The world’s biggest and most important ideological battle

by on November 3, 2014 at 11:48 am in Current Affairs, History, Philosophy, Political Science, Religion | Permalink

Religion in China.  That was the topic of a recent excellent Economist article.  Here is one good excerpt:

It is hard even to guess at the number of Christians in China. Official surveys seek to play down the figures, ignoring the large number who worship in house churches. By contrast, overseas Christian groups often inflate them. There were perhaps 3m Catholics and 1m Protestants when the party came to power in 1949. Officials now say there are between 23m and 40m, all told. In 2010 the Pew Research Centre, an American polling organisation, estimated there were 58m Protestants and 9m Catholics. Many experts, foreign and Chinese, now accept that there are probably more Christians than there are members of the 87m-strong Communist Party. Most are evangelical Protestants.

Predicting Christianity’s growth is even harder. Yang Fenggang of Purdue University, in Indiana, says the Christian church in China has grown by an average of 10% a year since 1980. He reckons that on current trends there will be 250m Christians by around 2030, making China’s Christian population the largest in the world. Mr Yang says this speed of growth is similar to that seen in fourth-century Rome just before the conversion of Constantine, which paved the way for Christianity to become the religion of his empire.

In the 1980s the faith grew most quickly in the countryside, stimulated by the collapse of local health care and a belief that Christianity could heal instead. In recent years it has been burgeoning in cities.

Read the whole thing.  You will note that when individuals engage in a “portfolio” approach to religion, social evolution can occur much more rapidly.  Not everyone has to fully convert to Christianity, or to embrace Confucianism wholeheartedly, for those approaches to suddenly acquire much more influence.

1 Ray Lopez November 3, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Lots of Christians in Korea (Baptist) and in Laos (Protestant). Combined with African Christians, can the Pope someday be an African of Chinese descent, like say from Southeast South Africa?

2 Ray Lopez November 3, 2014 at 12:10 pm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_South_Africans (for reference)

And this pioneer cancer researcher: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Soon-Shiong (but he’s not mixed)

3 dixie November 3, 2014 at 7:50 pm

Saw an article on him last week. The richest medical doctor in the world.
It is strange that he uses his given name as the legal surname, a practice only common a hundred years ago for expat in western countries. The most well known of such is of course (Julian) Assange, i.e. the number three son.

4 JC November 4, 2014 at 2:38 am

I’m very curious to see an African pope, just to see how Christian some people are. As a fact, Christianity reached Africa before Columbus “discovered” America. The rulers of The Kingdom of Kongo (led from Mbanza Kongo, modern day Angola) were already baptized Catholics…

http://www.theroot.com/articles/world/2011/08/the_forgotten_catholic_kingdom_of_kongo.html

5 Fooo diidles November 12, 2014 at 12:04 am

Ray, Protestants and Evangelicals know that the pope is a heretic, and represents a false church. Why would it matter?

6 Keith November 3, 2014 at 12:21 pm

No more Christians in the Middle East, and lots in China. The world is a crazy place.

7 Becky Hargrove November 3, 2014 at 12:27 pm

“In the 1980s the faith grew most quickly in the countryside, stimulated by the collapse of local health care…”

Could someone briefly explain the collapse of local health care, please. Thanks.

8 JWatts November 3, 2014 at 1:21 pm

I’d also like to hear an explanation.

9 Quite Likely November 3, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Given the timing I assume it has to do with the end of communism, probably a lot of state run local healthcare facilities getting shut down.

10 dixie November 3, 2014 at 8:22 pm
11 rayward November 3, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Robert Wright makes the point in one of his books that the spread of Christianity contributed to the growth of international trade and prosperity, as like-minded Christians from different parts of the world were more likely to do business; the common denominator of religion helped overcome distrust of foreigners. If only there were one religion rather than many, the diversity of religions contributing to much of the conflict in the world. It reminds me of the Hellenization of the world by Alexander the Great: one culture, the Greek culture, spread throughout the world, bringing the world closer together and contributing to the growth of international trade and prosperity. People who share something in common are less likely to engage in conflict. Anyway, that’s the macro view, which, unfortunately, doesn’t hold up under the micro view: how else does one explain husbands and wives.

