Monday, April 21, 2014

A new mega-church opens in China

In the United States the coming thing is “marriage equality” and multiple genders. In China the coming thing is Christianity, like the new mega-church that just opened in Liushi, Zhejiang province, featured in the London Telegraph. China is on course for 247 million Christians by 2030.

To your average educated American this seems astonishing, because after all Christianity is so pre-Enlightenment. As Charles Murray puts it: “Smart people don't believe that stuff any more.” That's probably the way the Chinese ruling class feels too. But what can we, with open minds, understand about Chinese Christianity?

We can start with the comments of a Chinese Christian captured by David Aikman in Jesus in Beijing.

 At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.

So what is it about Christianity that the Chinese find so powerful? Leaving aside the question of whether God or Jesus actually exist, there is plenty. First, there is the idea of the individual believer responsible for her individual life to God. Individualism permits the breakout from tribalism and the expansion of trust beyond the boundary of blood. Then there is the end of actual blood sacrifice when things go wrong; Jesus made the sacrifice so we don't have to. You may think that's a minor thing, but it makes a difference when Christianized villagers stop sacrificing animals during hard times. Finally there is the particular appeal to women. Jesus loves you. If men are fighters and women are lovers, Christianity is the lovingest religion in the world with its perfect relationship of love: you love God and God loves you right back.

In Latin America the US-born Pentecostal movement seems to be really effective in helping women wean their husbands away from the male macho culture and towards work and supporting their families. David Martin in On Secularization.

Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...

That's probably what's going on in China, too. Of course, nobody really knows how many Christians there are. The mega-church in Liushi is a state-approved Protestant church, but many millions of Chinese worship in so-called “house churches” outside the state-approved system.

The most intriguing thing about Chinese Christians is their notion that Christianity is fated to move westward across the world, and it is the destiny of Chinese Christians to complete the global circum-conversion and return Christianity to Jerusalem.

I'm not sure if they have checked in with the mullahs on that.

Of course, all that has nothing to do with secularized, educated Americans like us. Unless you'd like to read more of what Charles Murray has to say in his Curmudgeon's Guide for Getting Ahead about religion to thoroughly secularized college graduates like you and me.

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