Freedom of Religious Belief versus Social Harmony

Is it possible to have “freedom of religious belief” and maintain social harmony?  Sounds difficult, doesn’t it.  Experience tells us it’s pretty much impossible.  Does it have to be this way?  Or are there things outside of religion that make it so difficult?

Freedom of Religious Belief versus Social HarmonyFreedom of Religious Belief and Social Harmony in China

We’re going to look at this from the point of view of religious regulations in China.  In their case, the regulations are supposedly to enforce social harmony.  But is that what’s really happening?  China’s history under Communist Party rule tells us something very different is going on.  

The goal in China isn’t to have social harmony.  Not really.  The goal is to remove God from everyday life.  The God of Christianity.  Allah of Islam.  And other religious beliefs as well.  It makes sense.  The Communist government is atheist.  Therefore, the real goal is to have society also be atheist.  Social harmony through atheism and belief in the Communist Party.

Of course, that means the promise of freedom of religious belief is a lie.  That sets up even more tension between various religious beliefs.  Also more tension related to religion and what the government calls social order.  The truth is, social order is merely another word for keeping the people under the thumb of the atheist government.

China is using a different approach to trying to “solve” their problem of Freedom of Religious Belief versus Social Harmony.  Rather than even trying to remove religion from people minds, they’re doing something different.  If it works, it could become a blueprint for other countries to do similar things to solve their “problems”.  Whatever their problems might be.

Chinese Religious Regulations, Chapter 1, Article 1 (2017)

The table below shows three sets of regulations.  Column 1 is the previous law from 2005.  Column 3 is the new language of the law, which replaced column 1.  The middle column is from draft regulations submitted for review in 2016.  It never became law.  However, reading it provides insight into the goals of the final regulations that are now law.

Article 1

2005 regulations about to be replaced 2016 deliberation draft – not approved final version of China’s Religious Affairs Regulations
These Regulations are formulated in accordance with the Constitution and relevant laws for the purposes of ensuring citizens’ freedom of religious belief, maintaining harmony among and between religions, preserving social concord and regulating the administration of religious affairs. These Regulations are formulated in accordance with the Constitution and relevant laws for the purposes of ensuring citizens’ freedom of religious belief, maintaining harmony among and between religions, preserving social concord and regulating the administration of religious affairs. These Regulations are formulated in accordance with the Constitution and relevant laws so as to ensure citizens’freedom of religious belief, maintain harmony among and between religions, maintain social harmony, regulate the administration of religious affairs, and increase the level of legalification in work on religion.
The message of the 2016 draft regulations

It’s interesting that the 2016 draft regulation has the exact same wording as the previous 2015 law.  The wording of the 2016 draft seems to show a confidence that the proposed regulations were appropriate to accomplish the objective.  However, something happened to cause an addition to Chapter 1 Article 1 of the final regulations.  There were some insignificant wording changes at the beginning.  But the real heart of the matter comes at the very end:

increase the level of legalification in work on religion

What does that mean?  Well, my spell checker doesn’t think legalification is a word.  Neither does  But it does show up in a Google search.  Apparently, it means pretty much what it sounds like.  Taking something that’s not normally expressed in legal terms, then turning around and doing exactly that – expressing it in legal terms.  

In other words, the gloves are off.  No more being nice.  But let’s try to pretend we really are being nice. 

Ultimately, it’s hard to think this isn’t a direct response to the complaints about the 2016 draft regulations.  It’s like the Chinese government is letting religious people in China know who is really in charge.  Or maybe the Chinese government is daring someone to complain again.  Then they can cur back even further on freedom of religious belief.

The phrase increase the level of legalification in work on religion serves to put the proper perspective on the rest of the regulations.

Reports on the 2017 Chinese Religious Regulations

China’s Religious Affairs Regulations document is described as follows by the Chinese government and Reuters news agency.  Yes, believe it or not, they both describe the same thing.

First, the Chinese Government:

China has revised its regulation on religious affairs, to take effect on Feb 1, 2018, according to a decree signed by Premier Li Keqiang and released by the State Council on Sept 7.

