China and religion: Beijing seeks to tame and co-opt religious belief

Catholics pray during a mass at a Catholic church in Xiliulin village, Shanxi province, China, in 2012. (Jason Lee / Reuters)

The Chinese Communist Party has prioritized state ownership of mind and soul over state ownership of the means of production, and they are happy to use capitalism to achieve this goal.

THEast the week, Bitter winter published the first English translation of the new “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy” from the Communist Party of China, which is due to come into effect on May 1.

The first of the measures is the creation of a comprehensive national database to register and track the state-authorized clergy of the five permitted religions (Protestant Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism). Any dissident member of the clergy not registered in this database will be in immediate violation of the law. As Nina Shea observes, to register in the first place, the clergy will have to demonstrate that they “support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and support the socialist system.” Their loyalty to the CCP will then be assessed periodically in a manner similar to the country’s larger social credit system.

These measures are further proof of the eagerness of the CCP leadership to avoid the tactical mistakes made by the Soviet Union in the last century. The Chinese Communists are not trying to root out all traces of theism, thus inviting unchallenged opposition from believers and religious institutions (as the Soviets did about John Paul II’s Vatican). Instead, they attempt to piss off religious opposition to the regime by taming and co-opting national religious beliefs, turning them into another avenue for the regime’s social control agenda. For this reason, President Xi has prioritized the “sinicization” of religion in China, while demanding the prominent presence of his own image in every place of worship.

The tactical approach the CCP has taken towards the Roman Catholic Church is particularly instructive of how the party’s policy on religion differs from that of past (and even present) communist regimes when you consider the Kim’s in Korea. North). Instead of trying to completely oust the Catholic Church from China, the CCP seeks to increase its own influence over the Vatican. (They’ve taken the exact same approach to a lot of other things like America’s sports leagues, international institutions, and even capitalism itself.)

On September 22, 2018, the CCP signed an agreement with the Vatican – the text of which is still secret – according to which the two sides agreed to “cooperate” in the selection of Chinese bishops. In practice, this essentially means that the Chinese have presented their approved candidates to the Pope, who then officially approves them, almost as a formality. The whole affair reflects very poorly Pope Francis and the Vatican hierarchy. The hope was to allow Chinese Catholics practicing underground to come out of their hiding places and live their faith in public; but this “liberation” was bought at the cost of ceding all control over Chinese Catholicism to an atheist militant cabal of genocidal communists.

The naivety of the Vatican in accepting such an arrangement has been fully exposed by these new “administrative measures”: Conference of Chinese Catholic Bishops. No reference is made to the Pope or the Vatican, which were completely excluded from the process. The CCP consolidated its exclusive control over Chinese Catholicism with the formal support of the Catholic Church itself (the 2018 agreement was renewed last year), leaving the Party’s Chinese Catholic dissidents without even formal support. of their own church.

In other words, it’s not your grandfather’s evil empire. The CCP is smarter, more skillful, and more economically dominant than the Bolsheviks ever were. And at the moment, they are succeeding in putting Catholicism, along with the other great religions of the world, at the service of Marxism, which even Marx himself did not think possible.

As China’s only serious geopolitical rival, the United States also happens to be the most religious country in the developed world and the only country that views religious freedom as the first and most precious jewel in its constitutional crown. If a nation on Earth with geopolitical clout is to take serious offense at China’s war on religious freedom, it will likely be the United States. And yet, the American public does not seem to have an appetite for a large-scale geostrategic conflict with China. The political proposals for a new Marshall Plan to compete with the CCP’s Belt and Road initiative do not appear in our public conversations. Worse than that, the United States has not even been able to muster the collective will to offer American visas to Hong Kong people. The Cold War awareness that underpinned our enmity towards the Soviets in the last century is simply not a driving force today, although Communist China arguably poses an even greater challenge to the free world than the Soviets.

The most likely explanation for this has to do with the CCP’s signature tactics, as discussed above: they prefer to co-opt and manipulate people and forces instead of destroying them. Over the past few decades, they have done so precisely with regard to free trade and global capitalism. Chinese producers have clung to American consumers deeply and made the Party an indispensable part of the American (and global) economy. The CCP is deeply involved in our daily lives as consumers in a way that the Soviets never were. By making American consumers their economic vassals, the Chinese have neutralized any appetite for large-scale geopolitical conflict among the American ruling elite, which is woefully aware of what a policy of decoupling would likely mean for their own electoral prospects. If voters are offered the freedom of economic complicity in communist atrocities in exchange for higher prices, are we sure they would take the high road? You really have to wonder if the First Cold War would have ended as it did if the Soviets had dominated the prices in the American market.

The Chinese Communists did not try to destroy capitalism. They prioritized state ownership of mind and soul over state ownership of the means of production, and they were more than happy to use capitalism to achieve this goal. We in the free world were convinced after the fall of the Soviet Union that economic and political freedom was necessarily tied to the hip. We therefore sought the liberalization of the world economy in the sincere belief that political freedom would follow. It never occurred to us that the Communists of the future might not be interested in the nationalization of railways or post offices, but in the nationalization of childhood, love, death. , sex and Jesus Christ – and use the almighty dollar to do it. We never considered the possibility that the 21st century could turn out to be the darling of Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping.

Well, to borrow a phrase from Solzhenitsyn, the great truth has now emerged, especially for religious Americans. We in the free world have made the Chinese Communist Party the most powerful producer and consumer of a world capitalist economy. In one of the cruelest ironies in human history and the most treacherous paradoxes, Xi Jinping now walks the world as a Marxist brigand baron, a creature whose existence has eluded our categories of political thought during the last 200 years. With each new revelation of the CCP’s crackdown on religious believers, American clerics are faced again with the fact that even a harmless trip to Walmart could amount to an in-kind contribution to the massacre of the innocent saints; that the money we spend on our household goods goes into the pockets of the last days of Nero and Diocletian.

It is said that when it comes to China, Americans will have to choose between free trade and free markets, since China’s policy is to make markets non-free. It is even truer that, as far as China is concerned, American clerics will have to choose between free trade and religious freedom, because at the present time, American believers unwittingly finance the martyrdom of their co-religionists. Christianity (and most of the great religions of the world) views the faithful as an indivisible and supranational body. For this reason, religious Americans must lead the charge to decouple economically from China. They know that the short-term national economic interests of the United States are worth nothing more than ash and sand to the integrity and fellowship of the faithful. If American believers persist in acquiescing in China’s grip on the American consumer despite this knowledge, they shouldn’t be surprised to be greeted with a burst of heavenly light the next time they visit Costco, and with a voice crying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?


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