Is the Pope Informed About Religious Persecution in China?

rites-ricci-guangqi

Matteo Ricci, SJ, and Xu Guangqi from Athanasius Kircher’s China Illustrata (Amsterdam, 1667).  Ricci (1552 – 1610) one of the first Jesuits in China, was known as the founder of the China mission.  Xu Guangqi (1562 – 1633), a very influential convert to Christianity, was a member of the Ming Dynasty bureaucracy from Shanghai who rose to the rank of Imperial Grand Secretary

Photograph download from Company Magazine

The effort of Pope Benedict XVI to normalise relations with the Communist Government in China since his pontification in 2005 has been welcomed with joy and gratitude by the Catholic community in China.  Meanwhile the rest of the world is watching anxiously to see whether the Vatican’s diplomacy will bring about greater religious freedom to a nation governed by a regime that has a notorious history of persecuting its nationals for their religious faith.  A recent article published in AsiaNews, an official Catholic website, however, calls into question whether the Vatican’s advice to Chinese Catholics about reconciliation, unity and dialogue with Chinese authorities will gradually deteriorate into a policy of appeasement, which ultimately undermines the effort of those who are defending their rights to religion in China.

When commenting on a special plenary of the CCP Poliburo held on 18 December 2007, Father Angelo Lazzarotto, a Milan based expert on Chinese Church, hails a call of President Hu Jintao to acknowledge “the contribution of religion in building a harmonious society” as an “unusual yet important event” that signifies a hope for religious freedom in China.  Father Lazzarotto based his optimistic assessment on the way he interprets a Xinhua news agency report.  In his view, the event was significant because it was attended by top party leadership (including President Hu Jintao) as well as two reputable religious leaders, one of whom was an expert on Christianity trained at a German theological institute.  He particularly highlights the apparent lack of “ideological reticence with regards to the dangers posed by religious practice” in the Xinhua report as a sign of progress.  He dismisses as trivial, however, the difference between the English and the Chinese versions of the Xinhua report and how this difference has influenced the ways in which the report has been received internationally.

A closer look at the two versions of the Xinhua news, however, reveals some serious discrepancies, not just in focus, but also in actual content and intended meaning.

The English version is deliberately written to create an impression that the CCP is implementing a new policy of religious freedom, according to which religious groups will be granted legal status, as well as more room for self-governance.  To achieve this effect, the English report uses the words “free” and “freedom” four times, even though a similar expression only appears once in the Chinese report.  Apart from using a misleading sentence “Hu stresses full implementation of free religious policy” as the title, the English report also informs its readers that  “the CPC is atheistic but allows freedom of religious beliefs. China is home to 100 million religious faithful, largely Buddhists, Taoists, Christians, Catholics and Islamites.” None of these sentences exist in the Chinese report.  The English report specifically mentioned that “at the 17th CPC National Congress ending in late October, the Party for the first time in its history has mentioned the word ‘religion’ in an amendment to its Constitution”.  This expression “for the first time in history” is excluded from the Chinese report because Chinese readers who are familiar with Party history know for a fact that there is nothing “new” about the expression “free religious policy”; it is just one of those frequently used propaganda slogans.  However, the inclusion of this expression is designed to give English readers an impression that this plenary session has set a new trend for religious freedom.

A careful examination of the Chinese Xinhua report confirms that this plenary study session has presented nothing original about China’s religious policy, except that the CCP has adopted a new propaganda strategy with a focus on corporate image.  The message conveyed in the Chinese report reaffirmed that Hu Jintao, though facing a new situation, will insist on carrying out CCP’s policy when handling religious affairs. The key words here are: “a new situation” and “to insist on”.  The expression “a new situation” (or, to be precise, “a new operating environment”) appears six times in the Chinese report.  The operative verb “to insist on” (or “to continue with”) has also been mentioned on ten different occasions in Chinese, but not even once in English.  Included in the Chinese Xinhua report are the so-called three principles, which Hu Jintao has presented on 18 December 2007 to guide the plenary session.  These principles are:

  1. Firstly,  the delegates must insist on carrying out the party’s fundamental policy on religion, to make sure that religious freedom is handled according to Party policy, that the law is used for managing religious affairs and that religious groups in China are self-contained independent of external influence;
  2. Secondly, works among the worshippers are to be strengthened to make sure that mutual recognition is achieved on issues of patriotic conduct, national unity, social harmony and the building of a socialist market economy under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party; and
  3. Thirdly, more effort will be devoted to the recruiting, training and utilizing of a religious education team to ensure that team members who are politically reliable and academically qualified also have popular appeal.   More assistance and guidance will be given to patriotic religious groups so that they can be self sufficient and will play a more active role in defending the rights of legitimate religious organisations.

Celab Wang at China Aid, a Christian organisation set up to help those who suffer from religious persecution in China, labels this plenary study session as the latest publicity stunt orchestrated by Hu Jintao to convince the international community that China is fit to host the 2008 Olympic Games.  Celab Wang writes:

Many people in the world especially in the media know that 2007 was the worst year in the last two decades for Christianity in China because of the mass arrests and large scale persecution targeting the House Church Movement. The 17 December 2007 article in the Time’s online version definitely made Hu and his government very nervous, due to the fear of the Western “masses” knowing of the religious persecutions in China in the year of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Hu Jintao swiftly held the Party’s study meeting for religious policy on the next day. Then on the 19th, all the news in both languages flooded search engines with “free religious policy” as key words in the English version …..

Yet the questions still beg to be asked: If Hu and the CPC really meant more religious freedom, why do the nationwide persecutions continue so harshly? Why did so many Christians arrested in 2007 spend Christmas and New Year’s Day in prison, especially after the 17th CPC National Congress met to discuss religious freedom? Why are so many more Christians still in detention and labour camps today, including the two well known Christian leaders, Mr. Zhou-Heng (Urumqi) and Mr. Tian Jin (Sichuan). (Zhou-Heng was mentioned in the article in the Time’s online version.) The answers are yet to be seen.

What is even more alarming is the Catholic Church’s hasty endorsement of what is widely seen as the CCP’s latest round of propaganda – a disingenuous effort to mask religious persecution in China.   One may ask if Father Lazzarotto has made a genuine mistake or if he is being deliberately evasive in his analysis.  Either way, this error in judgement opens up a series of questions: is the Pope informed about the true state of religious freedom in China?  Is he being too conciliatory in his dealings with the oppressive regime in China?  Does he care if people are still suffering from religious persecution in China?  What is he going to do about it?

In the early 300’s AD, the venal Emperor Constantine of Rome – who murdered his own son, and who did not convert to Christianity until he was on his deathbed – declared himself to be a Christian, for political reasons, so that his heirs could maintain their temporal political power.  Ever since then, ever since Emperor Constantine made the Roman Catholic Church a political power in the Roman Empire, the Roman Catholic Church has, on more than one occasion, been compromised with the temporal, evil political powers of this world.  And so today in China, is the world witnessing another episode of the Roman Catholic Church reverting back to its old heritage of “Constantinism”, compromised yet again with worldly political authorities for the sake of temporal, worldly power?

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56 Responses to Is the Pope Informed About Religious Persecution in China?

  1. Teresa says:

    As a Hong-Kong-born Chinese Christian and a member of the Catholic Church, I must say that I am very worried about the future of the Roman Catholic Church in China. Because, if the Roman Catholic Church does not defend all Chinese Catholics even on pain of death, if the Roman Catholic Church compromises with the Chinese Communist Party, then where should all of the heroic Chinese Catholics who are persecuted for their faith turn for support?

