March 18, 2008
China's Religion Problem
The Tibetan protests show that Christians aren't the only ones fed up with the Party's interference in ecclesiastical matters.
Today's Wall Street Journal comments on China's inability to control religion. The recent protests in Tibet underscore that the Communist Party's attempts to subdue spiritual structures have little effect.
Bret Stephens writes:
The regime banned religion -- one of the so-called Four Olds -- during the Cultural Revolution. Once it figured out that that didn't work, it sought instead to turn clergy into bureaucrats, and replace the idea of the divine with the mechanics of political control. The results have been, at best, a partial success.
The Party created state sponsored religious groups that do, indeed, have a following. But the official religious groups pale in comparison to the underground ones.
Unofficial Protestants, who attend unsanctioned "house churches," are said to number anywhere between 70 million and 130 million; one prominent Chinese pastor puts the count closer to 300 million. That latter figure is probably exaggerated, but there's no question that Christianity of the unofficial kind is winning Chinese converts in huge numbers. Not only that, it's winning them among every class of Chinese: farmers, urban migrant workers, professionals and intellectuals.
Stephens argues that in "smashing" religion, the country also smashed traditional social structures. That was, of course, the point, as the state was to take over that role. But of course, it couldn't then, and in today's China can do even less.
The Party destroyed the traditional relationships between neighbors, young and old, farmer and villager. But it also destroyed morality. "To a degree that alarms even Chinese rulers, morality and ideology have been replaced by corruption, opportunism and widespread indifference to life's ordinary decencies. Religion offers a corrective to this, too, as it does to the quandaries of 21st century existence."
Ironically, it was this destruction of religion that allowed for the massive growth in Christianity that will be the subject of CT's next cover story. If people's traditional views of religion and society had not been so utterly smashed, Christianity would never have been able to get its foot in the door.