Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts

Sunday, July 21, 2019

I Went To Animatronic Hell


You know which Hell is more fun than Christian Hell (which, let's be honest, was interesting when Dante covered it but otherwise just ain't all that)?

Taoist Hell!

Last week we went to Tainan to get some much-needed relaxation. I'd heard about a temple in Madou (麻豆) out in Tainan County that features a regular temple, a giant dragon, a fun sculpture garden, and an animatronic Heaven and Hell, which I suppose can be called family-friendly because parents do take their kids. The animatronic sets, fake blood, recorded screams etc. aren't that scary (to me), but there are repeated references to rape, murder and trafficking (that said, most of that part is in writing, which little kids typically can't read yet).

I wasn't quite sure how to get out there - there are buses from Tainan City, but though it's a half-hour drive, most take an hour or longer. The express buses only depart a few times a day. Even then, they go a bus depot on the edge of town, and of course the temple with animatronic Hell - 麻豆代天府 - is not only on the other side of town, but somewhat outside its compact downtown area. There are buses that stop within a 15-minute walk, but waiting for one stretches the trip into a 3-hour ordeal each way. There's a taxi rank at the bus station, but no clear way to get back unless you can get that same driver to agree to pick you up at a later time.

In any case, Madou is an interesting enough town that it's worth spending a little more time (half a day is about right), which is hard to do without private transport.

Lucky for us, one of our closest and oldest friends in Taiwan also lives down south (though not in Tainan) and was so excited to hear we were coming to her part of the country that she took off what is usually a work day running the family business, borrowed her dad's car and was quite happy to plan for our time together to include a trip out to Madou, as she hadn't been to anything like animatronic Hell since childhood.

Madou has been settled for a very long time - originally called Matau, it was one of the largest indigenous Siraya settlements in that part of Taiwan during Dutch rule, and the most 'troublesome' to the Dutch (though I find it likely that the Dutch were just as troublesome to them, if not more so, seeing as the Siraya got there a good few thousand years). It continued to exist through the Japanese era and as such has a small collection of interesting architecture from that time, including the old sugar refinery and a big old theater (電姬戲院), now in ruins. The main street still has a few pretty Art Deco buildings at various intersections - though a few are obscured by ugly commercial signs - and a couple of old shophouses that have not been restored.

Madou is also famous for savory rice pudding (wan-gui or 碗粿 - I don't know the exact tones in Taiwanese), so that was our first stop. We went to the famous 碗粿王, but there are a million options and all of them are probably great. 

You add sauce and garlic paste to your liking than cut the whole thing up with your spoon to eat it. The gloopy rice is reminiscent of Cream of Wheat, and a good bowl will always contain at minimum a mushroom and half a boiled egg. 

Then, straight to Hell - all 18 layers of it.

Daitian temple is interesting enough as a temple, though the main complex, built in the 1950s, is quite typical for Taiwan. The domed building off to the side is dedicated to Guanyin and is similarly nice, though not particularly unique.



If you're wondering whether you get to go up inside that dragon - worry not. You do! That comes later, though.

The entrance to Hell is to the right of the temple proper, past a man-made creek decorated with plants and sculptures. It costs NT40 to enter and is presided over by a bluish demon with red LED eyes. Though there isn't much of a descent, it feels like you're heading down to a basement as the interior quickly grows dark.


Once inside, you start your animatronic journey with the first court, where the recently deceased are judged for how they lived and sentenced to the appropriate level accordingly. After that, you twist and turn through the next 17 layers, each in its own LED-colored alcove which lights up at regular intervals (so if you arrive in the middle of a display, just hang around for a few minutes after it ends. It'll start up again.) Scary music - which isn't that scary - plays over the loudspeaker as the sets light up, and each one begins with the god who presides over that layer of Hell reading out the crimes of the person sent there, and what will happen to them, all in Taiwanese. I don't actually understand Taiwanese and the recordings are not particularly clear, but it's not hard to guess what's going on. What, did you expect that it would be in Mandarin, in this part of Taiwan? Haha, fool. Anyway, there are also placards above each set that explain in Mandarin and English what's going on.

Some of these are videos - what kind of blogger would I be if I didn't offer up videos of Animatronic Hell?

If they won't play, let me know. 

For example, don't swindle the womenfolk. I don't know why that's a specific sin apart
from swindling menfolk, but ok


Some of the layers made sense - murderers, rapists, con-artists etc. - whereas there was at least one which punished those who sought profit for themselves, or to enrich themselves. Which to me sounds like...almost everybody? Maybe that's the point - almost nobody goes straight to Heaven because we're all fundamentally selfish. That's not so different from Christianity, after all - harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to Heaven and all that.

A few others were specific to the Asian cultural sphere: levels of Hell for not being filial (or filial enough), for women who didn't listen to their husbands' parents directives and more. 


I have to admit, I had a fantastic time. I turned to my friend and the other friend she'd brought along and asked why on Earth nobody had told me about this place before. It's great, I said. You know I'd love something like this!

"Because this kind of place was really scary to us when we were kids," my friend replied.

"Do you still think it's scary?"

"Not really," she said. " I think I'd better listen to my parents more!" 


Partway through our tour, we were walking alongside a family with an older and younger daughter, perhaps around ages 9 and 4, respectively. When my friend convinced this would have scared her as a child, I asked the older girl if she was afraid.

"Not really," she said.

"Kids these days are really different. This was definitely terrifying when I was young."

Then I asked the younger sister. She just looked at me and then quickly away. I joked that she was more afraid of a foreigner than all this Hell stuff (which seemed pretty true). Her parents laughed but said, in fact, the little one was scared, but probably wouldn't tell me, because she was in fact afraid of me too.

Later on we passed some teenage boys going through. They were laughing, joking and imitating the animatronic figures. In other words, acting like teenagers anywhere. Ever seen teens in a haunted house around Halloween in the US? Though they'd be more likely to bring their girlfriends and make out. Come to think of it, I'm sure that happens here, too. Plus, open containers are legal, the drinking age is 18 but nobody really cares, and beer is common at temple festivals. I can't imagine some teens have not passed through with Taiwan Beers in hand having a grand ol' time.

The main difference being, the people working at Madou Daitianfu probably didn't care much how teens acted in their animatronic Hell meant to scare kids into behaving, and while we didn't bring beer I got the general impression that it would have been fine if we had. Whereas you can bet some church lady or Aunt Doris in a religious theme park in the US would get all pearl-clutchy about it. Also, no beer. 


I had thought when I came out here that there are so many religious crazies in the US, that there must be a Christian Hell-themed exhibit somewhere in the US meant to scare children into behaving, and that it wouldn't be that different in tenor or content (though quite different aesthetics) than this Hell. But the closest thing I can find is the Biblical experience park in Florida which includes a bloody crucifixion. Cool, but not the same as Hell. 





Just great for kids. I read this and I think, definitely a place to bring your toddler. 






So, you're probably wondering - which level of Hell was my favorite?

(Well, you're probably not wondering, but I'm going to tell you anyway.)

Definitely the 14th level, where "those who look for vulnerable women and take advantage of them" get their "faces skinned by metal blades and disfigured". You see, during this whole Hellacious journey, I was asking myself - sure, but where do the Chads go? You know, the scrubs? The fuckboys? What happens to those guys, because no way they're going to Heaven?
And I suppose this is it. So, gentlefolk, I present to you...fuckboy Hell: 


At the end of Hell, you reach a final level which is described as more of a purgatory. If you have not sinned enough to go to Hell, or have atoned for your sins, you may be sent by the gods to Heaven instead. At that point, you head upstairs and have the option of exiting, or checking out Animatronic Taoist Heaven.

