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November 25, 2004

Christian death cults plague rural China

Amazing article: Violence Taints Religion's Solace for China's Poor [NYT]

HUAIDE, China - Kuang Yuexia and her husband, Cai Defu, considered themselves good Christians. They read the Bible every night before bed. When their children misbehaved, they dealt with them calmly. They did not curse or tell lies.

They did order a religiously-motivated hit on a fellow Christian...

[W]hen Zhang Chengli, a neighbor, began hounding them last year to leave their underground religious sect and join his, it seemed like a test of satanic intensity. He scaled the wall of their garden, ambushed them in the fields and roused them after midnight with frantic calls to convert before Jesus arrived for his Second Coming and sent them to hell.

Ms. Kuang poured dirty water on Mr. Zhang's head. Mr. Cai punched him. Yet Mr. Zhang persisted for months until the couple's sect intervened and stopped his proselytizing for good.

Mr. Zhang's body - eyes, ears and nose ripped from his face - was found by a roadside 300 miles from this rural town in Jilin Province, in northeastern China. The police arrested Mr. Cai and fellow sect members. One of them died in police custody during what fellow inmates described as a torture session.

China's growing material wealth has eluded the countryside, home to two-thirds of its population. But there is a bull market in sects and cults competing for souls. That has alarmed the authorities, who seem uncertain whether the spread of religion or its systematic repression does more to turn peasants against Communist rule.

The NYT reports that dozens of underground Christian sects are vying for dominance in the Chinese countryside. Three Grades of Servants and Eastern Lightening are the two most influential cults, each claiming membership in the millions. Eastern Lighting is unusual in that it worships a female Jesus (nee Deng). These two cults are locked in mortal combat with each other, brutal Communist enforcers, and several smaller sects (e.g. the Shouters, the Spirit Church, the Disciples Association, White Sun, the Holistic Church, and the Crying Faction). Conversion tactics include kidnapping, torture, murder and mutilation. Players believe the apocalypse is imminent, except maybe the Communist Party. The one thing they all agree on is hating Falun Gong.

Makes public reason sound better and better, no?

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Comments

In a vaguely related aside, I drove to Boston today and encountered 3 separate trucks from the Covenant Transport fleet. I ain't making this up-there is a Christian trucking line out of Chatanooga, TN. CEO David Parker and his wife Jacqueline have made their religious beliefs part of the company culture. On the road for Jesus.

Jeezuz.

Marx, it seems, was wrong. Sometimes, religion is the angel dust of the masses.

Kevin, by "public reason" I mean the the Rawlsian ideal of a society in which people debate (and justify) policies in reasonable terms. Rawls thinks that being reasonable means being able to formulate a rationale for your preferred policy in terms other people could accept, regardless of their substantive moral or religious beliefs.

Public reason is definitely not a standard to which anyone can be forcibly held, unless you count separation of church and state and freedom from religious persecution as holding groups forcibly to public reason.

I'm writing an essay on public reason which I hope to have up on the blog in the next couple of days.

Lindsay,

I see no evidence that the concept of pubic reason exists here in the USA. Perhaps it's a Canadian thing?

Peter, other than frequent trips to American blogs, I have no way to discern the relative strengths of public reason in our citizens, but I can attest to the fact that the yahoo factor is strong and growing in Canada.

There was a gathering of decent democrats in my red state blue county recently, at which, among other major issues, we discussed the failure of the Democrats to speak in the language of religion. The moderators pointed us to The Politics of Meaning, something by Jim Wallis, and George Lakoff, as showing the way to do this.

I pointed out that as a nation we use secular language to discuss issues, because it provides a common language in which to discuss common problems, isolated from the religious currents that lie beneath some issues. The people in the group did not think this idea was worthy of discussion.

I worry that we have passed the time in which abstract ideas have any currency at all in public discourse.

I'm not impressed with your blog for you dragged relegion into the discussion. :S

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