  2. Peter says:

    I share your conclusion about the “hasty endorsement of […]propaganda.” Of course the Catholic Church is not the only western institutions guilty of it. It can hide behind lots of others, including most governments.

    To speculate on the interesting questions you pose:
    Is the Pope informed about the true state of religious freedom in China? He doesn’t strike me as ignorant.
    Is he being too conciliatory in his dealings with the oppressive regime in China? Not more than other western leaders.
    Does he care if people are still suffering from religious persecution in China? Who knows. The pope may prefer to follow a similar argumentation as those western internet companies (google, yahoo, microsoft, etc) that try to make a buck in China — that it’s ultimately better for everyone (including, or maybe especially, the institution itself) to cooperate rather than dissent.
    What is he going to do about it? I’m curious about it, too. My guess would be: Wait and see.

  3. MAJ says:

    THE THOUGHTS OF CHAIRMAN MAJ ON CHINA’S RELIGIOUS REVIVALISM

    AN EXTRACT FROM THE FORTHCOMING BOOK: FLOWING WATERS NEVER STALE – DUE FOR WORLD WIDE RELEASE JULY, 2008:

    The following day we decided to take a local bus north to the small riverside village of Xingping, which took us through some spectacular scenery. A dusty little village, Xingping is surrounded by lush farmland, protected by a legion of towering limestone pinnacles, cathedral-like in their grandeur. We spent an hour just wandering through Xingping’s narrow little streets and laneways, much of which are simply dirt pathways, the village homes mostly made from either timber or mud brick. Many of the homes had their doorways open onto the laneways, and so I was able to peer in for a quick look as I strolled by. I noticed that literally every home had a poster portrait of Chairman Mao hanging on the living room wall, and in front of most doorways sat reed baskets full of either peanuts or bright red chillis, drying in the sun. A charming, some would say quaint aesthetic.

    In the prosperous coastal cities to the east, Deng Xiaoping is the leader closest to most people’s hearts, but here in Xingping it is Mao’s smiling face that seems to greet me almost everywhere I look.

    ‘Why do so many people here continue to decorate their homes with the image of Chairman Mao?’ I asked Xiaojing.

    ‘Most Chinese peasants think of him as a God,’ she replied with a casual shrug of the shoulders. ‘They think that life was fairer in Mao’s time.’

    ‘So China’s new rich worship Deng, while those who have yet to benefit from the new economy look back with nostalgia to Mao’s time, when China was more of an egalitarian society – is that what you’re saying?’

    ‘Exactly. The poorer workers in the cities also worship Mao, and those peasants who are now rich, they are thankful to Deng.’

    The cult of Mao was originally initiated by the government for political purposes during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, but has now been revived by the poor, who seem to have appropriated the Chairman’s image for their own purposes. His face, I have noticed, can often be found hanging from car mirrors, his head used as money boxes, his smile on watch faces. People cling to his image for good luck, just as Buddhists for centuries have decorated their homes with statues of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, or of Chan Chu the money frog.

    The economic reforms unleashed by Deng swept aside the social values endorsed by Mao, creating a moral vacuum, and as the political scientist Lin Zhimin has pointed out, China’s leaders, recognising the dangers of this vacuum in belief, ‘have continued to portray their policies in the language of socialism and communism, even when the terms used no longer bear much connection with their original meanings.’ Various religions and folk beliefs are now able to openly compete for the hearts and minds of ordinary people, each one attempting to satisfy the population’s need to have something to believe in.

    According to official figures, Buddhism alone now claims over 100 million followers. Islam, the second most popular religion, has 20.3 million followers, Protestantism 16 million, Catholicism 5 million and Daoism 3 million. These five religious movements alone now claim a combined total of roughly 144 million followers, or eleven percent of the population. According to the political scientist Hongyi Harry Lai, in his paper on The Religious Revival in China, folk religions are now thought to attract around nineteen percent of the total population, ‘resulting in a marked rise’ in the number of new shrines and temples being built throughout the rural countryside.

    The economic and social changes that have swept through China since the late 1970s have combined to create considerable social stresses and raptures, dislocating millions, with many losing their free health care and guaranteed incomes. Religion, as Lai points out, ‘meets the population’s need for psychological comfort,’ helping them to cope more easily with their rapidly modernising world – a world, to paraphrase Marx, where all that is solid can, and often does, melt into air.

    ‘Let’s forget about both Mao and the new China,’ insisted Xiaojing, her eyes bright with excitement. ‘The more romantic China of olden times is just a short walk away.’

    We veered onto a narrow dirt trail which led us through a small farm, eventually bringing us to the river bank, where we were able to hire the services of one old guy to steer us upstream on his bamboo raft. He used a large wooden pole to propel us forward, his Chairman Mao badge radiating beams of light.

    NED KELLY, CATHERINE: I accept the fact that certain restrictions remain in place that limit religious freedoms, but do you not see the growing religious revivalism on the mainland as a sign, as emprically-verifable evidence, that the government has increased its overall tolerance of religion and of religious practice? I see this shift as indicative of the central government’s desire to allow the population an ideology, or discourse, to believe in- for there is now a potentially harmful moral vacuum, and although nationalism could replace Maoism (or socialist ideology in general) as a unifying discourse, the government is understandably cautious of the potential direction and explosiveness that nationalsim, if unbridled, could ultimately lead to. There is a need, as they recognise, in keeping a lid on rampant nationalism, especially of the more chauvanistic kind. Hence the reason why the central government, via its instruments of media, has declared a more open tolerance of religion as being in the interests of building and maintaining a ‘harmonious’ society.

    All the best,
    MAJ

  4. MAJ says:

    NED KELLY, CATHERINE: one more thing worth mentioning – through advertising and consumption, popular culture, which is commercialised culture, has become so deeply rooted in Chinese social life, as Yue Daiyun has pointed out in her essay on Public Culture in China Today, that is now ‘the main force and system in constructing the ideology of the present.’ Religion in China, as elsewhere throughout the world, being a part of popular culture, exists largely in a commodified form, and is thus part of the country’s commercial culture. Witness the proliferation in China of both Buddhist and Christian kitsch over the past ten to fifteen years, as well as the growing wealth of both temples and churches, and mosques too for that matter.

    Commodities are today’s religious signs, retail stores the new houses of worship. To be blessed in one with a new pair of designer jeans, or with the latest Nokia, is to be baptised.

    Incidentally Catherine, I live a mere ten minute’s walk away from that lovely jacaranda tree you have pictured on the introductory page to this website – I saw a collection of Freud’s personal antiques collection last weekend, on display at the Nicholson Museum, which is housed in a room located just behind that jacaranda tree, in the building featured in the photo. I must say, I really do love jacaranda trees – always a perfect place to sit and read, underneath a jacaranda tree.

    Regards,
    MAJ

  5. Ned Kelly says:

    MAJ, there’s nothing especially new about religious commodification. Martin Luther’s 95 theses were in large measure a reaction to religious commodification. We’ll address this more a bit later.

