The Chinese Case for Christianity

There is a common meme amongst atheists that the obvious and universal hunger for a religious experience can be explained away by various ordinary and natural factors. For example they often cite religious upbringing; that parents of somehow imposed religious belief on children. Or they cite social concerns, that people involve themselves with religion as a sense of belonging, citing the fact that people tend to adopt the religion of the society in which they were raised. Quite often they follow in Marx’s footsteps and attempt to explain away religion as an opiate which helps people bear the burden of poverty or suffering. Much of this appears persuasive, but what it fails to explain can be summed up in two words: Chinese Christianity.

To understand why this is so, a little history is in order. China has been officially atheistic for over 60 years under communist rule. Not only were they officially and overtly atheistic, but they were strongly antagonistic to Christianity, to the point of killing Christians and arresting and imprisoning leaders. In fact, the persecution of Christianity continues today. Thus there is no societal pressure to adopt Christianity, no family to impress, no schools inculcating children with religious ideas. And China is booming economically thanks to its acceptance of free markets, so there are no economic hardships driving people to seek solace in the arms of a loving God. And yet Christianity grows in China, as the BBC reports:

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.

The new converts can be found from peasants in the remote rural villages to the sophisticated young middle class in the booming cities.

Western atheists assure us that the disappearance of Christianity would be a good thing for our society. They argue that in the absence of Christian belief, science would flourish, morality would be sustained by the good will of the people, and that society would seek pragmatic solutions to problems currently hindered by the superstitions to which we cling. And yet China has had just such a society for decades, and has found that the emptiness of materialism is driving many of them toward the meaning and purpose inherent in the teachings of Jesus:

I heard people talking again and again of a “spiritual crisis” in China – a phrase that has even been used by the Premier Wen Jiao Bao. The old have seen the old certainties of Marxism-Leninism transmute into the most visceral capitalist society on earth.

For the young, in the stampede to get rich, trust in institutions, between individuals, between the generations, is breaking down.

As one of China’s most eminent philosophers of religion – Professor He Guanghu, at Renmin University in Beijing put it to me: “The worship of Mammon… has become many people’s life purpose.

“I think it is very natural that many other people will not be satisfied… will seek some meaning for their lives so that when Christianity falls into their lives, they will seize it very tightly.”

The observation by Professor He Guanghu reflects the question that Jesus put to the crowd, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?

New Atheists assert there is no soul to lose and the world is more than sufficient to satisfy our longing and desires – yet the great experiment that was atheist China assures us that on this count the New Atheists are most certainly wrong.


11 Responses to The Chinese Case for Christianity

  1. “Western atheists assure us that the disappearance of Christianity would be a good thing for our society.”

    That depends entirely what it’s replaced with.

    Replace it with humanism and rationality, then it would be a great thing.

  2. jackhudson says:

    That is exactly what the Chinese thought they had.

  3. “That is exactly what the Chinese thought they had.”

    I doubt that.

    But what they think and what they have is not the same.

  4. jackhudson says:

    Do you think the Chinese would say they are irrational and inhuman? Do you think they are?

  5. Tristan Vick says:

    Actually, 25 million is a small fraction of the Chinese population. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if these statistics are isolated to specific demographics of China’s peasantry.

    Also, the 25 million “growth” is nothing compared to the growth of the nation as a whole. The population is booming despite the one child act.

    Indeed, when I was in China I asked my friends if they were planning on having more than one child. They said the Government allows it but charges a “child tax” for each additional child. They were uncertain whether or not they could afford it, but my friends company took off, and now he’s practically wealthy. Free to have as many children as he likes. Which is why the cities are booming like they are. More kids, more jobs, more economic gain.

    However, the sense I got while I was in China was mainly that Christianity is a non-issue, as is religion in general. Most Christians are private and keep to themselves, not because of ill treatment, but because that’s generally how Chinese as a culture approach religious issues.

    And the grow of Christianity mentioned isn’t really growth considering the growth of the nation overall and the already two Billion people living there. Meanwhile, 92 percent of the population are Han, the same ethnicity with nearly the same culture backgrounds–which limits the spread of Christianity more than anything. It’s a ethnic/cultural brain barrier, so to speak. It would be like trying to gauge the growth of Christian converts from Judaism. Sure, there are some, but they don’t stop being Jews either–which is the same sort of thing you find in China–to a much larger extent.

    Even if we went with the large 60 million estimate, that means Christianity is only 3.3 percent of the overall country. Buddhists rest at around 8 percent–and growing. This means Buddhism, in China, i s growing just as fast as Christianity. Making the Christian growth that much less impressive.

    I guess in terms of sheer mass of Christianity, it is second only to the U.S., and will probably overcome it in Christian numbers in the years to come soon making China the biggest Christian center in the world.

    But the point is, the growth is minimal by the growth standards of such a massive population to begin with.

  6. kenetiks says:

    What I would have found compelling, would have been, if god had simply informed the Chinese about his/her self before the missionaries ever needed to show up.

  7. jackhudson says:

    Good to see you’re still kicking. 🙂

    Interestingly Christianity has been in China since the 1st Century; something tells me if the claim was that it got there without the help of missionaries such a claim would be written off as legend.

  8. jackhudson says:

    But the point is, the growth is minimal by the growth standards of such a massive population to begin with.

    Perhaps (though growth of anything by comparing it to the overall size of China’s population would be diminished) but the BBC is certainly right that it is explosive growth by comparison to the previous population of Christians in China, and by number of Christians in the world overall. I mean if only 30% of the people in China were Christians, it would be small compared to China’s overall population, but more Christians than were in the whole US.

    Not sure why you posted the link to the post about the existence of the soul; seems a bit off-topic here.

  9. jackhudson says:

    *added link to BBC article*

  10. […] Such growth belies many of the polls New Atheists often rely on to advance the idea of secular advancement. Certainly the populations of Christians are smaller than those in the US, but they are growing – and not only in France but in other places presumed to be securely secular like China. […]

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