Saturday, July 19, 2008

Cute? Solemn? Stately?

Last Sunday, a neighbor who organizes field day activities for senior citizen groups all over this part of Taiwan invited me to observe their croquet event in an adjacent township. I chatted with another neighbor who was there manning the sound system. Then I got into a conversation with a nurse on hand for the event. She asked me if I had been to many temples in Taiwan.

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 scare us/leave us alittle horrified. She responded, in contrast, that she thought they looked  cute.

CUTE? When I shared this comment with two neighbors one evening, including the one who is in fact a professional woodcarver crafting many of these things, they both emphatically responded that in no way are they cute!  莊嚴 (dignified, solemn, stately) was my woodcarver friend's  response.

That leads me to today, almost a week later. An idol parade has just passed by my house involving a couple of hundred people. A few idols were paraded in their chairs, and lots of other people were dressed up as gods. The reverberating chaos of firecrackers nearly scared my birds to death.

Most of the men were chain-smoking cigarettes, betel-nut chewers spitting their betel-nut on the ground. More of them, including one man from NanTou who greeted me by the temple when I went out on a quick errand, had had a lot to drink. I saw a number of folks parading down the street with beers in hand.

Dignified? Solemn? Stately? This particular crowd may have been very different due to the nature of those down the street who were organizing (clarification:a number of "eels"- Taiwanese for Chinese gangs or hei1dao4, known for their prevalence in this part of the country) have moved in down the street inviting a number of youths to come over, with the neighbors telling me they they seek to avoid eye contact or interaction with them, and so should I in order to keep safe), , but those are certainly not the adjectives I'd use to describe the gods nor the events organized to worship them. When yet another neighbor two doors down lit firecrackers in their honor, my prayer from inside the house was that Jesus would be glorified on the street and in the lives of those who passed by. As for the gods themselves, "May the Lord rebuke you.... "(clarification: meaning being, it's for God and not for me to take care of!)

12 comments:

Amrita said...

I find your blog very captivating LY.

Got here through Moissionary Blogs which linked you.

I feel the same about idols , temple and idol worship.In no way are they cute, stately or dinified.

Michael Turton said...

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

It is too bad you said that. As far as I know, they inspire horror only in those who have made it their mission to stamp out all other forms of belief. For those of us who welcome a world of choice, diversity and tolerance, they are indeed cute, stately, and dignified. Their complex beauty and age-old beliefs are a source of wonder and enjoyment to me, and I never get tired either of learning about them or of photographing them. Many, many foreigners feel that way about them, judging from the number of positive blog posts and personal comments about temples in Taiwan, and the great interest foreigners show in them.

And given the torture-murder idol worshiped by Christians, along with the millions butchered in its name around the world, Christian missionaries are obviously not in a position to call Other People's Idols "horrors." Whatever you may say about them, no one has ever committed cultural destruction and genocide in their name.

Michael

Geoff said...

When I look at the "gothic" cathedrals in Europe, at the gargoyles and monstrances, of the leering faces on the bosses over the womens' side of the churches, of the bleeding tortured figure on a wooden cross, and the offered chalice of symbolic blood and a priest saying "Drink this......" then I recoil. I look at the flagellation ceremonies, the mortification of the flesh and the lice ridden filthy hermits living in squalor, I recoil. I look at the history of the church, the genocide practised in its name and with its blessing, I recoil. I look at the papers in Australia with the Pope apologising for the sexual abuse of children by the clergy. I recoil.
But when I look at Taiwan, the Buddhist and Daoists who live a non aggressive faith I rejoice in its beauty, gentleness and generosity. Their dignity and cermonies you cannot possibly understand and you have no right to criticise or comment negatively in your naiive western ignorance. How can you say that the figures inspire horror with their colour, the gentleness of the ceremonies and the generous offerings of food? Did you realise that "dragons" in China are not only symbols of good fortune, but also of protection. Did you realise that the faces and figures are depictions of the facets of human personality?
I write as an ex-christian (Anglican) minister of religion who realised the false doctrine and dogma many years ago and became a free thinking pseudo buddhist. Christianity over 2000 years has proven over and over to be the bloodiest of religions whose followers twist the man-written "word of god" to suit their own nefarious ends. You could retract your comment and open your eyes, after all it is the 21st century. Geoff

Steve said...

Flaw in your logic, buddy. "Many of us foreigners..."

Really? You've done the math? How did you do it??

