China’s Misguided Religious Battle

In his monthly column for The Diplomat, Frank Ching examines the CCP’s relationship with religion. Looking at Tibet, a place that has lately seen a series of protests met with violent government response, the article focuses on China’s policies on the reincarnation of high-ranking Lamas, drawing attention to the contradictions that come when atheists make theological decisions:

[…]Reincarnation is, after all, the belief that the soul of a person returns to reside in a new human body, either as a human being or even as an animal or a plant. One either believes or does not believe in reincarnation. It’s ridiculous for a nonbeliever to claim the right to decide who can or cannot be reincarnated.

And if, in the minds of the faithful, a holy man has indeed been reincarnated, who is the Party to decided that such a spiritual event hasn’t taken place? The party operates on a material level – it has no authority at the spiritual level.

Of course, the Party’s claims to such authority are rooted in politics. It cites precedents dating back to the time of Mongol and Manchu rule in China. But the Mongols and Manchus were believers who revered Tibetan lamas. Today’s Chinese leaders are atheists who can by no stretch of the imagination be considered patrons of the faith.

Ching goes on to describe how the political reality of China’s relationship with religion directly contradicts the Chinese Constitution’s declaration of religious freedom:

 The Chinese Constitution declares: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religion. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion.”

And yet this is patently not the case. The state doesn’t allow its citizens to believe in any religion. Rather, it only recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism.

Moreover, despite the seemingly evenhanded wording of the Constitution regarding believers and nonbelievers, the Communist Party clearly discriminates against religious believers in favor of nonbelievers. People who believe in religion aren’t even supposed to be allowed to join the party, the locus of all power. (For the past decade at least, the Communist Party has even absorbed capitalists into the party but still excludes religious leaders).

The Dalai Lama’s entire September 2011 statement on reincarnation can be found on his website. Also see Dalai Lama Says China to Have no Say on Successor and China Warns Dalai Lama About Choosing Successor, via CDT. For coverage of recent attempts to keep religion out of the CCP, see Party Members Warned Over Religion, also via CDT.


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