Monday, February 26, 2007

Interfaith Cooperation for Life Education in Taiwan

Taiwan Church News 2870 26 February – 4 March 2007
Reported by Chiou Kuo-rong. Written by David Alexander
Taiwan’s Life Education Association recently held a 4-day,3-night training session for leaders of its high school level teaching programme. This year the event was hosted by Buddhist members of the association, and was held at the Sanhsia Golden Light Monastery in Taipei County. Association board member Shyu Mao-wei remarked that it was probably the first time in Taiwan’s history that Christian Hymns and prayers mingled with Buddhist chanting in such a setting.
The association has discovered that Taiwan’s Ministry of Education is most defensive and restrictive when it comes to the topic of religious education on, or entrance of people professionally identified with religious groups into, local campuses. To overcome some of this defensiveness the association has striven to present itself as an interfaith group. Ms. Shyu said, “We train people to use education about religion to help students understand what is genuine in faith, hoping to gradually bring an end to the rife superstition and unhealthy attitudes in our society. We hope that we can positively influence students in the areas of the meaning of life, values, recognition of the spiritual, and the improvement of physical, emotional and spiritual conditions to give greater stability for everyone.
During the first day of training, Professor Sun Shiaw-jyh from National Taiwan University’s department of philosophy addressed the assembly saying that human beings all have to answer the basic questions of why I am alive, how am I to live and what am I to live for. These questions form the basis of the new high school level curriculum of the Life Education Association. He sees religious education as particularly aimed at spiritual learning which is connected to body and mind as well.
The second day of the event began with an exposure to monastic life including the kneeling and kowtowing that unfamiliar to Roman Catholics and totally foreign to the Protestants. Lin Wei-ling, professor of Spiritual Life at Bread Of Life Theological Cllege, said that the ceremony was beautiful and a positive spiritual experience , but she also questioned the possibility of interfaith mixing and the problems inherent in such an endeavor. She clearly believes that there must be mutual respect of other participants, including the understanding of each other’s rights, but found herself on the defensive because though she knew the event would be held at a monastery, she was not made aware ahead of time of the exposure to its worship life. She had no complaints about the venue or the program, but felt overwhelmed by an atmosphere that on every side reminded her that she came from the outside. Reflecting on the disunity of Christians and churches in Taiwan, she said that of cooperation and unity do not become an aspect of Christian life, there is no way that churches will be able to compare with or compete with the “five star class of service” available through the Buddhists.
But even with these reservations, Ms. Lin will continue to participate in the Life Education Association because she agrees with its direction and goals. When asked if that may produce difficulties, she smiled and said, “It’s what I want to do.” She encourages churches to work together, participate in the association’s activities, and share the truth that is included in the life education curriculum with many people.
Protestant participation in this year’s workshop was lower than in previous such meetings. The Association’s executive secretary said that this was noticed even when registrations were coming in. The venue was the reason. Dr. Jospeh Lin, president of the Presbyterian Bible College at Hsin Chu, and a speaker at the training event for two years running, pointed out, “Protestants’ problem with participation in interfaith activities stems from their belief that all religions other than their own are in error.” Though the association has been established on an interfaith basis, it has not yet gone beyond creating a good space for sharing to get to the foundations where we can appreciate each other and truly cooperate.
Dr Lin says that, to date, interfaith dialogue in Taiwan has been on the basis of good neighborliness, and has not yet cone on to cooperative work. All Christian groups have these boundary issues. The experience of working together, experiencing each other, overcomes defensiveness. This needs to be transformed. Among Taiwan’s Protestants, he said, the Presbyterian Church to which he belongs has to eschew its self understanding as the ‘big brother’ and widen its circle of cooperation with other churches and other religions, coming to recognize and appreciate what is common to all and tearing down the walls that separate.
Ms. Lin from the Bread of Life Theological College expressed a desire that more people take part in the Life Education Association’s work. Dr. Lin from the Bible College said that the church has to take high school education seriously and recognize the contributions made by all religions and groups. “Buddhist truth can be very deep, and Buddhist organizations have a much greater influence on the government.” Buddhist participation in the Life Education Association and its curriculum is part of the context in which the churches must live out their witness in the high schools.
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