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Religion And Secularism Essay

2469 words - 10 pages

As the dominant first-person narrator of The Quiet American, Fowler is at the key point in terms of introducing and elaborating on the theme of religion which is presented in a variety of ways, from different religious doctrines to the question of faith, from secularism to moral awareness. Through Fowler’s eyes, the reader learns much about the religious structure of Vietnam and its relation to the ongoing war. The rich texture of religious life in Vietnam and how the war affects this structure are revealed in Fowler’s personal accounts and impressions. On the other hand, Fowler’s secularism and scepticism constitute a significant part of the theme of religion since he emphasizes his ...view middle of the document...

What is striking about the religious structure of Vietnam is the diversity of the religious groups and their practices. This structure covers a wide range of religious groups including Catholics, Buddhists, Caodaists, and pagans, which displays quite a harmony. This harmony can be seen in the occasions like the Catholic parade in Phat Diem in which other religious groups like Buddhist also participate as they “could not bear to miss the fun” (Greene 39). Another occasion reflecting the harmonious atmosphere is the festival at the Holy See in Tanyin which is held by the Caodaists who believe in “a synthesis of the three religions” (Greene 75) -Buddhism, Confucianism and Christianity-.
However, the war as a bitter reality of Vietnam affects the religious structure there as well, and thus brings us to the issue of the religious institutions’ neutrality during the war. The war has a considerable impact on the society and life in Vietnam, and many religious institutions as important parts of the society and life there inevitably get involved in the war, acting like military or political powers and thus losing their neutrality. Although the priest that Fowler meets in Phat Diem claims the neutrality of the Cathedral by saying that “We are neutral here. This is God’s territory” (Greene 41), he also has to admit that it would be far-fetched to expect the impartiality of all the religious institutions there as the heavy influence of the political and military powers is inevitable.
Even so, the Vietnamese people still take refuge in religious institutions and practices as an escape and protection from the destructiveness and the cruelty of the war. Commenting on the large participation in Catholic procession in Phat Diem, Fowler draws our attention to the unifying and soothing power of religion: “[…] those who had belief in neither God nor Buddha believed that somehow all these banners and incense-burners and golden monstrance would keep war away from their homes” (Greene 39). After the Vietminh attack, “Catholics, Buddhists, pagans, they all packed their most valued possessions…and moved into the Cathedral precincts…They believed, whatever their religion, that here they would be safe” (Greene 40-41). Thus, Fowler as a careful observer offers us a clear portrayal of the multi-religious texture of Vietnam, and also reveals the interaction between religious institutions and the war and comments the religious perception of the Vietnamese people in wartime.
Apart from Fowler’s outside perception regarding religion, we see that the characterization of Fowler touches upon the issues of secularism and scepticism, which sheds light upon his inner world as a non-believer. Throughout the book, Fowler expresses his and secularism whenever religion is under discussion. The concept of ‘permanence’ which Fowler associates with God is something from which he has always alienated himself: “From childhood I had never believed in permanence, and yet I had longed for...

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