People like you really create problems for other foreigners. Your personal narrow opinions and bigoted intolerance reflect on all non-Taiwanese, and as a result, the people whose religion you just pissed on see us as the stereotype of the rude and aggressive foreigner, who just can't keep his/her mouth shut, even when he's a visitor in someone else's country.

So here a bit of advice: Next time you need to do your Jesus thing, keep it to yourself.

Little Yellow said...

I am sorry to have insulted some of you. Looks like a few of you are just looking to flame Christians for the sake of flaming. I am sorry for the negative and painful experiences you have endured.

Thank you for the comment about gargoyles. Sharp observation. But
funny how inconsistent some of the other thoughts posted above are in their logic. First, though tragic atrocities have been committed in the name of Christianity, the numbers killed fall far below those killed in the names of Hitler, Mao, Khan, etc. Better take a refresher course in world history!

Also, just curious: how long have you who are in Taiwan been on island? How far beyond Taipei (or whatever urban center you are in) does your knowledge and experience of folk Taiwanese culture extend? Have you learned either Chinese or Taiwanese? Actually attended any of the parades I am mentioning? Would love to read more about those experiences.

By the way, a couple of neighbors on my block - - who believe in the same faiths you say I am criticizing (though actually I have many friends who are Buddhists and Daoists and do not "push" my Jesus upon them), apologize for some of the things they see. You may or not know that in much of Taiwan, temples are centers not just of religious activity but also community and economic centers. They are also widely known to most Taiwanese as centers of gang activity (maybe you can confirm this with some of your Taiwanese friends).

As a matter of fact, yesterday fights broke out at the temple between rival gangs that were carrying knives and some say guns-- don't know if the latter is true but the police were summoned to end the fighting at this "dignified" event.

Little Yellow said...

I should also add Falungong to the list of faiths which friends with whom I am presently interacting on a regular basis (without flaming) profess. Funny and entirely inconsistent how it's chiefly Christianity which is not tolerated in a post-modern western world.

Mark said...

"I saw a number of folks parading down the street with beers in hand."

It sure is nice that Taiwan doesn't have the same draconian "open container" laws that are so common in America.

"First, though tragic atrocities have been committed in the name of Christianity, the numbers killed fall far below those killed in the names of Hitler, Mao, Khan, etc. Better take a refresher course in world history!"

Take a history lesson yourself, pal. Hitler was not only Christian, but he spoke in Christian terms frequently. This is from wikipedia:

In public statements, especially at the beginning of his rule, Hitler frequently spoke positively about the Christian heritage of German culture and his belief in the "Aryan" Christ. Joachim Fest wrote, "Hitler knew, through the constant invocation of the God the Lord (German: Herrgott) or of providence (German: Vorsehung), to make the impression of a godly way of thought."[7] He used his "ability to simulate, even to potentially critical Church leaders, an image of a leader keen to uphold and protect Christianity," according to Ian Kershaw.

Hitler was also a teetotaler.

Michael Turton said...

Also, just curious: how long have you who are in Taiwan been on island? How far beyond Taipei (or whatever urban center you are in) does your knowledge and experience of folk Taiwanese culture extend? Have you learned either Chinese or Taiwanese? Actually attended any of the parades I am mentioning? Would love to read more about those experiences.

Are you freaking serious? I've been here about 15 years and I live in "rural" Tanzi. Most of the long-termers here speak Chinese, at least.

And yes, if you write anything as stupid as saying Taiwanese idols are a "horror" while saying that most foreigners believe such nonsense, you're going to get flamed. WTF were you thinking?

Bringing up Hitler is a bad idea. The fact that Mao and Hitler killed a lot of people does not in any way excuse the Christian religion from its own 2000 year murder spree (and of course, the vast, vast majority of German Christians cooperated whole-heartedly with Hitler). Further, Christianity, Nazism, and Communism are all authority-centered beliefs whose values are rooted in transcendent absolutes -- God, the State, the objective laws of history (Lenin copied the structure of party-society relations from early Christianity, in fact). All three kill for the same reasons -- because they have absolute values. Behind every claim to absolute values is a sword itching to come out.

You may or not know that in much of Taiwan, temples are centers not just of religious activity but also community and economic centers. They are also widely known to most Taiwanese as centers of gang activity (maybe you can confirm this with some of your Taiwanese friends).

Why yes, we all know that. I've frequently commented on that in my blog. The integration of Taiwanese religion into ordinary life here (including gang and political activity) is one of the more interesting things about it, the prime example being the famous Mazu festival run by legislator Yen Ching-piao. But it is wrong to view that as a temple-based phenomenon. Both organized crime and temples are deeply integrated into society and thus naturally integrated with each other.

