I was perusing missionary blogs the other day — as if the heat of a Taiwan summer wasn’t soporific enough already — and stumbled across this brilliant insight:

Among other things, I shared with the nurse that the initial reaction to the idols that many of us foreigners have when seeing them for the first time is that they inspire horror.

Knowing it was my duty as a blogger to expose this horror, I immediately swung into action. Grabbing my camera, I sped over the local temple, where there was a festival in action in all of its horrible panoply. Since this is a family blog, I feel I must warn you, dear reader, that what follows are graphic photos of people praying, singing, chatting, eating, and buying things. I hope you are not too deeply offended.

Vendors selling fruit for sacrifices.

People meander in and out. One of the most enjoyable things about Taiwan temples is the way they function as community centers where people carry on all the business of life.

A number of vendors selling food, medicine….

…and trinkets also set up stalls at the festival.

Another horror: begging monks.

Waiting for mom?

Inside the temple, a typical Taiwan crush.

Tables overflowing with sacrifices.

Offerings of song and prayer. I apologize for the graphic nature of this photo.

The full, untrammeled horror of a temple interior.

I walked in to have a chat with an old guy who used to sell me mian xian for breakfast, and found this table full of femmes selling necklaces of beads.

A popular Taiwan jelly drink served up in volume at the festival. Here the women cut up the jelly to make it drink-sized.

My apologies for the violent nature of this graphic photo of food processing.

Sacrifices laid out on the table.

Religious tracts. I have an abiding interest in early Christian history, and watching Chinese polytheism, and how Christians interact with China’s more sophisticated and diverse religious expression, has given me some insight into how ancient Rome must have greeted the first Christians.

Re-arranging the ashes in the ghost money burner.

Avert your eyes! This is not cute! This is a horror!

It’s a tough enough religious market for Christian missionaries, without this constant expression of borderline colonialistic chauvinism. I also see it as a substantial misrepresentation of foreigner attitudes — in 18 years involved with Taiwan I have never heard a local foreigner express “horror” at the thought of local religion — nearly everyone I know finds it interesting, and a source of wonder, enjoyment, and endless puzzling over ‘What does this mean?’ Local bloggers have spent many a post documenting the strange and wonderful things they find inside temples. Taiwan is home to a legion of foreigners who wander across the countryside, camera in hand, spending countless hours inside temples, fascinated. I count myself greatly fortunate to be in a country where private religious expression is often a public event, one that I can attend, and where I am politely and warmly welcomed, even if I am taking photos.