RELIGION IN CHINA – THE LAWS PRESCRIBING WORSHIP IN THE MIDDLE KINGDOM

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In recent years, the number of religious believers in china has exploded. it is estimated that there are now around 200 million faithful in a country of 1.3 billion people.

On the surface, it might seem that the People’s Republic of China wouldn’t take too kindly to organized religion. After all, it is governed by the communist party, and communism, on paper at least, is the greatest political proponent of atheism.

Yet the state does officially recognize five religions: Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism. Since 1949, every state constitution drafted has included a provision for freedom of religion.

major religions in China @Fenggang Yang/Reuters

In the 1982 constitution – the one currently in force – article 36 stipulates:”No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion.

“The state protects normal religious activities. No one may use religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state.”Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.”

Despite constitutional safeguards, it’s not always been smooth sailing for the more spiritually inclined citizens of the Middle Kingdom. ideology is extremely important to the communist party, and it is a major concession for the government to allow someone not to believe in communism. the fact that the constitution only supports “normal religious activity” is particularly telling, the vague phrasing hinting at how all faiths must submit to Beijing’s control via the state administration for Religious Affairs.

Religion is clearly seen as something that is potentially very dangerous, that may result in the fracturing of public order, or impair the health of citizens, or interfere in the education of citizens, or even lead to foreign domination of China.

A number of worshippers have been charged with “illegal religious activities” or “disrupting social stability” under article 300 of the criminal code, which forbids using heretical organizations to “undermine the implementation of the law.”

Perhaps the most important obstacle to normalization is something that Beijing has not articulated in public: a fear that a denomination, sect or even faction might subvert the Chinese communist party and bring about its downfall. Leaders may even acutely remember the role played by pope John Paul II in the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland.

Even in the year 2014, the Chinese constitution bans proselytizing to convert non-believers, a move which stems back to the 19th century, when many missionaries were alleged to have worked closely with western governments as guides, interpreters and information officers during attacks on China.

Rather ironically, the Communist Party has in recent times seen the potential of religious scripture and education for emphasizing the need for social harmony.Many belief systems teach people to be patient, to forgive transgressors, to be tolerant, and can do much to create cohesion within a society.

In March 2008, the communist party made an unprecedented move to change its own charter to make room for the concept of religion, in the pursuit of a less divided nation. it was the first time since the Party was founded in 1921 that anything related to religion had been incorporated into its charter.

During the 2008 opening session of the national committee of the Chinese People’s political consultative conference, Jia Qingling, a fourth-ranking party leader, said in a keynote address:

“We should fully follow the policy on freedom of religious belief, implement the regulations on religious affairs and conduct thorough research on important and dif cult issues related to religion. we should guide religious leaders and believers to improve their lives and make full use of their positive role in promoting social harmony.”

In the end, the tension between the communists and theists is that of opposing ideologies. the communist party does not accept the dictum, “render therefore unto caesar the things which are caesar’s, and unto god the things that are god’s,” because communism is not just a form of government, but an alternative belief system. the party writes and edits their own bible, and what they say, goes – regardless if you’re god or Caesar.