Do economic, political, and religious freedom go together? Rodney Stark, writing in his recent book The Victory of Reason, says that “It seems doubtful than an effective modern economy can be created without adopting capitalism, as was demonstrated by the failure of the command economies of the Soviet Union and China.” He also writes,
There are many reasons people embrace Christianity, including its capacity to sustain a deeply emotional and existentially satisfying faith. But another significant factor is its appeal to reason and the fact that it is so inseparably linked to the rise of Western Civilization. For many non-Europeans, becoming a Christian is intrinsic to becoming modern. Thus it is quite plausible that Christianity remains an essential element in the globalization of modernity.
It is estimated that there are at least 100 million Christians living in China. Acton’s president Rev. Robert A. Sirico, writing in the Detroit News, says, “All of us who have an economic stake in China’s booming economy also have a responsibility to understand what is happening in religious matters.” He notes that “religious liberty sounds like chaos to Chinese authorities.”
He goes on to say,
The communists believed the same thing about free enterprise: It was nothing but anarchy and unplanned production. The reality turned out differently. If people organize their own economic lives, as workers, consumers and producers, remarkable things can happen.
So it is in the religious sphere. Freedom of religion can work for all people. Just as a free-market economy was an institution that came about gradually, the Vatican has reason to hope that the same will be true with religious liberty. The first step is diplomatic relations. From that follows more openness and more leverage.
In writing about religious economies, Stark concludes, “Clearly, a free market religious economy favors robust, energetic organizations.”
Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky writes about one aspect of the illiberal regime in China with respect to religious practice. In a Townhall.com column, Olasky says, “Charitable groups are rare in China, in part because government officials resist admitting that they need help in caring for the poor and oppressed. Chinese Christians, though, would like permission to establish homes for the elderly, hospitals, Christian schools and programs for recent migrants to cities.”
Whether by direct oppression or regulation through bureaucratic registration, religious freedom is severely limited in China. The Persecution Blog, sponsored by The Voice of the Martyrs, blogs daily on the situation facing the persecuted church. Stacy Harp passes along this pointed question from Todd Nettleton, Director of News Services with The Voice of the Martyrs, “If registration is the answer for Chinese Christians, then why was a registered church raided by police?”
Forum 18 reports that even the scholarly study of religion is restricted in China: “There is much frustration amongst scholars with their inability, due to the state’s sensitivity, to conduct research on religion and religious communities in contemporary China.”
For more on religious freedom in China and around the world, visit these sites:
- Forum 18, based in Oslo, Norway, and is “committed to religious freedom for all on the basis of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
- China Aid, “advocacy for the persecuted faithful in China.”
- The Voice of the Martyrs, “a non-profit, interdenominational organization with a vision for aiding Christians around the world who are being persecuted for their faith in Christ, fulfilling the Great Commission, and educating the world about the ongoing persecution of Christians.”
- Center for Religious Freedom, a division of Freedom House, which “defends against religious persecution of all groups throughout the world,” and which, I am told, is looking for a program director at its Washington, DC offices.
Update: More news here and here about the Chinese government’s demolition of an unlicensed church building and the resulting clash with protesters. (HT: CT Blog)