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Monokultur » Lidt om religion, samfund og økonomi

Lidt om religion, samfund og økonomi

Diverse — Drokles on February 16, 2011 at 7:12 pm

En gang imellem tager jeg mig selv i at læse i en bog (man kan kun surfe efter internetporno så mange timer om dagen). I går begyndte jeg at læse bogen God is back, der som titlen antyder handler om, hvorledes religion er på fremmarch i den stadigt mere moderniserede verden. Den slags akademisk gejl kan man hurtigt få nok af. Afsnittet Onward Chinese Soldiers fra indledningen er dog ganske interessant da vi får et indblik i en del af kinas omvæltninger.

The Chinese still regard the militantly atheist Mao Zedong as a national hero. Mao put religion second only to capitalism in his list of reactionary evils: he killed clergy, expelled foreign missionaries and destroyed temples and churches. Now China is rethinking.

The economic liberalization that followed Mao’s death brought the “Great Leap Forward” that Marxist orthodoxy had singularly failed to deliver. But it also brought a disorientating whirlwind of change. The pell- mell pace of economic progress— the Chinese economy has doubled in size every eight years since the 1970s— is supersizing cities and decanting millions of people from the countryside. China is building skyscrapers and highways, suburban subdivisions and gated communities, shopping centers and theme parks, on a scale unprecedented in human history. The construction industry employs a workforce the size of California’s population. And the advance of the new civilization inevitably means taking a wrecking ball to the old.

This whirlwind is boosting demand for the consolations of religion. Wang’s house church is part of what may well be the biggest advance of Christianity ever. The Chinese government’s own ? gures show the num- ber of Christians rising from fourteen million in 1997 to twenty- one mil- lion in 2006, with an estimated ? fty- ? ve thousand of? cial Protestant churches and forty- six hundred Catholic churches.3 (The government made religious freedom part of the constitution in 1982, though it limited worship to ?ve of?cial religions— Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism— each overseen by a “patriotic association.”4) But these ? gures exclude both house churches and the underground Catholic Church, which is bigger than the of? cial one. A conservative guess is that there are at least sixty- ? ve million Protestants in China and twelve million Catholics— more believers than there are members of the Communist Party. Some local Christians think the ?ock is well over one hundred million.5

Whatever the true numbers, the world’s major religions are currently engaged in a “scramble for China.” According to a survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project in 2006, 31 percent of Chinese people regard religion as very or somewhat important in their lives, while only 11 percent toe the Maoist line that religion is not at all important. A poll in 2005, asking a slightly different question, put the proportion of people who deem religion important at 56 percent.6

That said, for most Chinese people religion is still a vague affair, mixing folklore with ancestor worship. Only about a ? fth of Chinese name a particular religion as their creed, and most of them plump for some form of Buddhism, Taoism on Confucianism, plainly the varieties the state prefers.7 Xinhua, the distinctly secular state news agency, recently proudly announced that there were approximately one hundred million Chinese Buddhists. The Olympics began at exactly 8 p.m. on the eighth day of the eighth month in 2008— because many Chinese people regard the number eight as lucky. It is no longer frowned on to wear prayer beads in the cities. In the countryside Buddhist temples are fast becoming part of the local economy. Every summer some two hundred thousand people visit the Black Dragon Temple in Yulin, a city in Guangxi Province, for its ten- day fair; local state of? cials and policemen are cut into the deal through taxes and gifts.8 Despite the clashes with Buddhist monks in Tibet, the government tolerates an ornate, private Tibetan shrine in the heart of Beijing, and a few members of China’s new commercial and political elite have followed the imperial tradition of seeking out confessor- gurus in Tibetan monasteries.9

Meanwhile, Islam is also surging, especially among the Hui and Uighur peoples in Ningxia and Xinjiang Provinces. Of? cial numbers indicate that there are about twenty million Muslims. Again, that is probably an underestimate, but the Pew researchers point out that even using that number, China has almost as many Muslims as Saudi Arabia and nearly twice as many as the European Union’s twenty- seven countries. By 2050, China could well be the world’s biggest Muslim nation as well as its biggest Christian one.

