Monday, July 21, 2008

The "horror" of Taiwan temples

I was perusing missionary blogs the other day -- as if the heat of a Taiwan summer wasn't soporific enough already -- and stumbled across this brilliant insight:

Among other things, I shared with the nurse that the initial reaction to the idols that many of us foreigners have when seeing them for the first time is that they inspire horror.

Knowing it was my duty as a blogger to expose this horror, I immediately swung into action. Grabbing my camera, I sped over the local temple, where there was a festival in action in all of its horrible panoply. Since this is a family blog, I feel I must warn you, dear reader, that what follows are graphic photos of people praying, singing, chatting, eating, and buying things. I hope you are not too deeply offended.

Vendors selling fruit for sacrifices.

People meander in and out. One of the most enjoyable things about Taiwan temples is the way they function as community centers where people carry on all the business of life.

A number of vendors selling food, medicine....

...and trinkets also set up stalls at the festival.

Another horror: begging monks.

Waiting for mom?

Inside the temple, a typical Taiwan crush.

Tables overflowing with sacrifices.

Offerings of song and prayer. I apologize for the graphic nature of this photo.

The full, untrammeled horror of a temple interior.

I walked in to have a chat with an old guy who used to sell me mian xian for breakfast, and found this table full of femmes selling necklaces of beads.

A popular Taiwan jelly drink served up in volume at the festival. Here the women cut up the jelly to make it drink-sized.

My apologies for the violent nature of this graphic photo of food processing.

Sacrifices laid out on the table.

Religious tracts. I have an abiding interest in early Christian history, and watching Chinese polytheism, and how Christians interact with China's more sophisticated and diverse religious expression, has given me some insight into how ancient Rome must have greeted the first Christians.

Re-arranging the ashes in the ghost money burner.

Avert your eyes! This is not cute! This is a horror!

It's a tough enough religious market for Christian missionaries, without this constant expression of borderline colonialistic chauvinism. I also see it as a substantial misrepresentation of foreigner attitudes -- in 18 years involved with Taiwan I have never heard a local foreigner express "horror" at the thought of local religion -- nearly everyone I know finds it interesting, and a source of wonder, enjoyment, and endless puzzling over 'What does this mean?' Local bloggers have spent many a post documenting the strange and wonderful things they find inside temples. Taiwan is home to a legion of foreigners who wander across the countryside, camera in hand, spending countless hours inside temples, fascinated. I count myself greatly fortunate to be in a country where private religious expression is often a public event, one that I can attend, and where I am politely and warmly welcomed, even if I am taking photos.


Anonymous said...

I never found a temple or its statues cute. And stately? Trying too hard for that, I'm afraid. And horror? Not yet.

I often find Taiwan temples either 1) cool and kind of freaky (as in the case of some of those belonging to cultish groups and fitted out with stone elephants, etc.) or 2) simply funny ... Though of course I never admit the latter in public.

But Michael's point about how Taiwanese temples are simply a part of life, where life goes on as elsewhere, is right on. That's an total contrast to the US (though one finds places of worship incorporated into daily life all over -- from Japanese temples to European churches).

Maggie said...

Hi Michael,

I surf your blog for a while. It seems you stay in Taiwan for a while at least. I like your blog, and I think you're definitly a great writer of blog. Anyway, I love your blog.

However, I'm very curious how come you use "horror" to describle the temples of Taiwan. Many of things of Taiwan scare you, don't they?

And finally, nice to meet you here. My name is Maggie. I live in Taiwan and I'm a Taiwanese girl as well.

Talk to you soon.


Michael Turton said...

Maggie --

I don't think temples are a horror. I think they are wonderful. But another blogger on the net thinks they are horrible, so I am making fun of him by being sarcastic. Only irrational idiots think Taiwan temple idols are "horrors."


Anonymous said...

My wonder with temples is that in the 1000s of years of their existence, why hasn't anyone composed a song yet for the temple horn players? It always seems to be the same noise:

Wa Da da da da...
Wa Da da da da...
Wa Da da da da...

drum: bangity bangity bang

repeat horn

I hear this on a daily basis since there are 3-4 good size temples in my 'hood. They seem to love parades (and fireworks at all hours of night - example 11pm a huge..BAH BOOOM). I am almost oblivious to it, but it still rattles my windows.

Anonymous said...


Next time you go down there could you pick up a couple golden calves for me?

Anonymous said...

Is this the same putz from Canada who wrote recently that all Taiwanese women love white men, and that he breaks the law because the police are too lazy to enforce it?

StefanMuc said...

Well, I guess the horror one of these missionaries feels when they encounter a temple, is perfectly matched by the horror I feel when I see one of their blogs...

One thing puzzles me - why is it possible for them to obtain visas for Taiwan? I don't think their work is beneficial for Taiwanese society (more like the oppositte, actually). And while religious freedom must be guaranteed, that's no reason to let missionaries in, is it?

@maggie: I think many Taiwanese are incredibly beautiful, I have no doubt Michael does, too. His comments were made tongue-in-cheek.

Anonymous said...

but I think Maggie points to your "other" horrors :-)

Ahh ... taiwan, land of principles. There's the one-china three principles. The six principle defense chart. But, overall, the most important one, that "Not Without my Scooter" - even at the temple - principle.


maoman said...

