‘Father,’ he said, ‘then I beg you to send him to my father’s house—because I have five brothers—to warn them, so they won’t also come to this place of torment.’ Luke 16:27-28 (HCSB)
Perhaps the most pervasive aspect of spirituality or religion among the Vietnamese people is their reverence to and worship of spirits, particularly the spirits of the dead. This has roots both in the historic indigenous animism and spirit worship of the region and later augmented significantly by the introduction of venerating ancestors via Confucianism. Such worship placed Vietnam squarely in the middle of the “Rites Controversy” of Catholicism and eventually resulted in the Catholic Church’s official acquiescence to allow the veneration of ancestors by Vietnamese Catholics. It is difficult to understate how extensively this spiritual darkness covers the peoples of Vietnam.
In Vietnam, traditionally people did not celebrate birthdays (before Western influence), but the death anniversary of a loved one was always an important occasion. Besides an essential gathering of family members for a banquet in memory of the deceased, incense sticks are burned along with hell notes, and great platters of food are made as offerings on the ancestor altar, which usually has pictures or plaques with the names of the deceased.
These offerings and practices are done frequently during important traditional or religious celebrations, the starting of a new business, or even when a family member needs guidance or counsel and is a hallmark of the emphasis Vietnamese culture places on filial duty.
Beyond the veneration of ancestors, there are six religions that are formally recognized by the Vietnamese government including Buddhism, Catholicism, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, Protestant Christianity and Islam. The 2009 Census reported that slightly more than 18% (>15,650,000) of the population of Vietnam reported a religious preference. Of that number some 6,800,000 plus of the population (around 8% of the total) are listed as Buddhist. Another approximate 7% of the population or around 5,700,000 plus of the population are listed as Catholic. Fewer than 1.5 million are listed as followers of Hoa Hao (a Vietnamese variant similar to Buddhism) and around 800,000 are listed as Cao Dai (a Vietnamese indigenous religion that borrows components from Christianity and Buddhism).
According to the most recent census, 734,168 people, or less than 1% of the total population of the country are listed as followers of Protestant Christianity. Even with liberal estimates, it is doubtful that as many as 2% of the Vietnamese peoples in the country of Vietnam have a personal relationship with God through saving faith in Jesus Christ.