Tuesday, December 18, 2012

China and weird Christian heresies.

China can sure turn out some weird and violent Christian heresies. This is from my review of "The Great Big Book of Horrible Things":

The author has a couple of nice appendices where he crunches some numbers for determining who and what are the greatest killers. Although my senses was that he had a secularist bias, he was encouragingly even-handed in analyzing both the cliche that religion causes war and the contribution that Communism has made to mass-killing in the 20th Century. For my part, I was surprised by the number of Chinese rebellions that were inspired by a form of "Christianity," to wit, two: the Fang La Rebellion (Rank: 37) of 1120 - 1122 was led by "Vegetarian Demon Worshippers," i.e., Manichaeans, and the Taiping Rebellion (Rank: 6) of 1850 - 1864 was led by a person who fancied himself to be the "younger brother of Jesus Christ." Granted that there are a lot of Chinese rebellions that did not need to be ignited by a a Christian heresy, one has to marvel - Gosh! Wow! - about the fact that any of them - let alone two - were ignited by such an alien influence, as Christianity is to China, and ponder what effect that may have had on the antipathy of Communist China in the 20th Century to Christian missionaries. (Admittedly there are other reasons for Communists to suppress Christianity, but the virtue of a book like this one is that it allows such patterns to become apparent because of the breadth of its coverage.)
Add to that list the Eastern Lightning cult:
China has recently detained hundreds of practitioners of a fringe cult. At first glance, it’s easy to read this as just another case of religious persecution against Chinese Christians. But that interpretation is wholly wrong.
Those arrested are allegedly from the Eastern Lightning cult, which calls itself Christian but, in reality, is something very different. The group teaches that Christ has come back to earth in the form of a Chinese woman named Deng, who lives in Henan province. It has also apparently latched on to Mayan Doomsday prophesies.

Eastern Lightning is notoriously violent, in many ways resembling a terrorist organization or a gang more than a church. Members have often resorted to kidnap and torture to force conversions. Real Christians are among Eastern Lightning’s primary targets. The group assaults or kills defectors, and it also has politically revolutionary tendencies; calls for members to “exterminate the great red dragon,” a reference to the Communist Party, reportedly prompted today’s crackdown.

To be sure, China’s legal system leaves much to be desired, and it’s possible that some of those detained are innocent of Eastern Lightning’s characteristically criminal behavior. There’s also good reason to expect that if there are any innocents, they won’t get a fair hearing.

Yet a crackdown on Eastern Lightning could justifiably happen even under a liberal, Western legal system that acknowledges religious freedom.

Context matters here. The Chinese government remains uncomfortable with religious practice. Unable to get rid of religion altogether, Beijing instead attempts to manage its practice with an elaborate bureaucracy. Any believers who worship outside the state-sanctioned system risk intense persecution.
Weird, weird, explosive stuff, apparently.

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