Friday, August 27, 2010

Does Marx’s human emancipation theme foretell the future of Chinese churchgoers?

by M. Ulric Killion

Workers place construction chains at the Karl Marx sculpture of the Marx-Engels monument in Berlin Sept. 8. The sculptures of Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), the founders of modern socialism, have to be moved from their original place because of construction works for a new subway line. Photo/Tobias Schwarz/Reuters; which is attached to an article by Bill Bonner, Does West face a Marx moment? - What kind of class struggle ensues if a rich democracy can no longer buy off the poor?, The Christian Science Monitor, Sept 11, 2010.

I. Christian Churchgoers in China 

According to a recent survey by the institute of world religions at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in 2010 the number of Christians in Mainland China rose to a record high of 23.05 million. From the perspective of Christendom, the announced survey result probably presents a rallying point for the success and potential growth of Christianity in East Asia. This latter observation would undoubtedly hardly come as a surprise to many, especially Western observers.

The newly published book,The Annual Report on China’s Religions (中国宗教报告/Zhongguo zong jiao bao gao, 2010), or simply, the 2010 Bluebook on China Religions,  which is the first published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences reported a period of unprecedented change for China’s major religions.
It is more difficult, however, to speculate about Chinese assessments of the findings, especially by China’s polity. This is because many perceive China and its citizens as generally comprising atheists. From a bias Western perspective, it is generally an issue of whether the Chinese population comprises members of Christian sects, rather than whether the population belongs to one or more different religion sects. For example, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Fact Book (2010) summarizes religions in China as: “Daoist (Taoist), Buddhist, Christian 3%-4%, Muslim 1%-2%, note: officially atheist (2002 est.).”
Despite China’s polity officially prescribing atheism as China’s religion, there was a high growth rate in Christian churchgoers. As the China Daily (Survey: Over 23 million Christians in China, Aug. 12, 2010) reported,
Li Lin, who organized the survey, said in the Blue Book on China Religions, a book that lists facts on religion in China. “About 15 percent of believers said they are Christian because of the influence of family traditions.”
Li pointed out that the number of female Christians is much higher than male Christians, taking up a whopping 70 percent of the total number. The book also revealed a increase in other faiths, including Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism and Taoism. The number of Catholics in China has reached 5.7 million, according to the survey.
The Christian boom is a result of China’s economic growth, the survey found, noting that 73 percent of Chinese Christians joined the church after 1993, and nearly 18 percent of them between 1982 and 1992. The poll found that most of the Chinese Christians are located in the eastern costal and the Yangtze River areas, which are China's most densely populated and economically prosperous regions. The demographics of Christians have changed tremendously, with a continuing influx of young people, intellectuals, and professionals from various fields.
To accommodate the increase in the number of churchgoers, there has been a corresponding increase in the number of churches in the country, which currently stand at more than 55,000. “These statistics clearly indicate that the 30-year period of reform and opening-up has been a period of rapid development for both Chinese society and the Chinese church,” Fu Xianwei, chairman of China’s Three-Self Patriotic Movement National Committee, said at the annual meeting of the Shanghai Religious Society.
What makes the growth of Christian churchgoers and churches surprising is an observation by many of continuing religious intolerance and persecutions in China. Notwithstanding problem areas set forth in the report (i.e., a period of unprecedented change for China’s major religions), in terms of arguably positive correlations that associate with a growth of Christian churchgoers and churches, the record on the freedom of religion and belief seems to conflict with the recent findings set forth in the 2010 Bluebook on China Religions.

II. Freedom of Religion and Belief
For many Western observers, the Chinese record on human rights, especially on the freedom of religion and belief, under all Chinese leaders, including Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, is appalling. The International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998 created the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent, bipartisan U.S. government agency. This Commission was created for monitoring the status of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, or belief abroad, as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other international instruments. 

The products of such monitoring are policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress. Both Article 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provide, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” 

The U.S. government employs the designation of “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) for monitoring ongoing violations of human rights and egregious violations of religious freedom. In addition to CPC designations, there is a Watch List for countries not rising to statutory level for CPC, but still requiring close monitoring. The result of a CPC designation is focused diplomatic activity as required by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1988 (ITFA). The Commission, pursuant to the IRFA, issues recommended responses for the President, Secretary of State and Congress. (Killion, A Modern Chinese Journey to the West, Economic Globalization and Dualism, 2006).
In the March 2010 Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), China is recommended for CPC designation, and was one of several countries named as CPCs by the Department of State. “In this reporting period, USCIRF recommends that the Secretary of State designate the following 13 countries as CPCs: Burma, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, the People’s Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.”
Additionally, “The State Department’s January 2009 CPC designations repeated the 2006 designations of eight countries: Burma, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Eritrea, Iran, the People’s Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. The State Department issued a 180-day waiver on taking any action against Uzbekistan and an indefinite waiver for Saudi Arabia, in both cases to “further the purposes of the [International Religious Freedom] Act.” As a result of these waivers, the United States will not implement any policy response to the particularly severe violations of religious freedom in either country. USCIRF continues to express concern and disappointment that the Secretary of State, in this as well as previous administrations, has declined to designate as CPCs the additional countries USCIRF has recommended.”
According to the “Justification of Commission Recommendations for CPC Designation and Highlights of Policy Recommendations”,
In China, the government continues to engage in systematic and egregious violations of the freedom of religion or belief. There was a marked deterioration in the past year, particularly in Tibetan Buddhist and Uighur Muslim areas. The government continues its campaign to “transform” unregistered Christian groups and “strike hard” against “evil cults,” leading to the arrest, imprisonment, and mistreatment of religious adherents. Thousands of “house church” Protestants have been detained in the past two years. Forty Catholic bishops remain imprisoned or disappeared. There also is credible evidence of the systematic torture and mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners in detention. Though China has expanded the “zone of toleration” that allows millions of Chinese citizens the ability to worship, it continues to systematically deny the ability of religious communities to freely exercise their religion without severe restrictions. All religious activities are subject to a strict political and legal framework that represses many activities protected under international human rights law, including in treaties China has signed or ratified. Among its numerous policy recommendations, USCIRF recommends that the Secretary of State impose a new sanction targeting officials who perpetuate religious freedom abuses or provinces where religious freedom conditions are most egregious. In addition, USCIRF recommends that the United States raise religious freedom concerns in multilateral forums where the United States and China are members, coordinate potential sources of leverage within the U.S. government and with allies to build a consistent human rights diplomacy with China, develop and distribute proven technologies to counter internet censorship and protect Chinese activists from arrest and harassment, and raise religious freedom and negotiate binding human rights agreements at the U.S.-China Strategic Dialogue.
Since the creation of the Commission in 1998 by the IRFA, the Commission has annually recommended since 1999 that China be designated as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC. The State Department has also followed the Commission’s recommendations and named China a CPC. 

