Friday, September 24, 2004

China, Christianity, and totalitarianism

Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power

That's Eve Tushnet's review of a book by David Aikman, from which here are some excerpts:

It seems gauche to address the political effects of Christian conversion. Nonetheless, Aikman offers many predictions. On his account, Chinese Protestants tend to be reformist rather than radical, emphasizing a slow transition to liberal democracy. They do not engage in much political agitation. In short, don’t picture a Protestant Solidarnosc.

Even if Protestant leaders decline to play an explicit role in bringing China to liberal democracy, the spread of Christianity will almost certainly aid in that transition. Russia emerged from the furnace of Communism devastated both economically and spiritually. Slowly, Chinese entrepreneurs are beginning to build the habits of the market. But liberty—economic or otherwise—relies on an underlying network of trust. Societies where people believe nothing, where they have had belief kicked out of them, lack this necessary foundation.

Moreover, embracing Christianity brings Chinese seekers into a mindset that replaces traditional Chinese nationalism and xenophobia with the community of believers. Under Communism the central relationship is between the individual and his master, the state. Replacing this threatened, isolated understanding of the self is one of the crucial tasks in renewing a society that has suffered through totalitarianism. Even non-Christians should welcome the spread of Christianity in China as an extraordinarily good sign for that country’s renewal. (Aikman also argues that Christianization has the potential to transform China from an antagonist of the United States into an ally.)

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