Pray and Get Rich

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Being an atheist and a rationalist, I find most religious beliefs quite silly. But religious people vary hugely in their behaviour, and many do excellent deeds. Generally, I find it easier to respect the believer who lives by the core tenets of his faith, as all major religions have pretty reasonable ethical groundwork. Christian charity, for instance, is a fine thing.

On the other hand, I find idolatry and religious egoism particularly risible. And at a Chinese restaurant where I have been a regular for nearly 20 years there is a lovely example of both, as shown above.

Chinese Buddhism is a mess. It is a barely recognisable caricature of the original ideas. In China, religious worship is basically about praying to statues for stuff. And so we find this happy rotund Buddha holding a big honking GOLD COIN aloft to entice the supplicant with his incense sticks. “Pray and get rich!” Just like those sad, sad deluded people who fill midwestern megachurches in the US to hear the Prosperity Gospel.

Comments

  1. #1 Melliferax
    February 25, 2010

    And sort of pretty much the opposite of what the buddha actually preached, as far as I’m aware…

  2. #2 Bob Carlson
    February 25, 2010

    Can’t say I’ve noticed anything of the kind in Washington, DC area Chinese restaurants. My hunch would be that Buddhism is more messed up in places other than China than it is in China itself:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_China

  3. #3 Geoff Carter
    February 25, 2010

    Truth is stranger than fiction; Terry Pratchett created
    Yen Buddhism for Discworld.
    “Yen Buddhists believe that money poisons the soul, so they collect as much as possible, to protect others from it”.
    [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fictional_religions ]

  4. #4 Don
    February 25, 2010

    Martin: The prosperity gospel is a huge minority ray in US Christianity. It parallels the healing gospel of such charlatans as Oral Roberts, who was given so much money over the decades as to be able to build a university in Tulsa, Oklahoma. My Chinese friend tells me that you are absolutely correct about Chinese Buddhism, his response to your post was, “so what’s new?”
    Now on to more serious matters, the Swedish Curling team at the Olympics. My wife has drawn me into watching the absolutely fascinating broom work complete with audible chatter paa Svenska. I had no idea that Swedes curled, thought it was only a Canadian and northern US Sport. Tell us more!

  5. #5 Mike Olson
    February 25, 2010

    I find the folks who pray for money less frightening than those who believe that they have money because God(or Buddha) loves them more than folks who don’t…Pray to get rich all you want…but when you beleive God loves the rich more or God has blessed the rich…it is a little scary. Personally, I’m a Christian, I tend to believe that blessings are either pre-existing strenghts such as analytical ability, athletic skill, or empathy…as well as developed virtue within life…discipline, charity, moderation, tenacity…in short some blessings you’re born with, others you can develop, none have anything to do with material goods or possessions.

  6. #6 Martin R
    February 25, 2010

    Don, I’m sorry, I am completely ignorant of spectator sports. I usually only hear curling mentioned in the context of “curling parenting”.

    Mike, let’s not talk too much about blessings or we will run up against the theodicy problem…

  7. #7 Mike Olson
    February 25, 2010

    No problem. I’m not militant or evangelical, by any stretch of the imagination and many of the things that atheists address I see as legitmate issues that need to be addressed in a reasonable, rational manner.

  8. #8 dveej
    February 25, 2010

    There is Chinese folk religion, and there is Buddhism, and there is the syncretic overlay of Buddhism onto Chinese folk religion. The money-grubbing aspect you are noticing is more the Chinese folk religion part, onto which Buddhism has been overlaid, Chinese-style.
    It may well be risible from a logical point of view…but look at China’s economic growth figures, then laugh. Go ahead.

  9. #9 user
    February 25, 2010

    why are you so sure it is a Buddha statue?
    Buddhism is not the only religion in China,
    there are taoist and folktale gods, too.
    Why is he not sitting in a lotus seat with
    the legs crossed,why is he so fat,why is he
    laughing instead of meditating ?

    well i think i found him, seems to be a
    deified monk in folk religion and taoist
    tradition:

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budai

  10. #10 maikeru76
    February 26, 2010

    I do definitely agree on some points but it is worth noting that Buddhism spread through China absorbing most of the local Chinese beliefs, Gautama Buddha became a supernatural being, placed among the pantheon of local gods and goddesses…

    Praying to get rich? Well, looks like “self-motivating” oneself in order to get most of any situation… ;)

  11. #11 Martin R
    February 26, 2010

    Dveej, are you suggesting that China’s strong economic development is due to prayer?

  12. #12 Martin R
    February 26, 2010

    User, thanks, you’re right. Budai is a folkloric deity — but he’s known as The Laughing Buddha in Chinese.

  13. #13 Akhôrahil
    February 26, 2010

    I don’t know… wanting your god to make you rich seems considerably nicer than wanting him to smite the [insert smite-worthy category of people].

  14. #14 Jon H
    February 26, 2010

    It’s also possible that the Chinese kitsch presented in restaurants is quite possibly not terribly representative, but rather is chosen because it’s thought to be the kind of Asian thing that white folks like.

  15. #15 Martin R
    February 27, 2010

    I’ve been to several temples in China, and I’m afraid that is not the case. Though I admit that I have not seen this particular motif with the coin in a temple.

    As for skin colour, most Chinese are quite pale, and there is a rather strong tradition of racism against darker people.

  16. #16 Henrik
    March 1, 2010

    Just a mild query: In what way does “Pray and get rich” differ from the socialist-liberal “Vote for us and we guarantee a better future”? Both are beliefs centered on resigning responsibility for your own life to some other authority on the promise of prosperity.

    ;)

  17. #17 Martin R
    March 1, 2010

    To start with, those politicians actually exist, and there is a clear pathway for me to follow if I wish to become one myself.

  18. #18 Henrik
    March 1, 2010

    You miss the point, Martin. ;) Politicians are the modern equivalents of priests, or shamans if you prefer. If you wanted to, you could become either a priest or a politician. Same underlying human principles at work.

  19. #19 Pierce R. Butler
    March 12, 2010

    Are you sure that “idol” isn’t a subliminal tip-promotion ploy?

  20. #20 Martin R
    March 13, 2010

    Umm, isn’t that thing a little too in-yer-face to be called “subliminal”?

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