Bangkok, 13 August 2004 — Venerable Rachakavi, deputy dean of Maha Mongkut Ratchawiihayalai College, sees consumerist culture as partly a “creation” of parents who want to “show off” their status by sending children to prestigious schools.
The Buddhist monk spoke July 29 at an interreligious seminar on “Thai children and their alienation from religion and family,” sponsored by Thailand’s Ministry of Culture. Buddhist, Catholic and Muslim leaders spoke at the seminar in Bangkok, which explored ways to develop the religious and moral life of young Thais.
Venerable Rachakavi maintained youth alone cannot be blamed for social problems and that adults, especially parents, must also be held accountable. The “natural environment for children” is the family and young people should spend as much time with parents as they can, he said.
He lamented, however, that middle-class parents send their children to tutorial classes or other supplementary activities after school and on weekends, afraid they could not otherwise compete with other students. This means children spend less and less time with their family, the monk said.
Father Chalerm Kitmongkhol, deputy secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand, placed blame more generally on the consumerist orientation of society and the economy for alienating youth from religion and the family.
Consumerism has affected people’s thinking and behavior, he said, citing that the home, instead of being a place of family warmth, becomes a hotel for overnight stay. The school, meanwhile, instead of being an institute of learning, becomes a factory to produce professional workers.
Moreover, he added, worship places, instead of guiding people in religious principles, become “theaters” where people go to make merit, “show off” their holiness and engage in rituals, instead of nourishing their spiritual life.
The Church official warned that religion teachers should not overstress “thou shall not do this, or that” when teaching religion or morality, because young people instinctively reject this type of instruction. Religion is best taught by practice, he said, so religious teachers should use activities or point to examples to instill in young people religious and ethical principles.
Vinai Sama-un, vice president of the Council of Muslim Organizations in Thailand, asked how teaching on religion in schools could be made more interesting to inspire children and youth. He said religious instruction often stresses giving alms for one’s own merit, instead of practicing religious principles in daily life. He also pointed out that religious instruction often separates spiritual life from everyday life. This “definitely” causes separation of religion from society, he added.
According to Amornwich Nakornthap, director of Center for Policy Research in Education at Chulalongkorn University, studies the center conducted late last year indicate about 60 percent of young people most prefer to spend time at shopping malls and department stores, using the Internet and mobile phones, and eating fast food.
The studies showed 45 percent of the young respondents did not give alms to monks, 65 percent had not listened to a sermon within a month, and about 40 percent of those in high school said they never take trips with their parents. More than 90 percent of Thais are Buddhists.
Amornwich said such studies show young people are influenced by materialism and consumerism, and that this affects their parental relationships.
Commenting on these observations, university graduate Noppawan Jaravanstit, 22, and her sister Piyawan, 20, a university student, both Buddhists from Bangkok, acknowledged they and their friends enjoy spending time at shopping malls. However, Piyawan told UCA News her friends are “mindful” when spending money, since they know they should spend according to their means.
She added that even if young people do not go to the temple, offer alms or attend services on Buddhist holy days, it does not mean they do not have religious principles. Religions often emphasize external values, she said.
For Piyawan, being kind, generous and helping others is the essence of religious practice. She added that religious education at the Catholic school she attended for 13 years taught such values, stressing compassion and the dignity of life.
Noppawan told UCA News the present economy fosters competition and consumerism as essential to life. She recalled that apart from going to school five days a week, she attended special tutorial classes or was involved in music or sports on the weekends. She said their parents were driven to give them the best education they could but also provided an anchor for them in living religious and moral lives. The sisters are planning to spend two weeks helping poor students in rural areas.
© UCAN 2004 – UCAN (Union of Catholic Asian News) is linked to UCIP (International Catholic Union of the Press). With several offices around Asia, UCA News is the largest Asian Church news agency. Posted on Religioscope with permission.