I consider myself a reasonably civilized human being. I do my best to get along with my fellow travelers on the planet. I wait patiently in line at Big C., even when there are a dozen people ahead of me with shopping carts piled to the sky. I limit my road rage to a few well deserved curses even when the fool in front behind me makes yet another useless attempt to cut me off. I’m nobody’s doormat, but I try to keep it all in perspective.
When it comes to missionaries though, all bets are off! A few times a week I see a couple of them pedaling their way around Lampang. For me it’s like waving a red flag I front of a bull. It would be so easy just to nudge my truck a little to the left and take them right out! But no, I merely project some negative energy at their bland smiling faces and continue on my way. So why do I have such contempt towards these guys? It’s not as if they’ve ever done anything to me personally. Everybody has someone who just “pushes their buttons”. For some it’s used car salesmen. For others it’s politicians. For me it’s missionaries.
I’m actually surprised that the Kingdom of Thailand allows people in to try to convert its people. These guys are actually telling the Thai people that their Buddhist beliefs are evil! Buddhism is not officially a state religion, but it’s pretty damned close to one. The King and royal family regularly participate in Public Buddhist ceremonies. Since Thais love their King to a degree that we will never truly understand, it’s hard to believe that the Thai people would tolerate anyone calling the beliefs of the King evil.
If there are Thais who want to be Christians (or any other religion) that’s fine with me. It’s people who actively try to convert others to their beliefs who raise my ire. Haven’t missionaries created enough problems throughout history?
To be honest, I would think that “selling” Christianity to the Thais wouldn’t be all that easy anyway. Let’s face it, do you know any Thais who are all that susceptible to the concepts of guilt or sin? That of course is the foundation of Christianity. “You’re all born sinners! Get with the program or you will burn for all eternity!” Whatever other faults the Thais may have, it’s hard to see them buying that kind of “snake oil”. The folks I saw partying during Songkran didn’t seem like they thought they were sinning! Even though drinking alcohol is not allowed under Buddhist teachings, I didn’t see a phalanx of angry monks hectoring anyone. My wife and I went to tamboon at a local Wat this week. While there weren’t any vendors on the temple grounds selling beer, there were some selling lottery tickets! You’ve got to love this place!
Buddhism is of course not a religion. It is a philosophy. It is a way of approaching life. There’s no yammering about “God’s will” or preaching that if you don’t follow a specific dogma, you are headed for “the Eternal Pit”. There have been some extraordinarily bloody wars in Asia, but none of them were about converting people to Buddhism! No talk of God commanding them to “smite the unbelievers”. That of course has been the battle cry for western religions for thousands of years. “All those who don’t believe as I do must die!”
It’s important of course to distinguish between religion and spirituality. The former is a set of specific beliefs that must be adhered to. The later is concerned with trying to come to terms with our personal place in the Cosmos.
From the moment man became self aware, he also became aware of his own mortality. The one thing we have always known is that our time here is transitory. We are born knowing that someday we will die, so all of us at some point have to ask the “Big Questions”. Why are we here? Why is all of this here? Does anything lie beyond the veil of death? Can you imagine yourself as an early human being looking up at the stars and asking these questions? It’s not surprising that the first hunter-gatherers spent a lot of time pondering the meaning of life. It’s also not surprising that people first envisioned a great earth mother, from whose womb all life sprang and to whom all life returns one day. These people were intimately connected with the natural world.
Thousands of years later as people developed agriculture and learned the domestication of animals, people stopped wandering and established small villages. Much more elaborate systems of belief developed. Now there were “gods”. It was they who created the world. It was they who brought forth life and were responsible for the physical phenomenon all around them. When there are gods. They must be appeased, lest misfortune fall. And of course where there are gods, there are priests or shamans to intervene between the gods and man.
As villages grew into cities, trade between various groups of people grew also. In addition to goods being bartered, ideas were exchanged as well. People began to realize that there were more than just one set of gods out there. Each group had its own pantheon. Sometimes folks got along. Sometimes those who had visions of power and bigger sticks (and eventually much deadlier weapons) gleefully conquered their neighbors. Obviously their gods must be lot for powerful than those of the folks they vanquished. Time for a few burnt offerings to keep the gods happy!
Flash forward to the days of the Old Testament. Wandering around are a lots and lots of goat herders. One day Abraham hears Yahweh whispering that HE is the ONE AND ONLY TRUE GOD! As a little gift for groveling down and worshiping HIM, God gives him and his descendants the Land of Canaan. Forget about the fact that there are a whole lot of other people living there peacefully worshipping their gods. You have the green light to smite them down in HIS name.
