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China rewrites the Bible

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It’s no secret that as the Chinese economy enters a slowdown, the Chinese government has been taking an ever-more authoritarian approach towards virtually every aspect of life in the People’s Republic. In this regard, few areas have received more attention than religion. This ranges from the imprisonment of anywhere between 800,000 and 2 million Uighur Muslims (something explored at length by leading Islam and liberty scholar Mustafa Akyol) to the burning and demolition of Protestant and Catholic churches.

Things are, however, about to get much worse. For some time, there have been numerous reports of the Chinese regime being determined to purge Christian theology and practice of what it calls “Western” content and emphases in order to “sinicize” Christianity.

By “sinicization” is meant two things. The first is a question of raw politics: to ensure any religious organization is completely under the Communist regime’s control. The second is to make Christianity conform to Chinese culture. And Chinese culture, it appears, is whatever the Chinese government says it is at any given time.

All this was made very plain in a recent speech which was given by the head of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), Xu Xiaohong. This regime-organization oversees state-approved Protestant churches in China. It’s also one of the vehicles through which the regime seeks to establish a grip on those many Protestant communities that have arisen outside state-approved structures.

Xu made it clear that Protestant churches in China—which, as he and everyone else in the regime knows, are spreading at an impressive rate throughout China’s special economic zones—will be expected to incorporate “the values of socialism” into their theology and develop a stronger “national consciousness.”

Most ominously, this includes producing a new translation of the Bible. It takes no genius to recognize what translation really means in the context of an officially atheist regime which has demonstrated its intention to subjugate any organization remotely considered a potential source of liberty. The translation, Xu also revealed, would be accompanied by numerous annotations from various Chinese sources to make the text “more Chinese.” We can safely assume that the regime has in mind far more than just benign references to Confucius.

Any religion is bound to take on aspects of the cultures in which they exist or which they are seeking to evangelize. The boundaries of what Christians call “inculturation,” as the famous seventeenth and eighteenth century Chinese rites controversy with the Catholic Church demonstrates, always need attention, not least because they inevitably touch on important doctrinal issues.

That, however, is entirely different from an authoritarian atheist state focused on ensuring its complete dominance of Chinese society seeking to shape the content of what Christianity considers to be its sacred books. For that is to manipulate what Christians believe to be the very Word of God, something wrong in itself but made even worse when it is done in the name of a species of totalitarianism.

Pray for China’s Christians (and, for that matter, its persecuted Muslims). We’re beyond the point whereby their basic liberties are being rigidly curtailed. The very ability of Chinese Christians to preserve the substance of their beliefs is now under threat as well.

Featured image: GnuDoyng [Public domain]

 

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Samuel Gregg is director of research at the Acton Institute. He has written and spoken extensively on questions of political economy, economic history, ethics in finance, and natural law theory. He has an MA in political philosophy from the University of Melbourne, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in moral philosophy and political economy from the University of Oxford.

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