"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Monday, 12 September 2011

The rise of Chinese Christianity

Watching from a European perspective it has long seemed that the last bastion of rampant evangelical Christianity was the U.S and to some extent even that is confined mainly to the Bible belt. However, somewhat under the radar there is now a phenomenal interest in Christianity emerging in China

China being China, the state has officially sanctioned Protestant and Catholic churches and maintains control of the clergy

The officially sanctioned Catholic Patriotic Association appoints its own bishops and is not allowed to have any dealings with the Vatican, though Catholics are allowed to recognise the spiritual authority of the Pope.
But underground churches are springing up in private houses, which the state appears to be tolerating as long as worship does not spill out into the public forum.
It’s difficult to know what to think about this. The suggestion has been made that it is a reaction to growing capitalism and greater freedom from the ideological atheism demanded by the communist party structure. Whatever the reason, the scale appears to be immense

It is impossible to say how many Christians there are in China today, but no-one denies the numbers are exploding.

The government says 25 million, 18 million Protestants and six million Catholics. Independent estimates all agree this is a vast underestimate. A conservative figure is 60 million. There are already more Chinese at church on a Sunday than in the whole of Europe.
That religion has been suppressed for so long and is now fighting back may not be surprising, but why Christianity? China has its own religious traditions such as Buddhism and Confucianism and you may think that the first shoots of revival would be from amongst these.
My guess is this is an unconscious homage to the U.S. The protestant work ethic that built the mighty economic engine that the U.S represents is the lure for the commercially aspiring modern Chinese citizen and they are seeing the Christian religion as a key part of this.

How much of a threat to secularisation this will be is not easy to predict. State control of religion will certainly fail and that is all to the good. Maintaining the party’s ideological atheism may also finally appear futile, which is also as it should be. But as China’s economic reach expands will we have another front on which to combat religionist superstition and bigotry, or will Chinese Christianity turn out to be a different animal altogether? Watch this space…

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