An estimated 350 million Chinese are hooked to different religions, looking for a way to deal with the lack of morality of their current society. The Spectator reviews positively Ian Johnson’s book The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, and describes a major change in China’s cultural fabric.
China has moved from zero tolerance of worship to more than 350 million believers in Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity and Islam. In an era in which religion was expected by many to become extinct, this is a stunning development. It has happened in a country where the policies of the regime range from grudging tolerance to heavy-handed oppression. We need to understand the explosion of religious faith in China. Ian Johnson’s excellent book explains it.
He depicts a nation in deep moral crisis, quoting a 2014 official opinion poll in which 88 per cent of respondents agreed that society was suffering from ‘a social disease of moral decay and lack of trust’; and he cites a bestselling novelist who writes of ‘a tide of lust and greed’ surging from every corner of his home city, Chengdu. A Communist Party communiqué laments that ‘in a number of areas, morals are defeated, sincerity is lacking’. Referring to the party’s promotion of moral exemplars, a blogger tells Johnson: ‘Everything they teach you is fake.’ A Christian publisher says: ‘People can’t believe how corrupt society has become.’ In a society once ruled more by ethics than laws, in which religion and community cohesion were inseparable, people regret ‘the absence of a moral compass’.
In this crisis, Johnson shows that people are turning to religions in search of moral clarity, truth and a meaning to their lives. At a spiritual level, like believers everywhere, they have an impulse to believe in God. At a social level, especially in Christian ‘house churches’, unregulated by the state, and self-governing, they find mutual trust and shared values, communities which combine faith and action. An estimated quarter of the lawyers active in the ‘rights defence’ movement of the early 21st century were Christians.
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