Wednesday, August 29, 2012

{Observations on Religion & Culture}

Living in a different country submerges you into a new culture and society with priorities that often differ and clash with our own. One of the biggest thoughts that I've been mulling over in my head over the past few months is the effects of a vacuum of religion in China and how it's affected the culture and people here. While I don't think I have it completely ironed out like I'd like to, I did want to share some of the observations I've had while living here so far.

The Chinese culture is rich with traditions. There is a way and a time for everything to be done. Most of it is deeply rooted in ancient belief systems that are now archaic and expunged from the public mindset today. The result is an inability to explain where their traditions come from. I've found this to be particularly true lately when I ask where phrases or different aspects of holidays come from. They think about it for a moment, and realize that they don't have any great answers, it's just " always been". Tradition creates a sense of order and understanding in community, but what happens when we lose the meanings behind our traditions?

Views towards casual and close relationships and the commitment involved with marriage are handled differently from what I've witnessed so far. While there is definitely a growing trend in America towards more informal and easily dissolved marriages and romantic relationships, it seems to be an even more widely accepted arrangement in China. People who get married here may very well get married for "love", but the process seems far more like a business transaction to me. I've seen more than a few instances affected by the "One Child Policy" Where the choice between abortion and marriage push women to marry men that they would have never intended to do so in order to keep a child. and I've seen women marry simply because they want to have a child period, and it's a good business arrangement for them. The "affair" is a commonplace practice here on both sides of the gender divide and the monogamy of marriage doesn't seem to apply in the same way that it would at home. That being said, there are always the exceptions to rules in both cultures. This has just been my generalized observation so far.

It seems to me that when communism took over, China embraced much of the modernism that we enjoy in America and in other westernized countries. It also seems like they took some of our worst habits and amplified them. The first of which being materialism. The need to have the newest fad in fashion, technology, and automobile seems to be on the front of the mind of most Chinese. The concept of living simply and under budget doesn't seem to be a well spread one because the emphasis on happiness here seems to be based on the biggest and best object of your affection. While this greed and materialism is alive and well in America, it seems to be tempered with other idealism and the existential motivations of religion. From birth to death the primary goal here in China is to make the most money and be the best _____ in school, work, and society and to revel in the material rewards. It has certainly given me cause to ponder on my own life goals and priorities. What's the most important thing in life to me? And what would life be without all of the gadgets we fill it with?

The people here in China are not bad people, quite the opposite. I've met countless individuals here that are kindhearted, giving, service oriented, and seemingly in search of more out of their lives. Until now, I've never really considered how much of an effect religion has on our lives as far as giving us extended purpose beyond the here and now in our lives. A society rooted in religion makes its laws, priorities, and way of life based on the principles taught in that religion, for better or for worse. 

With that I'm sure I could steer this in the direction of politics, I won't ( because I don't like to jump into that mess, especially on the Internet), except to say that for me, I'm grateful to be from a country where it's an option.


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