  6. MAJ says:

    NED KELLY: Yes, I agree. I am aware that religious organisations have, for centuries, embraced various forms of commercialism. The Chinese for example, appropriated Indian Buddhism in ways that enabled them to fulfill their own religious aspirations, altering Buddhism’s anti-social and anti-family concepts by embracing the Confucian virtue of filial piety, which, as Kenneth Chen has pointed out in his book on Buddhism: The Light of Asia, ‘was manifested in the form of temples and pagodas dedicated to the memory of deceased ancestors.’ Certain bodhisattvas were altered to assume Chinese appearances in order to make them more appealing: Avalokitesvara became a female deity renamed Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, whose purpose was to receive prayers from mothers anxious to have a son, and Maitreya the Future Buddha became the fat laughing figure who greets visitors to the temple, just as in China’s more recent history Ronald McDonald was transformed into “Uncle McDonald’ and Colonel Sanders into ‘Old Man Chicken’.

    Buddhism was also philosophically altered to enable it to embrace materialism. As the Religious Studies specialist, Gregory Ornatowski explains, karma came to be conceived of as a basis for justice ‘in the sense that through it each individual received what he or she deserved in life based upon past actions. This of course included the economic realm with the implication that one’s economic position was the result of one’s actions in this or previous lives – with good ethical actions leading to a better position in terms of wealth and bad ethical actions leading to a worse position. In this way, karma offered a rational explanation for social, economic, and political inequalities.’

    One way to obtain good karma was to give generously to the sangha, or monastic community, many of which were able to gain significant amounts of political power from at least the fifth century onwards, thanks largely to the size of their commercial successes. Economic activities included the milling of grain, oil seed pressing, money lending and the running of pawnshops and hotels, and as Kenneth Chen documents in his study on The Chinese Transformation of Buddhism, monasteries in medieval China also profited from making loans to peasants in the form of grain at the beginning of farming seasons, sometimes charging them up to fifty percent interest, with repayments usually due at the harvest.

    The French historian Jacques Gernet has even concluded that it was the Buddhist communities of this period that first ‘introduced a form of capitalism into China’ – by using their land and grain mills innovatively to generate inexhaustible supplies of income, monasteries were able to reinvest their profits into increasing the size and quality of their assets, thereby creating larger businesses that could generate higher rates of profit.

    The Buddhist monasteries of China, I realise, have always been commercial ventures, relying now on the profits from tourism rather than from the pressing of oil seed or from the milling of grain. In many ways the hosting of Snoopy exhibitions in Buddhist temples (like the one I experienced in Shunde a few years ago) is a continuity of culture, not a change, designed to get people through the gates, the purpose little different from that of holding a more traditional festival, the bright colours of a Buddha’s birthday.

    Regards,
    MAJ

  7. Shaun says:

    Interesting article and comments. I didn’t realize there were so many practising Christians in China: 21 million of them. Yet Catholics among them still can’t recognize the Pope as their spiritual leader. That role is reserved by China’s Communist leaders! Maybe if this religious revival continues to gather moss, this situation will one day change in the not so distant future. It’s always easier to give people more freedom, than to take away what freedom people already have, right? So hopefully things can only continue to get better for China’s Catholics.

  8. C.A. Yeung says:

    MAJ thanks for your comments. I am not disputing that Chinese people have more freedom to practice Christianity in China today than they had in Mao’s era. I admit that it is a positive outcome of economic liberalisation. But it doesn’t mean that the Chinese government’s policy towards religion has fundamentally changed. And this is exactly the point I intend to make in this blog post by comparing 2 different versions of the same news report. It is through understanding this policy (and Chinese political leaders’ genuine view towards religious freedom) that we realise why Chrisitians in China are still being persecuted for their faith, and that their sufferings are real. If you don’t mind me saying: there exists equally strong “empirically-verifiable evidence” to show that large number of Christians continue to be arrested and imprisoned for doing nothing other than gathering together to worship. These cases of persecution are very well documented and verifiable. Come to think about it, if the “empirically-verifiable evidence” of religious tolerance is really so strong, why would China’s media publicity agency need to put a spin on Hu’s speech in the English version of the Xinhua report? What did they intend to disguise?

    Religion offers more than just an answer to rampant nationalism. People with religious conviction usually make good citizens because most of them support the status quo. This is another “empirically-verifiable evidence” that perhaps you will not dispute. But it is a dangerous game to try to harness religion for political purposes. Have a look at what happened in Europe before the age of enlightenment and you’ll know what I mean. In a way Modern China has also suffered due to its blind devotion to a religious cult leader called Mao Zedong. So it’s about time for China to truly embrace secularism – not by suppressing religion or promoting it for national interest, but by simply allowing Chinese people freedom to choose without government interference. This is the best way to desensitise political influence of any religious groups. This is also the best way to promote a harmonious society.

    I’m not familiar with that particular essay of Professor Yue’s. Are you sure you didn’t misinterpret her work? Have you read her 1989 essay titled “China’s Contemporary Conservatism in the World of Cultural Discourse” where she promotes the continuing value of tradition? Sometimes Professor Yue will say something outrageous just to provoke a reaction among her readers.

    Regarding your remarks about the Jacaranda Tree: I used to live around the same area too and spent plenty of time at the Green Iguana and Aunt Effie’s Turkish pizza place. They fed me well. The Nicholson Museum is a wonderful place. It has a very rare Cyprus collection. The Egyptian collection is famous too. A bit further away from the Jacaranda Tree is my favourite place, the Mitchell Library. It holds some correspondence, papers and diaries of George Morrison, the New York Times correspondent in Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion. G.E. Morrison was also known as “Morrison of Peking”. Have a glance through the Morrison document if you have time.

    Last but not least, good luck with your new book.

  9. MAJ says:

    CATHERINE: thank you for your detailed and thought-provoking reply. I will respond to your points later in the evening if I get the chance. It would help me to do so though, if you could first provide me with examples of some of the empirically-verifiable evidence that you speak of, detailing not only particular instances of religious persecution, but, more importantly, the extent and frequency of such persecution. What quantitative evidence is there that you can point me to?

    As for Yue Daiyun’s argument that popular culture now forms the dominant ideology in Chinese society – well, I don’t find that to be an “outrageous” or “provocative” assertion to make – it corresponds exactly with the strong impression that I gained of China, having lived there for five years. Yue, incidently, does not seem to look on this development all that favourably, and regards consumerism as a predominantly alienating force. Her approach is influenced my the Frankfurt School of Marxism, and so not surprisingly she often refers to the works of Theordor Adorno when discussing her views. The book of Yue’s that I took that quote from is titled “Comparative Literature and China: Overseas Lectures by Yue Daiyun”, (Peking University Press), 2004. I assure you, I haven’t misrepresented the view she expresses in that particular book. I haven’t read the book of hers that you mentioned though, but I will certainly try tracking it down. Perhaps she has altered her analysis since 2004?

    The Mitchell Library is on Macquarie Street, a part of the N.S.W. State Library – some distance from the University of Sydney. I have used the Mitchell for research purposes on numerous occasions in the past, but these days I rely mostly on the University’s Fischer Library, as it is close to where I live here in Newtown. The Nicholson Museum does indeed have a decent Ancient Egyptian collection. Where, exactly, is Aunt Effie’s Turkish pizza place? I may want to sample her cuisine, since you recommend it so highly.

    Thank you too, for wishing me luck with my book.

    All the best,
    MAJ

  10. MAJ says:

    Sorry Catherine – I just realised, the work of Yue’s that you refer to was published fives years earlier than the one I cited, not after. Still, perhaps some of her views may have shifted over time.