12 Al November 3, 2014 at 5:51 pm

I believe similar historical statements could be made about Muslim Arab traders travelling from Arabia to places like Indonesia, and about Indian Hindu traders travelling from India to places like Burma and Cambodia.

13 Hadur November 3, 2014 at 12:48 pm

I’m skeptical that this matters much, at least for geopolitics. As much as people of different religions hate and distrust each other, people of the same religion also hate and distrust each other. How many of the most destructive wars in history have been Christian vs Christian or Muslim vs Muslim? The answer of course is “many”.

14 Todd November 3, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Do democratically elected reformed-Zoroastrian countries have ever fought a war against each other.

15 JWatts November 3, 2014 at 1:24 pm

“How many of the most destructive wars in history have been Christian vs Christian or Muslim vs Muslim? The answer of course is “many”. ”

How many of those wars were fundamentally about intransigent religious disputes and how many were leaders using religion as a pretext to fire up the masses?

16 Hadur November 3, 2014 at 1:29 pm

This is irrelevant to my observation, which is simply that people who are the same religion as each other still find reasons to have disagreements, even violent disagreements. My observation doesn’t care what those reasons are.

The point I’m making is, essentially, “so what?” I’m not convinced that a Christian China would act meaningfully different in the conduct of international trade and security competition. Thus I don’t care which religion the Chinese adopt.

17 JWatts November 3, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Ok, I see what you mean.

18 Steve J November 3, 2014 at 3:39 pm

I believe religion influences behavior. For that reason I very much care which religion the Chinese adopt.

19 Turkey Vulture November 3, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Yes, if culture matters, then this matters.

20 rayward November 3, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Christianity has experienced its share of sectarianism, but becoming the religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine helped avoid the kind of sectarianism that Islam did not; it was Emperor Constantine who convened the First Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. and ordered the different sects to resolve their differences (resulting in the Nicene Creed that Catholics and Episcopaleans recite as part of the liturgy). Islam didn’t have a Constantine.

21 Hadur November 3, 2014 at 2:01 pm

…and yet today there are many more sects of Christianity than there are of Islam, and even nations that follow the same or similar sect of Christianity have had violent disputes with each other, while some nations with dramatically different sects of Christianity have been close allies.

22 Ed November 3, 2014 at 3:44 pm

This is really orthogonal to the post, but frankly really ignorant. The intervention of the Roman government in doctrinal Christian disputes was a big cause of sectarianism, because if you opposed or supported the politics of the regime in power, that determined the stance you took on the doctrinal controversy of the day, just like today Democrats and Republicans have different opinions on scientific controversies.

23 JonFraz November 3, 2014 at 8:21 pm

A quibble but a significant one: Christianity did not become the religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine– he merely ended the persecutions. Christianity became the religion of the Empire under Theodosios at the end of the 4th century.

24 Adrian Ratnapala November 4, 2014 at 2:49 pm

And after the Council of Nicea the existing standoff between Arians and the others intensified and continued to roll on for centuries while the Empire collapsed.

25 Jeff R. November 3, 2014 at 3:34 pm

It’s hard to find a more destructive war in history than the Taiping Rebellion, though, and that one was both (extremely-off-model) Christian vs everyone else and part of the history of the country under discussion…

26 Cahokia November 3, 2014 at 12:51 pm

I suppose if you were to have extrapolated from the speed of growth of Catholicism in 16th century Japan you’d also have made the comparison to 4th century Rome. The Tokugawa Shogunate was able to stamp out Christianity with a much more primitive toolbox than the People’s Republic of China.

27 Anon November 3, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Does the communist party want to stamp Christianity out? They seem to want to just control it. There is a religious vacuum in China. Better Christianity than Islam from the elites perspective.

28 Quite Likely November 3, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Yeah this is the big point – if China decided to repress Christianity as ferociously as the Shogunate did they probably could slow or roll back it’s spread pretty effectively. The question is just whether the backlash from this would be worth it.

29 Adrian Ratnapala November 4, 2014 at 2:54 pm

If the CCP did that, then it would have to transform itself back into something closer to the good old Mao-Era dictatorships. Post Deng China just cannot afford that kind of suppression, unless the group concerned is only an upstart like Falun Gong.

