can’t speak a click of anything except American, after decades of being here; not that there is anything wrong with that. But more importantly some of them have the same attitude as that of other foreigner ghettos here. Sure that kind of attitude is welcome by some locals who are seeking a “superior master” of some sort. But we do not need, nor welcome people trying to make irresponsible decisions for us, and not enduring the result of that responsibility. It’s like being occupied, or being a teenager living with immature parents. By culture, many of us are too civil, courteous, or apathetic to come out and say it, but you get the point.

But to call them “right-wing missionaries” would be going too far. More then enough right-wing AND left-wing Americans, missionaries or not, have the same “Whiteman’s burden” attitude. It’s not as bad as some European’s residual imperial or colonial attitude, but almost as annoying. These missionaries are under a number of denominations, coming from a number of States with a number of traditions, and are about evenly split and equally distributed when it comes to politics, and they get along just fine. They are only fanatical about God, and are equally guided (or misguided) when it comes to politics.

So, to answer your questions, “Is it because the words for Catholic and Christian in Chinese are different”? The words are different. The former being 天主 and the latter being 基督, but it’s not purely just this.

“and the Protestant flavors all denote themselves by Christian?” I do not think this is just a Protestant issue, rather a natural progressions of history and events happening outside that affected this. We just follow how other Christian/Catholic counties way of calling things.

“Is the result of right-wing missionaries who claim that Catholics aren't really Christians?” Aside from what I have already said about my personal experience concerning my interactions with my Catholic mates and loaded-word like “right-wing missionaries”, I would also like to add, outside academia America (social “sciences” to be precise), I do not often hear anyone confusing the two. We all have our different traditions and such, and are distinctly different amongst us. We have many major points that we agree on, but also quite a few major/minor points that we do not agree on. Unfortunate, sad but true.

I have typed thus far on the day you began this topic, but did not have time to post this up until today, so I will go further.

But to be honest, like what the first Anonymous and Ivy said, for us Chinese from Taiwan/Taiwanese/etc. Most of us are apathetic on pretty much anything, including religion and politics. Most of us are non-partisan on anything. We only care about what we care about, it’s just that politics, cheesy and sissy idol culture, tabloid gossips, or other useless “news” gets all the media airtime; and it makes us look like dumb idiots, but then we are also that.

I also agree with Battlepanda and the second Anonymous.

Also want to add God bless邵曉鈴(Shaw Hsiao-ling) and hopefully everything will be fine with her. And she will adjust to the missing changes when she wakes up…. She and Mayor Jason Hu don’t know me, but on two separate occasions they went beyond their call of duty to take-care or respond to two members of my family. They are down-to-earth and I am glad I voted for him, even when I do not necessary agree with some of his policies.

Finally, I want to say to MT that you are okay with your apologies with your university, if it’s genuine. Don’t really care either way, but a lot of average foreigners take this wonderful place for a pisspot. We got shot at, attacked, stoned, spit upon, called names, etc when we are not home; and that is fine because we are not at our place. But we are not going to take any of that kind of attitude, especially here. But then, many of you might be NYorkers and clueless, then I’d understand about the attitude.

Anonymous said...

Just want to add something that might help you guys understand. This is just my case, but I am a Christian, period. When it doesn’t conflict with the teachings and the Bible, then I would follow Confucian, Dao, Dao's various -ism branches, and some Buddhist teachings; not the traditions but the teachings as dictated in the various works of books. I go through the ritual of the Ancestors only when it is absolutely necessary, meaning when my loved ones passed away and I wanted to do something for it.

I don’t kneel or bow down to any other god, idol, or status even during the ritual of the Ancestors process, but I would make it appear as if I did; by kneeling with only one of my knee and leg touching the ground, while the other knee and leg hangs in the air, even for hours. It is very painful but well worth it. I also bow as I stare right into the idol, that’s not a bow, that is what you do when you are ready to attack or rugby tackle something. Anyway, so much for that.

But that is not to say I am apathetic. I could still pass those test with flying marks, knew a lot about the myths on Chinese and Taiwanese gods, (and a number of other gods for that matter) stories on Dao's various -ism branches (including Confucianism) and Buddhism, as well as passing a uni level test on natural selection, and any other biology test. But one does not necessary need to believe to pass tests, and some of that are useless theories that have practical use in other ways.