    Regards again,
    MAJ

  11. C.A. Yeung says:

    MAJ:

    About religious persecution in China: I can’t quote statistics off the cuff without spending hours adding up figures from various sources. But I can certainly suggest some sources where you can have a taste of what I’m talking about:

    1. Here is a link to a 2004 International Coalition for Religious Freedom report

    2. Cardinal Kung’s Foundation has an up-to-date record of Catholic bishops, priests and seminarian who died under detention, are still in prison or are under house arrest at the moment. Here is the link.

    3. Christian Persecution Info and China Aid both have news archives of individual cases. Their archives seem to suggest that 2007 is a particularly bad year for house churches in China. Here is a link to Christian Persecution info. Here is a link to China Aid.

    4. I know the cases quoted in those links are not made up stories. In one of my previous lives (so to speak) I once did voluntary work for an organisation that investigates these allegations. And believe me, I’ve heard and seen worse. But unfortunately I won’t be able to share those stories.

    About Professor Yue: thank you for your clarification. I’m not suggesting that it’s outrageous to call popular culture a dominant ideology in modern China. I’m just surprised that Professor Yue would look at this development favourably. I don’t think she’s changed her mind about this. So when you’re quoting her in your book, it’s advisable to make it clear to avoid confusion.

    About the Mitchell library: it’s not really that far away from Usyd. A short bus trip from either King Street or Parramatta Road will take you there in no time (well that is if there is no traffic jam).

    About Effie’s: it’s used to be on King Street near Bucknell Street. I’ve been away for too long so I’m not sure if the restaurant is still there. Perhaps you can check it out and let me know.

  12. Ned Kelly says:

    MAJ, please bear in mind that human ontology isn’t entirely subordinate to the kinds of epistemology which govern the physical sciences, although they can overlap. Therefore your disideratum for “empirically verifiable”, “quantitative” evidence isn’t necessarily the most significant kind, let alone the most truthful kind, especially when it comes to ontological, very personal phenomena like persecution. Furthermore, most data coming out of China continues to be inherently suspect because of the continuing regime of censorship and official lying. And yes that applies to all governments, but extraordinarily so to China’s.

    History necessarily relies on personal testimony – personal memory and testimony more than statistics or “objective” data – and inevitably history relies entirely on hearsay evidence, because sooner or later all the witnesses die. And all data, ALL data begins with personal witnesses.

    For example, you might know that for the past decade or so there has been a growing Holocaust-Denial movement in many Western countries, including America but especially continental Europe.
    One of the Holocaust-deniers frequent claims is that there is very little PHYSICAL evidence of the gas chambers and the material tools of the death camps. But there were, and remain, personal witnesses. But what will happen say, 200 years from now when all personal witnesses of the Holocaust AND everyone who knew them are dead? And what if, say, some far-right antisemite movement takes over Poland (that’s a real possibility) and destroys Auschwitz and all material reminders of it? Then there would be very little “empirically verifiable” data left, to prove that the Holocaust happened – all that would remain would be hearsay evidence based on memories of other hearsay stories. But those stories and their significance would remain true.

  13. MAJ says:

    CATHERINE: Professor Yue doesn’t look at commercial culture in a particularly favourable light – as I said, her approach is that of one who is influenced by the Frankfurt School of Marxism.

    The bus trip from Broadway to The Mitchell Library is a short one, I agree, but it’s almost as far as Sydney Harbour. More than just “a bit further away” – don’t you think? A minor quibble, I know! Us high school teachers do tend to be pedantic at times.

    I will read the internet sources that you have provided me with in the links above before I write up a response to your earlier comments: this could take me a few days, mind you, as I’ll be dining out with a group of friends tomorrow night to mark the start of the Chinese New Year of the Rat – at a good restaurant in Ashfield, the Confucian Palace. It serves very authentic Shandong-province style cuisine. Gao Ying and I prefer the super spicy Hunanese and Sichuanese cuisines, but most of our Chinese friends here in Sydney are either from Shanghai, Nanjing, or Kong Kong – and none of them share in our love for chilli.

    Happy Year of the Rat, Catherine! And to Ned Kelly too.

    Regards,
    MAJ

  14. C.A. Yeung says:

    MAJ:

    If I tell you that I used to walk from Usyd to the State Library and the Art Gallery, will you be surprised?

    In any case, Happy New Year to you and your family.

    新年快乐!

  15. MAJ says:

    NED KELLY (Ivan): Thank you for your response. Without trying to sound patronising, or rude, your above comment, in my opinion at least, is the most intelligent (and for me, productive) riposte that you have to date ever offered up to me in response to any of my China discourses. And I can assure you that I greatly appreciate it, because I am at present preparing to embark on a second book, titled: “The Pessimists of Enlightenment: reading today’s China”. The book will deconstruct the discourse popularised by Ross Terrill, Will Hutton, Minxin Pei and John Lee. Your retort that empirically verifiable evidence of a quantitative nature “isn’t necessarily the most significant kind, let alone the most truthful kind, especially when it comes to ontological, very personal phenomena like persecution” is one that I certainly will need to consider – and in fact, I’ll be doing so when addressing this question of religious persecution. There is a wealth of qualitative evidence to consider, I know, and Catherine has provided me with links to some of these sources. They need to be taken seriously, but nevertheless, treated with caution.

    Reliable quantitative data would certainly be useful to have though, as this would allow one to evaluate with confidence the extent and frequency (and therefore the overall seriousness) of such persecution over particular periods of time.

    I agree that hearsay and personal testimony must hold some weight, but one needs to be very cautious when using this kind of evidence. It’s true, as you say, that official Chinese data is often manipulated, and therefore needs to be treated with caution. But the same also applies to the data, personal testimonies and estimates produced by China’s critics – many of whom it has been shown, have exaggerated the seriousness and extent of human rights abuses. Harry Wu’s claims about China’s prisoner population provides a good case in point.

    I maintain that in order to fairly evaluate an entire society, especially one as varied and as complex and as large as China, one needs to examine the broader picture. For conclusions to have any real weight, they must necessarily be supported empirically, and by both qualitative as well as quantitative evidence.

    Quantitative data is not always available though, especially when it comes to measuring phenomena like the extent, frequency and severity of human rights abuses. This is a problem that all China analysts have to deal with, regardless of how optimisitc or pessimistic their attitudes towards China and its leadership are.

    Happy Year of the Rat!

    MAJ

  16. MAJ says:

    CATHERINE: NO, I wouldn’t be surprised. I sometimes walk from Newtown to the Opera House. But it’s nevertheless more that just “a bit” further of a distance! It’s quite a lengthy walk. Great exercise though….

    MAJ

  17. Ned Kelly says:

    “Us high school teachers do tend to be pedantic at times.”

    Yeah but you don’t have to overcompensate by using bad grammar. Or if you want to use bad grammar, please do it in a funny way. You know how to do the Polish disco? Put one foot in front of the other and say, “Dis go here and dis go dere.”

    Queensland disco: “I’d like to shag Pauline Hanson on the desk. OH!”

    Kiwi disco: Sorry, the disco is closed.

    Chinese disco: “Dui, ‘s kuh-loh-steh! But maybe special price for you!”

  18. MAJ says:

    O.K. Ned, I should have set a good example by using “We” instead of “Us”. You’re bloody pedantic too, especially for an outlaw.

    I appreciate the good humour though, and the hospitality (which I certainly wasn’t expecting).

    MAJ

  19. Ned Kelly says:

    “NED KELLY (Ivan): Thank you for your response. Without trying to sound patronising, or rude, your above comment, in my opinion at least, is the most intelligent (and for me, productive) riposte that you have to date ever offered up to me in response to any of my China discourses.”

