Ming-Feng Chen is an HPT Director and an Elementary School Science Teacher, and a Freethinker in the tradition of Yiguandao. Here we talk about nonbelievers in Taiwan as part of an ongoing effort of collecting Asian region freethinker voices.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: In short, what was a point of becoming a freethinker for you?
Ming-Feng Chen: Surprisingly, my religion is the point how I enlightened and became a freethinker. My religion is Yiguandao, which mainly inherits from Manichaeism and claims inclusivism from the top 5 religions (It’s a Chinese centrism term, means Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism). Although Yiguandao emphasizes religious authority and tradition, I and those ex-believers all agree the humanistic values and multi-theism from Yiguandao help us evolve into freethinkers.
Jacobsen: When did you find the community of nonbelievers in Taiwan?
Chen: Mainly found the non-believers from the internet. An atheist is not so common in Taiwan, most of the mid-age people and elders have faith. Non-believers are usually radical. Yet, rather than discrimination, people tend to label atheists as” not yet- believers”. Folk belief, witchcraft, Buddhism and Daoism traditions allow people find their own faith at least before mid-age. Scientists and science teachers are usually agnostics with sorts of beliefs. The youth are usually unfaithful believers. Nonbelievers are difficult to hold a community but not be oppressed by the society.
Jacobsen: How is Taiwan for nonbelievers, freethinkers?
Chen: The agnostics in my generation are usually participating in some religious events but don’t take them as truth. I think it’s related to the scandals of religions that are revealed by the press. However, some of the believers and freethinkers will critic the new religious movement which participates deification of religious leaders together.
Jacobsen: What are the current problems for nonbelievers, freethinkers, in Taiwan now?
Chen: Family issues are their hugest problem, especially in our generation
Taiwanese non-believers and freethinkers are facing generational conflict and gay marriage issues. Generational conflict means no descendant inherits ancestor worship. No matter in Buddhism, Daoism or other folk religions, spiritual world is parallel from the material world and the clan is the core of Eastern Asian society. Thus, elders will get happiness and wealth in the spiritual world from their descendant’s worship. Having children inherit worship is one of the most important social values. Ironically, this conflict originally comes from Christians. Protestants refuse idolatry and ancestor worship, but Catholics make some compromise to this tradition. What we worry about is that Christians make a “united front” with these elders by the gay marriage issue. This strategy increases the influence of conservative churches in Taiwan (most of them are influenced by American evangelists). Moreover, the elders may hate atheists more than before.
However, I think it’s also an opportunity for freethinkers, more people will ask:” gods exist or not, “Do gods support anti-gay ideology” by those societal debates. Anti-gay and anti-abortion movement makes more people have a negative view toward religions.
Jacobsen: Finally, what would be your idea for an event or a political activist initiative for Taiwanese nonbelievers, freethinkers in the 2020s?
Chen: I feel like to be a freethinker is more possible than to be an atheist in Taiwan. I’m not sure that I use the term “freethinker” as same as other countries, but I think freethinker may believe some deities and supernatural beings existing. Freethinkers should emphasize reason and human efforts, taking supernatural force only as a sidekick, not a hero. Directly preaching atheism will make hopeless people convert to the extreme cult and charismatic worship (for example communism).
I know some youth left Christianity because of the conflict between social issues and religions. Although they are still believing in God, the ways they against church authority are similar to freethinkers. It’s the reason why I suggest not to narrow freethinker definition as atheist in Taiwan.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Ming-Feng Chen.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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