In any case, what gangsters in powerful local temples has to do with anything is a mystery. Whatever you may say about Chinese folk religion, it doesn't go around the world demanding that everyone become a Chinese folk religionist, destroying other peoples' religious art, stamping out their beliefs, and so on. Chinese believers mind their own business. An attitude I commend to you.

Funny and entirely inconsistent how it's chiefly Christianity which is not tolerated in a post-modern western world.

If you don't give tolerance, you don't get it.

Oh, and before you go off on how I don't understand the Bible or Xtianity etc, here's my Commentary on Mark. Enjoy.

Michael

Adam said...

You are very selective in your references, and you have shot yourself in the foot!
Firstly Hitler was by nature and culture Lutheran, an off-shoot of the Catholic Church which did next to nothing, maybe was even complicit, to halt the genocide of the Jews. The Catholic Church, and the protestants were responsible for the witch persecutions and the Inquisition which resulted in the deaths of whole communities across Europe. Subsequent activities and colonisation of the Americas saw the torture and persecution in "god's name" of indiginous populations in the cruelist, most sickening and barbaric manner. President Bush hides behind a thin veneer of christianity in his war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and seems ready to invade Iran at the drop of a hat. You conveniently forget the horrors of Kosovo, Croatia, and the former Yugoslav republic in which christians slaughtered Muslims and vice versa.
Taiwan's Baptist inspired "Hokkien harvest" is so crass in its dismissal of Taiwanese culture, the tearing down of family altars and forcing foreign values upon families who have been peaceful and content with their lot. I witnessed the Benny Hinns ministry and was apalled at the gullibility of ordinary people who have made this charlatan a millionaire in the name of a "jesus".
If you studied comparative religions you will quickly find far worse horrific images in so called christian churches than you would in other religions. What other religion worships the depiction of a bloodied and tortured man, and shows eviscerated images to impressionable young? What other religion glorifies the painful mortification of the living? What other religion and society permits polygamy and the sexual exploitation of minors in "god's name"?
You in your christian naiivety need to open your eyes to the real world and the social consequences of your naiive (but probably well intentioned) actions. Your references to Taiwanese carrying beer are very odd considering that the church has huge investments in the alcohol industry and even produces its own! With your attitude I think you need to quickly return from whence you came and learn some tolerance and culture.

David Peters said...

Taiwanese temples may have some criminal elements associated with them. WOW! Consider Opus Dei, the Mafia etc. Now you mentioned Hitler. He was a Lutheran. Mao, whose philosophy was influenced by Marx, Stalin and Lenin was an opportunistic ruthless atheist and your argument is therefore quite invalid. I have lived in Taiwan. I am married to a Taiwanese (thank goodness)and I have attended parades, funerals, weddings and temple celebrations. The images at least are cute, colourful and beautiful, otherwise thought provoking and relevant to a culture to which you do not belong. If you do not understand, allow those who do to continue their beliefs without criticism. Your comment about Taiwanese excusing the parades etc is a no-brainer because Chinese smile when they are embarrassed, apologise when there is no need and sometimes put down their own culture needlessly in front of westerners. It has been that way for centuries. Next you will be criticizing the saltiness of soy compared to ketchup!
You have such a lot to learn about Taiwan!

Little Yellow said...

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 way do I want to see the lovely culture here stamped out.

I don't particularly agree with "open container laws" and also decry cultural/historical mandates like prohibition! Drinks on the house for all of you as far as I'm concerned. The simple - but obviously misunderstood - reason for making the alcohol reference was to make the point that this was a wild, noisy 熱鬧 celebration. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it's certainly not the same as a dignified or solemn celebration!

In the entry referenced above, I made the unfortunate mistake of originally 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 should speak well enough having been here 15 years (see a lot on his posts) - 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 on his article, that is obviously not at all the kind of thing I am talking about....

Little Yellow said...

With regard to Adam's and other's sad but fair observations about the complicity of the church in Germany prior to WWII, it's tragic how so many refused to stand up. I wonder how many of us commenting here, living under that kind of intense fear, would have had the guts to stand up and do differently. Have to go through it to know.

Check out the stories of Christians who resisted by googling "Confessing Church" or read about Deitrich Bonhoeffer - a Lutheran pastor executed by the Nazis for his attempts to undermine the Hitler regime.