In comparison to the religious climate in China following the Cultural Revolution, religion in Taiwan was much less restrictive. Although there were government-sanctioned religious organizations, religious groups were generally allowed to freely practice their beliefs. What really interested me was the development of rational-ethical religion: a belief system that downplays doctrines to reduce religion to ethics. The development of “this-worldly Buddhism” was basically justified by the belief that “one must enter the world in order to leave the world” and that salvation can be found by bringing compassion into ordinary life. This was fascinating to me because once again, typically Chinese religious beliefs began to take on aspects of Christian tradition. Rather than focusing on seeking otherworldly satisfaction, followers of these new varieties of Buddhism and Daoism began to work to improve their communities. Despite being religious groups, these associations began to take on humanist qualities to help those in need.
The extent of which these organizations promulgate their beliefs is astounding. As a Chinese American coming from Southern California, I’ve spent much of my childhood at a Chinese school run by the Tzu Chi Foundation and went to Hsi Lai Temple at least twice each year. However, the way many Chinese people follow these organizations is not necessarily in a religious context. The Chinese school I attended didn’t force its religious doctrine on students, and many of the Chinese people I knew simply visited the temple for the sake of tradition. Essentially, these rational-ethical religious groups have become much more than simply religions. Because of their wide range of influence, from running hospitals to schools to media, have these originally religious groups evolved to become cultural organizations?