Towards A Good Samaritan World

Friday, February 02, 2007


The world has fewer officially atheist states now than it did twenty years ago, when the Soviet Union and the communist powers of the Warsaw Pact were still in business. One of those still standing is China. But religion is getting stronger there at the grassroots level, and it is also gaining more acceptance from the regime. The Economist reports:

The revival of the Black Dragon Temple's fortunes is part of a resurgence of religious or quasi-religious activity across China that—notwithstanding occasional crackdowns—is transforming the social and political landscape of many parts of the countryside. Religion is also attracting many people in the cities, where the party's atheist ideology has traditionally held stronger sway.

The resurgence encompasses ancient folk religions and ancestor worship, along with the organised religions of Buddhism, Taoism, Islam (among ethnic minorities) and, most strikingly, given its foreign origins and relatively short history in China, Christianity. In the face of this onslaught, the party is beginning to rethink its approach to religion. It now acknowledges that it may even have its uses...

Officially, the party regards folk religion as superstition, the public practice of which is illegal. But in many rural areas officials now bend the rules. In Yulin prefecture, with 3.4m people, there are 106 officially registered places of worship and many more that are not officially sanctioned...

Evidence of China's religious revival can be seen throughout the countryside in the form of lavish new temples, halls for ancestor worship, churches and mosques (except in the far western province of Xinjiang, where the government worries that Islam is intertwined with ethnic separatism and keeps tighter rein). Officially there are more than 100m religious believers in China (see table), or about 10% of the population. But experts say the real number is very much higher.

Christianity in particular is flourishing:

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who visited China in October, wrote afterwards in the Times that there was now a sense in China that civil society needed religion, with its motivated volunteers. During his trip he remarked on an “astonishing and quite unpredictable explosion” in Christian numbers in China in recent years.

If the growth of Christianity in China continues at the rates it has recently sustained, within our lifetimes China will be a predominantly Christian nation. A likely scenario? Perhaps not; but definitely possible.

In that case, would the American evangelicals-- who are already in a sense second-class citizens here, forced to pay, as it were, the jizya to an elite that teaches their own children in a fashion contrary to their faith-- begin to feel divided loyalties? It is incongruous that the world's most populous and dynamic (predominantly) Christian country is also the world's richest, when Jesus said that "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven." In a newly converted China, American Christians could see much to admire.


  • Certainly evangelical Christians are frequently convinced that they are treated like second-class citizens, but is being taxed to pay for something in which one doesn't believe so rare as to allow evangelicals a claim to unusual persecution? Calling those whose president received two terms and whose legislators largely controlled Congress for most of the last decade "second class citizens" is quite disconcerting - almost worrying - hyperbole.

    By Blogger Nato, at 5:38 PM  

  • Oh I'm sure Christianity is growing in total numbers, as is Islam, and perhaps a few other relgions. Much of that growth in total numbers is due to the overall growth in world population, I'm sure. The more important metric is percentage of world population, and atheism has far outgained the various relgions over the past few centuries. I will be surprised (from beyond the grave, possibly in Heaven) if atheism or something like it isn't the majority belief in a few centuries.

    By Blogger Thomas, at 8:45 PM  

  • It's not just the secular humanist bias of the public schools that makes a lot of evangelicals feel like second-class citizens. Hollywood, whose films are full of free-wheeling sexuality (strangely divested, not only of consequences in the form of remorse, but often without any protection and yet not resulting in pregnancy or venereal disease) and often liberal politics, reinforces the feeling of living in an alien culture. Ditto popular music. Then there's the fact that the intelligentsia disdains them. Purges of Christmas displays and other harmless, but Christian, aspects of popular public culture increase the sense of being an excluded minority. And then, of course, there is the fact that the courts have disenfranchised them (and everyone else too of course) on the issue-- abortion-- they tend to regard as most important. I don't know what is meant by "those whose president..." and "whose legislators largely controlled Congress..." Evangelicals' legislators? Many social conservatives feel betrayed by Republicans, who have held some national power for the better part of the past 27 years, and yet have not overturned Roe v. Wade or made any headway on educational freedom.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 10:58 PM  

  • Most of the "second class citizen" complaints could apply to, say, communists in the US far more than to evangelicals, and I would equally deny their claims of persecution. The fact is, evangelicals are politically powerful even though they do not get to have everything exactly as they would desire.

    I mean, I hate not being able to escape Christmas/Holiday crap all December, but I don't feel I'm somehow a second-class citizen. It makes me a little upset when the Knights of Columbus insert "under god" into the pledge of allegiance and change the motto from the wonderful, inspiring "e pluribus unum" to the frankly sectarian "In god we trust," but claiming second class citizenship because of it is pretty out there.

    By Blogger Nato, at 12:37 AM  

  • Seriously. If Christians are 2nd-class citizens, then everyone else is 3rd-class or lower. I imagine Southerners felt the same "disenfranchisement" when slavery was abolished.

    By Blogger Thomas, at 5:13 AM  

  • What about the secular liberals? They control the schools and academia, Hollywood, the courts...

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 9:23 AM  

  • Yes, secular liberals aren't second (or third) class citizens either. Unless they're gay. But then, gay evangelicals are also second-class citizens, so there's no monopoly there.

    By Blogger Nato, at 12:39 PM  

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