The only thing horrible about temples in Taiwan is how they're used by politician-gangsters to launder money without raising any eyebrows. Just ask Yan Qingbiao.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. I just think it's beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I find it quite ironic in consideration of Matteo Ricci, Johann Adam Schall and other early Christian missionaries who were not horrified by Taoist/Buddhist gods, but rather tried to incorporate those beliefs into their missionary work to help potential converts better comprehend the otherwise alien, and contextually ridiculous concepts of Christian faith.
It is no wonder free English is the only viable selling point now days.

Dezhong said...

If they really think those idols are horrible, it means they just fulfill their purpose!

Think about it next time you see a foreigner running away after hearing the explosion of fireworks.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm a Chinese. Thanks for defending for the Taiwanese temple idols. The pictures you took are very nice but they are mostly of the festival and the people. So, you are saying the people are horrifying or the idols? I don't get it. Frankly, being a Chinese, I do find some of the temple idols horrifying, too bad you don't have those in your pictures. Did you say you actually participated in the worships? What did you do? Do you speak Chinese?

Michael Turton said...

LOL, I'm just making fun of the Christian missionaries. I think the people are great!


Richard said...

As a Christian and with my mom currently doing missionary work in Taiwan, I was pretty turned off by this post. Yes there are over-zealous Christians that try to push Jesus onto every moving thing and make potentially ignorant comments, but I'm sure you are bigger than others who choose to point out these extremist types of Christians and say all Christians are like that. Just as there are extremist Muslims who believe it is there right to terrorize the U.S. and believe there is a Jihad going on between them and the U.S., there are also the Muslims who are show the good side of their religion.

For every extreme, the other extreme exists as well. And obviously everything in between.

Mark said...

I guess having a lot of English learners following a blog makes sarcasm a bit difficult.

Nice post. I commented on the blog you linked to.

@reeb: I empathize with you. I used to live near a bit too close to a temple myself.

Richard said...

Also, just wanted to say that while she was wrong in generalizing to everyone, "many of us foreigners," maybe perhaps that was true for her, and that most of the foreigners to Taiwan that she has met have shared similar feelings as her. Just as you have said you have never met a foreigner who thought it was horrible, well I suppose now you know of a foreigner who has.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

Thanks for your posting. As a Taiwanese, I often find it annoying that these Christian missionaries don't seem to show any respect for the Taiwanese/Chinese religions and culture. Some of these missionaries come across as sooo ignorant and brain washed to Taiwanese.
Taiwan welcomes them with open arms, so seeing that guy's post feels like a guest just throws mud on our faces which turned to be the true "horror" in his post!! I am glad that nowadays, these Christians can not just kill the nonbelievers and convert the ones left alive like they did in the Philippines and Americas...that history is also true horror compares to Taiwan and Chinese idols in our temples.

Anonymous said...

Recently, I have come to understand that many Taiwanese... and even a Chinese... who prowl this blog, have a little difficulty understanding the selective use of strategic quotation marks in English to show sarcasm or the conventional wisdom of others..who are not the author.

English Lesson #1124:
Guys, "quotes" often do not represent the views of the author, but rather the separate views of the subject(s).

Michael Turton said...

but I'm sure you are bigger than others who choose to point out these extremist types of Christians and say all Christians are like that.

Richard, missionaries are trying to create a world in which all other forms of belief have been stamped out and only Christianity remains. Explain to me how that is not an "extremist" act.

"All Christians" are of course not "like that" but the fallacy is referring to "Christians" and not "Christianity." In other words, reducing the structure to the individuals within it. Step back and see the structure: whether individual Christians are liberal or conservative, nice or nasty, the System rolls on around the world.

I think it is sad that you felt offended, but if people are going to spend their lives demanding that other people give up their religious cultures, and threatening them with eternal death if they don't, you have to expect that there is going to be pushback from those of us more tolerant types who prefer to live in a world with a diversity of belief.

Speaking as an atheist, I find tolerant and easygoing Taiwan to be a pleasant relief from the US, where prejudices against atheism are widespread. I would prefer not to see the riotous diversity of Taiwan's tolerant polytheism replaced with the monotonous sanctimony of Christian belief.


Anonymous said...

Frankly, the Christian missionary project is purely colonial in nature and is often used by foreign powers as the first stage of a greater economic colonization.

B.BarNavi said...

As a non-Christian monotheist (guess what kind), I too have a visceral reaction from seeing idols in the homes of my extended family. Yet try as I do, I can't escape it, being my native culture and all that. The smell of burning incense never fails to inspire spirituality in me, even though the incense may be offered to alien (or rather, familiar) gods.

When I last went to Taiwan, I had already converted. Though the rest of my family was extremely willing to accommodate my beliefs and practices, they still brought me to their Buddhist events, where I was visibly uncomfortable.

In short, I can understand the blogger's negative reaction to the idolatry, but I could do without the "OH NOES" at the durned heathens, that "other" which we're supposed to disdain.

Besides, those temples look absolutely horrendous from an aesthetic point of view. You can only line your ceiling with so many golden bells before it becomes too much of an eyestrain.

And grass jelly with ai-yu are simply great, no matter what faith you hail.

Anonymous said...

I feel sad seeing the way you make fun of the missionary. Even though you do not agree with him and it's right for you to express your respect to Taiwanese religion, but the way you expressed did not show respect to the missionary, he still has his right to express his own, right? Plus, you do not know the enviornment he's in. Being a Chinese myself, I thank for your love for Taiwan, but I wonder how much do you know the historical background, the mentality, and the emotion behind all these worshipping of temmple idols. I'm sorry to say you can hardly understand totally what it's all about no matter how long you lived and how much you studied. This might be hard to accept, but this is what I saw from the foreigners I met. I just think each human being has his or her own dinigty that we should respect no matter how different they are from us.