While less interesting than Hell (because duh), Heaven is worth a visit because the stairs you climb - no heaven for the disabled I guess - take you right up into that kick-ass dragon you saw coming in. Heaven snakes all through its neck and spits you out in his mouth. (Which isn't a great way to word that, but you know what I mean.)


Here's the thing, though. The first animatronic sets you see in Heaven show either men drinking and talking at a fine carved table while the womenfolk sit at a lower, rougher, less fancy table...

...or they are playing various Chinese games and drinking while the women serve them.

Which, dude. Ew. So, in Hell your typical scrub gets his face skinned off, but in Heaven men are waited on by submissive women who always accept a smaller lot? Yuck. I'll take Hell, thanks. 


Another family ascended to Heaven with us, the young boy visibly shaken by Hell. I pointed out how sexist Heaven was to them and the parents agreed. Traditional Taoist Heaven seems great for the guys but perhaps not so great for the ladies, and the part where they all sit around playing instruments and laughing is fine, but not nearly as interesting as Hell.

But at the top, you get a fine view through the dragon's jaws to the rest of the temple complex, and there's a picnic area where you can sit before descending. 


After returning to Earth, we noticed that the temple festival that had just been getting started when we arrived was in full swing. At one point, the Eight Generals (八家將), a group of female dancers in skimpy costume cheongsam dancing a choreographed number with a 'matchmaker' auntie, a troupe of teenage cheerleader-gymnast-dance performers, some dancing princes (三太子), and several spirit mediums including a number of women (rare in northern Taiwan) were all going at once in what felt almost like a three-ring circus of things to see. I put much of this on Facebook as a livestream, so didn't get many photos, but here are a few:






It was frankly a bit overwheming - temple festivals in Taipei are nothing like this, with one group coming in at a time. To have three, four or five different things going on at once was a very...southern experience.

We left the temple and hit up the sugar refinery, which has a lovely park but was too hot to really enjoy (the small art exhibit on a local artist was nice, and also air conditioned).

It's worth noting that Madou is also famous for pomelos, and if you want to try the local product without buying and eating an actual pomelo, there's a small, unassuming cafe at the sugar refinery where you can get a Madou pomelo slushie (麻豆柚子冰沙), which is perfect for the summer heat. 


One more stop - the old theater - and it was time to say goodbye to Madou. The theater is worth a quick look but despite advice from a friend, I was not able to get inside. There are alleys around it and I took a walk down the one on the left, which lets out at some privately-owned traditional farmhouse, right in town. It's lovely, with a bright and flowering garden...and an unfriendly dog (the human who was there didn't seem to mind my presence but I didn't really want to hang out on his property like a weirdo, even though as a foreigner one can kind of get away with that. I don't like using my privilege that way.) Also, a big old wall between his house and the abandoned theater, with no clear way in.

Anyway, the weather was hot and bright, at least in the 90s and possibly topping 100. So here we are, a little sweaty and tired, and about to head out for famous gelato in Yujing, about a 20-minute drive away:

If you put our shirts together, it comes out as something like "I support Taiwan independence, motherfucker!" in Taiwanese. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Firewalking For Beginners: my latest for Taiwan Scene

I'm back as a guest contributor to Taiwan Scene, this time writing about firewalking in Donggang...but not the way you think. It's actually about being a female traveler faced with sexist (yes, sexist) religious traditions, and having entirely the wrong response to them - something I can only admit now.

In any case, enjoy. 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Another kind of missionary

A very "Chinese" Last Supper at the Catholic church in Yanshui, Tainan

Something that's been kind of in the back of my head for awhile, brought to the fore by my friend Donovan's interview with a missionary, and then the editorial some guy wrote about it. Now I'm writing about the editorial. Perhaps someone will write a piece about my blog post, and someone will tweet about that, and someone will write an editorial about that incendiary tweet, and then someone will Snapchat it or Tinder it or Grindr it or Blendr it or whatever the kids are doing these days, right up until Donovan covers the whole thing on ICRT again. The circle of life.

Anyway, friends and regular readers will know that I don't care for missionary work. I understand that many missionaries do other good things for communities, but I can't condone the 'I claim to respect your culture but I actually think this part of my culture is better and you should trash what you did before' attitude, or the idea that one does good works toward the ultimate goal of converting people. I say this even as I acknowledge that I can like and even respect individual people of good character who are missionaries.

In any case, what struck me about Mr. Angrypants here wasn't his views on missionary work which I largely agree with, but this:

Academic institutions must focus on the enhancement of logical, critical and independent thinking. Unfortunately, core values of the local culture here are not amenable, often even inimical to such essential educational goals.

The prevailing culture here is authoritarian and honors blind obedience, its education awards rote learning without understanding, it discourages young people from thinking for themselves and it punishes inquisitive minds.

The disingenuous educational paradigms are implemented in so many classrooms here on a daily basis. Therefore, there is no need in Taiwan of an additional input of uncritical thinking by religious groups that aim to hijack the minds of young people through the indoctrination of dubious contents.

I don't entirely disagree with this, though I don't necessarily think my education was that much better. But, it can't be denied that this is a large component of the educational system in Taiwan. Every time I start thinking "oh it's not that bad", I recall a story an adult student (and legit genius and overall cool person) once told me. As a student, he'd had to write three essays, each on one of Sun Yat-sen's Three Buzzwords Principles of the People. For the first two, he just restated what was in the textbook, and got perfect scores. For the third, he decided to offer his own insights as well (I've forgotten what they were, but I remember being impressed with his incisiveness), and got a C.

I don't even blame Taiwan for it too much: it's a holdover from authoritarian rule (dictators want populations that can read, write and do math, but not think too much) that sticks because it claims on the surface to have cultural legitimacy (I'll come back to this). Changing it would take a complex organized effort that considered parents, professional curriculum development, exams, administration and long-term teacher development. I understand why it's so slow to happen.

In short, he's got his tenses wrong. The prevailing culture in Taiwan was authoritarian, but is now democratic with a strong penchant for social movements and activism. The education system just hasn't gotten with the program.

I also suspect quite a few Westerners fundamentally misunderstand the historic role of education in many Asian cultures. Yes, it involves a great deal of memorization, especially of the "classics" (or math equations, or grammar patterns, or whatever). If you do this, you will pass. But historically there has also been a belief that to be truly 'educated' - to be a scholar - it's not enough to simply memorize. You have to take what you've learned and glean insights from it that you can apply to real-world situations. You have to be able to use it, extrapolate on it, consider it, do something with it. Otherwise, you might pass, but you're not a scholar.

Or as we call it in the West, critical thinking.

I'm not an advocate of this particular method of leading learners to criticality and inquisitiveness - it's outdated and just doesn't seem to work that well - but it's simply not true to say that educational traditions in Asia sought to suppress such traits.

But that's not where the real problem lies. This is:

There is another reason for concern. It is obvious that so many young people in Taiwan are literally clueless about major issues that move the world. Their life experience is minimal, their minds are soft and malleable, underdeveloped, easy to bend....

Often, young people are emotionally and intellectually insecure; they have never developed their own ideas about topics of general concern. They are lost when having to move within competitive networks of opinions, assertions and claims — the stuff the modern world is made of.

Therefore, they can be easily manipulated and “guided” by those who do have opinions, no matter whether they are good or bad.
Asian Mary, Jesus and Joseph
(Frankly I'll take this over white supremacist blue-eyed blonde-haired Jesus)

I'm guessing he doesn't spend a lot of time around Taiwanese student activists. If you think they are easily manipulated or their opinions can be changed or bent, just ask Ma Ying-jiu how that worked out for him.

