Thai Culture

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Understanding Thai Culture through Orality

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As a Westerner, there are many aspects of Thai society and thinking that I find strange, baffling, or frustrating – and sometimes all three at once.  But as I  read through Walter Ong’s book “Orality and Literacy”, there were several “Ah ha!” moments about Thai culture.  Many of his descriptions of oral cultures resonated with things that I’ve observed in Thailand.  I felt like I was beginning to understand why the Thai do some of the things that they do, thus disarming the judgmental attitudes that I’ve had at times.

I suspect that many more cultural differences between Thailand and the West that can be tracked back to orality than the ones that I list below.  And even these differences likely cannot be attributed entirely to orality.  Whether you are primarily oral or literate, other factors such as personality, family background, education, sin, and faith come into play in making a person who they are.  To classify all Thai people as oral thinkers and all Westerners as literate thinkers would grossly oversimplify matters.  However, as a general grid to think about cultural differences that I encounter, orality and literacy are a helpful framework even though individual people from any culture may fall any place along the spectrum.


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Monkey Business at the Lopburi Temple/Shrine

Time for another Video Tour – Inside a Thai Temple. This one gives a whole new meaning to the old saying, “these kids are acting like a bunch of monkeys!”  You won’t believe this…

How does John 3:16 sound to a Thai Buddhist?

Below from Karl Dahlfred – Church Planting missionary with OMF in Central Thailand. His website is incredibly valuable and encouraging as a like-minded brother and partner in the Gospel. Read more from him at:

Among evangelical Christians, John 3:16 is widely regarded as a straight forward summary of the Gospel. However, to assume that someone can hear and sufficiently understand the Gospel from John 3:16 in order to be saved is to assume a lot about their background knowledge of Christianity and basic worldview assumptions. In the West, there is still quite a bit of residual knowledge about Christianity even if people don’t believe it (i.e. there is only one God, love is a good thing, history is linear, etc.). This is a great help in presenting the Gospel to those from a culturally Christian background. But how does John 3:16sound to someone who knows nothing about Christianity and comes from a totally different religious background and upbringing?

In Thailand, the background of most people is Buddhist. And with few exceptions, the basic framework of understanding to plug John 3:16 into is absent. Yet Christians, both foreign and Thai, continue to use the same Gospel summaries and illustrations that have been used in the West for years. Just saying “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” or giving someone the Four Spiritual Laws is insufficient to really help Thai Buddhists to understand what the Gospel is about. The following video, produced by Pastor Bantoon and company at Suebsampantawong Church in Bangkok, illustrates this point.

The Dark Side of Buddhism

I recently came across this video and thought it would be great or giving you a “clear” picture on the muddled waters of Southeast Asian Buddhism in practice.

Below from Karl Dahlfred – Church Planting missionary with OMF in Central Thailand. His website is incredibly valuable and encouraging as a like-minded brother and partner in the Gospel. Read more from him at:

Many Westerners think that Buddhism is a peaceful meditative religion. What they don’t realize is that as it is practiced on the ground in much of East Asia, there is a dark occult side to it as well. While not part of the original teachings of the Buddha, these connections with the demonic are real and acknowledged by adherents of what might be called folk Buddhism. The video below gives some great insight into what this type of folk Buddhism is about, and the effects that it can have on people.

Animism and the Prosperity Gospel

Below from Karl Dahlfred – Church Planting missionary with OMF in Central Thailand.  His website is incredibly valuable and encouraging as a like-minded brother and partner in the Gospel.  Read more from him at:

I keep hearing, both first hand and from others, evidences of a theology of the prosperity Gospel creeping through the Thai church. Certainly not all Thai Christians think this way and I don’t want to overgeneralize but I hear enough of it to be concerned. By the term “prosperity gospel”, I mean this type of “Christian” teaching that tells people that God wants them to be healthy and wealthy, and to see health and wealth as sure signs of God’s blessing in their life. I grant that God’s gracious provision of good health and financial prosperity are blessings from God but Biblically speaking, the pursuit of these things should not be the goal of the Christian life (1 Tim 6:10 “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”) but rather, we should be content with what we have (Phil 4:10-13), and trust God to provide for our needs as we make obedience and faithfulness to God our primary concern (Matt. 6:33).

In many Thai churches, part of the worship service is a time for people to get up and give testimonies of God working in their lives in during the past week. There is certainly a place for praising God for giving physical healing, helping in times of financial difficulty, and other practical matters. But when these are nearly exclusively the types of praises that people are giving, then there is a problem. I asked an elderly Thai Christian, who has been a believer for twenty to thirty years, “Since you became a Christian, how have you seen God change your life?” He replied, “I was rather poor but now I am lower middle class.” I was hoping for more but that was it! I was talking with a fellow missionary who told me about the weekly “testimonies” of a church elder at the church where she and her husband worship. I know this church elder personally and

he is a very kind grandfatherly type of man who in many ways is a great blessing to that church. However, at the same time, he is getting up in the worship service each week telling the people how God has blessed him financially, flashing money and new electronic gadgets as evidences of God’s blessing.

When I hear Thai believers who talk about God’s blessings in almost entirely financial terms, I can’t help but think of the prosperity gospel from the West which is … (Continue Reading at