TicoExpat said...

I like Taiwanese temples very much. I love the artwork, the meaning of each element and action, the sounds and smells that go with them. I am a pest to my Taiwanese friends though, asking about the stories depicted in the temple carvings or why such and such ceremony is done so. Most of the time they do not know but I do!

Michael, I have a funny story related to that narrow minded Christian perspective. My Mom has told me several times not to bring any "Chinese stuff" home because "of the idols". Last time I went back, I brought her a cute "postman" piggybank from the Post Office. She scolded me and rejected the gift.
Her: "Told you not to bring idols!"
Me: Mom, it's a post office worker, look at it.
Her: Oh. I thought it was something else.
Prejudice clouds perceptions. How can these so called Christians reach out to this people if they have their minds made up and their vision clouded? *Sigh*

Mark said...

"I find tolerant and easygoing Taiwan to be a pleasant relief..."

So good to read here and elsewhere in the kind comments you left on my blog so many examples of your own tolerant and easygoing nature.

For the rest of you commenting here, I'm the "irrational idiot" who made the other blog entry. I neither force my faith nor seek "to push" my Jesus upon others. If folks are interested in hearing more about what I believe is beautiful news, then I tell them. That's it. And in no manner do I want to see the lovely culture here stamped out.

In the entry referenced above, I made the unfortunate mistake of translating my spoken sentence 會覺得看起來有點恐怖" into the English "horrible"/inspire horror.

For those of you who speak Chinese, and I'm sure Michael speaks well enough having been here 15 years - even though I'm sure his Chinese is far superior to mine -- maybe you can relate to my error of inaccurate translation back into English. The Chinese and the English rendering simply do not carry the same weight. 很恐怖 is a phrase spoken on the street all the time.

As for the pictures posted above, if that's the extent of the celebrations you've participated in, maybe you should get out a little more.

StefanMuc said...

@richard: One thing which puzzles me, is how so many American christians have managed to convince themselves that their faith is persecuted.

There was nothing in Michaels posts which critisized Christians in general, or indeed missionaries apart from those making absurd and offensive comments about the religious beliefs of the Taiwanese.

To pretend Michael was lumping all Christians together and calling them extremist is without any foundation. Nothing like that was even hinted at in his post.

Michael Turton said...

So good to read here and elsewhere in the kind comments you left on my blog so many examples of your own tolerant and easygoing nature.

I am tolerant and easygoing -- except to those whose purpose is to stamp me out. I'm an atheist -- I have no religion and don't believe in any gods. You're a Christian. In the world you're trying to create, there is no place for people with my (lack of) beliefs. There's nothing more intolerant than adhering to a system of beliefs that calls for the end of all other beliefs. Sounds to me, in fact, a lot like what China is trying to do to Taiwan.

And don't play coy with that translation shit either. Your whole post was a litany of complaints about the processions, terminating in the hope that someday all those people would give up their current beliefs and join yours. Ugh.


Anonymous said...

The missionary enterprise is about one group of people coming from the outside, determining their object is "lacking" civility as prescribed by the Christian faith, determining their object is capable of being "improved" and then engaging in a project to correct and transform the object into what the missionary determines to be "civilized".

It reminds me of a fortune cookie I once got:
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm the Chinese who posted a comment last night at 12:20am. Michael, I understand that you are making fun of the missionary. My question "So, you are saying the people are horrifying or the idols?" is a rhetorical question. I asked because I read at the top of your post, "the initial reaction to the idols that many of us foreigners have when seeing them for the first time is that they inspire horror." My understanding to this is that he/she's referring to the idols, but the pictures you took (btw, those are nice pictures) are mostly of the people. That's why I don't understand. Are you reading something else or did I miss something? As I said earlier, there are some idols that appear scary. I agree with the missionary even though I'm a Chinese. I still don't like seeing those idols regardless having to go to the temples all the time with my grandma when I was young. Well, this does not say I do not like my own culture. There are still things that I'm proud of. Admit it, we, of different ethnic cannot say any one is perfect. There must have something good and something bad, right? I don't understand how you guys can make something so simple so complicated.
One more thing, it's dangerous to put judgment on anyone just by one little phrase that person says. We all have our own little stories that no one knows 100%. There are still certain degree of subjective on the way we react even if we think we are being objective. Michael reacted this way because of his love on this, if I'm right.
How would you think if people just pick a sentence from what you said and interpret it totally the oppoisite of what you intended? Put yourself in another person's shoes.

Michael Turton said...

I agree with the missionary even though I'm a Chinese. I still don't like seeing those idols regardless having to go to the temples all the time with my grandma when I was young. Well, this does not say I do not like my own culture. There are still things that I'm proud of. Admit it, we, of different ethnic cannot say any one is perfect. There must have something good and something bad, right? I don't understand how you guys can make something so simple so complicated.
One more thing, it's dangerous to put judgment on anyone just by one little phrase that person says.

