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« Elderly caring for elderly may be good, but it's not Confucian | Main | Confucius on Why a Reversal of the Verdict is Necessary for June 4th »

May 29, 2013

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What about the role of nationalism and the notion that a theistic conception of religion is foreign, destabilizing and unpatriotic? The Boxers targeted Christian missionaries, the CCP has long viewed religious communities as a fifth column and has succeeded in framing Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists as separatists and Falun Gong as an evil cult. This sort of political theology (or "anti-theology", if you like) means that unlike elsewhere, there is no sense that the nation is under some sort of supernatural protection. Without it, there is significantly less legitimacy for religion, which makes it more difficult for religious institutions to set up shop, which mitigates against the sorts of dense civil society structures that spring up around religious communities (a process heavily aided by China's corporatist policies), which socialize more believers into the religious community, and so on.

I would submit that China's religion, in the Durkheimian sense, seems to be worship of the Chinese nation itself, but like Confucianism, it is a religion based on human activity, not divine intervention.

On a more basic level, a place where the majority of people say prayers at shrines before important events may not be as atheistic as it appears from a survey of what people say they believe in.

A simple answer to the question of why is China so atheistic: Communism.

@allan, "It's communism, d'uh":

Care to explain, then, why ex-communist states like Poland, Romania and even Mother Russia are as religious as they are?

Thanks everyone for the comments.

I must say that as soon as I hit the "post" button I realized how fraught this topic is. It is obviously a massive historical issue, with aspects running out in many directions. Thus, my thoughts here are just that: thoughts. I know that there will be many more interpretations.

All of you make good points. I think nationalism and communism clearly matter. And it may well be that religiosity in China is just not captured very well by the kinds of questions asked in the survey.

But I still think state institutionalization of Confucianism might also be a factor.

Unfortunately, we will not be able to carry on the discussion here much longer. I have had to limit comments to being open for only a week to combat what is still an invasion of spam. But I do appreciate your ideas....

The comments to this entry are closed.

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