To some, the idea of religious freedom in China sounds like an oxymoron. You know – a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction. Given that China is an officially atheist country, “religion” in China certainly isn’t what people in the so-called west expect. Further, the concept of freedom of religion in an atheist country like China is, if it’s possible, even more of an oxymoron.
And yet, The official Religious Affairs Regulations in China explicitly state: Citizens have the freedom of religious belief. How can that be? It all depends on, well, points of view, who has power, who gets to define terms, who has power, who’s on control, and who has power. Did you catch the trend there? It is all about who has power.
I’ve tried to write this before. It’s hard. The document is 9 chapters long, with 77 articles. Many articles have multiple sun-items and paragraphs. Some of the thoughts in one of those groupings are related, But some aren’t. I also tried to compare the previous regulations with an interim draft and with the final regulations. I’ve given up on that. It’s just so complicated. Plus, it gets to be so long. I fear too many people start to read, but never finish.
So I’m going to try again, but break it up into smaller chunks, based on what’s being regulated, rather than the somewhat arbitrary placements in the regulations. Truth is, I believe many things are purposely spread out or heaped together like a bowl full of spaghetti on purpose. It can be downright difficult to put it all together and truly understand what’s going on.
So – here we go.
Religious Affairs Regulations – Chapter 1 General Provisions – Article 1
Ensure citizens freedom of religious belief
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.
formulated in accordance with the Constitution and relevant laws
Seriously. Religious freedom in China is based on their constitution and “relevant” laws. That means religious freedom is based on the constitution of an admittedly atheist country. That and whatever other laws may have been or will be passed that have any relevance to the constitutionally defined religious freedom.
How’s that for the importance of who’s got the power? Who in the U.S. or any other “free” country believes religious freedom should be defined by the government?
Oh. Wait. Some people in the U.S. do. Way too many people. They call themselves Christians.
I should ask that differently. Did Jesus ever rely on the Roman government to define , or redefine, what He taught? Answer: No.
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.”
Jn 18:38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
Jn 18:40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.
Notice what Jesus said in this exchange with Pilate, the Roman Governor:
“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.”
Jesus could have asked for help form Pilate. Bargained away what He taught. Compromised to save His life. But He didn’t. In fact, He told Pilate in no uncertain terms what could have happened.
What about Paul? Answer: No. I apologize, a little bit, for putting in the entire section below. However, I think it’s good to read all of it. To see how Paul treats the Roman King. Paul doesn’t give in to him at all, but he does behave politely. Further, Paul explained his own experiences and preached a bit of the Gospel to the Roman King.
Paul did not go to the government with any intention to get help from them. Nor any plan to negotiate his beliefs with the King. And as I said, Paul was very polite throughout this exchange. It is, I’m sad to say, a far cry from what we experience all to often in the U.S. today.
26:12-18 pp — Ac 9:3-8; 22:6-11
Ac 25:23 The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 Festus said: “King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25 I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. 26 But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. 27 For I think it is unreasonable to send on a prisoner without specifying the charges against him.”
Ac 26:1 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”
So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: 2 “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, 3 and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.
Ac 26:4 “The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. 5 They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. 6 And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. 7 This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me. 8 Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?
Ac 26:9 “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.
Ac 26:12 “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic,‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
Ac 26:15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
“ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
Ac 26:19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. 21 That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”
Ac 26:24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
Ac 26:25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”
Ac 26:28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
Ac 26:29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”
Ac 26:30 The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. 31 They left the room, and while talking with one another, they said, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”
Ac 26:32 Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
So we see, Paul could have saved his life, but didn’t. His goal was to preach the Gospel in Rome. And that’s exactly what happened.
Maybe we’re too comfortable now with government supporting various bits and pieces of religions that are important to the politicians for getting votes. But at what cost? Christianity being defined by the laws of the United States isn’t what Jesus had in mind for us.
So while we might think there’s nothing wrong with China defining religious “freedom”, there’s so much wrong with it. I fear we just can’t see it anymore. As Jesus said to every one of the seven churches in Revelation, the End-Times prophecy given by Him to John:
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
I can’t help but wonder, can we still hear the Spirit?
Religious Freedom – pigeon or dove?
