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Thai Girl Tattle: Losing My Religion

...Itís said that Buddhism is a powerful and cohesive force in Thai society and I for one hope thatís true. Religious ritual is a major part of life here and while monks may often take part, in reality the rites often have more to do with animism, the worship of an assortment of spirits, than with Buddhism. A recent craze to acquire a special type of lucky amulet, the Jatukam Ramathep, is an example of the powerful hold that these old beliefs have....

Andrew Hicks casts a cold eye on monotheistic religions, and asks whether they have materially added to the sum of human happiness.


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There have been some horrific bus crashes in the news in Thailand recently which is hardly something new, though the recent death toll of thirty one dead in one accident was exceptional. What did catch my eye in the Bangkok Post following this accident was an article headed, ĎBus drivers swear oath to drive safely, check vehicles.í

As part of an official road safety campaign, Ďbus drivers are being made to swear an oath to sacred deities in the latest attempt to persuade them to drive carefully and ensure passengersí safety.í It seems a bit bizarre, but if the provincial transport officer carting bus drivers off to the wat to see the monks highlights the importance of safe driving, then why not.

Itís said that Buddhism is a powerful and cohesive force in Thai society and I for one hope thatís true. Religious ritual is a major part of life here and while monks may often take part, in reality the rites often have more to do with animism, the worship of an assortment of spirits, than with Buddhism. A recent craze to acquire a special type of lucky amulet, the Jatukam Ramathep, is an example of the powerful hold that these old beliefs have.

There has recently been a heated debate as to whether the proposed new constitution that is now being drafted should name Buddhism as the national religion. Citing a decline in public faith in the monastic order, Sanitsuda Ekachai, an outspoken and articulate columnist in the Bangkok Post concludes, ĎIf we really need a national religion, animism should be the one. At least it can help us stop fooling ourselves that we are still Buddhist and see who we really are.í So is Buddhism in Thailand now declining and whatís the state of religion in other countries?

A few days earlier the Bangkok Post reported a Newsweek poll saying that in America 91% of people said they believe in God, while 87% follow a formal religion. The poll found that 48% reject the scientific theory of human evolution, while around 62% of those polled said they would not vote for a political candidate who Ďconfessedí to being an atheist.

Wowee, now ainít that just something. George Dubya! Youíre gonna have to get down on your knees and pray!

Political leaders who claim to be driven by religious conviction scare me rigid, as either theyíre not wholly rational or theyíre fraudulently manipulating the electorate. Bush is probably a fraud in this regard, but what about my own PM, Tony Blair? Not to mention the former Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra who publicly admitted that when his stars were unfavourable, heíd avoid taking any decisions at all. The current Thai prime minister seems to have his feet firmly on the ground but some senior members of the Council for National Security have recently traveled to Chiang Mai to see a renowned fortune teller for Ďa ceremony to ward off bad luck for the coup makersí. Give me political leaders that are fully rational any day.

Even declining religions still have huge influence over the faithful and itís hard not to notice the movement within the Catholic church to make the late Pope John Paul a saint. Of course he richly deserves to be sanctified as, in Gilbertian style, he made more saints during his papacy then any pope before him. When his own saints come marching in, Iím sure heíll get all the celestial support he needs.

Trouble is, the rules say that the sanctification process cannot begin until five years after death, and Pope John has only been dead for two years. Then you need proof of at least two miracles, such as mystery cures of sick Catholics. So roll up, roll up for the mystery cure! A French nun, Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre has now conveniently surfaced, claiming that the Pope cured her of Parkinsonís disease.

If it was me sifting the medical reports on causation of her sudden cure, what would trouble me is that at the time it happened, Pope John was already an ex-pope and stone cold dead. Okay she prayed to him, yes, but the nexus of causation does seem to be a little bit thin for so important a conclusion. Perhaps her prayers were in fact forwarded on to God and it was he who did the trick for her.

Anyway, itís reported that centuries-old sacred rituals have been held completing the first phase of a fast-track beatification of Acting Saint John Paul. The evidence was handed over appropriately at the Basilica of St John and three black leather trunks were sealed with ribbon and red wax as church officials and thousands of faithful applauded.

Iím sure they all had a great time, but it strikes me that using a belief in the spirits to urge bus drivers not to kill their passengers is infinitely more beneficial. On the other hand itís nice having a few saints around the place. Along with my aspirations for the Nobel Prize for Literature, I think I might seriously be in the running myself.

Is it possible to download an application form off the internet, do you know? You see, Iíve got one miracle already under my belt because I can change wine into waterÖ so now Iím going to have to think of another one. Of course Pope John was dead when he was supposed to have cured Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre and I wasnít, so Iím just thinkingÖ Trouble is, to be a saint I suppose one of the qualifications is being very, very dead which takes the gloss off it a bit.

Iíd better stop now before I offend anyone else, so finally Iím going to set my readers, if I have any, a university exam question in Philosophy/Religious Education/Media Studies. Here goesÖ

ďHave the monotheistic religions materially added to the sum of human happiness and do they provide good material for great movies? Discuss, giving examples of any such movies that were not totally ridiculous. Do you think that in MGMís ĎThe Creationí, Adamís navel should have been filled in with flesh-coloured putty?Ē

Oh my God, what rubbish Iíve been writing! Is there any point to all this? Yes, maybe there is. I think Iím saying that like seat belts and mechanical inspections, spirit worship really is quite handy when it comes to keeping death off the roads.

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