Like all Chinese children, I was taught at school the Chinese Communist party’s prediction about religion: as society progresses, religion will slowly fade from people’s lives until it finally disappears. Mao bluntly said that religion was a poison and tried to wipe out religious practices.
But the opposite has happened. In the past three decades, as our economy has flourished and personal freedoms have increased, religions of all forms have started to thrive.
Yet instead of joining officially sanctioned churches, the Chinese have been flocking to unofficial houses of worship – the so-called house churches, with up to 100 million members. While technically illegal, the house churches have been largely tolerated in recent years thanks to relaxed control and the government’s realisation that religion can be a moral force to be reckoned with…
I am a firm atheist, but I appreciate how my grandmother, a Buddhist, had always drawn strength from her religion as she endured the loss of her parents, famine and war. And the benefits of spiritual belonging are crystal clear every time I see my former maid. “I feel a lot happier now,” she claims.
Instead of curtailing the growth of house churches, the Chinese authorities should accept the religious movement as a positive force. There is an ongoing discussion here in China about the decline of morality as our country has become increasingly money-worshipping. So the tugs and pulls of modern life tend to leave any nation’s people searching for a spiritual outlet.
China’s leaders constantly speak of building a “harmonious society” – what better way to do it then to involve churches?