by Rodney Stark, Byron Johnson, and Carson Mencken inFirst Things. (Used by permission.)
Through much of the twentieth century, it was widely believed among Western intellectuals that the Chinese were immune to religion—an immunity that long preceded the communist rise to power. When, in 1934, Edgar Snow quipped that “in China, opium is the religion of the people,” many academic and media experts smiled in agreement and dismissed the million Chinese claimed as converts by Christian missionaries as nothing but “rice Christians”—cynical souls who had frequented the missions for the benefits they provided. Then, in 1949, Mao Zedong came to power. Religion was outlawed, and it was widely agreed among social scientists that China soon would be a model of the fully secularized, post-religious society.
But it wasn’t to be. Instead, belief in a coming post-religious China turned out to be the opium of Western intellectuals. The Chinese Christians of 1949—those ridiculed in the West as rice Christians—were so “insincere” that they endured decades of bloody repression during which their numbers grew.
(A)s official repression has weakened, Christianity has been growing at an astonishing rate in China. Despite many years of dramatic religious persecution, we now have empirical evidence of the resiliency of Christianity in China and the remarkable trajectory of growth it continues to experience.
Unfortunately, there is a great deal of disagreement over just how astonishing the growth has been… (Now) At last it is possible to make a relatively accurate estimate of the total number of Christians in China… sixteen and older to 64.3 million. Of course, this total is for 2007. Obviously the total is higher now. It seems entirely credible to estimate that there are about 70 million Chinese Christians in 2011…
Contrary to standard sociological wisdom, some observers have suggested that Christianity is spreading more rapidly among the more privileged Chinese. In fact, the data support that view: When Communist Party and Youth League members are excluded (since they are clustered among those with higher incomes), the higher their income, the more likely Chinese are to be Christians.
Of course, even if Chinese Christians total 70 million, they still make up only slightly more than 5 percent of the population, although they are about as numerous as are members of the Chinese Communist Party. Thus, it may be vital for the safety of the Christian community that Christians are clustered among the more affluent and are not concentrated in rural areas.
Indeed, American visitors to leading Chinese universities are struck by the Christian climate that often prevails in contrast even with most American church-supported campuses…
The streets of Cairo erupted in celebration as 18 days of protest led to the surprise announcement that president Hosni Mubarak had resigned after nearly 30 years of iron-fisted rule.
What now for Egypt? Sharia Law, Democratic Society, a Military Dictatorship, or something else altogether? Will the freedom and unity afforded by nationalism and Facebook hold? Or will Egypt’s military or the Muslim Brotherhood make a play for greater power?
Excerpts from four of the best pieces I’ve read on the coming new order in Egypt.
Avoiding a New Pharaoh
By Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times (@NickKristof on Twitter)
So Hosni Mubarak is out. Vice President Omar Suleiman says that Mubarak has stepped down and handed over power to the military. This is a huge triumph for people power, and it will resonate across the Middle East and far beyond (you have to wonder what President Hu Jintao of China is thinking right now). The narrative about how Arab countries are inhospitable for democracy, how the Arab world is incompatible with modernity — that has been shattered by the courage and vision of so many Tunisians and Egyptians.
It’s also striking that Egyptians triumphed over their police state without Western help or even moral support. During rigged parliamentary elections, the West barely raised an eyebrow. And when the protests began at Tahrir Square, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the Mubarak government was “stable” and “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.” Oops. So much for our $80 billion intelligence agency. On my Facebook fan page, I asked my fans (before the Tahrir protests began) what the next Tunisia would be. A surprising number said Egypt — if you were among them, you apparently did better than our intelligence community. Indeed, Egyptians in Tahrir told me that they were broadly inspired by America’s example of freedom, but that their greatest inspiration came from Tunisia and Al Jazeera. On Tahrir Square, there were signs saying “Thank you, Tunisia.” So, all of you Tunisians and Egyptians, “mabrouk” or “congratulations”! You’ve made history. The score in Egypt is: People Power, 1; Police State, 0.
But the game isn’t over, and now a word of caution…
By Cornelis Hulsman in Cairo, with additional reporting by Dale Gavlak in Amman, Jordan for Christianity Today. (@CTmagazine on Twitter)
There is much to make Christians in Egypt anxious about their relationship with Muslims. On January 1, a suicide bomb killed 23 people at an Alexandria church, and today’s resignation of President Hosni Mubarak signals changes that may make Christians’ presence more precarious. It’s no wonder that the country’s Christian minority is praying for peace more fervently than ever.
The demonstrations demanding Mubarak’s resignation, which began after the January collapse of Tunisia’s authoritarian government, were a rare instance of the country’s Muslims and Christians uniting in common cause. Many pastors and church leaders had urged Egyptian Christians, traditionally known as Copts, not to participate in the demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. [Some] …even stood guard when Muslims paused for prayer.
Coptic Orthodox Bishop Markos told Christianity Today that he walked out on his neighborhood’s streets and was soon surrounded by friendly protestors. Markos said, “We are all one. There are no tensions between Muslims and Christians at all in this uprising.”
The bishop’s statement highlighted the unity between Muslims and Christians over democratic reform. But the underlying issues of religious conversion, intermarriage, and new religious buildings will continue to fuel deep tensions…
Christians are Egypt’s largest minority, representing 6 to 10 percent of Egypt’s 85 million people. About 90 percent of all Christians in Egypt are Orthodox, [but] Egypt also hosts a small but influential population of Protestants and evangelicals (more than 250,000), mostly located in Cairo and other major cities.
Many Christian leaders believe that the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic political group banned in Egypt, will grow in political power with Mubarak’s ouster. The brotherhood maintains strong support among some Egyptians. Religious-freedom analysts believe the leaders of the brotherhood, famous for the slogan “Islam is the solution,” could very well usher in repression of all minority religious groups…
By Bob Kubinec for Christianity Today. (@CTmagazine on Twitter)
The recent protests by Egyptian opposition movements have revealed a deep and abiding prejudice in the U.S. foreign policy community toward the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. These feelings are shared among many evangelicals who tend to view all Islamic groups as prone to violence and militantly hostile to Israel and the Christian church.
While it is clear that the Muslim Brotherhood’s views on a range of policy issues fall short of the American ideal of political liberalism, it is unfair to paint the group as the biggest threat in Egypt to the safety of Christians and the survival of Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood’s conservative tendencies pale in comparison to the current regime’s persecution of their own citizens.
Although it may appear at first counter-intuitive, Egypt’s Christians could well be safer if the Muslim Brotherhood were a part of the ruling government….
Shortly after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek stepped down from power on Friday, activist Wael Ghonim spoke with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and credited Facebook with the success of the Egyptian people’s uprising.
I want to meet Mark Zuckerberg one day and thank him […] I’m talking on behalf of Egypt. […] This revolution started online. This revolution started on Facebook. This revolution started […] in June 2010 when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians started collaborating content. We would post a video on Facebook that would be shared by 60,000 people on their walls within a few hours. I’ve always said that if you want to liberate a society just give them the Internet. […]