Old Yahweh is a mean old SOB who isn’t happy unless people are falling to their knees sings hosannas to him. He does like barbeque though, since the Bible goes on and on about the number of bullocks and other burnt offerings that HE demands. And he does have his own Devine sense of humor. Take a look at what he does to poor old Job. He lets Satan torment the hell out of him,wipe out his family and more, just to win a bet!
Jews make a big deal out of the fact that THEY were the ones to first believe in Monotheism. Why am I not impressed? Does it matter if you believe in one big God or thousands of small gods, ruled over by a “king of the gods”? Why is one God a superior idea? Especially when it’s old Yaweh, who is just spoiling for an excuse for some serious smiting!
Now I was raise in a basically non-observant Jewish family. No Kosher laws were in play here! Pass the ham, bacon, and shrimp! But to keep up appearances I was forced to go to Hebrew school every for my weekly indoctrination. Unfortunately for my teachers, even as a young boy, I actually had a functioning cerebellum. I had the really annoying habit of asking embarrassing questions, such as: If God created Adam and Eve, and they had two sons, Cain and Abel, where did Mrs. Cain come from? Or, according to the Bible the Earth was created about 5,000 years ago, but scientists say the Earth is billions of years old. How can that be? What about life on other planets? There are so many religions, and they all claim to be the only true one, how can Jews prove that that Judaism is the correct one? The answers never came, only the admonition to be quiet and stop asking “foolish questions”! “No sir, no way! I will not be silenced!” Actually I did shut up, but only because it was a waste of time. My little kid’s mind however was firmly committed to finding out the “Truth”, whatever that turned out to be. That I think was the beginning of my lifelong passion for Science. You may accuse me of western prejudice, but one of the greatest contributions of Western Civilization is the development of the Scientific Method. If you want to understand a phenomenon there are clear steps to follow in order to come to a reasonable conclusion. Based on careful observation you come up with a hypothesis. Next you perform experiments and based on your results you come up with a theory. If done correctly, your results should be able to be replicated by anyone. It’s not by any means a perfect system. Our observations may be faulty. Our experimental data might not be accurate, and above all else it is possible to arrive at erroneous conclusions. But it’s still the best method we have to attempt to understand the physical universe around us.
The folks around during Biblical days were clueless about how the natural world operated. Thunder and lightning? Earthquakes and volcanoes? God is obviously pissed off about something. The Earth was flat. The sun moved around the Earth. Stop asking questions! So why is it then it comes to “Ultimate Realities” people actually believe these guys?
God was always whispering in people’s ears. Does anyone remember the old Bill Cosby comedy routine about Noah? A voice thunders out of the sky, “Build me an ark!” Noah says, “Right! What’s an ark?” Seriously though, today not too many people report pillars of fire, and if a friend of yours told you that he had a voice in his head commanding him to do things, you would ether get him to the nearest psych ward…..or just quietly start backing away!
Okay, I’ve said enough about the Old Testament. What about Christianity? Right off the bat they did something that the Jews failed to do. Make everyone feel that they were hopeless sinners, and they were all bound for everlasting damnation! Judaism really doesn’t talk much about Heaven, Hell and an afterlife. That is the central point of Christianity. Either you accept Jesus as your Savior, or else it’s into the pit with you! Shit, if you can really convince people of that, you have them by the scrotum. If I believed in immanent damnation I’d do anything to avoid that fate! Guilt, sin, fear! No wonder the Church had such sway over people’s lives. The ironic thing is that Jesus (whoever he really was) had few profound things to say. If people would actually live their lives according to the “Golden Rule” the world would be a much better place.
What is so amazing is that Christians can’t even agree among themselves what the “true” faith is! Just for fun, imagine a kind of “cage fight” among all the different sects of Christianity. The line up would include: a Roman Catholic, a Greek Orthodox, an Episcopalian, a Methodist, a Lutheran, a 7th day Adventist, a born again Baptist, a Quaker, a Unitarian, a Mormon, a Jehovah’s Witness and any others you’d care to name. Let them slug it out and see who knows what Jesus was thinking! Nothing is bloodier than devout believers arguing among themselves. History is all too full of heretics being burned at the stake. Do you know that the office of the Holy Inquisition is still alive and well? The Catholic Church doesn’t exactly go around advertising the fact. Yes, the folks who made Galileo recant the fact that the Earth moves around the sun are still quietly there and ready to defend the faith! And let us not forget the Jesus killing Jews. Those suckers are always going to pay and pay and pay! So is anyone else who gets in the way of the Lord. That’s why we need missionaries. We have to save the souls of all those poor little Hindu and Buddhist children who are going to be damned for all of eternity if they accept Jesus’ “love”. Boy that’s one merciful God for you! If the Bible was really true. If God would really condemn babies to Hell, I’d be signing up to fight for old Lucifer! The God of the Bible, for someone who is all-knowing and all powerful, sure allows some pretty horrendous things to happen to innocent people….even people who devoutly worship Him! But who are we to understand the working of “God’s Will”? That phrase is enough to make a rational person vomit!