The growth of Christianity is nevertheless the most startling religious development. Catholicism is vigorous in parts of Beijing and especially in poor rural areas. The Virgin Mary has a particular attraction: ?shermen have started dedicating their boats to her, and every May thousands of Catholics descend on Donglu, a village in Hebei Province where the Virgin is said to have appeared in 1900 to rescue local Catholics during the Boxer Rebellion. A decade ago, the authorities imprisoned an underground Catholic bishop who led the festivities there— but he was quietly released in 2007. Nowadays police cordon off the village each May.10

Yet the core of Christianity in China is urban and Protestant. Evangelical churches took off at the same time as China itself did in the 1990s, drawing heavily on American and South Korean Protestantism. China has been a ? xation for American missionaries since the nineteenth century. Nowadays the South Koreans, Asia’s most enthusiastic Christians (who were mostly converted by the Americans), are even more numerous. One ruse is to set up trading companies in China that are really missionary outposts. Close to the North Korean border, there is even a full- scale Protestant university, which has now wangled permission to operate in Pyongyang too.11

Still, most Chinese churches are homegrown. They come in all shapes and sizes. The Fengcheng Fellowship (of house churches), which is based in Henan Province and headed by Zhang Rongliang, China’s most prominent Protestant, claims to have ten million members.12 But most house churches are like Wang’s out? t: autonomous and reasonably small. Chinese Christians are inveterate downloaders. Many pastors ?nd their stiffest competition not in the sermons of their local rivals around the corner, but in the weekly Web offerings from Asian megapreachers, such as Stephen Tong, who is based in Indonesia. Another notable characteristic, shared by both the South Koreans next door and the early Christians, is the importance of women as evangelizers: one Protestant jokes that the most popular silent prayer in house churches is for a husband, and the second most popular one is for a better husband.

House churches offer a remarkable formula for growth. They can be started by anybody: one prominent house church in Beijing was established by a foreign ministry of? cial. Wang started his church in September 2006 with ?ve or six friends. Now it has sprouted two offshoots: one is a special-ist church for migrants; the other, which brings together a group similar to Wang’s, uses the local of? ce of a well- known American multinational as its base (a popular strategy, since of? ces are closed on Sundays). Now that the three churches attract about a hundred people, the worshippers will soon have to start another one. The Chinese government has set an informal limit of twenty- ? ve people for an unauthorized religious gathering. Nowadays, most local authorities enforce this rule sporadically (there were twenty- eight people at Wang’s Sunday service, not including the children) or not at all (in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei Province, the congregation can run into the hundreds, reports one of Wang’s ? ock). The danger for most house churches is not a police raid, but the possibility that a neighbor will complain about the noisy singing or, more likely still in China’s overcrowded cities, about parking spaces being taken up. Yet as Wang’s fast- growing ? ock illustrates, the twenty- ? ve- person rule is a formula for growth, uncommonly close to that enforced on early Christians by similar demands for secrecy. It is the same cell model pioneered by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and by South Korean Protestants. It is almost as if the government secretly wants us to take over, muses Wang.

In fact, the Chinese government seems to have mixed feelings about religion. Hardliners still associate religious faith, particularly Christianity, with insurrection. The famous Taiping Rebellion (of Great Peace) in the nineteenth century was led by a Christian who claimed to be Christ’s brother— and only put down at the cost of more than twenty million lives. The authorities think that John Paul II had an outsized role in bringing down the Soviet Union. Many of the student leaders at the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 have become Christians. Zhang Rongliang, the head of the Fengcheng Fellowship, has been in and out of jail since the 1970s. China’s relentless persecution of the Falun Gong cult shows how nervous it is about independent thought and organization.

