Friday, 8 January 2010

Taiwan, a Beacon of Tolerance in the New Dark Age of Fundamentalism

From The China Post

"Religious tolerance is such a deeply held Taiwanese value that many here likely don't realize how rare it is. Almost never do we hear about any kind of local religious strife.

The majority of this island's believers follow a composite of Buddhist and Taoist beliefs and there is considerable crossover between the two in terms of deities and practices. Many a Buddhist will happily pray at a Taoist temple and vice-versa. Within the Buddhist-Taoist doctrines there is also considerable leeway for people to follow what they see as right in their own eyes.

For example, while Buddhism does, in fact, promote vegetarianism and some local believers do heed this mandate, many others choose to eat meat or to skip eating meat only on designated holy days. There is little to no condemnation of those who opt out of vegetarianism and, in fact, the entire idea of criticizing another's behavior based on religious edicts is not at all common in Taiwan. When it comes to inter-mixing of faiths, Taiwan also stands out as an example of tolerance. A Christian family would generally have no issue with their child dating a Buddhist and vice versa.

This is not always the case in the United States where even divisions among various Christian sects can mean that the hypothetical pairing of say, a Baptist and a Catholic could result in serious strife between families. There is also very little aggressive proselytizing in Taiwan, but when certain faiths — members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or Mormons to cite one example — do send missionaries here in attempts to convert people — they are generally met with a friendly smile and a respectful attitude. This is not always the case in the U.S. or Europe where quite frequently such missionaries are rejected with force.

It could be Taiwan has evolved such tolerance due to the island's hundreds of years of exposure to various invaders and their faiths. The Dutch and other Western nations who attempted to colonize Taiwan brought both the Protestant and Catholic understandings of Christianity to Taiwan, and these missionaries met with varying success, although a toehold of Christianity was established among the indigenous Taiwanese tribes. From China came folk religions such as the worship of the Goddess Matsu, as well as ancient faiths such as Taoism, and via India, Buddhism. But other places have also enjoyed such multi-religious and multi-cultural exchanges and did not develop the level of tolerance Taiwan enjoys. It could be that the main element that separates Taiwan and many other places is this nation's fundamental lack of religious fundamentalism or intolerance.

Religious fundamentalism is the scourge of our times. Of course, it has reared its ugly head in generations past. “In the name of God” has been a battle cry for far too long. Many scholars date the first modern wars fought with religious overtones to the Muslim conquests of Arabia and surrounding areas — including most of Spain — from 632 to 732 C.E. (Common Era). The Crusades were Christendom's response, but to be fair, the rule of European Christian kings was often marked by less tolerance towards minority faiths than when Muslim leaders were in charge. Muslims and Jews were forced to convert and many were also killed. But, of course, Muslims did their share of killing as well. In many places across Europe, religion today has faded into the background. Many describe modern Europe as “post-Christian.” While many Europeans claim to be skeptics or atheists, many seem to have embraced the new creed of secular humanism or the belief that one should “be good for goodness sake.” This progressive idea does not discount the power and comforting nature of religious belief — and, in fact, studies have shown that religious people tend to live longer and more fulfilling lives — but those ascribing to secular humanism maintain that there is no need to have the threat of hell or the promise of heaven for humans to behave kindly to one another.

Aside from Europe, many other regions of the world are still gripped by the evils of religious intolerance. Unfortunately, this is especially true today in the Muslim world. People who take ancient holy texts as unalterable truths find themselves having to justify thousand-year old injunctions that seem to encourage killing, conquest and forced conversion.

Labeling all Muslims as fundamentalists is, of course, illogical and unjustified. Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population and for the most part the country is extremely tolerant and peaceful. America also has a serious problem with Christian fundamentalists with recent incidents including the religiously motivated killing of abortion providers and U.S. school boards that have rejected the science of evolution in favor of a literal reading of the Biblical book of Genesis that they interpret to mean that the planet has only been around for about 6,000 years. The Jewish and Hindu faiths are also not immune from the scourge of extremist religious thinking.

The problem with fundamentalism is that if there is indeed only one “right way” those who disagree can be lumped into “unbelievers” and therefore dehumanized. When dehumanization occurs it becomes easier to commit atrocities. Recent terrorism and other acts of religious violence demonstrate that the world must move away from religious fundamentalism. Perhaps Taiwan can act as a good example."


Rational Buddhism

Collateral damage



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