I understand where you are coming from, but I think you should read the original post. First he said that idols "inspire horror." He then complained about then noise of firecrackers, and finally said he prayed they'd all find Jesus and presumably, give up such behavior and become quiet, non-firecracker-using Christians. The problem was not the single phrase, which I picked out because it was both common and ridiculous, but the entire attitude in the post, which perfectly fits the phrase "inspire horror". Go and read it. He didn't choose that phrase by accident. He meant it exactly as he wrote it.

In his response to my comments, he then asked if I actually knew anything about Taiwan, hinted that I really didn't, and then went on to point out that temples in Taiwan are often involved gangsters. This is a clear attempt at a smear. He then described drunken gangsters walking in a temple procession. Clearly a smear.

Finding out that I knew more than he did about Taiwan, he then reversed his position and decided that the best thing to do would be to accuse me of being intolerant. That will of course be followed by the inevitable post from other Christians about how they are "persecuted." At the same time he then made the absurd claim that he had mistranslated "有點恐怖" as "inspire horror." That's quite a mistranslation, since no one who could carry on a conversation about idols in Chinese could possibly mistake any word in "會覺得看起來有點恐怖" for "inspire." The natural translation would be something like "(I) feel they can look a little scary" or something like that.

Nasty comments and complaints about "idols" in Taiwan or Taiwanese being "lost" and similar comments are common on missionary blogs and I have remarked on this here before. This is not one phrase that has been twisted or somehow misused, but a very common pattern of behavior. What it really shows is that beneath the smiling facade are some very ugly colonialist attitudes. I don't comment on missionary blogs for the most part, except when I see stuff like that. It really pisses me off.


maoman said...

Don't paint all Christians with the same brush. You'll find a lot of diversity and degrees of tolerance/intolerance among them.

I think I brought up the "gangster" comments first, and that was based on first-hand experience. Everybody knows it exists, and while not every temple is affected, a lot of them are. To pretend otherwise is to be naive.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,
Thanks for you postings.
Taiwan has a lot of Christian missionaries nowadays. Since you have read a lot of their blogs, do you think they come to Taiwan because Taiwan is tolerant of their Christian belief, or is because they have a lot of success "saving" souls in Taiwan? Do they attempt to set up shops in China? If they do, has anyone dared to blog and complain about China?

Richard said...

Stefan, you're right- and as Michael points out he is making the distinction between Christianity and Christians, although I will still disagree that Christianity is extremist. But, I think Michael is throwing all Christian missionaries in the same pot, so that's where I would still like to say everyone is not the same. Perhaps the missionaries you've met so far are the ones that attempt to shove Jesus down your throat, but there are others who respect the culture and beliefs of of those around them while still being able to minister to them.

Michael, perhaps it's because you haven't lived in the U.S. for quite sometime, or because you've never been "in the shoes" as a Christian, or where you grew up was from the southern "Christian" states, but from where I've been and what I've seen, Christians IMO get more heat than atheists. It is not something that we make ourselves believe, trust me- I'd much rather not have all this "persecution" against us. And by persecution, I'm not talking about "stoning" or things of that nature, but just take a look at the comments here about Christians/Christian missionaries. Like the one by Stefan:"why is it possible for them to obtain visas for Taiwan?" Serious? A lot of negativity about Christians: ridiculous, ignorant, stupid, "irrational idiots," etc.

And as a Christian I have mostly non-Christian friends. They all know I'm a Christian, and I know they have a lot of problems with Christians-- I have never demanded that they believe my beliefs. The only time I may have ever pushed any sort of "Christian talk" onto them is something like, "Oh I can't get lunch tomorrow, I'm going to church" etc. They do things I would consider sins, but it's not my place to tell them my beliefs and try to change them. Only if they ask me about it would I do so.

Michael, it's not so much that I felt offended, it was just the way you felt you needed to lambast that missionary for what her opinion was. Surely there are less harsh ways to do so (in a less sarcastic way). Just as you may find churches with a Jesus on a cross in the sanctuary horrifying, or taking part in communion horrifying (perhaps you don't, but some people do), should we as Christians call those people "irrational idiots" for thinking so?

As far as Christian missionaries, what my aunt and mom do as missionaries in Taiwan is helping local churches out, and inviting the friends and family of the people that attend the church to come. If they don't want to, that's perfectly fine. In no way do they go out and try to do door to door work, and pushing our beliefs onto them. If they are curious and ask, then they go from there.

Lastly, Christianity does not call for the end of all other beliefs. Jesus only calls on us to "go and make disciples of all nations" -- while you may read that as stamping out all others, I would say that it just means we should share what we believe a wonderful thing with others, and if they don't want to hear it, I don't want to force it.

Anonymous said...

I really like the Taiwanese religion, because I've been heartily invited to take part in rituals, no matter, what I believe in. There is no "credo" as in Christianity, where I wouldn't be allowed to take part in the Last Supper (anymore), since I'd consider myself as an agnostic.
I also don't like the missionary idea, because everyone has to find out for himself or herself.
That's why I'm also sympathetic to Bahá’í religion, since they don't do missionary work and they wouldn't even take a donation from someone who is not Bahá’í. (Bahá’í on Wikipedia)

Anonymous said...

"The missionary enterprise is about one group of people coming from the outside, determining their object is "lacking" civility as prescribed by the Christian faith, determining their object is capable of being "improved" and then engaging in a project to correct and transform the object into what the missionary determines to be "civilized".'