Such worries are exacerbated by the fact that the growing religious organizations are becoming political actors in their own right. House churches have begun to add pastors, schools, libraries, even a few unof?cial seminaries. One enthusiast boasts that house churches “are already the largest NGO in the country.” Many churches teach the sanctity of life, a lively issue in a country where abortions have been routine. In Donglu, the Catholic nuns run a small clinic.13 At the Black Dragon Temple, there is a thriving boarding school. In Xinjiang Province, the mosques control so much that the state government is worried about Muslim separatism; a scatter of terrorist incidents before the 2008 Olympics provided an excuse for a clampdown, but the problem remains. Even ancestor worship is having an unsettling effect on politics in the countryside, making it more likely that the village leader will be elected to that role because of his position in the clan hierarchy, rather than his loyalty to the party.

Yet on the other hand the regime increasingly accepts that some kind of moral code is useful to build a “harmonious society.” Indeed, some of China’s younger technocrats now openly welcome Confucianism, which Mao condemned as “feudal,” as a form of social glue in their fast- changing country. The state has sponsored several Buddhist gatherings and is building Confucian institutes around the world. In October 2007 the Communist Party added an amendment to its constitution, with the personal imprimatur of President Hu, urging its members to “rally religious believers in making contributions to economic and social development.” At the local level, especially in the countryside, Buddhism and communism have fused: temple chiefs are often party bosses as well. The Chinese authorities are edging toward the conclusion that God and modernization can go hand in hand.

That case has been made most explicitly by a Chinese government economist, Zhao Xiao, in a widely read essay, “Market Economies with Churches and Market Economies Without Churches.” Based on his travels around America, the paper, published in 2002, argues that the key to America’s commercial success is not its natural resources, its ?nancial system or its technology but its churches, “the very core that binds Americans together.” The market economy, argues Zhao, is ef? cient because it discourages idleness, but it can also encourage people to lie and injure others. It thus needs a moral underpinning. At the end of the essay, as he travels from Boston to Indiana, “through North America’s vast lands, the serene sounds of church bells ringing in every church,” Zhao recalls an angry poem:

Be in awe of the invincible might,

Be in awe of the lightning,

And be in awe of the thunder in the sky.

Without that awe, argues Zhao, China will not succeed. “Only through awe can we be saved. Only through faith can the market economy have a soul.”

The people in Wang’s church share Zhao’s belief that worshipping God is the go- ahead thing to do. Asked why people become Christians, one man describes it as the sense of having joined the winner’s circle. Every city has some form of club or network for Christian businesspeople. As he sips a cup of water after the service, Wang puts it simply. “In Europe the church is old. Here it is modern. Religion is a sign of higher ideals and progress. Spiritual wealth and material wealth go together. That is why we will win.”

Typisk kinesisk tankegang at gøre etikken op i nytteværdi.

5 Kommentarer »

  1. “The people in Wang’s church share Zhao’s belief that worshipping God is the go- ahead thing to do. Asked why people become Christians, one man describes it as the sense of having joined the winner’s circle. Every city has some form of club or network for Christian businesspeople.”

    Når græske købmænd og håndværkere konverterede til kristendom i det andet århundrede, var deres grund til at gøre det såmen nogenlunde nøjagtig den samme.

    I romerriget iøvrigt konverterede mænd ofte, fordi deres kvindelige bekendtskaber ellers ikke ville være sammen med dem. Kristendommen var i aller højeste grad en kvindereligion i de tidlige år, men da mændene var konverteret i stor stil, mistede kvinden sin rolle i kirken og blev forvist til hjemmet.

    Comment by Mackety — February 16, 2011 @ 9:25 pm
  2. [...] more likely still in China’s overcrowded cities, about parking spaces being taken up. … china house churches – Google Blog Search Lion of Judah Movie- Sponsor: Lion of Judah the Movie- Check out “The [...]

  3. [...] Christians (who were mostly converted by the Americans), are even more numerous. … missionaries americas – Google Blog Search Lion of Judah Movie- Sponsor: Lion of Judah the Movie- Check out “The [...]

  4. My acquaintance was telling me about the house church that he attends in a moderately sized city in China. Religious gatherings that are not approved by the local government are illegal in China.

    Comment by Jesus Coffey — February 22, 2011 @ 4:25 am
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