Imagine if trying tactics used in Tibet against people who are (a) all over the country, (b) Han and (c) of the same religion as most Americans and other powerful foreigners.

30 Sbard November 3, 2014 at 6:04 pm

The CPC certainly tolerates Christian missionaries to a much greater extent in their far west as they see them as a force to undermine the Dalai Lama

31 Willitts November 4, 2014 at 12:04 am

At this point they are losing control over everything. Those presently in charge want a controlled descent, a soft landing, and a hangar filled with stolen riches.

32 Al November 3, 2014 at 6:26 pm

It seems that Chinese Christianity has, by one measure at least, been allowed to reach a more mature state than the Christian community in Japan. By this I mean: the Chinese Christians are sending missionaries out to other countries now.

But, in 16th century Japan, the local Christian population was relatively new, and still being actively led and further evangelized by foreign missionaries. In Japan, there was both a strong desire to eliminate foreign meddling, and a tendency to identify even Japanese Christians with foreign interference and disloyalty. So the shogun very ruthlessly killed off the Christians or got them to renounce their faith.

(There were, nevertheless, about 12,000 Japanese Christians in Nagasaki in 1945, until most of them were incinerated in a bombing attack by another largely Christian country. http://consortiumnews.com/2011/08/09/nuking-japans-christian-center/ But I digress. ).

Christianity has been in China continuously now for something like 400 years. There’s even an officially “OK” version of the Catholic Church in China — under government approval, rather than approval from the pope in Rome. Maybe current Chinese leadership can view Christianity with less suspicion than the Shogun did.

33 Willitts November 4, 2014 at 12:05 am

China has quite a bit more land mass than Japan and a lot more people. It is a far harder task to control that many.

34 Scott Mauldin November 3, 2014 at 12:53 pm

I think the most interesting line in this article is “Missionaries have begun to go out from China to the developing world.” Since when is a country with the per capita income less than that of Azerbaijan or Ecuador not considered “developing”?

35 Quite Likely November 3, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Maybe ‘developing world’ isn’t meant to contrast with China at all, but just to say that the missionaries aren’t headed to the developed world. Not many Chinese missionaries wandering around Europe.

36 Clover November 3, 2014 at 3:19 pm

It’s not going to stay at the Ecuadorian level forever.

37 Marian Kechlibar November 4, 2014 at 5:09 am

I wonder why do people use “per capita income” as a metric for the status of current development. If a metric leads to dumping Ecuador and China into the same category, it is obviously a problematic metric.

Ecuador does not have its space program, some of the busiest ports in the world, does not produce anything remotely advanced and does not assert its influence on other continents.

The British Empire of 1880 ruled 1/4 of the world and was probably even worse off in “per capita income” than today’s Ecuador. Surely so, if all the subjects were counted.

The only thing that you can read from the per capita income is that for the regular peons, life in country X sucks.

38 chuck martel November 3, 2014 at 1:14 pm

“there are probably more Christians than there are members of the 87m-strong Communist Party.”

There’s also probably some overlap in these two groups, both made up of the victims of proselytization from the West. The level of devotion to each particular ideology varies, not all Commies are godless, plenty of Christians embrace totalitarian central planning.

39 Al November 3, 2014 at 6:27 pm

Nice.

40 Willitts November 4, 2014 at 12:02 am

All party members are, at least officially, atheist. They would not attend church at the risk of getting caught.

Their family members however are not subject to such strictures.

41 Marian Kechlibar November 4, 2014 at 5:12 am

Can a party member baptize his son and attend the ceremony?

I wonder.

42 randomworker November 3, 2014 at 1:17 pm

It’s gonna be groovy when the power of Christianity moves to Shanghai.

43 Willitts November 3, 2014 at 11:59 pm

What do you mean “gonna”? Christianity is spreading like wildfire in all of Southern China.