Seriously, this is one of the most offensive things I've ever read about Taiwan.

Mr. Dude turns a somewhat-valid criticism of the educational system in Taiwan into a narrative of ‘these poor dumb mindless Taiwanese are at the mercy of these missionaries’ as though they are hapless victims too stupid and thoughtless to run their own society.

You know, that society that I just noted above has a strong tradition of activism (nevermind that it used to be called 'rebellion')? The one with arguably the most successful democracy in Asia, some of the freest press in Asia if not the world, with a developed economy that they (not the dictatorship) built?

That society, apparently. According to him, it's full of morons who don't even know how to have opinions.

This literally makes me want to spit. While I don't pretend Taiwan is perfect - there are many issues here that deserve strong, if not vicious, criticism - in this particular way, I have to wonder if we're living in the same country. I mean, sure, I meet idiots here. Every country in the world has its thinkers, its average people and its, um, dimmer bulbs. Every country has its leaders, its normal people and its blind followers. But to just not see all the creativity and insight around him? What's up with that?

For every thicker-skulled person I meet, I also meet people like my student above, who risked a failing grade just to write what he really thought. I see students occupying...all sorts of things, or trying to. I see the student I had who envisioned his presentation as a series of interconnected three-dimensional cubes, in a really insightful way that I hadn't even considered as a potential mind map. I see all the great Taiwanese fiction I've read recently, the beautiful films, the students I tutored who came up with a way to safely and more easily carry water over long distances while using the movement of that water to charge a battery that could be used for electricity, the creatively-decorated cafes, the young people with ideas that they'll launch once they get the money.

I see that while the authoritarian-holdover educational system in Taiwan is accepted, it is not particularly well-liked. Most Taiwanese are well aware of the flaws, and it's entirely understandable that fixing them seems like an impossible effort (if you want to criticize this, fine, but go look at American public schools in underprivileged areas and come back and tell me you still think Western countries are 'better').

I see a country where the education system doesn't teach critical thinking, but plenty of people learned to think critically anyway.

So this guy thinks he has all the answers for how to make Taiwan better and if we’d just do what he says those poor, poor, POOR widdle Taiwanese wouldn’t be taken in by those evil big bad missionaries. Just listen to him, he’ll fix what’s wrong with Taiwan.

He knows how to make this foreign culture better, more thoughtful in ways he can relate to, more like his vision of what it should be like. Of course, without his brilliant insight Taiwan will be lost. Barbaric. Stuck in the past. Or something.

In other words, he's just another kind of missionary.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Yes, it is weird when strangers randomly invite you to things.

This shouldn't be necessary, but I feel the need to put out a gentle reminder:

If some perfect stranger approaches you on the street and invites you to something without knowing you at all, yes, that is an unusual thing to do and you should treat it as such.

Every few months or years, reports of this or that organization (there's more than one, with more than one intention) trying to recruit people through random street approaches start cropping up. It's a problem around the world but seems to me to be particularly bad in Taiwan, especially in Taipei (but that could be because I don't know other cities as well.)

No, the rules are not different because you're in Taiwan - if you're new here, Taipei is a normal city full of normal people who don't approach total randos to see if they want to attend some event. They have their own lives and their own stuff going on, and don't live to just befriend totally new people they know nothing about. That's not a thing anywhere. You wouldn't do it in the country you come from, so don't do it here.

If you would do it in the country you come from, good luck to you, but I'd advise against it.

And no, this isn't a thing that happens because the Western community in Taiwan is small. There are friendly fellow foreign residents who, if they meet you under normal circumstances, will be happy to make a new friend and show you how things work here. But they do not approach you out of nowhere on the street and they don't just happen to have fliers for whatever it is they want you to attend. They carry those on purpose, to find people and get them in the door. It is intentional - they are not new friends you made because of some happy accident of timing. They aren't just super nice people who keep their eye out for Westerners who seem new to help them out. Of course they seem nice. Of course whatever they are inviting you to seems cool, or just a chance to make new friends. Of course they seem really empathetic, perhaps to the fact that you're new here and don't know many people yet. That's the point. It wouldn't work if it didn't seem like a great opportunity.

It could be some "direct marketing" scheme, it could be some religious or spiritual thing, it could be whatever. It doesn't matter. It's no less unusual to approach strangers here than anywhere else. Same for parties and other gatherings. Normal people get to know someone first: if the purpose of the interaction seems to specifically be to invite you somewhere or show you some new product, and not to get to know you as a person, that's a sign. Heed it.

If it's a marketing/sales thing, then no, it's not an amazing new product. No, the way people sell things isn't any different here than anywhere else.

If it's "free lessons" - guitar, English, Mandarin, whatever - but the person inviting you doesn't know you, no, that's not how you get music or yoga or Chinese lessons. They're probably at a church or temple.

If they are nice white guys on bicycles wearing ties, no, nice white people who want to be your friend won't stop you at a traffic light, that's weird. They want you to join their religion, not to be their friend with no strings attached.

And if it's a religious/spiritual thing, no, it's not because you're in the "East" or whatever and so people are, like, so totally more spiritual here and they want to share that which is why they are so nice.

That's not a thing and it never has been. If you're into Dao or Buddhist philosophy, good for you. Enjoy! Even so, people who share your interest in these things, yet are normal people with normal lives, still don't just randomly go around inviting strangers to things.

Please keep that in mind.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Come out for equality tomorrow (because this is what we're up against)

I haven't talked much about marriage equality since the Legislative Yuan went into recess - we ended 2016 with something of a sorta-kinda victory, with the bill to amend the civil code to allow same-sex unions the same protection as opposite-sex ones passing committee - and perhaps it felt like time to take a break.

However, while marriage equality advocates (myself included) have been fairly quiet in the past few months, anti-equality factions have been ramping up the hate, and it's time to call them out.

Why now? Well, tomorrow there will be oral arguments regarding the marriage equality bill (here - be there at 9am - I will be). There are several events planned and several groups trying to get people out. I once again encourage and ask anyone reading this to attend, as well. We must continue to keep beating them by numbers. We can't get lazy and we can't get soft.

Again, this shouldn't matter, but it does. There is social consensus in favor of equality, the legislature has the votes, Tsai has said she supports it, and the DPP has typically been friendlier to it than the KMT. This should be passing with ease, but we are up against an organized force - mostly, Christian churches despite the fact that only about 5% of the Taiwanese population is Christian - that have far more political power than they ought to given the percentage of the population they represent. They have their tentacles (yes, I'm using biased language - eat me) in both the DPP and the KMT, with only the New Power Party and their 5 seats being consistently in favor of justice (yes - justice. When it is a matter of equal rights that affect a group of people directly, especially if there is social consensus, this truly is a matter of justice).

So, please, come out again tomorrow. I know it's yet another rally, and yet another hurdle of bureaucracy, but we truly cannot let up. They are organized and consistent - we must be too.

Remember, this is what we're up against. This flier was found in Xizhi (by a friend of an acquaintance) and shows, simply by the rhetoric it uses, how much Western-style bigotry is driving the anti-equality side in Taiwan. It sounds very much like something I might have seen in the USA in the months leading up to marriage equality and might still see now, in slightly updated form.


A back-of-the-hand translation - it talks about how marriage equality has "caused distress" in countries where it has been legalized, and gives three (ridiculous) examples:

In France it has apparently caused a 17-year old Vietnamese 'orphan' (adoptee?) to give a talk opposing marriage equality, because it has meant that same-sex couples can adopt children (it is simply assumed to be bad that this might be allowed, which is not the consensus of the scientific community). It hardly matters - in any free society somebody is going to oppose something, just because one kid gave a talk doesn't mean there are deep grievances in society.