Speaking of missionaries, I want to return to these guys on their bicycles here in Lampang. The happen to be Mormon. I have no special gripe against Mormons. Mormonism is very interesting. Just when you think all those Prophets having visions existed thousands of years ago, along comes Joseph Smith to prove P.T Barnum’s old maxim that a “sucker is born every second”. Millions of people actually believe in the Book of Mormon. Man oh man. There are some big-time whoppers in that one! I could actually go for the polygamy part, as long as we’re not talking forcing children into what is basically molestation. If consenting adults want to form plural marriages, it’s up to them. Hey, all of your Biblical patriarchs had more than wife. It would certainly cut down on adultery….maybe. Anyway, Mormons are especially zealous when it comes to Missionary work. They’ve knocked on my door a few times back in the U.S. I politely but firmly told them to piss off. I can only imagine what they are telling the poor Thais here. Perhaps the fantastic fairy tale appeals to the Thais. I guess I’ll never know. It’s just none of my business.
Okay that’s enough about Christianity for the moment. As for Islam, well…….I’m not stupid enough to think that in this day and age you can get away with “dissing” the Prophet. These guys don’t fool around. I think you can probably draw your own conclusion about that particular faith! These guys take Jihad seriously. It’s just dumb luck that a car bomb hasn’t gone off in one of the places many of the folks who read Stickman like to hang out. It will probably happen someday. I shudder to think that eventually some guys who are set on meeting their 20 virgins in Paradise will get their hands on a nuke.
Hinduism is kind of interesting. While I hardly believe in their pantheon of gods, the idea of cycles of creation and dissolution may turn out to be true. Certainly modern cosmology seriously considers the idea plausible. Some the Vedic philosophy also seems to have some relationship to Quantum Physics. Reincarnation? If you’re going to believe in the idea of an immortal soul, multiple lifetimes to go through a “cosmic” learning process sounds better than “one shot” and it’s Heaven or Hell. One way or another, if there is something more to experience, we’ll know about it immediately after our deaths. So don’t worry, be happy!
As for Buddhism, there are many forms of it practiced all throughout Asia. Tibetan Buddhism (Mahayana) has a number of differences from the Theraveda version practiced in Thailand, but all branches try to teach how to live in harmony. In Thailand there is still a lot of pre-Buddhist animism mixed in with the Buddha’s teachings. Thais take things like ghosts seriously. My wife once had me take a beer and a slice of pizza out to our spirit house to jeep the ghosts “happy”. I suppose I would be happy if someone brought me a beer and some pizza! In any case, even if one doesn’t believe in Buddhism, visiting a Wat can be a very peaceful experience. At least there’s not a statue of a bloody corpse to bring everybody down. And who would you chat with, the Pope of the Dalai Lama? Enlightenment sounds appealing. I’ve been practicing meditation daily for almost forty years. I can say that it has been beneficial to me personally, but I would never try to inflict it on anyone.
Believe it or not, for all my ranting about religion, I do believe that there is a place for spirituality (in the broadest sense) in my life. I don’t presume to talk about your lives! Even though I believe in Science, I realize its limitations. We’ve learned so much about the laws of nature. We know about the early history of the Universe immediately following the Big Bang, and yet Science is unable to answer the fundamental question of WHY any of this exists at all! If all the energy and matter came exploding out of a primordial singularity. We still can’t say HOW it all existed before exploded outward into the Universe we know. It just isn’t satisfying to say, well it just happened. We desperately crave to know the how and why of it all! (at least I do!) I have my own personal views on “what it’s all about”, and if we meet up one day we can discuss it over a glass or two. But I won’t bore you with my personal view on as Douglas Adams once said, “Life, the Universe and Everything.”
Whatever gets Thai people through their lives is okay with me. But like it or not this is a Buddhist society. So, to all of you Missionaries out there (and it would be interesting if there were some Missionaries that cruised over to Stick’s site) Just go home. Just leave the folks here alone. They’re doing just fine. They aren’t sinners and they don’t need any saving, except of course from folks like you!
I could not agree more. I can't stand the missionaries. They are a blight on the landscape as far as I am concerned.
I will never forget the experience I had with two young missionaries – probably straight out of university in the States – in Korat a few years back. They had obviously been schooled in the local lingo and when they saw me walking down the soi in which mother in law's house is in very casual clothes (hey, I was going for a walk and it was hot), they greeted me and then said some cheeky words about me in Thai to the locals they were talking to. They got back a lot worse than they delivered, I can tell you. That experience is one I won't forget in a hurry…
There is one word to describe them: unwanted.