Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Chinese State Theology: Caesaropapism Lives - in China

Chinese State Theology

Why on Earth would an officially atheist country’s ruling class decide to create a new theology? Furthermore, why on Earth would anyone listen to what that ruling class had to say? The answers to those two questions: to buttress their authority and because their people have to listen to what they say on fear of severe penalties, may give you a hint as to which country we’re talking about. Yes China! The Communist Party controlling China has decided that spying on the menstrual cycles of its citizens is no longer enough, now it is going to pronounce on theodicy, the problem of consciousness and the whether it is holy because God wills it, or whether God wills it because it is holy. According to the International Business Times:

“The [Chinese] government will create a “Chinese Christian Theology” to guide the practice of Christianity in the country, the China Daily reported Thursday. Although the government has yet to provide any details into what this new theology entails, its purpose is clear: Speaking to China Daily, Wang Zuo, director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, said, ‘The construction of Chinese Christian Theology should adapt to China’s national condition and integrate with Chinese culture.’”

I always thought that Christianity was universal and that the state should have little to say about Christian practice, but I suppose Caesaropapism has a long history. I think the importance of this attempt at a new theology is that the Chinese government is worried about an “unguided” Christianity, a religion that is claiming more and more Chinese adherents:

“Since relaxing prohibitions on religious faith in 1982, the Chinese Communist Party now recognizes five official faiths: Protestantism, Catholicism, Taoism, Buddhism and Islam. Because much religious faith remains underground, it is difficult to establish the precise number of worshippers in China. But a 2007 survey estimated that 31 percent of the country’s population, a number exceeding 400 million people, practiced a religious faith of some kind. Each religion has an organized, government-sanctioned hierarchy that is headquartered in Beijing and under the direct supervision of the Chinese Communist Party.”

There have been other attempts that the government has taken over the years to ensure that religious belief is according to the government’s rules:

“In 2007, Beijing passed a law prohibiting Buddhists from reincarnation. (The government has thus far not revealed whether there have been any violations.) In Tibet, government minders have replaced monks as supervisors of Buddhist temples throughout the region, reversing a long-standing policy.

In the far-western Xinjiang region, whose 9 million ethnic Uighurs practice a mild form of Sunni Islam, Beijing limits permission of Muslims to make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, while in July China banned fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. And this month, in Karamay, the local government said residents wearing Islamic clothing, and men wearing long beards, could not legally board city buses.”

It will be interesting to see what the Chinese government approved theology ends up looking like and to what extent it is followed by the various Christian denominations in China. Quite frankly I’m not surprised at the attempt to “de-fang” Christianity. The trouble for a totalitarian dictatorship is that the state is not able to tolerate a competitor for people’s affections and faith.  Especially a competitor that presumes to judge the actions of the state and its officials according to a universal moral precept that isn’t that espoused by Marx, Lenin and Mao.  The attempt to defang may be a bit late however:

“Still, in a country where Web searches for Jesus far outnumber those for President Xi Jinping, Beijing may have a major challenge on its hands.”

This article is published by Marcus Roberts and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.
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