In Canada people have "complained online and on the street" since marriage equality was introduced some years ago (again, this is meaningless: there is all sorts of crap online, much of it trolling and much more not worth one's time or not reflecting a general social opinion, and on the street...well, there are always going to be dicks spewing their nonsense.) It goes on to say that Canadian parents are distressed that they cannot prevent their children from learning about same-sex unions and homosexuality in school. There is no evidence that this is a major social issue, however. Again, there will always be people who feel this way. It doesn't mean that society is deeply aggrieved.

In the US it talks about how marriage equality has paved the way for transgender bathroom use (with no evidence provided that this is actually a bad thing, or a problem in any way), and has "led to the election of anti-marriage-equality Donald Trump" (I highly doubt that was the issue that led straight to Trump's election - even if it were, it does not mean marriage equality is a problem).

This science-and-fact-free piece of garbage is not significant on its own. Ignorance is spewed in many forms - it means little in the face of social consensus and there is no evidence that these shallow and illogical arguments are doing anything to sway Taiwanese society, which is more progressive than one might imagine on this issue.

What matters is that an organized group took the time to write, print and distribute it. They are still around, causing disturbances in fast food restaurants, preaching to their congregations, networking to bring crowds that do not represent Taiwanese society...and passing out this garbage by the fistful.

They are still around, and still spreading hate. Their arguments are facile and not only are not based in research, but actively go against it. Their ideas are outdated. They want to keep approximately 10% of the Taiwanese population from gaining access to rights that directly affect their lives, simply so they, the anti-equality protesters, can feel morally superior (and for no other benefit). They are simply wrong.

But they're organized, and they're still at it, while we've been resting.

It's time to stop resting. We can't let up.

I hope to see you tomorrow.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Ideological Bedfellows (Part 1): I Am A Palimpsest

You probably already know that I'm an atheist. Have been basically forever. I'm going to tell you why I'm an atheist because I like talking about myself, but also because I think it is a useful tangential point to the one I'd like to make.

At least, I hope it is. After writing this, I realized how much it rambles. I would not call it my best writing. But, I feel like sharing, so enjoy.

The reason I want to tell you now is that it's a riff on this very good article by a woman who left her job at the evangelical Morrison Academy in Kaohsiung over differences of belief in marriage equality and her right to post about same on social media. So, this does concern Taiwan, I promise you, if you stick with me.

When I was around six years old, I figured out that there was no Santa Claus. I'm not sure exactly when I told my parents this, because at around the same time, my logical deduction about the impossibility of everything about the Santa myth led me to the logical deduction that some old sky-livin' dude who miraculously knew and controlled everything (and yet we had free will? Though I didn't call it that at that age), whose only reward or punishment for the good or the bad was to go somewhere after we died, with no proof of that offered whatsoever, and the only salve for the truly unfortunate was a combination medication of a.) it's a part of some "plan" so it's "okay" (or something?) or b.) God loves you and controls everything but it's not his fault, and you get to go to Heaven after you die in whatever awful way, and the people who built a world in which you suffer will themselves suffer no earthly punishment, with no sign that post-mortem justice is even a real thing was, you know, possibly also deeply illogical and at odds with the world as I observed it.

I told my parents this very offhandedly: as a child, I didn't comprehend that perhaps they knew one impossibility was impossible, but actually believed in another. I was surprised when they reacted badly.

In short, I was born without whatever gene may lead to faith. I do not feel it is a great loss.

I never did change my mind, though my parents' reaction was so adverse that I pretended to for awhile. I went to church (I had to), I even taught Sunday School and sang in the choir, among other things. I was confirmed. I said nothing more about it, because discussion of it was, while not forbidden (my parents were always fairly liberal, in fact), not especially welcome either.

This does not mean that I made a decision as a child and have stubbornly refused to rethink or challenge it in the years since. Several times I've gone back and questioned that lack of faith, wondered if my early rejection of it was mere childishness. So far, none of my challenges has been successful. I remain an atheist. The world as I observe it is still logically inconsistent with pretty much every monotheistic religion and I'm not interested in pretzeling my thoughts into accepting both when it is vain to do with more what can be done with fewer. 

Why on earth am I telling you all this? Oddly enough, so that perhaps you can understand that, in fact, I am not anti-Christian or even anti-religion.

Right. I know. Back that truck up. What?

My parents' church is a liberal one. They were pro-marriage-equality before it was the law, and around the time of my mother's funeral, rainbow flags were planted outside the building. This was a solid six months before Obergefell v. Hodges. Although there are perhaps a few Frozen Chosen among the congregation, the bent of their scripture curves toward acceptance and love. You know, the teachings of Jesus.

From years of growing up in it, and as a closeted apostate teenager, teaching it, I can say that there is nothing about the teachings of Jesus that contradicts my own personal belief system. I may not believe in God, but I think of Jesus as a great philosopher. Just because he didn't have a sky dad doesn't mean his words aren't worth heeding. The pastor of that church married us; I respected him quite a bit as a person (he has since retired; I also have a great deal of respect for the new reverend). I actually love this part of Christianity - the part that matters: love thy neighbor, let he who is without sin cast the first stone, judge not, do unto others and more. Notably, he said not a word about being LGBT in any way. There was a benefit to growing up Christian: this aspect of the faith wormed its way into my humanist ethical code.

Furthermore, most of my family and many of my friends are Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim). To take a dim view of faith of any kind would mean taking a dim view of them, or judging them. I simply don't take that dim view - I've seen how faith has helped them through crises, eased their final months and days, informed their laudable belief systems and actions and been something generally valuable to them. It may not make sense to me, but it makes sense to them. I cringe a bit, in fact, when militant atheists pan all believers. That's my family, dude. They're not idiots or lemmings. Shut it. 

In short, my break with faith had nothing to do with social conservatism or other beliefs. I still believe, on a human level, what the church I grew up in taught. I have no problem attending their services, I even contribute to the donation plate with a clear conscience. The break was spiritual - or, if you like, supernatural - only. In earthly respects my ethical code does not differ much from them, and we along well.

If you are curious, I did later 'come out' (if you can call it that) as an atheist to my family. They seemed to have forgotten about the first time and weren't pleased, but they more or less accepted it. Their social beliefs and mine are still similar - I am somewhat more liberal, but none of them are particularly socially conservative and on those issues I'd put them mostly at left-of-center. Not only is there nothing in liberalism or progressivism at odds with Christianity as per my upbringing, but in fact the two are a natural fit.

And why did I tell you that?

Because I do not believe, given my upbringing, that Christianity is fundamentally at odds with social progressivism in general, and marriage equality in particular. This should be obvious, but there are many - as in, far more than you would think - Christians who believe the brand of Christianity I grew up with, the one I feel is in fact most like the teachings of the person for whom the religion is named, is "not real Christianity" and people like my parents are "not real Christians". For whatever reason, they have decided that when it comes to scripture, their interpretive authority is irrefutable and lesser Christians - like, say, my family and many of my friends - are just as damned as those terrifying horror-movie atheists. Why? No idea. Certainly that's not anything Jesus ever actually said.

An atheist

(from here)

There are also many atheists who don't see this: they lump together all Christians into a reviled group they see as reactionary haters. Either you're a brainwashed sheep or an enlightened freethinker. I'm not okay with that - it's Bible-thumper judgmentalism dressed up as scientific rationality, veiled with condescension.

However, I'm going to do what I just criticized more fundamentalist Christians for doing, but hopefully call out their No True Scotsman fallacy.