I don't think it matters how aggressive the missionary work is, the above description still holds as a civilizing project, which is another term for "colonial". The history of the Christian faith is colonial by nature. The act of conversion involves transformation and presumed "improvement" from something lesser/impure/unrefined/unknowledgeable/raw. The relationship between the initiated and uninitiated is also one of unequal power where the initiated has access to "secret knowledge" and has the power to interpret the meaning of this knowledge for the uninitiated. The access to knowledge holds the power over those who do not know. It is not as if missionary work means simply leaving bibles in libraries for people to read and interpret on their own. It involves active participation by the missionary/civilizer to seek out those who are "lacking", identify them for their deficiency, and transform them. This process relies on several culturalist definitions that seek to transpose one value system over another, which is, naturally, a subjectivity.
Christians are not the only group to have entered into this enterprise. Confucian Culturalists/Han people used the same methodology to "tame" the plains indigenous peoples. Imperialists and Nationalists too. Each project is an effort to turn the "raw" to the "cooked/tamed" and wield the knowledge/power relationship for advantage to achieve a prescribed social goal. I'm not bagging on Christians, but rather taking a step back to look at the framework of any missionary project in comparison to similar social projects.

Anonymous said...

It is not the "pushing" of faith that makes it missionary... and it doesn't have to be door to door... but it is the leveraging of power relationships behind it.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Turton repeatedly accuses Christians and Christianity of wanting to "stamp out" other beliefs. His choice of words suggests that Christians want to use violence to suppress anyone who disagrees with them. While this may have been true of some Christians some hundreds of years ago, it is no longer true.

Christians try to persuade others to agree with them. That doesn't mean they are trying to "stamp out" others. Mr. Turton has made favorable comments about Barack Obama; is he trying to "stamp out" McCain supporters? Is Mr. Turton trying to stamp out Republicans?

Finally, by mocking Christian missionaries, is Mr. Turton trying to stamp out missionaries and Christianity?

Please choose less inflammatory words, particularly if your purpose is to persuade others to use less inflammatory words.

Michael Turton said...

but from where I've been and what I've seen, Christians IMO get more heat than atheists.

Bwaahahaha. Richard, at present more Americans say they will vote for an openly gay man for President than an atheist, and there are 7 or 8 states whose constitutions specifically forbid atheists from holding public office. Those can't be enforced, but they are indicative. Atheists have been denied parental and adoption rights, etc. None of these things happen to Christians.

Such heat as Christians face is entirely self-provoked.


Michael Turton said...

Christians try to persuade others to agree with them. That doesn't mean they are trying to "stamp out" others. Mr. Turton has made favorable comments about Barack Obama; is he trying to "stamp out" McCain supporters? Is Mr. Turton trying to stamp out Republicans?

Readin, the goal of Christianity is to eradicate all other forms of belief so that "every tongue will confess and every knee bend." Because Christians cannot believe in anything but Christianity, when a person of another belief converts to Christianity automatically entails the end of the currently held beliefs. In the ideal Christian world, everyone is a Christian.

This nothing like McCain vs Obama. The issue isn't whether X will continue to exist but whether McCain or Obama will get a certain job. After the campaigns both parties will go on. Further, Dems and Repubs don't send out people to all corners of the earth demanding that everyone become a Dem or a Repub. Making positive comments about something isn't the same as converting people.

Also, I have to admit that it is quite refreshing to be accused of using "inflammatory rhetoric" by advocates of a religion that believes that all non-believers are condemned to burn.


Anonymous said...

Colonialism is a violent act by one culture to destroy another culture and replace it with one that the colonizer feels is superior. The violence does not have to be physical, to be violent. The missionary's "persuasion" to reject and condemn other systems of belief is an attack on that belief system (or non-belief system). This coloniality creates feelings of social anxiety as the foundations of cultures are deemed "false" as opposed to the one "true", and the mechanisms of the colonizer seek to actively participate in the destruction of culture. In the Christian project there can't be multiple truths.

Anonymous said...

Also, I have to admit that it is quite refreshing to be accused of using "inflammatory rhetoric" by advocates of a religion that believes that all non-believers are condemned to burn.

So is your gripe that Christians believe something you disagree with, or that they share that belief? I pointed out that you used language that inaccurately suggested those you disagreement were advocating violence. You respond by saying those you disagree with believe something really bad will happen to those who don't follow their advice.

If I believe that eating smoking is bad for you and try to persuade you to stop - and believe that in a perfect world no one would smoke - but like a good conservative/libertarian don't want laws passed forcing people to stop - am I trying to "stamp out" smokers? Am I guilty of inflammatory rhetoric for saying smoking kills thousands of people every year?

Some people think worshiping idols is horrible. Some people think believing in Hell is horrible. Whatever your belief, you should try to avoid inflammatory rhetoric especially when calling for tolerance.

Michael Turton said...

You respond by saying those you disagree with believe something really bad will happen to those who don't follow their advice.

If I believe that eating smoking is bad for you and try to persuade you to stop - and believe that in a perfect world no one would smoke - but like a good conservative/libertarian don't want laws passed forcing people to stop - am I trying to "stamp out" smokers? Am I guilty of inflammatory rhetoric for saying smoking kills thousands of people every year?

The difference being that smoking DOES kill people as evidenced by the results of studies using reliable scientific methodology, so that people who give up smokig obtain health benefits, a point universally conceded by all rational individuals, including every smoker I know. Whereas no Christian claim about the nature of reality is supported by any reliable methodology. There's no sin, no Magic Sky Fairy, no son(s) of gods, no magical resurrection, etc. There's no comparison between "your religion is wrong and you are all going to burn and mine is right" and "smoking kills." The former is a demand for control over the mind and body of the listener, the latter is a statement of scientific fact.

