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Sender: H-Net list for Asian History and Culture <H-ASIA@H-NET.MSU.EDU>
From: "Leibo, Steven A." <leibo@cnsvax.albany.edu>
Subject: H-ASIA: Query: Religious Intolerance )

Religious Intolerance

A dialog on the H-Asia list
August 1998

Date: Thu, 13 Aug 1998 13:45:40 -0400
From: Frank Tedesco <tedesco@uriel.net>

Query: Fundamentalist Attacks

South Korean Buddhist temples and monuments have been subject to numerous acts of vandalism and arson attacks by extremist self-described Christians in recent decades and in the present. Where else in recent history in Asia/Pacific or Africa have Bible wielding fundamentalists (of recent vintage) assaulted the long established or indigenous religions of their own countries? What influence have foreign missionaries had in these activities?

I am aware of anti-missionary issues in a few countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka but I am unable to document the controversies and events. Academic forums are being planned in South Korea to address this unsettling problem. Any bibliographic help and leads will be very much appreciated.

Date: Fri, 14 Aug 1998 07:17:48 -0400
From: Kagillogly@aol.com

In partial answer to Frank Tedesco's inquiry:

My answer primarily concerns my experience in the Solomon Islands about 15 years ago). The Solomon Islands are a Pacific Island nation in the southwest Pacific. Fundamentalists often attacked evidence of indigenous religion, especially in the earlier days of missionary activity. It probably doesn't occur now simply because 98% of the population is now Christian.

In the past, some truly fervent missionaries led the charge. Since the mid-1970s, there has been quite a change in missionaries' attitudes. Most no longer preach that traditional indigenous religion is devil-worship, for instance. As you know, attitudes in the west have liberalized considerably regarding tolerance for religion. (That does not mean that there are no extremist fundamentalists out there, of course, but it's not the norm.) The curious thing in the Solomons is that the foreign missionaries, to the extent that they are still there, have become much more liberal and tolerant. It is local followers -- who are NOT converts, they have been born into their religion -- who are most ardent in their attacks.

The dynamics of this are interesting. The political and economic conditions in the Solomons, of course, are very different from those of Korea, but here are some points that might be interesting to compare:

  • while foreign missionaries may not now be responsible for these actions, if there has been a history of such activities, it may have become a part of the 'cultural text' of a given church to destroy the devil and his works; I have met people who were genuinely horrified by and sometimes afraid of those who practiced the 'old' religion;
  • national pride: many are embarassed by evidence of their recent 'dark and benighted' past, feel it demeans them in the eyes of the rest of the world, and attempt to destroy evidence of their 'uncivilized' days;
  • a considerable touch of millenarism/cargo cultism__I often met fundamentalist Christians who insisted that they could not enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless they had the material trappings of western 'civilization,' and that it was essential that ALL people of the nation adhere to the new religion if ANY were.

It is important to note that these are indigenous dynamics, and foreign missionaries, where they still existed, were often dismayed by these beliefs on the part of their flock. While specific forms of the expression of intolerance may come from their missionary past, the occurrence today has to do with relations within the people of the country.

Another issue you might want to explore in order to understand this phenomenon is:

  • Class and political affiliations. Are political leaders associated with Buddhism or with Christianity? Is there a class difference in religious affiliation? Consider the Indonesian experience (both more recent, and in the 1960s, e.g., Muslims vs. rural Hindus)

As for Thailand, I am most familiar with the North. There's not a high rate of conversion to Christianity in Thailand, and very very few of the converts are ethnic Thai. Most of the Christians in the North are members of the upland ethnic minorities. To the extent that intolerance is expressed toward local religion, it is only among members of their own ethnic groups. The social reality for these people is that they are on the fringes of Thai society, often considered foreign and lacking national identity cards. They would never attack Buddhist temples as it would make them too vulnerable to sanctions.

Again, this dynamic has changed. The Thai government has made a great effort in the past 15 years to 'modernize' and 'civilize' the "hill tribes." They go to Thai schools and boarding schools, are taught Buddhism and allegiance to the Thai king, and generally encouraged to 'become Thai.' I don't know if this increased access to Thai schooling and acculturation has had any affect on rates of conversion to Christianity.

Best wishes,

Kate Gillogly
Ph.D. Candidate
U. of Michigan

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