And the largest cult in China today is….

Murong Xuecun, a Chinese novelist, writes of recent measures taken by the Chinese government to intimidate Christians and repress the growth of Christianity:

On June 1, my friend Pastor Wang Yi of the Early Rain Reformed Church in Chengdu was arrested while distributing anti-forced-abortion leaflets. The stated grounds for detaining him were “illegal advertising.” He was let go after half an hour. Three days later, Mr. Wang was detained again. This time the arresting officers produced no identification and gave no reason for taking him in. After 12 hours of interrogation, he was finally released at midnight.

Xuecun notes when he posted about the arrest, several readers protested the injustice—but many supported the government’s actions, with one stating, “The cops have done a beautiful job!” He points out that some of the hostile reactions may come from those being paid to mouth the Party line: “The government employs a cyberpolice force of propagandists known as the 50-Cent Party. But given other recent events, and China’s agonizing history with organized religion, I believe that a good number of the pro-government comments reflected genuine opinion.”

Xuecun reports that the government recently released a list of twenty active “cults”, instigating an anti-cult campaign that has led to more overt attacks on mainstream religions such Christianity, with talk of how Christians undermine “national security.” He writes:

The government’s anti-religion campaign is not borne of concern for public security stemming from a horrific murder. This is a concerted effort to bring independent churches and their followers into line. The clampdown is simply the government’s way of strengthening its control of society.

As the government has cracked down on Christian groups and churches, it has pinpointed not only the legal churches, but also the “underground” or “home” churches, culminating (so far) in the demolishing of the new Sanjiang Church—”the crown jewel of the city of Wenzhou.” Afterward, the pastor of that Protestant church reportedly said, “Pray for the Christians in China. The Communist Party sometimes begins with a small act, like tearing down one church, and it becomes a trend that could spread throughout China.”

Xuecun concludes with this fascinating observation:

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, communism has been promoted as the “religion” of the Chinese people, while traditional religions have been suppressed. During the Cultural Revolution, countless temples and churches were demolished. Many Buddhist monks and Christian clergy were forced into leading secular lives. As a result, traditional belief systems like Confucianism and Buddhism were weakened. But as the country has opened up, Chinese people have gained more personal freedoms and with that a renewed desire for faith. To many believers, Christianity is filling a spiritual vacuum and offering a sense of belonging.

Still, given the decades of anti-religion propaganda, and despite Christianity’s growing appeal, many Chinese people are ignorant about religion, and many even express disgust with it. Like the fighters of the anti-Christian Boxer Rebellion in the late-19th century, they are easily manipulated into viewing foreign faiths as evil sects.

On June 1, a CCTV report outlined the “six characteristics of evil cults,” which a legal “expert” said included the cult of personality, immorality and restrictions of individual and spiritual freedom. As many Chinese people took to the Internet with renewed anti-religious fervor to thank the government for exposing the true nature of “evil cults,” I realized that the name of the biggest cult is hidden in plain view: the Communist Party.

Read the entire op-edon the New York Times site.

It brings to mind the observations of the great Polish political philosopher Leszek Kołakowski (1927-2009), who wrote several important studies of Marxism and communism, including Main Currents of Marxism. Kołakowski wrote:

The influence that Marxism has achieved, far from being the result or proof of its scientific character, is almost entirely due to its prophetic, fantastic, and irrational elements. Marxism is a doctrine of blind confidence that a paradise of universal satisfaction is awaiting us just around the corner. Almost all the prophecies of Marx and his followers have already proved to be false, but this does not disturb the spiritual certainty of the faithful, any more than it did in the case of chiliastic sects.… In this sense Marxism performs the function of a religion, and its efficacy is of a religious character. But it is a caricature and a bogus form of religion, since it presents its temporal eschatology as a scientific system, which religious mythologies do not purport to be.

Roger Kimball, in his essay, “Leszek Kolakowski & the anatomy of totalitarianism” (New Criterion, June 2005), penned a passage that not only helps make some sense of the inability of the Chinese government to squelch the desire for religion and faith, but also offers some helpful perspective on the madnesses that afflict the West:

In “Man Does Not Live by Reason Alone” (1991), Kolakowski argues that “mankind can never get rid of the need for religious self-identification: who am I, where did I come from, where do I fit in, why am I responsible, what does my life mean, how will I face death? Religion is a paramount aspect of human culture. Religious need cannot be ex-communicated from culture by rationalist incantation. Man does not live by reason alone.” He shows how the tendency to believe that all human problems have a technical solution is an unfortunate inheritance from the Enlightenment—“even,” he notes, “from the best aspects of the Enlightenment: from its struggle against intolerance, self-complacency, superstitions, and uncritical worship of tradition.” There is much about human life that is not susceptible to human remedy or intervention. Our allegiance to the ideal of unlimited progress is, paradoxically, a dangerous moral limitation that is closely bound up with what Kolakowski calls the loss of the sacred. “With the disappearance of the sacred,” he writes,

which imposed limits to the perfection that could be attained by the profane, arises one of the most dangerous illusions of our civilization—the illusion that there are no limits to the changes that human life can undergo, that society is “in principle” an endlessly flexible thing, and that to deny this flexibility and this perfectibility is to deny man’s total autonomy and thus to deny man himself.

Benedict XVI, in Deus Caritats Est, touched on inhumanity of totalitarianism, which can come in both the openly “hard” forms seen in China and Cuba, but also in ways that are more “soft” and are thus more difficult to recognize. “The State which would provide everything,” he wrote, “absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern” (par. 28). The state is good and necessary—in its right place and fulfilling the functions proper to it—but when it tries to take the place of family and faith, it becomes a form of religion that is repressive and inhuman, as events in China continue to demonstrate.

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About Carl E. Olson 1227 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.