    Leave Ivan out of this. Yesterday I got a phone call from him and he was drunk, as usual. He started shouting at me at the top of his lungs like a banshee, and all I could make out were the phrases
    “barbarians” and “Communist pigs” and then some incoherent paranoid ravings about the Yellow Menace. Then he emailed me an invitation to join the Australian adjunct of an American white nationalist organisation – which for the sake of decency I won’t name here. And he mumbled something about polishing his gun collection because “the great worldwide race-war will begin sooner than you think!”

    So it seems Ivan really is a racist lunatic like we always suspected. Well, I want no part in any of that. Except maybe for continuing access to Ivan’s supply of smuggled tax-free liquor and the marijuana he grows somewhere on an offshore island, which he brings into Australia in his diplomat’s pouch whenever he visits. Or so he tells me, but he’s a pathological liar – or so he tells me he’s a pathological liar, which is kind of a Zen paradox, isn’t it. At any rate, the last words Ivan mumbled to me on the phone were, “If you let MAJ comment on your blog, you don’t deserve any f—ing traffic! AGGH! Get ’em off me! AGH! It’s the Year of the Rat and they’re all over me, rats with
    faces of Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama! AGGGHHH!”

    The poor sick bastard.

    And one more thing. Please refrain from using the postmodern term-of-art, “discourse” any more than once a month on this blog.
    All commenters here have a ration of one use per month of the po-mo word “discourse”, or else they’ll be fined one pint of Cascade Beer and one Cuban cigar for every violation. But we’ll have to exact those fines in private because Ivan will be out there watching, menacingly, because you know what he thinks about Communists, and he’s on the prowl after anyone who smokes Cuban cigars.

  20. MAJ says:

    O.K. then – let us not talk of Ivans and Fat Cats anymore than we speak of the Dr.Myers of this world. Afterall, as Baudrillard once said, enjoying the sign instead of using it is the perversion of human beings. And what (or who) was the good doctor, if not merely a sign? What (or who) was Ivan, if not a signifyer of parody, a commedian of signs.

    Now, after the mirror, it’s time for the passing through of the mirror stage….

    MAJ

  21. Ned Kelly says:

    MAJ wrote, “Afterall, as Baudrillard once said…”

    But IS BAUDRILLARD REALLY DEAD?

    Some reports SAY he’s dead!

    http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/03/06/europe/EU-GEN-France-Obit-Baudrillard.php

    But wouldn’t Baudrillard say, “I’m not really dead?”

    🙂

    Hmmmm. And on that note, maybe Jesus Christ DID rise from the dead! Think about it! Hmmm…… 😉 🙂

    (And I mean that very seriously. I believe that Jesus Christ really DID rise from the dead in a mysterious way – and so now, maybe the legacy of our contemporary Baudrillard can help to explain the ontology of Christ’s resurrection in a postmodern, AND POST-postmodern, way. Hmmmmm….. 🙂

  22. Ned Kelly says:

    PS, to MAJ, regarding my above comment:

    IS Baudrillard REALLY DEAD? This lesson from Monty Python might give us pause:

    HAHAHAHA! 🙂

  23. MAJ says:

    In one sense, no. Baudrillard lives on, at least in spirit, in the sense that his ideas continue to inspire, and continue to be utilised by many as tools of analysis. I have fifteen of his books sitting on my bookshelf. Reading them always makes me feel so…so….hyperreal.

    He loved cigars too! – but unlike me, never wore a baret.

    MAJ

  24. MAJ says:

    Sorry – I meant “beret” (typing error)

    MAJ

  25. Ned Kelly says:

    But can Baudrillard really offer us anything that a good dose of Buddhism can’t? It seems to me that the various kinds of Buddhists have been doing a brilliant job of addressing impermanence and illusion for ages, and Baudrillard and other po-mos are mere sound bytes.

  26. MAJ says:

    NED KELLY: I think the Buddhism has more in common with Sartrean existentialism – in that both centre around the fundamental assertion that existence precedes essence. As with Sartre’s view, the Buddhist notion of impermanence, holds that human beings have no permanent essence, and that as individuals we must forge and change through the practice of everyday experience.

    Baudrillard most probably would have agreed with this too, but he focussed on other matters: arguing that the classical
    Marxian critique of political economy was insufficient in terms of making sense of today’s capitalist societies. He argued that the transition from the earlier stage of competitive market capitalism to the stage of monopoly capitalism necessitated an increased attention to demand management and to promoting consumption. As Douglas Kellner puts it, “At this historical stage, from around 1920 to the 1960s, the need to intensify demand supplemented concern with lowering production costs and with expanding production. In this era of capitalist development, economic concentration, new production techniques, and the development of new technologies, accelerated capacity for mass production and capitalist corporations focused increased attention on managing consumption and creating
    needs for new prestigious goods, thus producing the regime of what Baudrillard has called ‘sign-value.’ The result was the now familiar consumer society…In this society, advertising, packaging, display, fashion,’emancipated’ sexuality, mass media and culture, and the proliferation of commodities multiplied the quantity of signs and spectacles, and produced a proliferation of ‘sign-value.’ Henceforth, Baudrillard claims, commodities are not merely to be characterized by use-value and exchange value, as in Marx’s theory of the commodity, but sign-value – the expression and mark of style, prestige, luxury, power, and so on – becomes an increasingly important part of the commodity and consumption. From this perspective, Baudrillard claims that commodities are bought and displayed as much for their sign-value as their use-value, and that the phenomenon of sign-value has become an essential constituent of the commodity and consumption in the consumer society.”

    Regards,
    MAJ

  27. Ned Kelly says:

    MAJ, I thank you for the “food for thought” which you continue to bring here.

    But I think Jesus and “the” Buddha (Gautama, aka Siddharta) had more in common with each other than they have with any po-mo philosophers, because both Jesus and “the Buddha” had, and eternally have, a great sense of humour.

  28. HKSojourner says:

    Baudrillard had a sense of humour. I have always been able to raise a chortle at his remark, “Like dreams, statistics are a form of wish fulfillment.”

  29. MAJ says:

    Yes, I think Baudrillard had a wonderful sense of humour too – it comes out in his Cool Memories series, all five of them.

    He had a real penchant for irony, a dark sense of humour. Take this line from Cool Memories IV for example:

    “To protect sheep from dingoes, the Australians are building a fence which runs right across the continent. Separating prey from their predators represents a violence even worse than the natural violence of species.”

    or:

    “You could imagine burying the dead with their mobiles, so that we can contact them in the hereafter. This fictional scenario became a tragic reality when, on the charred bodies left by the fire in the Gothenburg discoteque, the mobile phones of the dea continued to ring.”

    or

    “Have you noticed how ‘liberated’ women’ have retained the essential characteritic of ‘alienated’ ones, which consists in systematically arriving late?”

    Regards,
    MAJ

  30. MAJ says:

    SOJOURNER: I relate to what Baudrillard says in the quote you provide above. Sometimes I might, either in the pub for example, or online, make a hypothesis, a historical or sociological one for example, only to be then challenged on it. In order to respond, it then becomes necessary to produce the quantitative evidence, and so I go off looking for it, hoping that somewhere out there, in cyberspace if not in a book, I will find exactly what I’m looking for, what I’m hoping does exist. Statistics often are then, for me I must confess, a form of wish fulfillment.