I could go on, but these ridiculous comparisons between progressive and reformist reality-based political and social movements, and the desire of Christianity to stamp out competing forms of religious belief, is absurd. When you have evidence supported by reliable methodological analysis that shows the claims of Christianity are on epistemic par with the claims of the anti-smoking movement, we can talk.

Of course, by making this argument, you concede my main point: that Christianity's posture towards other forms of belief is eliminationist. What was the reaction of the person who wrote that post that I cited when he saw the religious procession? He prayed that they would give up their religion and join his. Cease their beliefs. Disappear. You can hardly imagine a more intolerant and colonial project than that!


Anonymous said...


I am particularly interested in your example.

It reminds me of when I was in the clinic at Immorod Village on Lanyu. The Taitung government had sent a group of doctors and nurses from Taitung city to stand at a table in the clinic and advise visitors that betel nut is bad and the people of Lanyu should avoid chewing betel nut because it is "unhealthy, unsightly and vulgar".

At first this seems like a reasonable pursuit. Betel nut is known to cause mouth cancer (an attribute I don't think has been demonstrated with worshipping idols) and the health system is burdened by the results of chewing. Still, not analogous, but I'll entertain your idea.

The Dao people have been chewing betel nut for thousands of years, and the nut and its physiological and aesthetic properties have become deeply ingrained with Dao culture as one activity which marks collectively held systems of meaning and customary patterns of thought and behavior shared by the Dao, contributing to Dao group identity. The betel nut is a regarded as a ritual offering, a traditional symbol of exchange between friends and the blackened teeth are traditionally regarded as a symbol of beauty in a woman.

These values may be completely lost on an outsider who is not a part of the Dao community or was raised outside of the Dao cultural program. An outsider may not understand the interconnectivity between the betel nut and social, generational, gender, spiritual and other relationships. What appears ugly or grotesque or "horrible" to you may play a much deeper role in society.

So when this medical team came out from Taitung, they brought with them their own discriminative biases into a culture they didn't understand and they then tried to assert their values onto the locals to "save" them. In the process of saving them they are mounting a direct assault on the entire cosmology of the Dao and the ripple effects of this action and others like it result in the collapse in the social integrity of the group. This is a form of violence that threatens the existence of a way of life.

I later asked my Dao friend about her grandmother's teeth... to which she replied, " they are so ugly, us young people don't believe that anymore".

I hope you catch my drift.

Richard said...

I had some comments, but then I typed the wrong word verif and it all went poof.

So I'll just comment one thing, the goal of Christianity is not to eradicate all other religions and have "every knee bow... every tongue confess..." Rather, the goal of Christianity, or I would rather say, the purpose of Christians, is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul. First and foremost it is the relationship you have with God and yourself.

Michael Turton said...

Richard, then why evangelize? Why the proto-Leninist institutional structure? Why the demand that others must give up their beliefs when they adopt Jesus? To imagine that Christianity is only inner experience is to pretend that the entire superstructure of Christianity, its institutional shapes and imperatives, does not exist. It is because of this institutional structure that I can talk about the goal of "Christianity." If there were no institutional structure, there would be no missionaries.

In any case, the direction is explicit, in several places in the New Testament: Christians are told to march out into the world and convert everyone. Every mind on earth must be changed, and all other religions stamped out. That's what evangelization means, Richard.


Mark said...

You're not man enough to publish my last response to your most recent lambasting of me, Turton. This time you invent a quote out of thin air instead of looking up the biblical passage.

Readin and others, quit wasting your time trying to reason with self-proclaimed experts of multiple fields who are always right in their own eyes... totally unwilling to engage in genuine humble dialogue. I'm been slammed because of my original post by mostly western readers but also some Taiwanese, and I apologize for not having exercised a little more care in my wording. However, to the Taiwanese who have been slamming me, please also note the following unspoken truth: as an atheist, of course Mr. Turton believes that you worship nothing but lifeless idols with no god life in them whatsoever... because neither God nor gods exist. At least the bible affirms that God is god above all gods. Good reminder for the rest of us to admit our blind spots and weaknesses, lest we always end up right in our own eyes. Sorry again to bring all this upon so many of you by one poorly written post... but then again I have a hunch maybe Mr. Turton would have kept on perusing other missionary blogs through the night until he found someone else to make a cheap example of.

Michael Turton said...

You're not man enough to publish my last response to your most recent lambasting of me, Turton.

I don't have any response from you, and I always publish responses to my comments. Clearly you didn't process it correctly.

And yes, I do believe that Taiwanese religious statuary contains no magic powers. So what? I have no desire to make them give up their religion, because they don't want to make me give up mine. We live together in tolerance and harmony. You might try it -- you know, next time you see a religious procession, imagine what it might mean to the participants, rather than praying that it will disappear forever into your own religion.

I don't "make up" quotes. The quote in question is from Philippians 2, as you well know, and says:

9 Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

That reference goes back to Isa 45, as any annotated Bible should tell you, where it indeed refers to the program of the Hebrew sky god to make himself supreme on earth:

21 Come here and declare in counsel together: Who announced this from the beginning and foretold it from of old? Was it not I, the LORD, besides whom there is no other God? There is no just and saving God but me.
Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth, for I am God; there is no other!
By myself I swear, uttering my just decree and my unalterable word: To me every knee shall bend; by me every tongue shall swear,
Saying, "Only in the LORD are just deeds and power. Before him in shame shall come all who vent their anger against him.

