China’s Transformation and the Power of Christ

April 19, 2012

In a fascinating recent interview about his book  God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China, Chinese author and reporter Liao Yiwu talks about the benefits of the growth of Christianity in China:

“Your question is better served by a quote from the Rev. Wang Zisheng, the son of Wang Zhiming, a Christian leader who was brutally executed for his Christian work in Yunnan province during the Cultural Revolution. His son is now following his father’s example and has become a prominent leader in the booming Christian community. “There is so much for us to do,” Wang Zisheng said. “In our society today, nobody believes in Communism, and everyone is busy making money. People’s minds are entangled and chaotic. They need the words of the gospel now more than at any other time.”

In addition, I personally believe that Jesus Christ was one of the earliest and the most famous dissidents in human history. He was crucified by authorities for spreading the Christian faith and ideas. While I researched for this book, I encountered many Christians like Wang, who were inspired by Christ and were willing to sacrifice their lives for the preservation of their faith. That’s the spirit that we need to bring democracy to China. If democracy comes to China someday, we should thank Christ for inspiring us to stand up for our faith and ideas.”

Yiwu, who has been the object of torture and imprisonment for criticizing China’s Communist regime is not himself a Christian – and yet he sees in Christianity a critical force for advancing democratic ideals against a totalitarian regime. He has personally witnessed the courage it brings to stand up against overwhelming forces of repression and bring hope to otherwise hopeless circumstances.

His views are similar to those of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an atheist who witnessed the repression of Islamic regimes in Somalia also sees hope for change in Christianity. In her memoir Nomad, she claims:

The Christianity of love and tolerance remains one of the West’s most powerful antidotes to the Islam of hate and intolerance. Ex-Muslims find Jesus Christ to be a more attractive and humane figure than Muhammad, the founder of Islam.

The fact that atheists from other countries extol the benefits of Christianity as a force for freedom and human flourishing highlights the stark degree to which the New Atheists in the West have strayed from reason. Rather than thoughtful discernment which separates beliefs by their actual impacts on human flourishing, the New Atheists lump all religious beliefs together as merely different points on the same spectrum of ignorance, evil and delusion.

A belief in Christ offers more than mere succor for impending mortality – it offers the possibility of transformation, a foundation for real moral courage and a stable grounding for human rights and human worth – and it transforms the cultures in which it takes root.

And to the degree New Atheists attack Christianity, to that degree they oppose the benefits it brings and they cause real damage to real lives.


The Chinese Discover what Western Secular Leftists Have Forgotten

March 27, 2012

I recently finished reading Civilization: The West and the Rest by influential Oxford historian Niall Ferguson. It details the six ‘killer apps’ that have allowed the West to flourish while other civilizations stagnated or retreated. He cites Competition, Science, Property, Medicine, Consumption, and Work as being integral to the West’s success. In his chapter on Work (as in other chapters) Ferguson chronicles how important Christianity is to the work ethic of the West – and he reports the fact that some in China have come to appreciate this fact:

After much hesitation, at least some of China’s communist leaders now appear to recognize Christianity as one of the West’s greatest sources of strength. According to one scholar from the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences:

“We were asked to look into what accounted for the…pre-eminence of the West all over the world…At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of the social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”

Another academic, Zhuo Xinping, has identified the ‘Christian understanding of transcendence’ as having played ‘a very decisive role in people’s acceptance of pluralism in society and politics in the contemporary West’:

“Only by accepting this understanding of transcendence as our criterion can we understand the real meaning of such concepts as freedom, human rights, tolerance, equality, justice, democracy, the rule of law, universality, and environmental protection.”

Though I don’t find this assessment of the West’s success the least bit surprising (I have frequently made such claims myself) I found it quite surprising to see that China, which has been officially atheistic for over sixty years, would make the same assessment. Maybe it takes experiencing the emptiness of atheism to appreciate the way Christianity propels human flourishing.

The Chinese Case for Christianity

September 13, 2011

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.