    MAJ

  31. MAJ says:

    One more thing: statistics, if they are a form of wish fulfillment, are only so because they have a clear use-value – to support a particular hypothesis, or discourse. What does this then say about discourse? That it too is wish fulfillment?

    More “food for thought’ from MAJ….

  32. Ned Kelly says:

    Cool, you serve some food for thought and I’ll serve some wine.

    “Numbers are the negation of truth”: Kierkegaard

    I tend to avoid materialist/mechanical/scientistic terms like “use-value” or “hypothesis” when discussing Human behaviour – or rather, history, the foundation of all other Human forms of thought, which does not follow mechanical laws. (And material phenomena don’t always follow mechanical laws, either.) But I do think MAJ makes a valuable contribution here by using such terms of art of his (apparently?) preferred mode of thought; it does keep a fruitful conversation going, and I think the China blogosphere (and others) need more of that.

    “I will find exactly what I’m looking for, what I’m hoping does exist…”

    Yes, now you’re onto something. That’s how all research begins; the very word “re-search” implies looking for something you already expect to find. And that doesn’t invalidate the search at all – quite the contrary – because all that we know is based on
    what we know from the past, or at least on past experiences of some kind. But is it necessarily “wish fulfillment” to search for what you already expect to find? Maybe, sometimes we search for information about things we wish were NOT true!

    For example, imagine an adopted child who has been told that his natural father was in the SS, or was one of Stalin’s professional torturers in the Lubyanka. The child, as an adult, might do some
    “re-search” to find out the truth about his father, but he might do so expecting that the result will sadden him; he might “wish”
    to discover that his “hypothesis” is wrong. But some people have the courage to “re-search” truths which they wish were not true.

  33. HKSojourner says:

    “But is it necessarily “wish fulfillment” to search for what you already expect to find? Maybe, sometimes we search for information about things we wish were NOT true!”

    Yes, but Baudrillard was referring to statistics, not research, or the quest for truth. And MAJ has statistics for every contingency.

    Ned Kelly will cite plentuful examples of corrupt Party apparatchiks using thugs to bully Chinese peasants from their land in order to facilitate some “development” from which the former will doubtless derive filthy lucre.

    MAJ will riposte with statistical evidence proving the spectacular rising standard of living of the average Chinese citizens over the last few decades.

    Bith are “truths”, but trying to reconcile them into some kind of measurable evaluative framework would have you crawling up the walls in semi-dementia. Isiah Berlin had something brilliant to say about this which I’d love to quote, but the words elude me. So instead I’ll quote one of Berlin’s favourite quotaions (from Kant) which is only tangentially relevant to the topic:

    “Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.”

  34. asdf says:

    So it’s about time for China to truly embrace secularism

    This is true. But if Germany can ban Scientology, why can’t China ban Christianity? They’re about equally valid, only one has started to really stink after 2000 or so years and spreads hatred and imperialism.

  35. MAJ says:

    NED KELLY: I enjoyed reading your response, and yes, I agree that the search for evidence, be it statistical or purely qualitative, need not necessarily take the form of a wish fulfillment – the example you provide clearly illustrates this.

    I like to think of myself as an empiricist more than anything else, in the sense that I try to base my arguments on what can be empirically verifiable. But I’d only be fooling myself if I were to pretend that my search for empirical evidence wasn’t motivated by a desire to prove both to myself and to others that the discourse that I choose to push is the strongest one, the right one, the one that most closely resembles what I take (or at least hope) to be the “truth”. My search for evidence then, very often does take the form of wish fulfillment – for good or bad.

    CATHERINE: I haven’t forgotten about the original topic of this thread, and I will eventually get around to responding to your earlier remarks. I don’t have a great deal of time though this week, but maybe next weekend….? I need to take a long, careful look at the links you provided me before I can write up a response.

    All the best,
    MAJ

  36. HKSojourner says:

    “This is true. But if Germany can ban Scientology, why can’t China ban Christianity?”

    Cos Scientology is insane, while Christianity is only moderately insane.

    A better analogy would be between Germany banning Scientology and China banning Falun Gong.

  37. Ned Kelly says:

    @ Sojourner:

    “Ned Kelly will cite plentuful examples of corrupt Party apparatchiks using thugs to bully Chinese peasants from their land in order to facilitate some “development” from which the former will doubtless derive filthy lucre.”

    Actually, no I won’t. Apparently you don’t understand me QUITE as well as you have assumed. 😉 No, I’m not inclined to cite “plentiful examples” of anything; my way is the way of satire, and just one example will go a long way, if fermented properly!

    And you wrote, “MAJ will riposte with statistical evidence proving the spectacular rising standard of living of the average Chinese citizens over the last few decades.”

    Are you sure? Yeah, maybe that’s MAJ’s tendency, but do you think it’s totally cool to put words in his mouth before he speaks for himself? And I’m sure MAJ has enough sense of humour to know the next question: “When does MAJ ever really speak JUST for, and as, “himself?” 😉 But to be fair, MAJ has been consistent in expressing his own, personal, authentic self on this forum – which is more than I can say for the majority of bloggers out there….hmmmm….)

    And, “Bith are “truths”, but trying to reconcile them into some kind of measurable evaluative framework would have you crawling up the walls in semi-dementia.”

    But that’s no problem, because MAJ and I are both demented already. So, if anything, our attempts to reconcile our points of view is a kind of homeopathy, “like cures like.” HAHA!

    And, to “Asdf” (WELCOME!), who wrote:

    “if Germany can ban Scientology, why can’t China ban Christianity? They’re about equally valid, only one has started to really stink after 2000 or so years and spreads hatred and imperialism.”

    My objections:

    1. What Germany does, is irrelevant to what China does. What, Asdf, are you telling us that Germany should set the standards for China? I hope not. Germany has done far worse things in the past century than China has ever done. I would become very frightened if China ever modeled itself on Germany. I believe that MANY (not all, but many) Germans have not yet totally
    repudiated the legacy of Nazism, and so…

    2. …so I think the Germans have behaved like Nazis in banning Scientology. If the Germans persecute Scientology today, they might go back to persecuting Jews tomorrow. So why should China follow Germany’s example? Shouldn’t China be BETTER THAN Germany?

    3. With all due respect, are you really sure that Christianity and Scientology are “equally valid?” Let me suggest, that if you read the Christian Gospels (have you read 100 percent of the Christian Bible?), and then compare it to what the Scientologists write, you will probably find a lot more wisdom in the words of Jesus than you will find in any Scientologist.

    4. You said Christianity “has started to really stink after 2000 or so years and spreads hatred and imperialism.” Are you sure?
    Jesus Christ didn’t teach hatred, and so his words never stink.
    Maybe some people who call themselves “Christians” really do spread hatred – I know they do – but does that change the wisdom and beauty of what Jesus said?

    Jesus said, “Love your enemy.” 2,000 years later, do those words stink of hatred?

  38. Ned Kelly says:

    MAJ wrote:

    “I like to think of myself as an empiricist more than anything else”

    By God (and/or Goddess), you sound like a kindred spirit of Jesus of Nazareth! He, too, cared more about personal experience and contingent realities than about any abstractions! He was a man of “common sense”, who cut through the abstract bullshit doctrines and ideologies of his time and said, “Come on, let’s get real; truth and beauty and goodness are all contingent on personal, existential, ontological experience, and not on dessicated received authority! Man was not made for the Law; the Law was made for Man!”

