Sunday, June 3, 2012

"Why switch from Buddhism?"

About my book, I was asked, "Why should Asian Americans bother with Christianity when they have a perfectly beautiful religion in Buddhism?" Part of my reply was, 

"No question that the combo of colonialism + Christianity in Asia got toxic esp. in the 19th century. But there was good too, e.g., Christianity helped end footbinding, which Buddhism (which itself came as a foreign religion to China, from India) had long tolerated. Meanwhile, Jesus' culture was actually rather more Asian (e.g., emphasis on tradition, family, shame/honor, paradox) than western. I suppose one of the main points of the book is to help Asian American Christians see their faith through their own bicultural eyes."

That Buddhism originally came to East Asia and Southeast Asia very much as a missionary religion is generally neglected. Likewise neglected is the very long history of Christianity in places like China, where it can be documented to at least as far back as the seventh century (e.g., via the Nestorian monk Alopen, as described in the Nestorian Stele).

I am all for the western emphasis on freedom of conscience in religion: that each individual and family should have the freedom to weigh and choose its own religious commitments. To say that "People X should be religion Y" is itself more or less a colonial attitude.

But is this not clearly one more example of the need for cultural contextualization--why did my questioner assume that Christian = western in the first place? Well, if Asian North American Christians simply assimilate into western/majority-culture worship forms, who can blame him?

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