Sunday, August 20, 2006

Kitch as Kitch Can

There's a Taoist temple called "LongShan Temple". In it I saw throngs of people worshiping. Burning incense on bunches of joss sticks at once. Placing food in carefully arranged, ornate arragements. Chanting texts. And on the side, crowding around booths to buy incense, food, and texts to chant. In fact, there seemed to be as much activity in the buying and selling as in the worship itself.

The remarkable thing is that this seemed to bother no one. Just about everyone was doing it: regulars, tourists, monks, teens.

Then I recalled that it is in Christianity that we have the story of Jesus driving out the money changers from the temple. If we didn't have this story, would we be the same way?

Oh, wait... there's a huge market for Christian religious items, from embroidered scripture verses to "Biblical" diet books. But at least we feel this commercialization is a bad thing, right?

I didn't bother to ask anyone there, but I wonder if the worshipers there might not think the commercialization was cheapening the experience in any way.

In a way, it's surprising that it was the West that caught onto the consumerism bug first. A "common sense" approach to religion, which seems to be common all over the world, is that deities are beings who control your circumstances, and you can try to appease them by giving them presents. The most worshiped deity in the Greco-Roman empire was not Zeus or Artemis or anybody we've heard of in our mythology stories. It was Fortuna, the Goddess of Luck. Or as the Greeks called her, Tyche. Doing a risky business venture? Throw a few coins to the Goddess of Luck. Going on a sea voyage? Doesn't hurt to appease Fortuna. When gambling on your last dollar, call out to Lady Luck. And while you're at it, might as well not have any deities feel they're being left out, so let's give a bit to the other folks in the Pantheon.

In a way, it's a very business-like way of doing religion.

Not like Christianity. Jesus bought you with his life. Salvation is for free. You respond by giving your whole life to Him.

Not that people haven't tried bringing back the "common sense" religion back into Christianity. Give a bit of money and take off years in Purgatory. Buy the new best-selling book and your Christian walk will be renewed. Promise to go back to church if God will just help you pass the next exam.

But this approach eventually gets met with disapproval, and eventually, it dissipates.

Everywhere in Taipei I see neon signs and flashing colored animated signs. It's like every street corner is a Times Square. In the West, we see this as kitchy. Cheap. Here, it may be that it's not seen this way at all. In fact, quite a lot of money went into these things. Here, it may be a sign of prosperity. Money doesn't cheapen things here. It's the cost of doing business. In a way, very common sense.

And yet, I think, the money does not belong in the temple. Jesus just might have been onto something here. Non-intuitive. But true.


At 7:05 AM, Blogger James said...

Hey Dr. Iga,

Sorry I was so bad at keeping up this summer, as soon as I got back from India I took a Summer school class (defending the christian faith). Very good class, feel more confident in my ability to defend Christianity apologetically in the face of naturalism, etc. Anyhow, glad you started a blog, I've bookmarked it and will be reading.

Interesting story about the money changers you had. We went to a Buddhist Temple in Hyderabad, and I could not help but think the same thing. It's funny, lately I've found myself in the midst of so many other worldviews and each time I'm confronted with something, it only seems to validate Christianity more and more. A blessing for sure.

Anyhow, keep me posted, I'll be reading, have a great trip and God Bless.


At 3:07 AM, Blogger Kevin Iga said...

Thanks for dropping by, James! Glad you're getting a lot out of seminary. Glad to hear you've made it back from your trip safely. I will be posting. Keep commenting!



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