And your attempt to declare solidarity with the Taiwanese believers is totally hypocritical and pathetic, since your most recent thought about them was to wish that their religious processions would be swallowed up by your beliefs.


Michael Turton said...

but then again I have a hunch maybe Mr. Turton would have kept on perusing other missionary blogs through the night until he found someone else to make a cheap example of.

Believe me, it would not have taken all night, had I so desired. Missionary blogs are filled with that kind of colonialist crap. But I ordinarily don't waste my time reading them. I actually followed the link from Amanda's blog thinking there might be something interesting there, dutifully looking for stuff my readers might want to see.


Mark said...

Thank you for publishing my last post, Michael. The quotes you quote are accurate, but the one I was referring to, among others, was "the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods." Ps 95:3 Anyway, I didn't check out your commentary in depth but it looks like you must have spent months (at least) working on it.

Michael Turton said...

That was a high compliment, considering. Yes, I did spend months, and since I have no eye, the layout sucks. But there's lots of good information and insight in there.

I hope to get a chance to bring it up to date in the fall.


Anonymous said...

I don't care much for religion one way or the other, but I do question some foreigners concept that religious Taiwanese don't push their religion on others as much as Christians in the west do.

I submit that these foreigners have never attended a moon festival barbecue where the one Taiwanese vegetarian makes life miserable for the rest of their family by scolding them for eating meat. Or for have pet birds, etc. etc.

I often have seen Taiwanese religious people handing out flyers and also coming to my door to request donations. They even send me junk mail.

They may not view foreigners as a useful target for conversion, so you could wrongly assume they are quite reserved about that. Are they really?

And seriously, since temples feature in Taiwanese horror movies, you have to ask yourself if they don't inspire a little bit of horror in the populace. Creepy churches work for me, too.

Red A

Richard said...

Why evangelize? Because as you said, we are called to. But no, that is not the "goal" of Christianity, nor should it be the goal of "Christianity" which has become an institutionalized structure (sadly). If that is what you believe, then that's fine- but as a Christian that is not my goal, nor should it be for other Christians. The bible is clear that the first and greatest commandment is about the relationship with yourself and God.

There is no demanding going on- am I, or the other missionary you quoted, demanding you become a Christian? Yes, perhaps the missionary "prayed that the others (ppl lighting firecrackers) would find Jesus," but was she demanding it on them? It's something she hoped for-- say you like a girl, you wish that they'd also like you, are you demanding them to like you just because you prayed it or wished it? Is it even wrong for you to wish that? Perhaps you believe that her being with you would be the best for the both of you, an that's your own opinion you are entitled to.

Similarly, this is something we believe, and as such, we are called to share Jesus with others- but in no way should we force or demand it on others. Is it even possible to demand it on others? Say I like a certain stock, I recommend it to others, but I surely can't demand you buy it- it's still your choice.

But yes, perhaps the institutionalization of being a Christian into "Christianity" has given off this perception of MUST CONVERT ALL, one which I do not agree with. And no, we aren't called to march out into the world and "convert everyone," we are called to make disciples (share the gospel) of all nations (with all kinds of people, not just Jews, Gentiles, but Caucasians, Taiwanese, etc.). There is no explicit, "convert everyone, for this is what Jesus says you must do." It is just a command to share the gospel with all types of people. Perhaps the "demanding" and converting of "everyone" is something you have come to believe through your previous experiences.

Anyways, I hope I haven't totally made you more against Christians and that at least there's the possibility that there are Christians who aren't irrational idiots, and who don't demand their beliefs on others, and who don't believe it is their right to stamp out all other religions, and who understand that their purpose is to love God, not persuade others to love God.

Thanks for reading Michael.

Anonymous said...

I still remember when I was on my way home from kindergarten, I was scared by those walking idols. Whatever they call it. I found myself and my brother hiding behind pillars. Argh, and those burning fake money stink. Oh and don't forget, another usage of the temple in Taiwan is for some/many people to claim the ownership of land. Since no one dares to touch temple, they enjoy making every beautiful mountain their home. They don't even register and pay for it and they make profits at the same time. How convenient!

Anonymous said...

I was born in a christian family and I hardly PUSH people to believe, but I would share what I learn and how God could help one out and can be dependent, trust worthy for free. People believe it or not, it's not up to me. No one in my church is ever forced to believe, not even my grandma, who came to believe in God first. All people I know who came to believe in God experienced the miracle or are convinced by love and peace in God. Stories how they were obsessed by evil spirit after they drank the water mixed with burning ashes in temple, spending all the family wealth in temple just to heal family member diagnosed with unknown illness by all the superstitious means, at the end they finally came to church and without paying anything, but to be faithful in true and living God, their family member got healed and all the family members witness the miracle that they come to believe in God. They experience those themselves. Always they have tried everything and there's no way to go, they finally come into church FOR A TRY. As for me, being a christian is to reach out my hand when people need and to share the idea that there's someone we can depend on when people are distressed and before that, in case one day they need it, they know where to go. There are turmoils in life sometimes people around can't be any help and all what we can give is some power we believe in that can help and we share it. As it helps, they would believe in God without us talking too much. Have you seen how people spending all the family wealth in temple and suffers? There are lots of them. If anything happens to your family and you try to ask idols, the answer you get is...GIVE ME MONEY 香油錢不夠啦 + worse situation. What we experience is true and can't be disputed. All the witnesses, stories I hear from former generations how they suffer in temple, I would say, yes, horror. Maybe not totally the same way the foreign missionary sees it, but for a spiritual reason. Taiwanese are the most superstitious people and their lives are controlled by many ridiculous rules, although they could have lived freely without those. As my mom was born in the year of tiger, she is not supposed to visit new born baby of my cousin. Being a christian, she still visits despite my aunty's concern (none believer). Respect my aunty's concern? in which way? My aunty witnessed that NOTHING HAPPENS.