But Christian is my core belief, with many others around it. This is similar for some Taiwanese that I know, but with other main non-conflicting core and the rest around it.

One of my parents is similar to me, a Christian with other Eastern mixes. But I think it's a little mixed up for s/he, because s/he does not seem to realize what God wishes.

The other of my parent comes from a family of doctors and such, and is completely atheist, with believes in nothing but evolution, NS, and such biology. But s/he has the knowledge and do follow them, as long as it does not go against s/he's fact that there is no God.

One of my dentist relative from the doctor side is all mixed up; that is all I can say. I think her brain just does not connect the part about "Thou shall not have other gods before me" because all gods are good and caring so it would not matter to them!?

One of my teacher relative from the doctor side is all mixed up without Christianity; she is really devoted with Buddhist and "Dao" Daoist as her core.

Due to family tradition, everyone mentioned above also have to do heavy ancestor worship, and they do it willingly.

I also know other medical doctors who are Christians or others, just so you know. But I and maybe one of my parents are the only ones that could really be considered Christian, in the entire extended family from both sides.

Also want to add something about filial piety. I think it is one of the reasons for our attitudes towards religion or anything. Some of you foreigners, especially those in Academia can BS about subordination all you want, but I observe it in my extended family and in other families as well. Due to my grandparent’s failing health, the dentist I mentioned above gave up her job to take care of them, and other male members of the family became the main income earners, not one complaint was said by anyone, we know our duty.

We avoid conflicts in the presence of them, therefore when we talk about religion or politics, we become more neutral. If they have beliefs that go against our opinion, then we either stay neutral, or we will obey and follow, period. This is not our case, but if they tell us to vote for someone we do not agree with, we will vote our way but still act as if we fully support the other guy. In my case, if they tell us to attend some religious tradition, we will attend and appear to do the traditions as much as we can.

If anyone intentionally tries to hurt their wellbeing, we will fight it even if we can not win, such as the government; because we are “highly educated”, we will do things the proper way, and that should be the end of that. But if some punks tries to attack them, I and my cousins will jump them; and if we are not enough, then we will get our mates; and if that is not enough, money will be spent and the clan will be raised. Understand this, if the same thing happened to me or most of my cousins, we will try to walk away or chicken out if we could, fighting is not good. (BTW, only our clan members can bury our grandparents. Our traditional coffin weighs a lot, and requires two trucks of clan members to carry. Now I can do a hundred pushups, and one of my cousin served in a hard unit during his draft; but a few of the real old clan members are a lot stronger then us, or almost anyone I have seen.)

Anyway, to that moronic Richard from Peking duck and his ilk, the dislike for the Japanese by the Chinese and the Koreans, many of whom are still heavily filial piety, is not from government propaganda, it is through two generations of word-of-mouth.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks anon the third. Great comment, I really appreciate it.


Anonymous said...

Just want to clarify that none of the clan members I mentioned are from my extended family. They are outside the extended family, as no one in our extended family is allowed to carry the coffin, or be in the vicinity when the earth is being covered. The clan members share the first and second character of our Chinese name, most of whom I will see only a few times in my entire life. But I know the first and second characters of my generation, as well as two generation above and below me. We also have a book that tells us what is the second character of my 40th generation of decedents, as well as every major thing about my ancestors and the story of every significant ancestor, and other things. It's thicker then one book of the Britannica encyclopedia. But if a big event happens like WW2 or the culture revolution, all I need to do is memorize a poem and pass it on, and my decedents can find out about the second character of everyone before and after me. There is a reason we still know who the direct decedent of Confucius is.

Personally I hate the commies for their destruction of many things, including countless number of other people’s family book and other people’s family; but unlike some members of my family, I ant too fond of the TI movement. And if TI happens, I am no longer part of their family, and don’t have to treat them as respectful elders or anything. (And just so you know, I am not a "mainlander Taiwanese", as some patron of yours so equivocally and hostilely put it. We have been here for as long as anyone except the aborigines. Speaking of which, they are more “Taiwanese” then any of us mofos, yet they are treated much worse than how the Maori was treated by the Pakeha; no offence intended. So being “Taiwanese” means we should be like USA or OZ?)