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September 24, 2017

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Ending the scourge of religious intolerance

Religious tolerance is such a deeply held Taiwanese value that many here likely don't realize how rare it is. Almost never do we hear about any kind of local religious strife.

The majority of this island's believers follow a composite of Buddhist and Taoist beliefs and there is considerable crossover between the two in terms of deities and practices. Many a Buddhist will happily pray at a Taoist temple and vice-versa. Within the Buddhist-Taoist doctrines there is also considerable leeway for people to follow what they see as right in their own eyes.

For example, while Buddhism does, in fact, promote vegetarianism and some local believers do heed this mandate, many others choose to eat meat or to skip eating meat only on designated holy days. There is little to no condemnation of those who opt out of vegetarianism and, in fact, the entire idea of criticizing another's behavior based on religious edicts is not at all common in Taiwan. When it comes to inter-mixing of faiths, Taiwan also stands out as an example of tolerance. A Christian family would generally have no issue with their child dating a Buddhist and vice versa.

This is not always the case in the United States where even divisions among various Christian sects can mean that the hypothetical pairing of say, a Baptist and a Catholic could result in serious strife between families. There is also very little aggressive proselytizing in Taiwan, but when certain faiths — members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or Mormons to cite one example — do send missionaries here in attempts to convert people — they are generally met with a friendly smile and a respectful attitude. This is not always the case in the U.S. or Europe where quite frequently such missionaries are rejected with force.

It could be Taiwan has evolved such tolerance due to the island's hundreds of years of exposure to various invaders and their faiths. The Dutch and other Western nations who attempted to colonize Taiwan brought both the Protestant and Catholic understandings of Christianity to Taiwan, and these missionaries met with varying success, although a toehold of Christianity was established among the indigenous Taiwanese tribes. From China came folk religions such as the worship of the Goddess Matsu, as well as ancient faiths such as Taoism, and via India, Buddhism. But other places have also enjoyed such multi-religious and multi-cultural exchanges and did not develop the level of tolerance Taiwan enjoys. It could be that the main element that separates Taiwan and many other places is this nation's fundamental lack of religious fundamentalism or intolerance.

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