Tuesday, Aug 14, 2018
Tags: Audio, Bible Belt, China, Quebec, Secularization, South Carolina
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Tuesday, August 14, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
In the great battle of worldviews, the United States now competes with China for the attention and ambition of emerging nations
On the modern stage, Western civilization and the United States, most specifically, is now facing off against a major ideological competitor. For some time now, those who look at geopolitics and world economics have seen China as the great economic and political adversary to the United States. Most of that attention has been directed towards China's economy first of all, but it has also been addressed towards China's expansive military. But now we also have to understand that in the great battle for worldviews, the United States, backed up by the West is now facing off against a major ideological, a major worldview competitor, and that competitor is once again China.
When you're thinking of this kind of competition, ideological competition, it's not so much directed as in other competitions between two adversaries, it's rather between two adversaries battling over those who remain to be convinced. That would be the other nations of the world. And especially as you're thinking about the so called emerging world, you understand that there are now two rival ideologies competing for the attention and the ambition of those emerging nations. Increasingly, they are the United States and China.
China economically represents a form of market capitalism that is still under absolute state control. It's a form of political autocracy increasingly autocratic, even though it is now involved in the world economy as something of a market economy. That's never really been tried before. It's heresy according to the high theory of Marxism, but China is following its own pattern defining Marxism according to its own idea of how it should be situated in the present, and directed towards the future. During the Cold War, the great ideological competition was between the United States and the Soviet Union. More generally, between the West and the so called Soviet Bloc.
In the period between the end of the Cold War and the rise of this great ideological conflict with China, it was already apparent that theology was back in a big way on the world scene with the ideological conflict between the West and Islam, particularly Islamic terrorism. But the ideological conflict with China has become particularly acute since the development earlier this year of China adopting what is now known, as Xi Jinping thought, as the nation's official ideology–the official ideology of the Chinese Communist Party. And that party is moving under the effective dictatorship of Xi Jinping, now towards total control of the entire state.
We now know for example, as major international media have reported just in the last several weeks, that China is moving towards becoming a total surveillance state, using such technologies as facial recognition in order to track the movements of almost all of its citizens, virtually all of the time. We also have to understand when we're talking about China, and when we're talking about the Chinese variant of Marxism, we are talking about a worldview that is based in materialism. It's a worldview as was classical Marxism that begins with what was called dialectical materialism, the absolute rejection of any spiritual reality and absolute atheism. The absolute stipulation that the only reality is a material reality.
As Xi Jinping’s power expands, Christians and Muslims in China see their freedoms shrink
Now, keep that in mind as we turn to a major article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on the 10th of August. It's by Robin Dixon. The headline of the story, China threatens to demolish a mosque the same day it faces questions at the UN over its treatment of Muslims. Dixon reports on the irony that just a few days ago, even as the United Nations Commission was looking into human rights abuses directed at Muslims in China, the Chinese Communist Party was informing Muslims in Northern China that they must destroy a major mosque, a major center of Islamic identity there in the northern region of China.
As Dixon reports, "It took two years to build the Grand Mosque with its four towering minarets and nine onion shaped domes. But on August the 3rd, officials in this county in Northern China ruled the all-white structure had been built without proper permits, and ordered that it be erased in seven days or the government would tear it down." Now, what's behind this as a major new development is that the Chinese Communist Party has decided it will no longer differentiate between the Muslims it likes and the Muslims it dislikes. The historic rooted there is that there is a variant of Islam numbering millions of Chinese which have been cooperative with the Chinese state, and thus, it had receive some privileged status. But no more. Under this new Xi Jinping thought, even what had been a relative limited toleration of Muslims there in this northern area of China is no more.
But what's really interesting in this LA Times story is this sentence, "The demolition threat came following the introduction of a 2015 policy to “Sinicize” religion. To fuse it with Chinese culture, which has led to crescents domes and Arabic script being removed from mosques." The key word there is “Sinicize” that goes back to the adjective which means to make Chinese. But as we understand from this story, it's not just to make Chinese in a way of cultural relevance. It is to make Chinese which means absolute obedience to the Chinese Communist Party. And in this case to “Sinicize” means, to unislamisize.
But it's not just Islam as the Associated Press reported just very recently, their headline is, China tightens rules on Christianity. Yunan Wang reports, "The 62 year old Chinese shopkeeper had waited nearly his entire adult life to see his dream of building a church come true. A brick house with a sunny courtyard and a spacious hall with room for 200 believers. But in March, about a dozen police officers and local officials suddenly showed up at the church on his property and made the congregants disperse. They ordered that the cross, a painting of the Last Supper, and Bible verse calligraphy be taken down, and they demanded that all services stop until each person along with the church itself was registered with the government." As Wang tells us, these Christians and many others in the China heartland, province of Hunan, "Found themselves on the front lines of an ambitious new effort by the officially atheist ruling Communist Party to dictate, and in some cases displace the place of faith in the country."
Now, what Christians must understand is that when you have an atheistic, autocratic, totalitarian government such as that under the Communist Party in China, it cannot for any length of time abide any competitor. Not only that, it can't even abide for a moment the idea that there would be a higher allegiance than to the Communist Party. This is a part of what we saw in the rise of fascism and Marxist communism in the 20th century. The claim of an absolute obedience.