Many people are jailed with those ridiculous rules and when they don't follow, they suffer.

Peace be with you in the name of Jesus. Thank to the missionary (not necessarily to be foreigner), the good news they bring, things could be different without drinking water with ashes. We are benefited without paying family wealth and this is a good news to share with people. You are living in Taiwan, but you haven't learned the other side of a temple. Horror it is in spiritual way for the believers, maybe not for an atheist. A temple for them is just culture and a building for sightseeing. Ya, that's one way to see it, but not necessarily the way Taiwanese interact with them.

Anonymous said...

You are still putting a value judgement on how they interact. I don't think Michael's post is trying to be anti-Christian, but it is critical of missionaries bringing their value judgements against culture. If people feel money works for them and want to pay for spiritual well being... that is how they value faith. You value faith in a different way.

One other aspect of the missionary project I have failed to address is how it works to disrupt and marginalize traditional centers of power and replace them with Christian centers of power. In this way the society is fragmented and it becomes easier for the economic colonization to occur... without the same ability to organize and protect against foreign encroachment (usually from something called "Teh West"). Temples have served as social, religious and political centers for hundreds of years in Taiwan, and many rebellions were organized from the temples. They have a function in society that still resonates.
If you have a problem with how people spend their money... don't give your money to a temple. Simple.

Anonymous said...

I do not understand what you are talking about the power temple owns and the power missionary brings. I do not think the power of a temple, the traditional center of power you said is equivalent to the power church brings. The churches in Taiwan has not taken over what power...the temple power you mention and the Christianity power lay on different sphere.

Churches do not have the "social power" function - alright, i am not a catholic. I do not think that church should involve in politic issues. The function of a church is to introduce the God what we all believed in the ancient time, a long lost believe, a culture that was long ago destroyed by what other temple culture. We Taiwanese didn't have those temples before some Chinese came over hundreds of years ago.

People can choose what they want to believe, and I appreciate the work of missionary, that people also get the chance once again to worship the one true God. Pointing out the bias of a temple they do is like uttering opinions, but I don't think missionary ever FORCE people to believe in one true God. In the contrary, the temple does with mystery, with all the "woodoooo" power, which make people live in fear. That's where superstitions com from. Again, Taiwanese are very superstitious people.

One of the temple project was to take over the traditional power of aboriginals. How come no one is blaming and criticizing temple that disrupt and marginalize the culture even more traditional.

I don't see the point to protect this temple culture. If temples finally can't stand against churches, then let it be. (only 4% of christian in Taiwan, no need to worry, too early. Christian will be forever minority anyways)

Taiwanese are free to choose what they want to believe. How missionary earn believers won't be more questionable as temples as I see it.

Anonymous said...

Where can I see those missionaries blogs?

Anonymous said...

I think the issue is that missionaries come to Taiwan and under the presumption that the people here are "incorrect" or have a problem or deficient or lacking knowledge and have decided that they are the knowledgeable ones whose job it is to "enlighten" thee deficient peoples. The relationship starts as a pejorative and an unequal power relationship. The Taiwanese potential convert is lacking and incomplete. It is a very chauvinistic attitude to assume people are lacking because they do not practice what you do. It is also chauvinistic to assume they can be corrected by you (the missionary).

Your history is very anachronistic and fails to account for the constant state of negotiation on Taiwan. Temples were not brought wholesale to Taiwan and remained intact until today.Rather the function of the temple has continued to change through time and fill social spaces where communities come together. Even the manner of temple worship today plays a significant role in the way people imagine themselves and their communities. A great example is how the growth of temples in Taiwan and their increasing opulence is representative of a different set of values (whether you agree with them or not on a personal level) than had been extant just ten years ago. This reflects Taiwanese projections of their economic prosperity and has led to a very interesting phenomenon of Temples severing ties with their home temples in China and assuming the position of dominance and independence. Or in other terms equality. This could be read as a very real and significant demonstration of Taiwanese changing attitudes toward cultural China.

Also remember it was the Dutch Reform Church that entered the villages of Saccam, Sinkan, Mattow, Pongsoya and Dorko to smash idols and chase the Inibs (witches) out of the villages to diminish their power so the Dutch could wrest control over the area unopposed. This was not for the harvesting of new souls, but primarily for economic gain. Many converts in the 19th Century were plains Aborigines seeking extraterritorial protection the clergy could offer in leverage against encroachment. That is not a simple act of free choice but, again, an example of power relationships.

Anonymous said...

You have an interesting narrative "we Taiwanese... before Chinese came" You are moving dangerously close to an essentialist history that will eventually come back to bite you if you decide to keep walking that road.