44 prior_approval November 3, 2014 at 1:22 pm

‘The world’s biggest and most important ideological battle’

Really? Because what Jesus preached seems to have utterly lost out to mammon. And the fact that a term which is common in secular Germany is a good indication of how the U.S. represents possibly the greatest lost ideological battle of those who actually follow the teachings of Jesus. (And yes, the modern cheatsheet link – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mammon)

45 JWatts November 3, 2014 at 1:27 pm

I completely shocked that you would use this post as a pretext for US bashing. /sarcasm

46 mofo. November 3, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Add to that the fact that his post has almost nothing to do with the OP and my jaw is on the floor!

47 prior_approval November 3, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Let me see – I quoted Prof. Cowen’s title of ‘The world’s biggest and most important ideological battle’ and pointed out how the world’s richest and most powerful nation is further removed from the ideology represented by the teachings of Jesus Christ than it seems capable of even understanding.

As witness the fact that unlike in putatively secular Germany, where the concept of ‘Mammon’ is considered wholly relevant to public policy debates, it is fair to say that many American believers in the ideology they consider Christian appear to be worshippers of Mammon themselves, at least from the outside.

And seriously, who thinks that the Chinese in the future are less likely to be worshippers of money than Americans?

After all, it isn’t too often that a pope acts as if the teachings of Jesus are relevant for the head of the world’s largest Christian organization – but then, those Jesuits have always had a certain reputation.

Oh – and when the Chinese recognize actual Vatican authorized bishops, let me know, because that is when one can start to recognize a true ideological battle, a fact the article deals with in one sentence – ‘For the Catholic church, though, the situation is trickier: allegiance to Rome is still seen by some officials as a sign of treachery.’

48 Ron Tugnutt November 3, 2014 at 2:45 pm

— Oh – and when the Chinese recognize actual Vatican authorized bishops, let me know, because that is when one can start to recognize a true ideological battle, a fact the article deals with in one sentence –

Given that you find that issue important, and feel that the article paid scant attention to it, why wouldn’t you raise that point in your comment instead of the completely inane Mammon buffoonery that outed you as the type of loon that can’t even make a bare effort to respond to the topic at hand before announcing his fantasy religio-ideological battles?

The former would have been interesting and constructive. The latter was myopic and sad. Why are you so often the latter when you could be the former?

49 Marian Kechlibar November 4, 2014 at 5:14 am

‘For the Catholic church, though, the situation is trickier: allegiance to Rome is still seen by some officials as a sign of treachery.’

Interesting. The same was true in England since at least Elizabeth I. until the 19th century.

50 Luke H. November 3, 2014 at 2:09 pm

“You will note that when individuals engage in a “portfolio” approach to religion, social evolution can occur much more rapidly. Not everyone has to fully convert to Christianity, or to embrace Confucianism wholeheartedly, for those approaches to suddenly acquire much more influence.”

Can anyone explain what that means?

Is Affleck going to be mad?

51 sourcreamus November 4, 2014 at 3:19 pm

What a portfolio approach means is comparing beliefs to stocks in a portfolio. Portfolio theory has to do with construction of investments to reduce risks.
The overall implication is that Christian beliefs can gain influence in China rapidly even if a majority of Chinese do not become Christians. In America even atheists say “Bless you” after a sneeze and celebrate Christmas.

52 DangerMan November 3, 2014 at 2:13 pm

“You will note that when individuals engage in a “portfolio” approach to religion, social evolution can occur much more rapidly.”

Can anyone explain this a little more? Read the whole Economist article, and I just don’t get this statement.

53 prior_approval November 3, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Take the U.S. – mix in a bit of young earth creationism, a bit of prosperity gospel, and voila – you have something that calls itself one thing, while those who actually know about the teachings of Jesus Christ are appalled by the ‘social evolution’ that results.

Just ask the pope (a man who is pretty far removed from the teachings of Jesus himself, though he does seem sincere in his beliefs), who is neither a young earth creationist nor a believer in anything resembling prosperity gospel ideology.

54 Jane the Actuary November 3, 2014 at 2:52 pm

The Economist article was pretty intriguing, and not the first time I’d read this. It’s noteworthy that the Orthodox church in Russia has regained a significant role, and that Putin uses his support to promote his version of Russian patriotism. I read a book not long ago about present-day China which pretty much said that there is a real component of patriotism that enables the bulk of the Chinese people to support their government as, on the balance, doing a satisfactory job of governing the country at present — that is, a patriotism that’s not merely fervor stoked by the government. At the same time, this article hinted, and a prior one (maybe also in the Economist) suggested more strongly that the government may find Christianity to its liking, in a tamed form, as an inducement to moral behavior to replace declining Confucianism and state coercion.