The last version of the regulation was released in November 2004 and took effect in March 2005.

The regulation is formulated with the goal of protecting citizens’ freedom of religious belief, maintaining religious and social harmony and regulating the management of religious affairs.

It specified that citizens are entitled to the right of freedom of religion.

Well, that’s what the official press release says.  The quote above is from the English version published by The State Council, The People’s Republic of China.  

Below is an excerpt from Reuters:

President Xi Jinping has emphasized the need to guard against foreign infiltration through religion and the need to prevent the spread to “extremist” ideology, while also being tolerant of traditional faiths that he sees as a salve to social ills.

The officially atheist ruling Communist Party says it protects freedom of religion, but it keeps a tight rein on religious activities and allows only officially recognized religious institutions to operate.

The rules, which come into effect on Feb 2, 2018, also place new oversight on online discussion of religious matters, on religious gatherings, the financing of religious groups and the construction of religious buildings, among others.

They increase existing restrictions on unregistered religious groups to include explicit bans on teaching about religion or going abroad to take part in training or meetings.

There are differences between the China and Reuters statements.  You’ll see, as we go through the entire document, which statement is more accurate.  Spoiler alert: it’s not the official one.

maintain harmony among and between religions

Maintaining harmony among and between religions is a difficult goal to even reach, let alone maintain.  Different religions exist for a reason.  People don’t agree.  We don’t all agree even on the basics, like who is God?  The three religions who claim Abraham as the “father” of their religion don’t even agree on who God is.  Obviously, the Jewish religion is, historically, the first to be established. 

With Christianity, the concept of Jesus being the Son of God is (sort of) added.  Christians believe that the entire Hebrew Scripture points to Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.  Jews also believe in a Messiah.  They just don’t believe Messiah is Jesus.

And then there’s Islam, coming last of all, claiming that both Jews and Christians are wrong.  Somehow, a prophet who came along thousands of years after Abraham and 600 years after Jesus is the only one who knows that both of the other religions got it wrong.

How can there be harmony among these three religions?  Each believes the other two are wrong.  The only way for them to be harmonious is to change what they believe.  For a more detailed look at how they all come to claim Abraham as the father of their religion, please see What religion was Abraham?

Uh Oh.  That might work.  In fact, that’s exactly what China is hoping to do.  Change what all three of them believe.

regulate the administration of religious affairs

Given the current state of affairs in China, I believe “maintain” is the wrong word to use.  If all they wanted to do was maintain the current situation,  why does anything need to change?  If an “appropriate” level of harmony already existed between the various religions in China, there would be no need to have a whole new set of regulations.  Certainly, there would be no need for legalification of anything related to religion at all.

As I said, pretend to be nice.  Say things are going to be maintained.  But then immediately start to change them.

Furthermore, given the goal to increase the level of legalification in work on religion, even the Chinese government realizes they don’t have the level of control over religion they want / claim to have.

Over the past few years, Christianity and Islam in China have both increased in numbers.  The new religious regulations are designed to change that. 

We saw above, the way to achieve the goal of “harmony” among religions is to change them.  Remove those things that create disharmony.  By watering down the religions, even if the numbers increase, the impact of the religion won’t be what it is today.  The net result is that the atheist government in China will be able to maintain tighter control, if all goes according to plan.  If.  And that’s what this whole series is all about.

Why the push for more legalification of religion

Are these religious regulations really new?  Are they really doing something new?  Or is this just a lot of concern about nothing?

As we saw, using the word “maintain” is to give a sense of things being normal.  Like these are just fine-tuning.  Hopefully, people will think that even the word legalification is only about putting existing practices into legal terms. 

However, from, we read:

… the Chinese government uses the Three Self Patriotic Movement and China Christian Council to try to keep a lid on the True Gospel and bury it under a set of social rules that serve the Party’s interests while keeping Christians out of key segments of the Chinese society (see Three Self church).

