Category Archives: Bhutan

Who is Truly Happy in Bhutan?

Last week’s official visit to the Kingdom of Bhutan by Britain’s Duke and Duchess of Cambridge has put the spotlight on this tiny nation, wedged between China and India high in the Himalayas.

With a total population of only around 750,000, Bhutan is not well known to most people in the West, apart from a single snippet of trivia. In 1972 the country’s king introduced the concept of Gross National Happiness – based on Buddhist values – as a gauge of the nation’s development.

So the Gross National Happiness Index embodies not only economic development but also the preservation of traditional cultural values, ethical governance and the protection of the environment. It is rare nowadays to find a media report on Bhutan that does not somehow incorporate a reference to the index and the perceived happiness of the nation’s people.

Sadly this happiness does not necessarily extend to the country’s small Christian population, estimated at fewer than 20,000 people. For Bhutan is ranked at No. 38 in the latest Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted for their faith.

The “Operation World” prayer guide comments: “Christians are denied religious freedom and are persecuted in various ways. Church buildings are forbidden in all but a very few cases; most fellowships must meet in homes. Bhutanese who become Christian face the loss of their citizenship, of other benefits – such as free education, health care, employment – and of access to electricity and water. In some instances, harassment and beatings occur.”

(The Duke Of Cambridge is the elder son of Prince Charles, and when he ascends to the throne of the United Kingdom he will also become Supreme Governor of the Church of England. It would be pleasant to imagine that he raised these matters with the Bhutanese authorities. Perhaps he did, though I assume not.)

By chance, happiness has been on my mind recently. This week my church is starting a Bible study group for newcomers to the congregation, and I shall be leading. Our first study is on Jesus’s famous Sermon on the Mount.

Traditionally, this Bible passage is presented in English as a series of blessings – “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and so on. But the study guide we are using, aimed at new Christians, replaces the word “blessed” with “happy.” Thus, “Happy are the poor in spirit,” and, of course, “Happy are those who are persecuted.”

Clearly Christian notions of happiness are radically different from those of the secular world – or of Bhutan. For a Christian’s happiness is a spiritual happiness that derives from our complete dependence on our mighty God and the blessings we receive from Him.

Now I do not want to downplay the persecution or the suffering of Bhutan’s Christians. I do not envy them their plight. I would not wish it on anyone. Yet, based on words of Jesus, they are among the happiest of all people in their country.

Buddhist Bhutan Continues To Discriminate Against Christians

By Martin Roth

Buddhism is widely viewed as a religion of tolerance, able to co-exist with all other religions. Don’t tell that to the Christians of Sri Lanka, who have endured waves of persecution. Nor to the Christians of Bhutan.

Bhutan is a small Asian kingdom wedged between India and China. Buddhists make up three-quarters of the population, with Hindus most of the remainder, although there is also a small and growing Christian presence. The country ranks at No. 28 – moderate persecution – on the Open Doors World Watch List of Christian persecution.

The Bhutanese king is due in India later this week for India’s Republic Day celebrations. The president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, Sajan George, took the occasion to call for religious freedom for the kingdom’s Christians.

Since 2006, the Bhutanese government has introduced democratic reforms after centuries of absolute monarchy during which religions other than Buddhism were banned.

In 2008, a new constitution was adopted that, formally at least, recognised religious freedom for all Bhutanese, as long as they informed the authorities. A few Hindu temples were thus built but Christians continue to be denied the right to build their churches or hold Masses in public.

The situation has in fact worsened since anti-conversion laws were adopted in 2010. “These laws were designed to prevent forced conversions or the use of financial inducements to convert,” said Sajan George. “And they impose a three-year sentence for ‘proselytising’.

“As in some Indian states, these laws are being used to persecute Christians, on the basis of false charges with regards to forced conversions,” he explained. “Often, they are used against charities as well.”

It is perhaps ironic that Bhutan practices Vajrayana Buddhism, also called Tibetan Buddhism, as it is the Dalai Lama who is often viewed as the key figure in promoting Buddhism as a religion of tolerance.

I feature Tibetan Buddhism extensively in my novel “Military Orders,” a Christian thriller about the search for a new Dalai Lama, where I describe this style of Buddhism as “signs and wonders,” with practitioners, under the direction of a spiritual guide, forming relationships with the occult.