It might surprise you to learn that I never set out to be controversial, disparaging, or offensive in my blog. I run through each article trying to insure no one would be insulted. It is genuinely perturbing when my writing causes some readers to become indignant. This article is different. I know some will find it insulting, but I still want to post it. It’s on a subject that, because of my jobs, has had an outsized affect on my expat life. Christians. Specifically Asians—living in Asia—who have personally felt the need to convert to Christianity.
Just for context, I’m definitely not an atheist. I can be kind of agnostic sometimes, but generally believe in something greater than myself. Personally my religious beliefs and observances tend to be a poorly thought out hodgepodge of Buddhism, Christianity, and religious Taoism. I have no problem with religion. I think it offers hope, peace, and psychological support for many. That’s beautiful. Nor do I have a specific issue with Christianity. I’m a big admirer of Jesus, but some of his fans—not so much.
I began my expat journey almost twenty-five years ago teaching in a cram school on Korea’s coast. The school’s owner, my direct boss, Mr. Lee, was an ardent catholic. As I was newly arrived from Canada, that seemed natural to me, and I didn’t think much about it.
As I got to know him, I came to recognize some of his shortcomings as a boss. The biggest problem for us employees was that he was bereft of a moral center. He was being medicated for a psychological condition. I’m not sure if being conscienceless was a symptom of his condition. He did lots of amoral things. A small example was offering a job to a person in Canada, who then booked and bought a ticket to Korea, to be reimbursed later. Before he arrived, Mr. Lee found another candidate he preferred. The poor Canadian found himself out the price of the ticket, jobless, and broke in a foreign country. The only thing that saved him was that the other teachers stood up to Mr. Lee and insisted he honor his word.
Stuff like that happened continually. I was the one who mostly had to deal with Mr. Lee, since I was the senior teacher. He confessed once that he couldn’t distinguish right from wrong, and had difficulty putting himself in other’s shoes. He further stated that was why he liked Catholicism. I didn’t entirely understand his meaning, but filed the information away.
A couple years later I found myself in Taipei teaching English at a Christian organization when Mr. Lee’s words came slamming back. My boss there was a carbon copy of Mr. Lee. He was a vocal Christian much given to pontificating on Christianity and our Christian mission, but when you scratched the surface he was morally defective. This time I wasn’t the senior teacher, but he did keep me astride of some of his meetings with our boss. The boss clearly struggled to distinguish good from bad. I dealt with a lot of Taiwanese Christians at that job, most of them were wonderful people, but a seemingly higher than normal percentage lacked a moral center.
Also, hard-right ultraconservative evangelical groups have found fertile soil for recruitment in Taiwan [see: Gloria Hu]. These groups, such as International House of Prayer (IHOP) and the Bread of Life Christian Church, are hate groups, or at least share many of their characteristics. Of course, the rise of these groups is not solely a Taiwanese phenomena, but the speed of their rise here reinforces my biases, and hints at moral turpitude among a significant portion of Taiwan’s Christian community.
Which brings me to my hypothesis: If you’re born into a religion it means nothing; but, if you choose one, it says something about your personality. If you’re born into a Christian family, and you continue to follow that religion, it doesn’t provide insight into your personality. You’re just following your family tradition. So, if you’re Asian and you’re born into a Christian family, none of this applies to you. However, a noticeable portion of Asian Christians arrive in that religion because they recognize a personal flaw and they need Christianity’s clearly stated Manichean distinctions between good and evil—Thou shalt not….
Buddhism and Taoism do not provide such a clear list of does and don’ts. Both have a moral code that followers are encouraged to adhere to, but it’s presentation is fuzzy. A lot of it is about finding the true nature of something, someone, or yourself and then allowing that something, someone, or yourself to follow its true nature. Or, seeking to accept the nature of your existence. [Please forgive my extreme, and somewhat inaccurate oversimplification, I’m trying to make a point about Christians, not discuss Eastern religion].
If you’re born unable to distinguish good from evil, but aspire to goodness, Buddhism and Taoism can be indecipherable for the novice [high-context religions]. Whereas, at the very front of the bible there’s The Ten Commandments [low-context religion]. It is easy to see the appeal of Christianity for people lacking a moral compass. Christianity doesn’t change these people. Unfortunately, inability to empathize isn’t a religious failing, it’s a character failing.
These are my personal experiences, you may have had a completely different experience of Christians in Asia. I hope you have. With my jobs I’ve rubbed elbows with an unusual number of Asian Christians. It hasn’t been an entirely positive experience, and has left me a little wary of Christians here.