The political intent of the Three Self Patriotic Movement was explicitly declared in 1950 in the “Basic Principles” section of its founding manifesto, The Path of China’s Christianity in the Construction of a New China.

We’ll see more about the Three Self Church throughout this series.  But look at that date.  This is from 1950.  That’s 69 years ago.  But still, the “problem” hasn’t been solved.  To accomplish the goal, China still needs more laws, more regulations, more something.  However, this time, they’re using a different approach. 

Rather than using a show of force and announcing that force for the world to see, they are using a two-pronged approach.  

Prong 1 – look good and sound good as far as freedom of religion

Use phrases like social harmony.  Who doesn’t want that?  Who wants social discord?  Who wants violence?  Social harmony is good.

Try for harmony between religions.  That sounds good to a lot of people, especially those who aren’t part of any of the religions that are being targeted.  It even sounds good to members of targeted religions if they don’t really understand their religion.  And isn’t that the goal in China?  Make sure that people don’t understand what their religion really teaches, by substituting something else that’s more socially acceptable.  Social harmony, after all, is the goal.

Oh. Wait.  Make that more “socially” acceptable to a Communist Atheistic government.

Prong 2 – Hope the rest of the world is listening to the government’s words rather than actually seeing reality

In the article, they also included part of the “Basic Principles” section of the founding documents for the Three Self Patriotic Movement.  It’s part of something called The Path of China’s Christianity in the Construction of a New China.  Here is the excerpt from The People’s Daily:

“China’s Christian churches and organizations should be based on best efforts and effective ways to teach the people to clearly understand the evils left in China by the imperialists and the reality of the imperialists exploitation of Christianity in the past. They should eliminate imperialist influences on Christianity and be on alert against imperialism, especially the U.S. imperialists using religion to cultivate reactionary forces. The congregants also should be called upon to join the anti-war peace movement and be educated until they thoroughly understand and support the government’s land reform policy.

China’s Christian churches and organizations should adopt effective ways to train believers to have a patriotic and democratic spirit, self-respect and self-confidence. The self-governance, self-support and self-propagation advocated by China’s Christianity in the past have already achieved considerable results. From now on, this task should be accomplished as quickly as possible while promoting self-criticism and reviewing the implementation of a variety of finishing tasks to streamline savings in order to achieve the goal of Christian reform.” 

– The People’s Daily, front page, September 23, 1950.

What does China’s freedom of religious belief vs social harmony policy have to do with us?

You might think that this is just China.  It won’t affect any other country.  But check out some of what it says.  

exploitation of Christianity

Here in the U.S., this happens all the time.  Both political parties are trying to exploit Christians.  I write about the Republicans a lot these days.  Between Trump and many Evangelical Christians, the targets are just so numerous.  For instance, see The Spirit of God says, ‘I have chosen this man, Donald Trump, for such a time as this.’ ???  Somehow, no matter how outrageous and no matter how un-Christian he acts, so many Christians are incredibly vocal and active in supporting Trump.

Jesus spoke about those who would try to lead His followers away from Him.  People who try to exploit Christians are, in a very real sense, trying to do just that.  When you think about it, the passage below is more than a little scary for those who claim to be Christian, but are led astray through exploitation.

The Shepherd and His Flock

Jn 10:1 “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.

Jn 10:7 Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Jn 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

Jn 10:14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Do you see the scary part?  Jesus is the good shepherd.  His sheep know His voice and listen to Him.  A true Christian knows the difference between Jesus and someone else.  When someone tries to lead Christians astray, the only ones who will follow are the ones who don’t know Jesus.

Yes, we will all follow someone or something else.  For a time.  I did it.  But I came back, precisely because I never found Jesus anywhere but in Christianity.  It seems obvious.  But sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes we just can’t find Jesus in the midst of all the so-called Christians who aren’t really that Christian in practice.

But if we continually follow someone other than Jesus, there has to be a serious question about whether we are really, truly Christian.

using religion to cultivate reactionary forces

Let’s use abortion and caring for the poor as examples here.  Both Democrats and Republicans are trying to use religion to get reactions from Christians. 