They may think that the liberal, kumbaya Christians I grew up with are "not real Christians", but you know what? I don't think they are real Christians. In fact, the existence of such vile judgmentalism and closemindedness, to me, is further proof that God does not exist. Those who would seek to take away others' rights, in some cases deeply affecting their lives, go unpunished while those whose rights are taken away suffer. No succor or recourse is offered except for some nebulous concept of judgment after death, or the idea that there is a "plan" that accounts for this. Neither is a satisfactory explanation. I've already been over why I don't accept this model of the universe, therefore, such people are proof, to me, that there is no God.

People like them have been able to successfully delay, and in some cases block, marriage equality. That is, acting in the name of a philosopher who preached love, tolerance and equality, they have denied an entire group of people basic human rights. In some countries, they have successfully criminalized homosexuality.

What God worth believing in would allow this? Who, exactly, is going to be punished after they die if there is an afterlife?

If they are going to open the door to some people who claim to be Christians not "really" being Christian, there is nothing to stop more liberal Christians from throwing it right back on them.

If you - generic you directed at this particular type of "Christian" - do not believe in marriage equality, honestly speaking, I do not think of you as a real Christian. You are merely a bigoted person looking for a preacher to affirm your own shitty dogma. I know real Christians, and unlike you, they are good people. You probably do not believe me, being a scary atheist and all, but believe this: the folks who actually follow Jesus' teachings about love and tolerance are laughing at you, and if there is a Hell it is full of people like you.

Basically, I see no reason why Christianity and marriage equality cannot be bedfellows. The argument I have heard many times in Taiwan is that opponents of equality feel that way "because of their religion". They're Christian - to be Christian (in their view) is to take what they call a "traditional" view of marriage. What that is supposed to mean exactly - or rather why it means what they say it means - I'm not sure.

I am curious which "traditional marriage" they are referring to, or rather, why they've decided only the first one counts, based on a book that allows all of the above.

From here

It does not, however, have to be that way. Churches that truly follow the teachings of Jesus could be some of the greatest allies in bringing equality to all. I'm aware of the historical reasons why Taiwanese churches tend to be more conservative on the whole than the American churches I know, but it simply does not have to be such an ideological divide.

In fact, if I have to pick a reason or point for why I'm writing all of this, it's to remind people that in the USA the equality/anti-equality divide is not one entirely based on religion. Most objections to human rights for all seem to be religious in nature, true, but like the church I grew up in, often in the US some of the strongest support, and often some of the most important groups spreading the word in a way persuasive to more conservative elements, are progressive churches. Taiwan doesn't need to get rid of Christianity (though frankly I don't think there was anything wrong with the local religions and see no reason to import a new one - it's not superior), though it could stand to dial back how much influence churches have in politics, which far outweighs their actual representation in society. What they need is more progressive Christianity to be on offer.

In fact, I've heard several Christian friends in Taiwan complain of just this: they want to worship, but they can't find a church that squares with their beliefs, and can't bring themselves to attend a church they view as antithetical to their values of love, equality and charity.

I have no idea how to do this: as an atheist I'm certainly not the one to be doing it, and progressive Christians tend not to become missionaries (though some are). The missionaries here, and the connections the established churches have to the US, are all deeply conservative and entrenched. It does feel like wishful thinking.

So, Christianity in Taiwan seems wedded to intolerance - they are currently ideological bedfellows. I feel like this relationship is not the most compatible one, though, and Christianity needs a new partner. I want to say that for those of us on the side of equality, then, perhaps rather than dismissing all anti-equality opponents it would be prudent to offer up that new ideological combination as a way to support equality while maintaining faith. I really do. However, as an unrepentant cynic, I'm not so sure it would work within an acceptable timeframe. Fighting post-truth belief is difficult, and the road is not yet well-trodden. We don't have years. This matters to people's lives.

This is, then, why I was heartened to read Brandt's message. When faced with dogma or love, she chose love. The ideological divide does not have to run along the religious divide in Taiwan.

That said, after the first few supportive comments (I know - never read the comments! But I did) I was then saddened to see the rationalizations that people who thought of themselves as good Christians gave for wanting to deny rights to others. I'm not going to get into an advanced ecumenical debate, so let's just say I find the "love the sinner, hate the sin" argument lacking for all the reasons you can imagine. If you hate something that is an intrinsic part of someone else, you cannot then wholeheartedly claim to love them, as much as you might like to. It's as stupid as saying "I love my black friends, but hate their blackness". "I love my Vietnamese friends but hate the sin of being born Vietnamese". "I love my daughter, I just hate that that she's female." It's no better. What you are doing is dressing up bigotry with fake 'love' in order to make yourself feel better, because it sounds a little more like what Jesus might have said (which is what makes people like Katy Faust so dangerous - it sounds plausible to someone trying to reconcile religion with caring for a human being who does not epitomize that religion's moral code, but is in fact not plausible) - without considering that sin is a choice but homosexuality is not. That people are going to be gay whether you want them to or not, whether you think your sky friend likes it or not, whether you give them rights or not. It is not a sin any more than my having a vagina is a sin (though the Internet sure seems to think it is), because it is not a choice. 

This is what we need to fight, but I am not sure at all that it is possible.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Post-Truth, Taiwan Style

It has come to my attention recently that the tentacles of post-truth America, at least on the issue of marriage equality, are beginning their slimy coiling around the debate in Taiwan.

Earlier this week, I was discussing marriage equality with a pro-equality student (I wouldn't have brought it up otherwise), who indicated that "it may be some time, because there are more people against marriage equality now". I asked him why he felt that way as, in fact, most polls pretty consistently show a majority of Taiwanese are in favor of it. He said that he'd seen the two rallies on December 26th on the news and the anti-equality side seemed a lot bigger.

I told him that most journalists I know believe that not to be the case - police estimates have the pro-equality rally at 5,000 and the anti- at 4,000: better, more accurate estimates have the pros at 30,000 and the antis at between 10,000 and 20,000. He knew nothing of the less civil, more hot-headed actions of the anti-equality crowd, and had been led to think that maybe the pro-equality side was pushing too hard (in fact, that side was widely reported to have been civil, welcoming, friendly, well-behaved and safe).

It felt not only like the news was trying to gin up disagreement where there is little, or make the two sides seem more equal in number than they are or have more similar levels of support than they do, but to actively make it seem as though Taiwanese are, by and large, opposed to marriage equality when this is simply not the case. The disagreement is not nearly on the level of a 'culture war', and society is not nearly as 'divided' as reports suggest (though it is true that support is not universal).

I have tried to find examples of what my student spoke of, but was unable to - and I personally do not own a television. I was unable to find relevant clips online, but I do believe my student: why would he lie about his impressions?

It echoes an online conversation I was briefly involved in, but left, that included two expats who insisted that marriage equality was being "forced" on Taiwan by "the West" when we shouldn't do that because they "have a different culture and values" (sure, but if they did in that way, then there wouldn't be support for marriage equality). One admonished us pro-equality supporters not to "push something on the Taiwanese that they don't want" (again, because I can't say it enough times, marriage equality has majority public support).

That's not all, of course. Don't even start me on this bullshit. They actively twist the truth to make it sound as though the people swiftly condemned marriage equality: nothing could be further from the truth. The pro-equality rallies, despite not having well-organized church networks behind them, consistently draw larger crowds. This is straight-up American-style 'fake news' (not a fan of the term but I'll stick with it for now) coming to Taiwan on the backs of bigots.