    And MAJ wrote – very honestly, with a kind of candid self-knowledge I respect: “I’d only be fooling myself if I were to pretend that my search for empirical evidence wasn’t motivated by a desire to prove both to myself and to others that the discourse that I choose to push is the strongest one, the right one…”

    …and in those honest words, I perceive in MAJ an acknowledgement of what Christians call “original sin”, the tendency of Humans to be vain (and thus to want to deceive themselves about themselves.)
    I mean, being honest with yourself about your own vanity – about your own desire to see what you WANT to see even if it might not be truthful (this is exactly what “original sin” really means!), is the essence of Christianity, regardless of whether you profess faith in Christ.

    In this sense, what MAJ has written here, is more authentically Christian than what the majority of professed “Christians” say, and do.

    Hmmmm…..

  39. MAJ says:

    SOJOURNER: reconciling such conflicting phenomena is indeed very difficult. The best one can do, perhaps, is to try one’s best to examine as broad a picture as possible, and to look at longer term trends, rather than merely cataloguing individual cases of abuse. This is why I place such high value on quantitative evidence, on statistical data. That is not to say that qualitative evidence isn’t important, and as Ned Kelly pointed out earlier in this discussion, what is empirically verifiable (be it qualitative or quantitative) “isn’t necessarily the most significant kind, let alone the most truthful kind, especially when it comes to ontological, very personal phenomena like persecution.” This is a valid criticism of my methodology, I concede, and one that I certainly need to address. But surely, in order to convince, one must rely on the weight of what actually is verifiable, empirically?

    “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, not straight thing was ever made” – I agree entirely. This is why I also try to develop analyses that are dialectical, that recognise the existence and dynamics of contradictory forces. Nothing is black or white, always existing instead as varying combinations of both black and white.

    If we take China’s current human rights situation, for example, we see that in many ways it is very impressive – especially when we examine macro-level human rights indicators, like average life-span, average literacy and numeracy levels, etc. Indeed, as Curt Goering of Amnesty International pointed out in an interview for NOW magazine, “there is a growing recognition of economic, social and cultural rights as rights: that the right to food, to housing, health care, employment, education, etc. are rights every bit as important as the right to freedom of speech or the right not to be tortured or arbitrarily detained.”

    “The” Chinese generally conceptualise human rights as being more collective in nature than individual, more social and economic than civil and political, more need-based than rights-entitled, and more duties-oriented than rights-centered – and such values are consistent with the dominant tradition of Confucian humanism. So China’s human rights achievements, when viewed through Chinese eyes, can appear to be very impressive.

    Of course, human rights abuses against individuals do occur in China, and are no doubt quite seriously widespread and frequent, and are often quite severe as well. Cataloguing them regularly creates quite a disturbingly picture.

    So how does one reconcile these conflicting realities? No easy task, I agree. My argument has always been that it is necessary to present both of these realities, and without exaggerating either, quantifying them according to what is empirically verifiable, and situating them within historic trends with a view towards producing an overall assessment that is fair – one that recongnises improvements and achievements where and when and if they occur, as well as recognising ongoing problems and regressions.

    All the best,
    MAJ

  40. Bigus Duckus says:

    A Sinofowl Papal Bull to Ned Kelly:

    EXTRA ECCELESIAM NULLA SALUS! There is no salvation outside the Church of Bigus Duckus!

    SIR! Mark Anthony Jones has been excommunicated by the China Blogosphere, by order of Pope Bigus Duckus! All who give any aid or shelter to him – let alone any who wish him good luck for his new book – are anathema!

    Sincerely yours,
    Pope Bigus Duckus, a cousin of this guy:

  41. MAJ says:

    NED KELLY: my last comment for tonight – as everyone in the English-language China-related blogsphere already knows, I am indeed a narcissist, an original sinner who sees God everytime I look in the mirror (despite being an atheist). Existence precedes essence, and so I sometimes play God, just as I sometimes play Dr. Anne Myers, or whatever cyberfictive I choose to create and to be.

    That said, I do respect many of the ideals and values espoused by the Christian faith, like in the need to treat others as one would have others treat oneself. But because I recognise that being human means being imperfect, I also believe in forgiveness, in the power of redemption.

    Good night, and all the best,
    MAJ

  42. Ned Kelly says:

    MAJ wrote,

    “I am indeed a narcissist, an original sinner who sees God everytime I look in the mirror…”

    And I say, that what you wrote there, is a profession of Christianity. (If you don’t mind my saying so.)

    “Narcissist?” We all are. But very few of us ever have the moral courage to admit it.

    And your professed belief in “forgiveness, in the power of redemption” is not “atheist” or materialist at all. You believe in something which transcends materiality, even if despite what you think you believe. And I always say, “an atheist is someone who does not believe in SOMEONE ELSE’S god!”

    At any rate, Good Night, Mark, and we hope to hang out with you in
    our “pub” again, soon. Please bring some good wine and cigars next time you come around here!

  43. asdf says:

    A better analogy would be between Germany banning Scientology and China banning Falun Gong.

    Except Falun Gong is less evil, doesn’t have a history of being a pretext to imperialism, doesn’t spread the persecution of homosexuals all over the world, doesn’t try to justify annihilating other people’s religions, etc etc.

    I absolutely agree with you Ned, Jesus’ teachings were perverted by people who had ingested far too many toxic molds and were utterly psychopathic liars. Today, far too many Christians are extremely arrogant, culturally and religiously intolerant, gay-hating, Luddite, backwards pieces of crap.

    While I hate the brutal actions of some (or many) within China’s police organizations, widespread Christianity will poison China.

  44. Ned Kelly says:

    Asdf,

    1. Falun Gong hasn’t yet had any opportunity to be a pretext to spread imperialism. So that’s not a valid contrast between FLG and Christianity.

    2. Many traditional Protestant churches have homosexual clergy and
    oppose persecution of homosexuals. In contrast, homosexuality was outlawed by the Chinese Communist Party until recently; thus, “atheists” are equally adept at persecuting homosexuals. And the anti-Christian regime of Nazi Germany sent homosexuals to the death camps. Granted, it’s true that the largest Christian denomination, the Roman Catholic Church, says homosexual conduct is a sin – but then it says all sex outside of marriage is a sin, so they’re not against “homosexuals” as much as they’re against extramarital sex. (I disagree with the Catholic Church about that.) But they don’t advocate imprisoning or killing people who have sex outside of marriage – including homosexuals. On the other hand, in the 1950s and 60s the atheist Communists persecuted people who had sex outside of marriage. Hmmm….

    3. When was the last time any major Christian church “tried to justify annihilating other people’s religions?” Not in the past few hundred years, and it’s against the teaching of Jesus. Even Muhammed didn’t preach “annihilating” other religions; in traditional Islam, conversion must be voluntary. On the other hand, within living memory, the Chinese Communist Party DID try to annihilate ALL religions within China. Hell, the Chinese Communist Party even tried to annihilate other COMMUNISTS who didn’t toe Mao’s ever-shifting line.

    4. I agree, far too many Christians are arrogant, intolerant, etc etc. Guess what: that’s the Human condition, Human nature.
    But as Human Nature is the source of the problem, persecuting any (or all) religions isn’t the solution, and neither is “atheism”, whatever that word really means. (To me, “atheism” is equally as ambiguous a word as “God”, because those two words are interdependent. Hmmmm…)

  45. MAJ says:

    NED KELLY: I’m curious to know more about your ideas on the interdependence of the words “God” and “Atheism”. Could you please eleborate a little more on this: how, exactly, are these two words interdependent, in your view? I quite liked you earlier definition of an atheist by the way, as someone who doesn’t believe in someone else’s God.

