01/27/2009, 00.00
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Sociology of religion is used to counter religion in Vietnam

by Ngoc Dung *
Professors and experts, who are public employees, talk about and teach religion following the government line, promoting atheism against Catholicism and other religions. About 80 per cent of the population is religious, but only 1 per cent is atheist; yet it is the latter that controls religion.
Da Lat (AsiaNews) – Whether intentionally or not, the lack of understanding of religion and the way sociology of religion is taught tend to go against Catholicism and other faiths. But for Vietnam’s Communist government, faith and religion of a segment of the population represent spiritual needs that will continue to exist during the construction of socialism. People are free to believe or not believe in any faith of their choosing and engage in normal religious activities within the law and this in accordance with coherent policies that respect and guarantee religious freedom. However, scholars and experts, who are public employees, tend to follow the government line in teaching courses on the sociology of religion and atheistic theories which are biased against Catholicism and other religions.

“I don’t understand my professor when he tells me: ‘After the lesson I cannot summarise for you; you must do it on your own’,” said Nguyen, a sociology student at Ho Chi Minh City’s Open University. “In my opinion sociology of religion is taught by professors who do not understand enough about Catholicism, or Buddhism or other religions. They have never believed in God; they only believe in materialism, the pillar of our society, and in money.”

Hoa, who studies sociology at Da Lat University, spoke to AsiaNews about the matter. “I am in my first year of specialisation in sociology,” she said. “In studying the subject of my specialisation I am getting the impression that I am studying politics and that my professor is teaching me the government’s point of view. Those who teach religious sociology don’t understand Catholicism. They say religion is a drug, a ‘tam linh’, that is a spirit because ‘God’s existence cannot be proven scientifically’. Teachers like these are harming our generation of young people, discriminating against Catholic and non Catholic students and other religions.”

Vietnam’s population today stands at about 84 million, 80 per cent of whom are religious. Catholics represent 7 per cent of the total. Atheists are about 1 per cent of the population but they control religion.

Moreover, many teachers, experts, social workers and medical doctors are corrupted by local authorities with offers of positions and money.

Sister Teresa, a sociology student at Hanoi’s National University, told AsiaNews, that the “goal of religious sociology ought to be to teach basic concepts by looking at certain theories, research methods, etc. Instead professors ask students to learn the fundamental concepts of Marxism as tools to understand religious phenomena in Vietnam. My professors is a ‘national father,’ that is a veteran, who works for the state-run university. How can I believe him when he is always criticising the Church and defending an atheist and Communist point of view!”

“I work with the poor in some parishes in the Saigon diocese,” said Father P., a social worker involved in some local development projects. “Other work groups from the Catholic Unity Committee of Viet Nam are involved in the same thing in Ho Chi Minh City. Some professors and experts are backed or work for local authorities. They have the ‘O Du’ from ‘local mass organisations’ or ‘foreign social organisations’ and entertain good relations with government institutions like the ‘Hoi Quan Den Voi Nhau’, a group involved in social activities, teaching according to its own methods. They approach people and teach social work on the basis of sociological principles that conform to the authorities’ point of view. They have not attended any church, nor gone to confession or received the Body of Christ for 31 years. How can we believe them when they teach the lies of local authorities! I hope we can pray together to find faith in God, showing Catholics’ love for all people and for other religions, helping people and local churches face society’s difficulties.

One sociology student at the Open University in Ho Chi Minh City said that “when we had to choose our field of study, the head of the Faculty of Sociology assured us that ‘after studying here and getting your degree, you can work for government agencies, study groups, social research centres, government religious research centres as top officials in agencies, mass organisations, people’s organisations, the Communist youth organisations, the women’s union, community development project and businesses.’ However, many of my friends and former university students tell me that a sociology degree is a dead end with few job prospects in these fields. The result is that we must be retrained in other faculties and lose a lot of time in other studies.”

“I am studying sociology,” said Hai, who goes to the National University in Ho Chi Minh City. “The central point of my specialisation is the philosophy or Marx and Lenin and the ideas of Ho Chi Minh. The courses in the sociology of religion focus on how religion is seen by the government and are not based on social science. Many professors do not know enough or do not understand well Catholicism and other religions.”

Professors and experts, who work for the government, teach the sociology of religion and atheistic theories according to the government line and end up opposing Catholicism and other religions.

*Sociology professor

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