Another report I've heard of from a few sources is that rumors are being spread that the proposed changes to the civil code would also make sexual intercourse between an adult and a minor (so, basically statutory rape) legal. This is a straight-up lie - the proposed changes would do no such thing - but it is beginning to gain traction.

There's also this poll, which I have my doubts about. The change is far too quick, and doesn't at all square with the turnout we've seen at pro-equality rallies. The question about "pushing legislation through" (rather than simply supporting marriage equality or not) seems oddly worded, at least in English. The sample size is not great, but acceptable, however, I am not sure at all that they adequately got a sample of a variety of ages over 20 if they used land lines: do younger people even know what land lines are? They are almost certainly guaranteed a skewed sample of older folks who are more likely to waver, or not support, equality. The younger people they claimed to have included wouldn't have a land line phone to be reached on! (I don't know much more about this poll - here's a link in Chinese to the guy whose foundation ran it. I don't know who he is, and I have never heard of this particular organization. Have fun.)

Of course, I shouldn't be surprised. Being generally anti-journalist - because accurate reporting on their beliefs and methods would make them look bad, so they have to spread lies - and knowing quite well that the tide of opinion is not swinging their way and likely never will again, the easiest recourse is to lie. Not only that, but to distort, appeal to emotion over logic, insist on respect and an equal platform for unequally-sourced and evidenced views, to insist on respect and ears lent to their religious ranting, to try to equate intolerance of their bigotry with their intolerance of basic equal human rights. In a word, to troll (because I do think purposely making the pro-equality side angry is a part of this). When your views are not supported by logic, evidence, scientific findings or rational debate, but you have decided you must believe them, you basically have to become an ignorant comment thread come to life. Your only choice is to spread 'fake news' through outright lies or carefully-edited media, and appeal to a post-truth world.

In short, it's easy to make it seem as though your side has the most support, when you decline to mention that the other side has almost twice as much: that's what both that MassResistance steaming turd of an article and the video linked above are doing.

Don't believe them. Be smarter than that.

What bothers me is how little I can do about it. I can write about it here, but it would take a level of language ability I don't have to write something in Chinese, and I would gather most Taiwanese not only don't read Lao Ren Cha (hahaha) but don't often read English-language media in general. Even if I did pursue this in Chinese, would the people who need to read it do so? Most likely not. Would it be an effective counter to the barrage of 'fake news' coming from the bigots? Again, most likely not.

It's already had an effect - people are starting to say "well it looks like society really is divided" (it's not, not really), and the government is giving the anti-equality crowd a bigger platform, and more political influence, than they deserve. Remember, the anti-equality fight is mostly led by Christians and Christians make up less than 5% of the Taiwanese population, although they wield considerable influence in both major parties (and the influential ones tend to be wealthy).

I do feel like action needs to be taken, but I'm at a loss as to how.

Another worrying point? Amid all of this post-truth nonsense carried out by people with troubling agendas, right now in Taiwan we're witnessing a generally popular, though with predictably faltering approval ratings, generally 'progressive' DPP administration falter a bit as it tries to wield power, coming across alternately as weak and indecisive or frosty and technocratic. They're grasping for the center and finding it's not holding very well (though that's my own personal impression). Although the liberal/conservative divide, such as it exists at all in a context easily understood in Western terms (which is to say, not really), is not along party lines in Taiwan, certainl elements of the DPP come across as overly conservative, causing more progressive elements to consider dropping support or to drop it altogether in favor of one of the many parties to the left of the DPP, such as the NPP (or any of the others). I've already heard cries of "if the DPP doesn't pass marriage equality, I'm not voting for Tsai in 4 years!" which, to my Bernie Babe ears is alternately appealing and worrying.

On the other side we have a party that looks like it's falling apart, with weird infighting, internal decisions on how party voting will be carried out and apologies for whatever-the-hell from Chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu, people calling for her to step down or whatever and all sorts of things that I barely pay attention to, with a group of ultra-ROC-nationalist pro-China zealots and their deep blue supporters on one hand and a more Taiwanized KMT (which I still hate, by the way, the KMT is gonna KMT no matter what and I'm not interested) on the other, and Jason Hsu in there screaming that they all should be better than they are, or ever will be.

KMT Chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu

At the center of it all we have crazy-ass Hung, and a potential presidential run by Rich Boss Man Terry Gou. OK, sure. Not so appealing, right? They don't look like they're poised for success anytime soon.

But...does that sound familiar to anyone else?

I know it seems unrelated, but in an environment where one party is a bit weak and unable to convey its basic message while the other one is wracked with infighting, and no third parties are strong enough to really shake up the system, where both major parties either are bleeding support (in the case of the KMT) or might well do so if they don't get their progressive act together (that is, the DPP), all I see is well-fertilized ground for all sorts of insidious post-truth rumor-mongering to take hold and propel Taiwan to the same electoral clusterfuck the US just experienced, because nobody knows what to believe anymore, and will simultaneously denounce professional journalism while eating up lies.

Anyone? Y'all have seen this before, right?

Am I the only one who's worried?

Monday, December 26, 2016

One step forward for marriage equality and thoughts on the nature of disobedience

To my great regret, I was unable to make it to the marriage equality rally today, to support the referral of the bill that would amend the civil code to the Legislative Yuan from committee. I had a class at exactly the wrong time - although I could have shown up on the early side if I had known the meeting was likely to end that quickly - and by the time I was able to go downtown, everything was over. I'm not unwilling to sacrifice work time for this cause - I consider it a donation to the fight for justice. I have very understanding employers who know this issue is important to Taiwan and to me, so I'm able to do so from time to time (I am not unaware that this is a great blessing for someone who is civically active - a lot of employers would not be so flexible). But, I've already done a great deal of that already and at some point I actually do have to show up and do my job.

In any case, there seems to be good news and bad news (and if I've got any of this wrong, please do correct me in the comments. I have never claimed to be an expert in Taiwan's legislative process, and frankly I'm a bit confused by their being three or four bills, which ones are progressing, or all of them, and why).

The good news is that the bill has left committee, which is a small step forward.

The bad news is that it won't go straight to the full legislature, it will go through caucus consultations first. If I understand how that works, it means each party will consult on the bill (I had thought it was with all of their legislators, but apparently not, and the consultations are cross-party). Whether or not there is enough support for the bill to continue might be determined, and at this point either side might introduce changes to the draft.

The good news is that these caucus consultations are live streamed now, so we can pay attention to who's being a jerk and hold them accountable. This makes it less likely legislators will jerk around, I hope.

The bad news is that people who know these things predict that the KMT is likely to "butcher" the bill in caucus consultations. If a change is agreed on, it goes to the legislature as such, if not, that deliberation happens in the full legislature.

Another touch of bad news (if you can read the Chinese, I got this info here) is that this is perhaps not the great bill that activists had hoped for - it amends the code, but waters down the language and basically adds another category of marriage rather than changing the language referring to gender in the original law.

On the good side, however, the legislature finally seems to be aware (I hope?) that support for marriage equality is strong and more than superficial (if it were surface-level support for a 'trendy' cause, 250,000 people would not have shown up on December 10th, and 30,000 or so people would not have shown up today), and the Ministry of Justice will not be drafting its own bill for civil partnerships (which would likely not confer equal rights, would be akin to segregation - separate is not equal after all, and civil partnerships are not considered 'marriage' - and would not result in a change in the civil code).

I note all of this because there seems to be a lot of confusion as to when this is finally going to be voted on, if it ever is, and what today stood for. People are celebrating, which I can understand to some degree - the bill being finally out of committee is undoubtedly a step forward and we ought to recognize that. I, however, will be saving my celebration for when the path forward is clearer than it is now. I am not at all confident that it will get through caucus consultations unscathed.