Huh? What do pigeons and doves have to do with religious freedom? Plenty!
Remember the picture at the top? The caption asked, is this a pigeon or a dove? You may be aware, the dove is the Christian symbol for the Holy Spirit. So, it must be critically important to know the difference between a pigeon and a dove, right? Which do you think the picture portrays?
If you said dove, you get 1 point. If you said pidgeon, you also get 1 point. If you said pigeon, you get 2 points! But do you know why you get more points for pigeon than for either pidgeon or dove? As you read it, think about the one brief article we read on religious freedom in China. Also about the question of who’s got the power.
Below is an excerpt from an article on doveline.com.
Doves and pigeons are well known and have large populations in many parts of the world. Yet despite how very common they are, there are many misconceptions about them. For instance; a common question asked is how does one tell the difference between a dove and a pigeon?
These animals belong to a family of birds known as Columbidae. This family of bird makes up 310 known species. From there, one could assume that pigeons make up some of these species, and doves make up the rest. This, however; would be a mistake.
While there are many species within the Columbidae family, the truth of the matter is that “dove” and “pigeon” are both interchangeable names that can be applied to any of the Columbidae species. There’s no official differences between the two.
Oops. No difference? So why do we think there’s a difference? We’ll see shortly. In any case, that’s why you get 1 point regardless of which one you pick. Scientifically, that picture is a pigeon and a dove – both are correct.
This can cause one to wonder why both terms exist, and why people try to find some distinction between the two.
An excellent question. The answer gets right to the core of why this picture is a great example for our religious freedom question.
The two terms came into existence because of how common and widespread these birds are. Different parts of the world came up with different names for these animals. In Germany, the bird became known as the “dove,” while in France it was named the “pigeon.” Of the many names this animal has been given; these were the two that stuck.
While there is no scientific separation between the two, some parts of the world have come up with their own false distinctions between which Columbidae are pigeons and which are doves.
Uh oh. False distinctions?
To some, “pigeons” are the pest-like Columbidae that live within cities while Doves are the wild cousins of these birds that live in the forests.
Others say that pigeons are the larger Columbidae while attributing the smaller species as doves. As mentioned before, none of these distinctions are scientifically recognized.
Not recognized by science. But for various reasons, distinctions are made and recognized by people. But not all people make the same distinctions.
Why 2 points for pigeon, 1 point for dove and no points for pidgeon?
So why the point difference? Because this is a Christian site. Since Christians have the dove as the symbol for the Holy Spirit, we recognize the all white variety of Columbidae as a dove. White, as in white lambs, snow, white doves, robes of white, are all used to signify purity in Christianity. Therefore all the others are pigeons.
So – you get 1 point from science, regardless of whether you chose dove or pigeon.
And you get 1 point from Christianity if you chose pigeon, since the bird in the picture isn’t all white.
Finally, you get no points for choosing pidgeon, since that’s no longer the accepted spelling of “pigeon”.
Conclusion – pigeons, doves and religious freedom in China
What do pigeons and doves have to do with religious freedom in China? Confusion. Some truth. And loss of accepted variations.
Confusion, because the truth isn’t the same as “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. Here’s what I mean. Nothing but the truth means no lies are told and no deceptions are made. The whole truth means there are no lies of omission and no deceptions are made.
In the pigeon and dove example, calling the bird in the picture in a dove is telling the truth, according to science. Calling that same bird a dove is also telling the truth, according to science. However, calling the bird a pigeon does leave out the fact that Christians identify the bird as a dove.
So if we carry the image of purity of the Holy Spirit, as seen by the white dove, there’s a message being sent. Just like pure as snow, clean white robes, Etc. But if Christians are told no, doves aren’t necessarily white, that image is gone. It introduces opportunities to then begin changing teachings of Christianity, since clean, white, and such are done away with.
It seems like a little thing. And yet, that’s all it takes.
This is the kind of attention we need to pay to these regulations in China. And to laws that are passed in the U.S. and other so-called free countries. Even the laws that Christians ask to have passed.
China is doing these things with the intention of taking God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – out of Christianity,
In the U.S., we need to remember that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. We can go down the very same road as the Chinese government if we aren’t careful.
This is just the first in the series.
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