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The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division [1967], at


The following brief articles are included as a part of this study to show the effect of religious concepts and beliefs in daily life and are glimpses of everyday life among the Vietnamese.

A Religiously Influenced Culture

Most of the Vietnamese habits, customs, and traditions are rooted in, and conditioned by, religious beliefs. Their culture was already middle-aged when Jesus was born in the far off land of Judea. It was a long time before any of the Vietnamese heard about that time-changing event--with most of the Vietnamese still knowing nothing of the religious facts that have so influenced American culture.

Vietnam has for centuries practiced the ingestion of both outside peoples and influences--either voluntarily or involuntarily. These have all influenced and modified her culture so that each concept has become, in time, part of its own tradition and folklore. Indian cast her influence largely through peaceful trade and religion. China has been more direct through the centuries. Using war, conquest, and occupation whenever possible. It is not difficult to understand why the Vietnamese, North or South, have little love for their giant northern neighbor.

While traces of Indian culture are embedded in Vietnam, it is the impact of Chinese culture, ideas, art, religion, etc., which is most seen and realized in every phase of life in Vietnam. This is so evident that it seems "The Vietnamese threw out the baby, but kept its bath-water" when they expelled the Chinese about 1,000 A.D. Though the Chinese have been back from time to time, it has always been without an invitation.

While Buddhism originated in India, its major impact in Vietnam came through the Chinese with the many modifications created by the more historic Chinese cultural patterns and beliefs. Nevertheless, it forms a basic part of the Vietnamese scene, and a valid understanding of Vietnamese life and thought cannot be gained without a keen awareness of the part which religion has played and continues to play in so many ways.

Into the "cooking pot" of Vietnam, the various ingredients of animism, Ancestor Veneration or Worship, Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islamism, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, etc., have been tossed. To season and spice the dish, secular culture concepts of various origins have been added. This has bubbled and stewed through the centuries, so that few of the basic religions or religious ideas will be found identical to the original. Exception must be made for such religious ingredients as Protestantism which has been added too recently, and for the animism of the tribal people who have normally

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stayed aloof from the whole "show" and have suffered with their "fear-controlled religion".

The imported religious ideas have induced permanent changes in the thought and behavior patterns of the people, and have become so deeply woven into Vietnamese daily life that Westerners tend to disbelieve their eyes, and fail to comprehend the resulting value systems. These ideas mixed with animism and ancestor veneration from South China have formulated the moral codes and standards. They have also established the various rules and systems of government, and have either promoted or hindered the growth of arts, crafts, industry and technological developments.

Until very recently, and in many areas is still fact, the pagoda, the wat, the shrine, the communal house, the mosque, have been the focus of village life. Birth, marriage, festivals, death, lunar occasions, etc., as well as health, posterity, travels, planting of crops, house building, are all governed by religious beliefs and ceremonies. The religious figures of the community are important personages because of either individual belief or community pressure. Social approval is essential to any Vietnamese. Many would rather die than to be held in disfavor with family or community. This would be the "sin" to many Vietnamese that creates guilt, rather than the concept held by many Americans that all men are accountable to a supreme God.

Next: Vietnamese Village--Homes