Democrats are usually more in support of caring for the poor, while Republicans often end up trying to cut care for the poor to the benefit of the rich.  Jesus tells us that caring for the poor is important.  Somehow, it resonates more with Democrats.  And so they mobilize – one to support the rich, the other to support the poor.

Republicans are more on the pro-life side of abortion.  They want to pretty much ban abortion.  But there are, as usual, two sides to every story.  Please see Christians and abortion: Will Christians abandon God over abortion? for more on this one.  And so they mobilize, but for very different reasons.

Jesus didn’t want this kind of reactionary force.  He wanted nothing to do with being their political leader.  Remember this from when the people wanted to make Him their king.

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

6:1-13 pp — Mt 14:13-21; Mk 6:32-44; Lk 9:10-17

Jn 6:1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Feast was near.

Jn 6:5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Jn 6:7 Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Jn 6:8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Jn 6:10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

Jn 6:12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

Jn 6:14 After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

See?  Jesus left.  

be educated until they thoroughly understand and support the government’s land reform policy

OK – land reform policy isn’t a big thing here in the U.S.  Well, not so much outside of certain environmental groups.  Not that it isn’t important – just that it doesn’t get much attention.

My point here is that China is looking to re-educate Christians.  When something in Christianity or other specified religions in China differs from what the government wants to do, re-education is necessary.  Whatever that religious issue is, it needs to go away.  People need to learn that the government takes precedence over religion.

That very same thing happens here in the U.S.  The most famous one is from several years ago where a prominent Democrat said it was time for antiquated religious beliefs to give way to science.  What if that thought became legalified?  In China, things like that are happening.  Is that freedom of religious belief?  

Let’s look at when Jesus was questioned by Pilate for this one.

Jesus Before Pilate

18:29-40 pp — Mt 27:11-18, 20-23; Mk 15:2-15; Lk 23:2, 3, 18-25

Jn 18:28 Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

Jn 18:30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

Jn 18:31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. 32 This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.

Jn 18:33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jn 18:34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

Jn 18:35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jn 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Jn 18:37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Again, no governmental issues.  At least not of this world.  Jesus’ teaching about “government” was all about the Kingdom of God.

China’s Christian churches and organizations should adopt effective ways to train believers to have a patriotic and democratic spirit

OK – the democratic part is just plain weird.  There’s nothing Democratic about China’s politics.

Aside from that, why is any church even considered as a way to train believers to be patriotic?  Can you imagine the Jewish Synagogues in Jesus’ time teaching people that they should be patriotic towards the Roman government?  Is that freedom of religious belief?

In fact, Jesus said quite the opposite.

Paying Taxes to Caesar

22:15-22 pp — Mk 12:13-17; Lk 20:20-26

Mt 22:15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Mt 22:18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”

Mt 22:21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Conclusion – Freedom of Religious Belief versus Social Harmony

As we saw, the concepts of freedom of religious belief and social harmony will always be at odds with each other. 

Any question of just how much disharmony there is depends, honestly, on people.  Some who call themselves Christians go overboard in creating disharmony, even though Jesus says we should love even our enemies.  Islam has a different issue.  Parts of the Qur’an do specify instances where disharmony, and sometimes even violence, are appropriate.  Other parts do not.  The question for Muslims is which parts of the Qur’an they use to guide their lives.

But honestly, neither of those issues are the ones that China is concerned about.  China uses social harmony as a euphemism for supporting the Communist Atheistic government.  No religion which teaches any kind of God or god will ever be in harmony with that kind of social order.  Freedom of religion is out the window.  Even what any given religion is allowed to believe comes under fire.  Freedom of religious belief is non-existent, unless one chooses to believe in the government’s chosen religion.  And that religion, the Three Self Church, has no God.

Will it work in China?  Time will tell.

Is it coming to your country already?  Look around.  Probably, even if in small increments.

Will it work in your country?  Time will tell.

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