What Can China’s Suppression Of Religions Teach Us About Binary Thinking?

What Can China’s Suppression Of Religions Teach Us About Binary Thinking?

Presenter: Barrie Webster

May, 2016

On the face of it, Humanists might let out a cheer that religions in China are getting their comeuppance at the hands of the Chinese government. But let’s take a closer look. Why, after decades of more or less ignoring the churches, mosques, and temples as annoying anachronisms, is the authoritarian government all of a sudden bringing out the big guns, so to speak?

China is Cracking Down on Christian Churches, Muslim Mosques, and Buddhist Temples


China has for more than 65 years been seen as a Communist country with an official policy of atheism. The fact that it now has a burgeoning capitalist economy with rigid centralized control by the Communist Party confuses any simplistic view of China which remains officially atheist. But in the minds of many, particularly, many church-goers, atheism is necessarily associated with communism or socialism. Therefore, if you see the recent move by the Chinese Communist Party to de-fang religions and their adherents in China in a favourable light, you are to them automatically a ‘fellow traveller’, meaning that you are de facto sympathetic to the authoritarian government in China in spite of its human rights abuses and suppression of individual freedoms which we hold dear. Of course, it also is a position that sees religions in a positive light. It’s too often one or the other.

That’s an example of binary thinking. We as Humanists know better, but are still vulnerable to binary thinking and we need to be wary of this sort of reasoning.

The real reason for China to crack down on the Church/Mosque/Temple is that they all are acting more and more as effective conduits for challenges to the centralized power of the Party and are seen as ‘pro-democracy’. The fact that they represent religions is likely of less importance. But the myth remains: democracy and religious thinking are on the same side of the binary fence.

Among the complicating facts that need to be remembered are the following:

1. The socialist movement in Canada arose on principle during the Depression from Protestant Christian roots. J. S. Woodsworth was a Presbyterian minister in Winnipeg and was a founding member of the CCF. Tommy Douglas was a Baptist minster. Bill Blaikie, the long-time NDP MP from Transcona (Winnipeg) is a United Church minister. All profess(ed) the ‘social gospel’; all were/are socialist, all were/are decidedly religious (Christian). And all were arguably humanistic in their societal actions apart from their religious ceremonies.

2. Many of the evangelical Christians who become missionaries are associated with the Christian right politically, in particular, many protestants and some Catholics.

3. China is in fact no longer communist; it remains authoritarian and therefore centrally controlled and planned, but is arguably aggressively capitalist and opportunist.

Is China a capitalist or communist success story?

Questions for Humanists:
What are the best ways to demonstrate that we can be good and be religion-neutral or religion-free?

How do we deal with our religious relatives and friends who associate being non-theistic with being left-of-centre politically (and therefore ‘socialist’ and/or ‘communist’)? Should we worry?

How do we as Humanists work to avoid simplistic binary reasoning in our everyday lives?

Is China friend or foe (or something in-between – no binary thinking!)?

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