On the other side of the debate, there are a lot of images circulating on Facebook noting that the pro-equality demonstrators are peaceful and friendly, whereas the anti-equality ones, perhaps knowing they're on the losing side, perhaps just being judgmental tight-asses in general, have gotten angry and rowdy. There were reports of smoke bombs going off, and several were arrested.

On one hand, it is a credit to the pro-equality side that they present a better image and are advocating peacefully and intelligently for their goals. On the other, how peaceful demonstrations are is not necessarily an indicator of how 'right' the goal of the demonstrators is. Remember scenes of the student movement participants that became the Sunflowers shouting at police, being dragged down the street and - at least as it was reported by J. Michael Cole - egging and spray painting a government building. They occasionally got rowdy, they blocked access, they climbed walls. They were, however, absolutely correct in their convictions. I appreciate that the pro-equality crowd is peaceful but let's not make this distinction too simplistic, shall we? It could come back to bite us later.

Along those lines, the anti-equality crowd, when they were arrested for trying to climb the walls surrounding the Legislative Yuan and many of them were promptly handcuffed with zipper ties, were said to shout "how come the Sunflowers did this and were not restrained?" (not an exact quote).

Honestly, if they think the reason why they were handcuffed and the Sunflowers were not had anything to do with ideology, they have not been paying attention. I happen to think they know this is not a valid comparison, and are being disingenuous, but I digress.

The police were not on the side of the Sunflowers, they didn't "let" them get away with it because of the ideology driving the students. They got away with it because nobody - including I would gather many of the Sunflowers themselves - saw it coming (at least that's how I've heard it told). Nobody expected the occupation would happen that quickly, it caught everyone off-guard.

Now, there's a precedent, and police are ready. Should a group of strong-willed students try to occupy the Legislative Yuan again, you can be sure they would be similarly arrested, if not had worse things done to them. You can also be sure the students are aware of this.

It just so happens that the Sunflowers were right and the anti-equality demonstrators are wrong, but that has nothing to do with who was arrested and who wasn't. Remember as well that, while the Executive Yuan case against the Sunflowers was dropped, as far as I am aware, prosecution for the Legislative Yuan occupation is ongoing. (Please correct me if I am wrong or have missed something).

It's a bit of a logical fallacy, and also painfully reductive its, to equate either 'passionate civil disobedience' with being right, or 'we were peaceful, so we must be the good guys' with being right. The rightness or wrongness of your stance is not determined by whether you demonstrate peacefully or make a scene, and it could come back to bite those who pretend it is. The Sunflowers were right, but not because they happened to occupy. The anti-equality crowd is wrong, but not because they grew rowdy. The pro-equality demonstrators are right, but not because they are peaceful (though it does make them look good). As long as your tactics don't result in the injury or death of innocent parties (I take a more liberal approach to property destruction but it probably doesn't help anyone's cause to engage in it), how laudable your goals are should not be tied to how you fight for them.

This seems to be another fundamental misunderstanding of the legacy of the Sunflowers - like the KMT who still can't understand that such civic actions are not necessarily orchestrated by an opposing party and who try to pull off unsuccessful imitations, the anti-equality demonstrators do not seem to understand that their legacy is not "if you are right, you must occupy". It was, and always has been to fight for what you believe in through non-violent but also non-passive means, physically if you must, and ethics, logic and the progress of society will determine whether you are right or wrong.

On a more personal note, I've noticed recently that I have kind of been hankering to be a part of something like this, well, for awhile. At least since my own country went to hell and I vowed to engage more in the civic realm, but in Taiwan which is my home, rather than America, which is not. My absence today was not a problem, I surely was not missed. Enough people showed  up that that one extra body did not matter. However, I personally wanted to be there to physically support a cause I care about, and regret that I missed the chance. I understand that today was not entirely safe, and there was the chance of an altercation, however, if anything such a risk just makes me more committed. I don't want to start anything or get involved in such a confrontation, but I am not afraid of one, and will not be intimidated.

Apparently some anti-equality protesters shouted to a 'foreign' journalist to 'go back to his country'. I would have responded in that situation that I am in my country, that Taiwan is my home.

Next time, then, I will be there.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Supreme Pain for the Tyrants

IMG_6163Our work is not done.

This coming Saturday, 12/17, is Taichung Pride, and once again we need to beat the numbers of anti-equality protesters who gathered in that city (I think 40,000). As much as I'm not a fan of Taichung and its near impossible transportation, I would go if I didn't have work in Tainan that day.

The day after Christmas (12/26 just in case I have to make that clear) is the date of...well, I'll let Taiwan Law Blog explain it (from their comment on my previous post):

December 26 is a committee meeting where they will decide whether to refer the bill(s) to the entire Legislative Yuan. The plenary session that includes all 113 members will be the second reading, which won't take place until February at the earliest because that's when the next legislative session starts. Also, all three bills in the committee amend the Civil Code, though Yu Mei-nu's doesn't not change the language throughout (are you referring to hers when you said 'append to it'?). There are no civil partnership bills on the table now. Some DPP legislators may introduce one before December 26, but the KMT has said it will not.

There will be protests.

There will be rallies.

I hope many of you will consider going to one or both of these events, lending your bodies once again to provide physical proof that the Taiwanese want marriage equality.

The anti-equality advocates are as organized as ever, and they're not going to stop. It doesn't seem to matter to them that they are in the minority, nor that a huge number of them want to inflict Christian-doctrine inspired law on a country where less than 5% of the population are Christians. Nor does it matter to them that, even if Taiwan were a majority Christian nation, that it is not right for one religion's doctrine to be the deciding factor in laws governing a pluralistic society. The idea that one cannot legislate one's religion, or that one is not entitled to insist that their culture is a certain way (that is, conservative, traditional) when the clear numbers show that it's not, is also lost on them.

Their leaders are acting like tyrants, trying to push beliefs that the majority of Taiwanese have rejected onto the nation simply to satisfy their own dogmatism and prejudice. They are causing real pain to many LGBT Taiwanese who simply want legal recognition of what is already true: legal recognition of relationships that will exist regardless of the law.

Some of them can be talked to, perhaps a few can be convinced. A large number, I suspect, are ensconced in their roles as mini-tyrants, trying to dictate culture to, and inflict unwanted religious dogma on, a populace that doesn't agree with them. All we can do is show the government that they are in the minority and we not only have the numbers, but progress and moral right on our side. If we cannot sway them with compassion, we have to let them feel the pain of losing.

We scored a major victory this past Saturday, 250,000 coming out (pun intended even though I'm straight) to stand for marriage equality, decisively crushing by the numbers those opposed to equality. It's all the more satisfying because the media, in a rare turn of accuracy, reported the more correct crowd estimates for this past Saturday, rightly ignoring the clearly skewed police estimate of 75,000.

The lower estimate given by police, compared to the "200,000" number bandied about for the anti-equality protest, is not an accident. It is deliberate misinformation. It is the essence of fake news. They did the same thing to the Sunflowers, if you remember.

15338733_1221657311242885_590698434348351531_nFrom here

We not only have to bring down the culture war tyrants, but fight back against attempts to minimize the proof that the Taiwanese know what they want, and that that's equality.

We have to keep beating them at the media game, and keep beating them by the numbers. We have to call them out, and we have to refuse to listen to their obfuscatory tactics masquerading as logic. When they quote a debunked study, or post links to a website with an agenda as "proof" of the correctness of their views, or claim falsely that they are the "silent majority", or speak in dogmatic, generalities and deliberately confused and jejune metaphors (for example: "children need an apple and an orange for complete nutrition, not two apples or two oranges"), we must refuse to listen.

