The effects of protestant Christianity on the Chinese cult of ancestors as practised in the Johannesburg area.
Traditional Chinese religion involves the belief in a large number of good and evil spirit beings who are arranged in a strict hierarchical order. The spirit world is a mi r r or ed existence of the world of the living and the hierarchical order is a copy of that which was observed during the Han dynasty. Even the spirit beings are portrayed in the clothing styles of that period. The Chinese tend to be eclectic and syncretistic in their religion. Their approach to the adoption of a set of beliefs may be described as supermarket shopping for religious ideas. The historical development of Buddhism, religious Taoism as well as certain of the new religious movements in Tai~an show ample evidence of attempts to syncretise rites and beliefs. The development of filial piety since the earliest period of China's history gave rise to the formalisation of behaviour towards parents and the earlier ancestors. Certain behavioural patterns became entrenched as rites which were observed even after the death of the parents. The educated class of traditional China saw the observance of such postfunerary rites as culturally educative exercises to instill family loyalty and reverence for the dead. Such rites were also used as opportunities for the bereaved to deal with their grief in a ceremonious manner. The less educated were more prone to practise such rites as the worship of the ancestors. Filial piety served as the vehicle of ancestor veneration and in the more extreme cases, ancestor worship. The study provides a number of insights related to the different attitudes of Chinese Protestants towards the cult of the ancestors which were previously not available. A reasonably strong fundamentalist attitude exists in the Protestant community which decries any ritualistic association with the ancestral cult. A large number of Protestants draw a distinction between the cultural and the religious aspects of the ancestral cult. The reverence shown to the ancestors is seen as cultural and therefore acceptable as long as reverence is interpreted as the showing of a deep respect for the dead. The churches do not show a deep understanding of the role which the cult plays in the culture of the community. The practice of filial piety continues to be observed in tandem with the parallel Biblical teachings. However, the role of filial piety as the vehicle of ancestor veneration has not been fully grasped by the majority of church leaders and even less by the members and adherents. Certain of the churches embarked on a low profile programme to combat ancestor veneration rites especially among the senior citizens in their congregations. The attendance at the two major cultic festivals by Christians ' is no longer seen as attendance or participation in a religious rite. Such visits to the graves of relatives and friends are considered as cultural and social activities completely devoid of religious implications. The researcher found that because confusion exists in the use of certain religious terms, a corresponding confusion exists in the practice of the ancestor cult by some Chinese. On the whole, the study revealed a relatively well-informed community even amongst the younger people who were locally raised and educated when certain rites such as the 'Inviting home' ceremony was mentioned. The cult of the ancestors in Johannesburg shows a traditional persistence Johannesburg. ls gaining a few thousand environs. in spite of the Protestant influences In certain instances it appears that the new momentum, especially with the influx Taiwanese Chinese into Johannesburg and in cult of a its Many of the new immigrants continue to traditional funerary rites. observe the The sympathetic attitude of the Roman Catholic church towards the veneration of Confucius and the ancestors may in fact encourage the continued observance of the cultic rites. The Chinese Protestants continue to be faced with religious and cultural issues in terms of continuity and discontinuity. The churches and their members need to consider these issues with greater intensity and urgency. Guidelines are needed for the new generation of Chinese Protestants to the age-old question: what must a Christian surrender of his culture for the sake of his faith?