An interesting and sad article in today’s Wall Street Journal reveals that the crash in Thailand’s Buddhist amulet market is due, in part, to questions about whether some of the amulets were properly blessed by Buddhist monks. How is it possible to really know if an amulet has been blessed? The article explains the extent of the crash:
In a pattern now painfully familiar to investors the world over, the boom was so great — some amulets sold for as much as $75,000 — that the bust could only be close behind. A glut, combined with growing suspicions that many amulets hadn’t been properly blessed by Buddhist monks, has blown the bottom out of the market in the past few weeks. Most of the little clay objects, part of a billion-dollar-plus industry just a few months ago, are now practically worthless.
Is it possible to restore someone’s faith in a blessing that did not take place? Why didn’t some of the amulets prevent the market crash from happening, and the hucksters from taking advantage of the situation?
[The husband of Ms. Saranya, a former talisman dealer] wants talisman experts to try to rescue the market by talking up the magical properties of the amulets to attract yet more buyers. “Governments bail out banks when they get in trouble,” he says. “The talisman experts should do something to restore people’s faith.” The experts are reluctant. “Too many people got too greedy. They were producing and buying talismans purely to make a speculative profit,” says Wiwat Nilnawee, a Bangkok-based amulet trader and national authority on talismans. “Better the market finds its true level.”
But was the whole thing fated?
Some clerics in Thailand say the talisman craze has distracted from true Buddhist teachings. Phra Thepvinyaporn, abbot of Wat Phra Mahatat, claims it is consistent with the faith. “People are just tools of God’s will,” he says. “Buying talismans was a way of providing the means to support our temple.”
The abbot blessed the $13,000 of amulets that Ms. Saranya paid for but never received — and he is now the chief target of her quest for compensation.
Within America’s evangelical malaise, ministers send out items that have allegedly been prayed for, or that allegedly carry a special anointing or blessing, in exchange for a “seed of faith” donation. How does one verify that such a blessing has been given to the item in question? Why does one need to have that much faith in an allegedly blessed thing?
To take this in another direction, a different aspect of this topic involves the use of common, everyday things to express religious faith.
I’m inclined to think that everyday things ought to be used — we think of Jesus’ earthly ministry of mud, spit, water, fig trees, touching, and an incident in which he wrote or drew something in the dirt.
From a more contemporary standpoint, on a more negative note, think of all the junk in mainstream Christian bookstores — pencil sharpeners and coffee mugs and keychains with “John 3:16” or “Jesus” stamped on the side, making one wonder how hard it is to make a buck off religious people. Does one have to have faith to produce stamped pencil sharpeners and mugs and keychains? Is it really an admirable sign of devotion to carry such things? If you really want to, go ahead, but only if you really want to, and not to earn points with people or God.
From a more hip and trendy point of view, perhaps more positive, think of the folk art phenomenon, and of all the religious messages stated and depicted with loud colors on sections of old tins roofs, or boards pulled from delapidated houses.
Then again, my wife and I were driving near Tabor City, N.C., two days ago and in someone’s front yard was a small, yellow motorboat with “Jesus is Lord” stuck on the side in large, pre-fab letters.
“That does not inspire me to worship,” she said.
-Colin Foote Burch