Does God eat Choco Pies?

20 May

Mike Pope: amateur theologian and Steve Irwin look-alike

Disclaimer: The following post touches on the subject of religion in a fairly ignorant and flippant way, and should probably not be read by anyone.

On the weekend I took a trip with my new workmates to a Buddhist pagoda – my second in just over a week. If anyone is likely to interpret this trend as a sign of newfound piety, I must admit that when free lunch is involved I’m as devotional as they come.

The local community had gathered at the pagoda for celebrations marking the birthday of the Buddha and there was much off-key singing, clapping, and general merriment to be had by all. The unexpected arrival of a tall, bewildered Westerner (dressed self-consciously along ‘Crocodile Hunter’ lines) proved to be only a minor distraction from the festivities.

As I wandered from altar to altar, pressing my palms together in a vague triangle of holiness and bowing awkwardly to anyone who approached, a recurring sight kept catching my eye: unopened packets of Choco Pies. And beer. And cigarettes. There were tottering piles of these particular vices piled before each and every shrine.

The transcendental Choco Pie

For those who are not familiar with the concept of a Choco Pie, you can imagine them as some kind of delicious, South Korean, ‘Wagon Wheel’-like cookie. They seem to be wildly popular here in Vietnam as well as in other parts of Asia, and Wikipedia reliably informs me that they sell on the black market in North Korea for almost US$10 a pop.

So, given the obvious reverence in which the Choco Pie is held, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that it is considered a suitable offering for the ancestors. It’s just that the idea of furnishing one’s past relations with beer, cigarettes and packaged cookies fails to synch with my hazy picture of a socially appropriate afterlife. And I think I quite like that.

I’m not sure where it comes from, but my concept of a Christian hereafter seems to involve me lounging around on clouds, bathed in a soft, ethereal light, possibly strumming a harp (poorly) and occasionally basking in God’s glory. It lacks a certain appeal.

A saint-like image of piety.

By contrast, an afterlife that permits drinking, smoking and snacking for all eternity sounds all right by me. Some Vietnamese also make offerings of money (of the symbolic Monopoly variety) so that their ancestors can maintain their consumption patterns in what is presumably an afterlife economy with resource scarcities similar to our own. I find this kind of thinking very practical.

In fact pragmatism seems to be a distinctive trait of the Vietnamese approach to religion. For instance – whilst symbolic money offerings should be burnt in small pyres on the street after decorating the shrine – beer, cigarettes and food can be readily consumed after an acceptable delay, and the experience only adds to their spiritual cachet. I happen to have a shrine-blessed watermelon and mango in my fridge right now.

Overall, I feel that the symbolic and temporary proffering of tasty consumables is far less wasteful than the biblical practice of animal sacrifice (and much kinder on the cow or goat in question, who was probably never asked about its religious disposition). And besides, God would probably just have preferred a Choco Pie.

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6 Responses to “Does God eat Choco Pies?”

  1. kim wilkinson May 20, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

    choco pies are awesome. we ate them on the train from hanoi! they seem to be really popular over there!

    take care Mikey boy can’t wait to read more of your adventures!
    Kim

  2. June maitland May 22, 2011 at 8:15 am #

    Mike,

    Choco Pies, doesn’t sound good to me. I won’t have one thanks next time I’m at your place for dinner. Chocolates or Pies but not together. I would’nt compare you to Steve Irwin, he was a bit (or rather a lot) over the top.

    Glad you are seeing something of an alternative religion, Buddhism makes a lot of sense.

    June

  3. Hugh May 26, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    In Mexico they leave coronas and cheese. I’m increasingly of the opinion that Western civilization’s problems may have started some several millenia before 2008…

  4. Dino June 14, 2011 at 5:03 am #

    Chocolate covered cream filled sponge sandwich pie

  5. kayleigh November 1, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    chocopies are okay- hahah I have no idea why they are so in love with them here in Korea…Some really good marketing behind it!

    • Mike Pope December 21, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

      Hi Kayleigh,

      After writing this post I tried Choco Pies for the first time and, personally, I can’t see what all the fuss is about. I guess it must be the marketing.

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