Earlier this month I attended the 30th anniversary of the Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha Foundation. In 1981 all national Buddhist sects and organizations became unified. This was also a celebration of the 2,000-year tradition concerning the teachings of Buddha in Vietnam as well as their 46,495 monks and nuns; 12,862 temples; 451 monasteries; and over 1,500 other facilities.
The entire event was covered live by state television and all mass media outlets. The government presented the Buddhist with multiple awards. The Vice Chairman of The Government for Religious Affairs of Vietnam, Nguyen Thanh Xuan, gave a keynote address. Before I departed the United States last August, I read an official American government report on ‘religious persecution’ in Vietnam. This event and that report did not add up.
According to Human Rights Watch, 240 Burma monks are in prison including U. Gambria who received a 63-year sentence for protesting against human rights abuses by the government and military. I have also seen footage smuggled out of Burma showing tortured and dead monks. That type of suppression does not exist here.
In Egypt, as the United States continued to back Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian Baha’is were denied state I.D. cards, passports, the right to employment and education, as well as their marriages were not officially recognized and therefore subjecting them to Islamic prosecution. That type of discrimination does not exist here.
In the United States from 1995-2000, 945 churches were burned to the ground. That type of insanity does not exist here nor do suicide bombers, as the Constitution guarantees one a right to religion or no religion. The thought of elevating one mode of thought over another, or one particular group being right and another wrong, is not Vietnamese. Yes, many Vietnamese will tell a foreigner they have “no religion;” but in reality that is not true. Just visit Vietnam during Tet and at one point in time or another, you can find entire Vietnamese families at cemeteries and various places of worship praying for the progression of the souls of their ancestors.
Vice Chairman Xuan told the LA Progressive that although “all” governments make mistakes, “tremendous progress” has been made in Vietnam regarding the advancement of religion. Of course one thing that has hindered that particular development in this area has been the constant and continuous wars that have been fought here. The Vice Chairman proudly pointed out that in 1986, Vietnam only recognized three religions. “But today, the government recognizes 40.” Xuan also added that during the past decade over 10 million religious books have been printed in Vietnam. That figure does not include over 1 million Bibles that came off the presses during that period.
The Cao Dai mid-August religious festival drew right at 500,000 participants and various Protestant festivals routinely attract about half that number. “Sometimes our critics cannot see the forest for the trees,” Xuan observed, “the Bible teaches us to praise and encourage a person’s good deeds; but it seems we are constantly being bashed for things others think we should or should not be doing.”
I asked Vice Chairman Xuan if he had ever heard of the Civilization Fund Act. Of course, he had not. This was the act of Congress that authorized American Christian groups to remove by force Native American children whereas they could “become civilized” in government boarding schools. The motto of the Christians, during this dark period of American history, was “kill the Indian, save the soul.” Such a program never existed here, yet we continue to sit in judgment.