As to missionaries, a small anecdote: in my middle-class suburban Chicago parish, we have a new associate pastor — from India. I think this is intended as a temporary assignment, to provide him the opportunity of experiencing the United States, but I found it striking that, in his letter introducing himself in the bulletin, he referred to his coming as his hoped-for opportunity to be a missionary.

55 Clover November 3, 2014 at 3:22 pm

I don’t think a more widespread adoption of Christianity is going to change China all that much. In contrast, look how much the ideology of “diversity” has changed America and Europe, and how much damage it will do in the next fifty years if not stopped. That is the far greater ideological battle.

56 Nyongesa November 5, 2014 at 1:11 am

ideology of “diversity”… you mean letting us niggers into the big house?, I think it’s called democracy.

57 Tom November 3, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Interesting, but somebody should set the record straight on this claim: “this speed of growth is similar to that seen in fourth-century Rome just before the conversion of Constantine, which paved the way for Christianity to become the religion of his empire.”

The crucial conversion was not of Rome but of Constantine and his western army prior to their capture of Rome. Constantine credited his success to that conversion. He then moved his capital to Byzantium probably partly because he thought pagan Rome would be too hard to convert. Although the elevation of Christianity to an official organized religion occurred during Constantine’s reign, there was no definite moment at which Christianity became “the religion of” the Roman empire. Paganism was still rivaling Christianity for power in much of the empire when the empire lost Rome and the West. The full victory of Christianity and suppression of paganism didn’t come till after then within the Byzantine Empire.

58 Tom November 3, 2014 at 6:44 pm

I don’t think we really have any information at all on rates of conversion to Christianity in Rome prior to Constantine’s conversion, but generally the critical rise of Christianity in Rome and the West is thought to have been in the 3rd century, whereas the early 4th was a period of harsh persecution. Although the Christians of Rome had no real hand in it, the Christians of the West more broadly surely did lay the groundwork for Constantine, mainly by helping him to recruit an army to take Rome.

59 JonFraz November 3, 2014 at 8:28 pm

Diocletian had already split the Empire in two, with a second capital; at Nicea. Constantine decided that ancient Byzantium, a city perched on the Bosphoros. made for a better locale, so he refounded it as Constantinople.
Constantine himself did not convert until his deathbed. As emperor most of what he did was purely secular in nature, and focused on aggrandizing his own power and leaving the Empire to his sons. He definitely did not make any major effort to convert anyone– he was not remotely pious, though he did order the Christians to get their act together and stop disputing over doctrine– hence the Council of Nicea.

60 anti November 4, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Hopefully they’ll come to their senses and suppress it.

61 dixie November 4, 2014 at 8:13 pm

It so happened that I was looking at some Chinese epidemiological data
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_China_Study
and interestingly it included data on religion from a few hundred villages. Some of the data surprised me. Among those that had nonzero % the simple average (not weighted by pop number) of them showed that % of female christian double that for male, Of the top 10 sample, only one is the male sample. In one village the female % reaches 33.3 while the male % is 13.3. I wonder how many of the male church goers are really devoted 🙂 It is also strange that with a cardinal located in HK there is little data about the neighbouring Guandong province. I hope the comment system doesnt mess up the table.

33.3|LC|1|F|Changle

20.0|LC|3|F|Changle

19.4|DC|1|F|Songxian

17.2|IA|1|F|Shuyang

16.7|AB|1|F|Qingpu

15.3|IA|3|F|Shuyang

13.3|LC|1|M|Changle

13.3|KC|1|F|Jiashan

13.3|IA|2|F|Shuyang

11.3|DC|3|F|Songxian

62 Power Inverter November 4, 2014 at 9:41 pm

Heyy there would you mind letting mee know which webhost you’re using?
I’ve loaded your blog in 3 different internet browsers annd
I must say this blog loads a lot quicker then most.
Can you recommend a good hosting provider at a reasonable price?
Thank you, I appreciate it!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: