“Don’t give me philosophy. Give me power!” The Taiwanese are a practical people. They want practical help in daily life. So when it comes to religion, they believe and do what works. Abstract philosophies and ineffective gods will not do.
How can something invisible like gods and spirits help them in daily life? The Taiwanese believe the spirits can affect the human realm. So they will seek a personal relationship with the gods and spirits in order to harness the powers of the spirit realm to practically benefit the human realm.
Practical religion in Taiwan
They visit the god’s temple to make offerings and to pray. And they will stay faithful to that god as long as it seems to be helping them. But if that god isn’t working, they’ll just try another one! There are many to choose from.
An example of this practical thinking: Buddhism is one of the three great religions of the Chinese people (三教). In Taiwan a non-traditional form of Buddhism that mixes the Zen and Pure Land schools became popular because the other schools were less practical for daily life.
Despite being a people of the three great religions (Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism), in reality the Taiwanese do not formally practice them. Instead they practice a folk religion of popular tradition which has relationship with the three religions but does not strictly follow any of them.
One significant folk practice involves worshipping ancestors after they pass away. This worship expresses faithfulness to one’s family (孝, filial piety). If a parent has no heir this becomes a practical problem to the degree that some begin consider converting to Christianity because it does not emphasize ancestor worship!
How can a Christian reach the practical-minded Taiwanese?
By sharing how God works in their lives and showing Jesus’ love in caring for the sick or those in difficulties. And by developing one’s personal relationship with God to show a life of joy, especially through hardship.
May God help Taiwan local believers and missionaries shine forth the light of Jesus’ practical benefit to life that Taiwan’s working class may worship Him as the only, true, and living God!
– Allan Tsai, Shopworkers Church
(Taipei, Northern Taiwan)