I try to avoid talking about religion. Not because I fear recriminations from the devout who might take offense, but because faith is like sex: If you keep it out of my face, then it’s none of my damn business. And in Taiwan, where most denominations are not too predatory and don’t seek to convert the human race to the very last disturbed soul, one can be left alone to pray as one pleases. And so it should be.
But by largely steering away from religious topics in this column, I have ignored one of this society’s most important political engines. Elections, social welfare, education, relief work, even organized crime: Buddhist and/or Taoist and/or other groups are in the thick of it even when “it” is not strictly religious. So maybe it’s time to grab this topic by the joss sticks and see where we go.
I lumber into this by way of contemplating the rise and fall of Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英), that Government Information Office bureaucrat posted to Toronto whose hate-filled writings under the alias Fan Lan-chin (范蘭欽) and bizarre behavior have killed his career as a public servant — and about whom I’ve written too much already.
I was wondering where Kuo’s career might take him now that he has become a joke. You know he’s toast when KMT attack dogs start lecturing him on etiquette and on his Tourette’s syndrome-like inability to hold his tongue.
Only Mainlander gangsters and a couple of boffins at the Academia Sinecure are rallying around him. Institutionally speaking, he’s finished, with Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators dancing around his funeral pyre as the flames grow higher.
Maybe religion could offer Kuo a way up and out. Shave off what’s left of his hair, don a robe, chant some mantras and — presto! — rehabilitation. It could be this simple.
Kuo’s biggest problem was not the ferocity of his language or his racism but the fact that he was all on his own in blogland. Maybe what he really needed was the backing of one of this nation’s largest religious organizations.
Which brings us to Venerable Master Hsing Yun (星雲).
There is a segment of Taiwanese society that still loathes Mainlander religious figures who profited handsomely from Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) support over the decades, including monks who built massive temples here and all over the world — but who never came to the defense of the oppressed. But most of my unforgiving colleagues are too polite to raise such distasteful topics except among trusted friends and associates — and even then, they have to be provoked.
This week, the provocation came.
According to our very own Taipei Times, Hsing Yun was quoted as telling the World Buddhist Forum in China the following:
“‘Both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one family. There are no Taiwanese in Taiwan and Taiwanese are all Chinese.’”
Aficionados of logical aberrations in sacred texts will thrill to that comment. Call it the Now You See Them, Now You Don’t Sutra. But there’s more:
“‘Which Taiwanese is not Chinese?’ he asked. ‘They are Chinese just like you are. We are all brothers and sisters.’”
Thus far it’s all very We Are the World. All that’s missing is starving Third World children and Michael Jackson.
“Hsing Yun also said that opening the forum in China and closing it in Taiwan was especially meaningful because it would enhance cross-strait exchanges and help the unification of the two sides, the Hong Kong-based newspaper Ta Kung Pao reported on Saturday.