When they say this is a Western import, and not intrinsic to Taiwanese culture, we must again refuse to listen. Nobody (except possibly the voice of reason) died and made them emperors of what is and is not Taiwanese culture. If this idea were being forced on Taiwan by Western countries, 250,000 Taiwanese wouldn't have shown up last weekend to insist otherwise. They are the minority and they are the voice of reactionary bigotry, and it's time they felt like it.

As J. Michael Cole put it, this isn't just about marriage equality (link in Chinese) - it's also about what the Taiwanese want their country to be. It's about the process of national identity. Does Taiwan want to be a country of inclusiveness and tolerance, or does it want to deny equal rights to 10% of its citizens because a few people are uncomfortable with it?

This is not a foreign issue. It is not a foreign import. 99.9% (or so) of the attendees on Saturday were Taiwanese - young Taiwanese, but Taiwanese nonetheless. This is a Taiwanese issue, facing a society that, at its core, is accepting, tolerant and progressive by Asian standards.

Taiwan has a beautiful name, and the truly touching show of support last Saturday showed it also has beautiful ideals. We're not done yet, though. We need your bodies again, in the 17th and the 26th, to turn those ideals into legal reality.

Please come.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Separate is not the same as equal


I just wanted to share a few photos from Monday's gathering outside the Legislative Yuan, as that (heh) august body debates the same-sex marriage bills before it. I also wanted to make sure anybody reading this who doesn't know already knows about and is encouraged to attend another pro-marriage-equality gathering at Ketagalan Boulevard (in front of the Presidential Office) on 12/10.

I don't know what the lineup is for that event, but this one included several well-known Taiwanese activists, including Jennifer Lu, Lin Fei-fan, Miao Boya (at least I saw her near the stage but am not clear on whether she spoke) and others.

I don't have a lot to say that hasn't already been said by better-informed commentators than me, other than to reiterate my strong and vocal support for marriage equality in Taiwan. Taiwan has been struggling for years to be noticed internationally -for many who have never visited the country, it's like it doesn't exist. Many assume it's already a part of China. Others assume it is not a democracy (I had a family member make this mistake. They were corrected) or that it's a third-world backwater rather than a developed tech, artistic and industrial hub in the heart of Asia.

Being the first Asian country to make marriage equality a reality will not only help further separate Taiwan from the claws of China by creating an easily recognizable and irreconcilable cultural distinction between the two nations - which I fully support - and is not only simply the right thing to do. Being a pioneer in Asia in terms of human rights - yes, marriage is a human right, so if you want to withhold that from some people based on who they love, you do not support basic human rights and I have a few choice words for you and am not interested in your illogical arguments - but would also raise Taiwan's international image and recognition. It is not only the right thing to do, it is the right thing for a nation whose people desperately want it recognized as such.


As most of you know, the Tsai administration on a few occasions has indicated a desire to back down from full marriage equality and push instead for "civil partnerships" (which would not necessarily confer the same rights to same-sex couples). For obvious reasons, I do not support this: as one protester noted with his wonderfully misspelled sign (which I did not have the heart to point out to him), separate is not equal. The people want real equality, not an empty gesture. Real equality means all marriages are equal. Nothing less is acceptable.


You likely also know that the Taiwanese public, in a clear majority, supports marriage equality. This is not the 'conservative Asian country' you thought it was, or the sort of country you imagine when you imagine Asian culture, if you are working mostly off general impressions and stereotypes. Not only that, but beyond clear majority support, a huge percentage of people are indifferent, meaning it's a rather small minority indeed who are opposed to taking this step.

Indeed, the near 100% support of the youth of Taiwan for marriage equality is well-documented, but I can honestly say I've also heard it from grandparents, working-class folks in small towns, and middle-aged taxi drivers. On the way to an appointment in a taxi, the last rally, which I was unable to attend, was being discussed on the radio. I made a passing comment indicating my support and the septuagenarian taxi driver replied with "obviously. It's a human right. It's very simple. Of course everyone should have human rights."

Yes, exactly. 


So why is it taking so long? Again, it is well-documented that the main opponents to equality are the influential Christian churches - most of them preaching ultra-conservative, post-truth, fundamentalist/evangelical ideologies. So, basically, the worst kind of fake "Christians" who don't really understand what following Christ means (here I am, an atheist, feeling this way about them. If my disdain is palpable, there's a reason. But please don't think it extends to all Christians. Only these kinds of hateful people who simply want an angry patriarchal sky daddy to rubber-stamp their bigotry rather than a cohesive philosophy of inclusion, kindness and forgiveness). These churches and their "Christians" have deep ties to both major political parties, the KMT possibly moreso than the DPP, though it's not clear.

Most Taiwanese, however, are not Christian. I've heard that only approximately 4.5% are (a quick googling confirms this).

The game of influence and power is easy to point out. What I'm wondering is, with politicians with ties to these churches going against the will of the people - and the will is pretty damn clear - how long until it starts to really cost them votes?


Hear me out here. Taiwan has never been the ultra-conservative culture people think it is, at least not in any way we'd define as typical Western conservatism. To quote a friend, the Taiwanese have always had a rebellious, liberal streak, perhaps moreso than is apparent in other Asian nations, or at least it's a stronger cultural undercurrent. Being a strong ally and supporter of the US, with an openness to Western values and liberal democracy, has helped this undercurrent come more to the surface to be sure. However, it hasn't been until recently that the general hold of Chinese/Han chauvinism (and possibly also its more organically Taiwanese counterpart, Hoklo ethnocentrism) has been shouted down in a majority of society in favor of more liberal voices gaining strength.

To put it simply, it was perhaps easier for political parties to hide the extent to which their actions were influenced by churches in Taiwan under a veneer of conservative Chinese chauvinism, because it is not at all clear where Christian chauvinism ends and Chinese chauvinism begins regarding quite a few social issues (I've written about this before, by the way).


Now that the young and liberal voices (not necessarily one and the same) are starting to influence both policy and culture, however, there is an expiration date on how much longer either party can hide that they are influenced by groups that, by and large, do not represent the Taiwanese electorate.

This is perhaps a bigger issue for the DPP than the KMT. The KMT's core is  more likely to hold conservative views. So the KMT continuing to more or less be the bigger obstacle to equality won't necessarily affect their decision to stay in the blue camp and the party has long since lost the youth vote. All the Jason Hsus in the world aren't going to fix that.

The DPP, however, still has a shot at those younger, liberal votes. Many have defected to the NPP and other small leftie parties, but many are still willing to vote if not for their local DPP candidate, than for a DPP president. Continuing to stall on marriage equality will eventually cost the DPP the youth vote, because they're just not going to stand for being dicked around much longer on issues that are important to them.


So, as influential as those churches and their members may be in Taiwanese politics - an influence well outsize their proportion of society, at least one party is likely - in my view anyway - to start losing votes over it. If the DPP wants to capture and keep the youth vote, they're going to have to jettison the Christians who have their hands on the buttons of Taiwanese social issues in favor of the more progressive approach their party's name implies. 


Anyway, I don't have much more to say except I am happy that Taiwanese are finally taking to the streets beyond the well-established Pride parade to show the government that the people do, in fact, want equality. Anti-equality bigots have their demonstration game down. The ethically and morally correct pro-equality, pro-human rights left needs to respond in kind and, while keeping it friendly and love-oriented, fight back and show the government how big their numbers are. 


So, enjoy a few more pictures!


I didn't have the heart to tell this poor guy he spelled every English work on his sign wrong :(


Can you tell I hadn't slept well the night before?