The Church Proved the More Powerful
Any secular ideology claiming a monopoly on political authority feels threatened by religious belief. More than a century ago Marxism set itself up in opposition to the “opiate of the masses”, and Soviet communism, for more than 70 years, attempted to eradicate Christianity and other religions from Russia. Only the State, Lenin and his heirs insisted, could guarantee human salvation. China, under Mao, was equally vicious in its persecution of religion, focusing especially on the traditional beliefs of Confucianism …
The party sees religion, and Christianity in particular, as a threat because it worries about the existence of a rival organisation whose members have a different loyalty and are guided by priorities set by others. And as a younger Chinese generation loses its fear and proves less amenable to manipulation and propaganda, party magazines warn that the erosion of traditional atheism will create splits within the party organisation. Indeed, it appears that the recent toleration of religion has led to a growing number of party members themselves becoming believers.
The real problem for China, however, as it was for the Soviet Union, is the growing cynicism and spiritual vacuum in public life. This makes it increasingly difficult to underpin standards of ethics or to enforce respect for social norms. The Russians, in the dying days of the Soviet Union, attempted to commandeer the Russian Orthodox Church as a way of enforcing moral standards to underpin communist materialism. It did not work, as the Church proved the more powerful and in the end became one of the forces undermining communism ...
The persecution of Christians will almost certainly fail. As so often, it may instead strengthen the faithful in their beliefs while winning converts from those looking for spiritual renewal. Christmas, a time of traditional celebration, may prove in China to be a test of faith, resilience and endurance that few Christians face elsewhere.
This is a really helpful reminder that Christianity is inescapably political. If Jesus is Lord, then nobody else is, whether they are transcendentalised or not.
Andrew’s next book, If God Then What? Wondering Aloud about Truth, Origins and Redemption, will be released in April, published by IVP.