    Regards,
    MAJ

  46. Ned Kelly says:

    By the way, more about the ambiguity of “atheism”: How can anyone say he doesn’t believe in something which cannot be defined in the first place? And “agnostic” is meaningless too, because everyone knows (and believes) SOMEthing – the only question is, what do we know (and believe), and how?

    Saying you’re a non-Christian has a bit more validity, even though Jesus taught that what people do is more important than what beliefs they profess. Or you can say you don’t ascribe to any traditional religion. (That might be a good thing, actually.)
    But terms like “atheist” and “God” and “religion” really don’t mean much in the abstract. As James Joyce said, “God is a shout in the street”, and he had a good point.

  47. Ned Kelly says:

    Good evening, MAJ!

    Your comment crossed with mine. But I think my comment number 46 (supra) probably addresses your question.

    Here’s a bit more in response. I simply mean that “atheism” means nothing unless “theism” means something – and “theism” means very little in the abstract.

    “Theism” doesn’t necessarily mean belief in any of the Levantine (Jewish, Christian, Muslim) concepts of “God” – and in fact, one could argue that Orthodox Jews are “atheists”, because they refrain from ANY concept of God, so much so that they religiously avoid writing God’s name. (They spell it, “G–” as a reminder that God has no Human name, no form, and cannot be conceptualised, although concepts and words can ALLUDE to the transcendent G–.)

    On the other hand, one could argue that the Buddhists are theists,
    even though they don’t use any word like “God.” I once heard a great analogy for this: Just as Protestants have a word for “God” but do not have “God” present in a material form as the Catholics do (in the Catholic Eucharist, the bread IS the “body of Christ”, they believe the bread IS “God”), analagously, the Buddhists don’t have “God” in their vocabulary. But that doesn’t mean that the Buddhists don’t believe in “God”; it just means that they don’t conceptualise God as a word – analogously to how the Protestants don’t conceptualise the presence of God in a piece of bread.

  48. Ned Kelly says:

    Oh but then, one could spin this around in the OTHER direction and say, from a Buddhist perspective, that “God” really IS present in the Catholic Eucharist, because the transcendent source of all being is omnipresent. There was even a bit of God in Hitler – which does not necessarily vitiate the reality of evil, but that’s another question.

    And I am by no means equating the bit of Divinity in Hitler with the presence of God in the Catholic Eucharist, or with the sanctity of a Muslim Mosque. I do believe that some material things, and places – and especially some deeds – are more holy than others, if only because they are so in the minds and hearts of believers. That’s why, although I’m a Christian and not a Muslim, I always take off my shoes and behave reverently in a Muslim Mosque (whenever I visit them). Ah, but then that leads to another question: “Ned, would you behave reverently at the tomb of Mao?”

    The answer is no. Because although I believe Muhammed was basically a truthful man, I believe Mao was basically a liar and a source of lies, confusion and real evil. And so my way of respecting the beliefs of Chinese who admire Mao, is to refrain from visiting his tomb.

    And then to the next (anticipated) question, “But Ned, how and why do you distinguish between Muhammed as a truthful man, versus Mao
    as an untruthful man?” Jesus provides a good answer: “By their fruits you will know them. Good trees give good fruit, and bad trees give bad fruit.” And the fruits of Muhammed have – in my estimation – done more good for the world, and lasted longer, than the fruits of Mao, or the fruits of Lenin. The Buddha and Jesus and Muhammed are still loved and followed many centuries and millenia after they died; meanwhile, Lenin (a liar who had SOME good qualities) has become a joke, and the name of Hitler is hated all over the world – because in the long run, untruth always fades away into nothing, while truth really is eternal.

    (And because truth is eternal, well, that’s why no mortal Human authority can ever claim to know the whole truth, or to claim the political power to enforce HIS “truth” upon others, as Lenin and Mao did – in contrast, Jesus simply said, “I speak the truth” and then submitted to crucifixion instead of enforcing his Truth upon others. Truthfulness can never be enforced – and that, among other things, is what makes Jesus so extraordinary, so different from Lenin and Hitler and Mao, and so perdurable, so eternal.)

  49. asdf says:

    Do you consider the Westboro Baptist Church to be among the fruits of Christ? =P

  50. asdf says:

    I’m not comparing all Christians to them of course; but it has to be acknowledged that so-called “Christians” facilitated things like the Iraq War, overseas imperialism, etc because of their own insular bigotry and sense of cultural supremacy.

  51. Ned Kelly says:

    In response to asdf:

    “Do you consider the Westboro Baptist Church to be among the fruits of Christ?”

    No I don’t. Don’t be ridiculous. The Westboro Baptist Church consists of (at most) few thousand people in the entire world, and they’re freaks. Get real.

  52. Ned Kelly says:

    Regarding “quantitative” data, ere’s something I’ve just run across while re-reading “The Mismeasure of Man”, by the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould.
    In his Introduction, he writes:

    “The mystique of science proclaims that numbers are the ultimate test of objectivity. …Antideterminists (such as Gould was, and such as I am) have understood the particular prestige of numbers and the special difficulty that their refutation entails….If – as I believe I have shown – quantitative data are as subject to cultural constraints as any other aspect of science, then they have no special claim upon final truth.”

    That’s probably Gould’s most important book, his refutation of the pseudoscience of “IQ” and other politicised “objective” measurements of intelligence and other human qualities. Race, economic class, nationality, and “IQ” – all such deterministic, abstract categorisations of Man are the road to Auschwitz or the Gulag.

  53. MAJ says:

    Dear Catherine,

    I have now read the links that you provided above, and I have conducted some additional research of my own on the question of religious persecution in China – even managing to find some quantitative data. I have a couple of busy weeks ahead of me, but during the coming two week school autumn vacation (in May) I will endeavour to write up a clear and detailed response, outlining my position on the issue. I plan to develop a balanced, but nuanced view – one that is critical of such persecution, but which places such human rights problems in a wider context, and despite acknowledging the regressions that have occured over recent years, I will present a cautiously optimist, developmental view.

    Please be patient – I will definitely respond, eventually!

    Regards,
    MAJ

  54. C.A. Yeung says:

    Dear MAJ,

    Nice to hear from you. No worries mate. Take your time.

    When you finish, just post as a comment first. If it is a long piece (and with your permission), I’ll open a new thread for it and make it a guest post.

    Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

  55. Ned Kelly says:

    MAJ,

    I’ll look forward to your further thoughts. And a funny thing is that as you apparently (but maybe only apparently) consider yourself to be a man of the Left, while I am on the leftish side of the Right wing – ie I consider myself to be a Burkean kind of conservative – your desideratum to “present a cautiously optimist, developmental view” happens to be very much in accord with Edmund Burke’s kind of conservatism. “Cautiously optimisitic” aspirations for some kind of incremental progress are anti-revolutionary – although to be fair to old Karl Marx, at his best he was a cautious and careful kind of “revolutionary”, actually a somewhat conservative kind of revolutionary, quite unlike many who have taken his name in vain.

  56. Catherine – I have finally written something about the extent of religious persecution throughout China, though my text has yet to be fully completed. Progress to date can be viewed at:

    http://www.chinadiscourse.synthasite.com

    Go to the page titled “Chinese governance and society”

    Regards,
    MAJ

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