For many Western observers, there are egregious violations of religious freedoms manifesting a continuing government policy of religious intolerance in China (Killion, 2006). This also presents issue of what the growth in numbers of churchgoers and churches portend for the future role or influence of religion in a communist or socialist state. 

III. Karl Marx’s Human Emancipation
The earlier mentioned CIA fact book characterized China’s system of government as a communist state. China’s system of government is actually, variously described as communist, socialist or authoritarian. All of which reflects that the country is ruled by the Communist Party of China (CPC); a reality that will ultimately impinge on the role or influence of religion. 

In this respect, the issue of religion (i.e., the freedom of religion and belief) is not simply reducible to Karl Marx’s often quoted and misunderstood statement that religion is the opium of the masses. This is because, for Marx or pursuant to Marxian analysis religion is actually reducible to a symptom of the problems of society. 

From the perspective of Marx’s theoretical theme or theory of social forms, religion is understood in the context of the course of human emancipation and the evolution of social forms; all of which intends to eventually, in both theory and reality, transcend the historical limits of capitalism. Marx, and the eventual formation of Marxism, underwent transformation from Hegelian idealism to historical materialism, and then, through his critique of Hegel’s theory of the state, to conclude, though contrary to Hegel, that it is civil society that determines the political state and not vice versa (Karl Marx, Contribution to the critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law. Introduction; Karl Marx, On the Jewish Question). In other words, Marx came to understand social history from the perspective of civil society (i.e., the theory of civil society), rather than Hegel’s theory of the state. 

More importantly, as Liu Tongfang (The course of human emancipation and the evolution of society forms, Social Sciences in China, Vol. XXIX, No. 3, 2008) observed, for Marx understanding civil society is, to a large extent, understanding capitalist society. This directly relates to Marx’s human emancipation theme or his theme for transcending civil society. Marx advocated the abolition of the political character of civil society, which meant the eventual emergence of civil society as an independent realm free of the patriarchal interference of a political state (i.e., withdrawal of the political state from civil society). 

This has direct bearing on the status of religion, especially concerning Marx’s theme of emancipation. Liu (2008) wrote, “political emancipation freed the state from the spiritual yoke of religious rule; religion was not longer the public power and spirit of the state, and the state no longer upheld any religion but only itself. The estrangement of the state from religion rendered religious faith a private affair of individuals and completed ‘the displacement of religion from the state into civil society.’” 

Marx, however, clearly recognized that political emancipation freed from religion is not actually freed from religion, but rather only banished from the sphere of public law to that of private law (Karl Marx, On the Jewish Question). In other words, they were not freed from religion, but had actually received religious freedom (Liu, 2008). The problem is that political emancipation did not constitute a form of human emancipation carried through to completion and without contradictions. 

As Liu (2008) observed, “Thus the limits of political emancipation with regard to the question of religion are ascribed to the limits with regard to the question of human emancipation. Marx’s interest now turned to how members of civil society in countries that has completed political emancipation lived in their “earthly existence.” 

Contrary to the tradition of previous thinkers who understood “man” in abstract, Marx saw man as a living and concrete sensate being and, through actual investigations of the workers’ real living conditions under capitalism, discovered two interrelated facts; one, how unequal were the “earthly” lives of citizens “baptized” by political emancipation and clad in a coat of “equality”; two, how far they were as men from the essence of men as such – they had become “alienated” men (Karl Marx, Contribution to the critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law).
IV. Conclusion
All of this demonstrates that Marx’s theory of emancipation is unique. His theory also demonstrates that, pursuant to orthodox Marxist theory, the role or influence of religion relegates to a symptom of the problem of society (i.e., alienation, rather than political emancipation that is free from contradiction). Notwithstanding growing numbers of Christian churchgoers and churches in China, a political system (such as the CPC) that erects on Marxism or Marxian ideology will and must by necessity delimit the role or influence of religion in both the public sphere and public law. For these reasons, the growing numbers of churchgoers and churches may ultimately be much ado about nothing.
Copyright © Protected - All Rights Reserved M. Ulric Killion, 2010.