Two unexpected sights have hit me since being here for a conference this week: a Gideon’s bible in the hotel room and a huge yellow banner on a gate advertizing a pentecostal church. The Gideons was sitting with another volume on the teachings of Buddha and the pentecostal church looks oddly out of place where I had quite liked the way one historic christian church compound has been converted into a centre for shops, restaurants, bars and clubs.
A few enquiries have led me to understand that it many of the youth from the Chinese population here that are the ones who are converting to this form of christianity. I wonder if that has to do with a price of cosmopolitanism. The Chinese are, I understand, more likely to be Buddhist or Taoist if anything, and it can be argued that these are more philosophical systems than religions. And living in a city that prides itself on its cosmopolitan ambience may not be particularly conducive to a strong sense of close community. Especially in a city-state that is only about 40 years old, with much of the now dominant Chinese population migrating there from as recently as the 60’s.
I have already addressed here the way I see certain forms of christian religion filling in a family-need gap in people’s lives.
I don’t know of course, but it seems reasonable to think that international flavours are best coupled with strong cultural traditions that are capable of serving one’s need to feel a meaningful part of a community. Much of Europe seems to have both.
On the other hand, many parents in computer-literate countries like ours (and Singapore) probably worry overmuch about the time their youngsters spend now on their computers talking with friends they have never met face to face. But these communications are enabling children (and not just children) to establish meaningful and confidence-building relationships. Sure it is not the environment that any other generation has ever known before. And it is easy to fear or assume the worst too quickly about the unknown, but researchers who have studied this new phenomenon of the “virtual world of friendships”– NOT “the world of virtual friends” – have noticed the confidence and meaningfulness it can bring to many people’s lives. (Links and refs will have to wait till I get back home.)
Wouldn’t it be nice to think that this Web 2.0 world of MySpace and FaceBook etc can fill a need of belonging that arises out of real relationships (mediated in the virtual world — as opposed to being virtual relationships) — can eventually offer something more real in people’s lives than ancient and medieval belief systems.
But back to the hotel room — I am no Buddhist, but I did read the first chapter of the Buddhist book left beside the bible in my room. It was so refreshingly light and positive in its inducements for readers to follow the way of eliminating suffering. It began with Buddha (or the one to become Buddha) feeling the pain of seeing a worm being taken by a bird. The appeals from then on are to the better nature in us all. So unlike the Sermon on the Mount that commands people to love one another and never get angy for fear they will be thrown in hell if they don’t.
Such a pity that Pentecostalism is drawing people away from such a gentle philosophy. Wouldn’t it be nice if Web 2.0 can offer more than just a technological change in the future.