Now, immediately we should note a distinction. We as Americans often repeat the pledge of allegiance to the American flag, but here's where we need to note the distinction, and a vitally important distinction immediately. At no point in the American tradition or in the American government's way of understanding, is that a claim of ultimate allegiance. Why? Because in the background to the worldview that gave birth to the United States, no government is worthy of that kind of ultimate obedience or loyalty. The Associated Press story makes the distinction clear when we are told that some Chinese Communist Party officials, have “encouraged" Christians to replace posters of Jesus with portraits of Chairman Xi.
Later in the article we are told, "The party has long been wary of Christianity because of its affiliation with Western political values." Well, let's pause for just a moment. Christianity to state the matter bluntly is not Western. As you're looking at the birthplace of Christianity, both in the Middle East and later in Asia Minor, you're not talking about what's traditionally referred to at all is the West. It's not that the West created Christianity, it's rather that Christianity helped to create the West. But the Chinese Communist Party is aware of the great cleavage of worldview, the great ideological battle between Christianity on the one hand and Western civilization. And as you look at the other side, the ideological materialism of the Chinese Communist Party.
The Associated Press article also tells us that new instructions given to many churches, the churches that are allowed, at least at this point to continue some kind of meeting in ministry. The instructions now mean that Chinese Communist Party members cannot attend at all, but also nor can minors. This includes the children of the Christians there in China. Here again, we note a distinction. We see in China, the Chinese Communist Party telling citizens that they cannot bring their own children to church services, whereas in the United States, a succession of Supreme Court decision says underlining the fact that the family is considered to be inviolable and to have a higher loyalty than loyalty to the state.
The denial of religious liberty in China, not only to Muslims, but also to Christians, with Christians being the fastest growing religious group in the country, that denial of religious liberty is deeply rooted in the worldview of the Chinese Communist Party, and in that party's fear of any kind of loyalty higher than loyalty to the party itself. The day after that article appeared in the Los Angeles Times, an editorial appeared in the Washington Post with the headline, China seeks to wage unremitting struggle against the country's intellectuals.
As the editors of The Washington Post pointed out, the Chinese Communist Party has also launched a new campaign at intellectuals. "The party has announced it will seek to wage unremitting struggle among intellectuals by organizing studies sessions about party ideology to make them more patriotic." A part of what is made clear in the article about Islam, The Associated Press article about Christianity, and now the Washington Post editorial is that the Chinese Communist Party is reverting to the old communist system of ideological warfare by state control. That means reeducation. That's ideological coercion that goes hand in hand with the communist system. But what we see here is a common thread, whether it's Muslims or Christians, or anyone who would believe in God, or anyone who would even believe in ideas such as those identified as dangerous intellectuals in China. The common thread is this, the Chinese Communist Party wants to be the party of ultimate absolute loyalty, and the only source of ideas within the entire Chinese system.
But just to understand why worldview issues like this matter so immediately and so intimately, the very same day the Washington Post editorial appeared, that's the 11th, The New York Times published a major front page article with a headline, burying one child limits: China pushes women to have more babies.
You'll remember that back in the 1970s and '80s, the Chinese Communist Party out of fear of overpopulation, enforced a draconian control over the reproduction of its own citizens. The murderous, so called one child policy, which required that no couple, no family could have more than one child. This led to forced abortion. It led to forced sterilization. It led even as is now well documented to infanticide. But China now has the opposite problem, it has a large population, but it has too few babies. We're talking here about a baby shortage in the millions.
In an editorial in the official party newspaper in China This Week, the editors wrote, "To put it bluntly, the birth of a baby is not only a matter of the family itself, but also a state affair." Now, wait just a minute, we're being told bluntly that according to the Chinese Communist Party, the reproductive decisions, the decisions of couples, married couples in China to have children is not their own decision, it is a state decision that's consistent with the murderous one child only policy, but it is a horrifying consistency.
Finally, speaking of that consistency, another Communist Party paper in China, the Global Times referring to the crackdown on religious believers, and what are called illegal churches said, and I quote, "If the government does not react to the illegal act, it will fuel the idea that religions are superior over China's laws." You see, that's the great temptation revealed in the 20th century by both fascism and communism. The claim that nothing, nothing at all could demand a higher loyalty or could represent a higher truth than that offered by the party and the government, the state.
So, if you're wondering about whether or not the battle of ideas is real and relevant, just ask Muslims or Christians or intellectuals or mothers and fathers in China.
In an increasingly secular age, the only churches that will survive are those that are distinctively Christian
But next we shift from China to South Carolina where The State, that's the major newspaper in South Carolina's capital of Columbia, ran in recent days a news article that headlined, losing faith: Why South Carolina is abandoning its churches. Sarah Ellis is the reporter. She begins by writing, "South Carolina churches are shedding thousands of members a year even as the state's population grows by tens of thousands." She continued, "In the place we call the Bible Belt, where generations have hung their hats on their church going nature and faithful traditions, an increasing trend of shrinking church attendance and increasing church closings signal a fundamental shift in South Carolina." That's a fascinating lead. It's well written, it gets our attention and it points to something very important, perhaps even more important than the newspaper article recognizes.
Let's consider this, we are talking about South Carolina. In some ways, South Carolina represents what we might call a buckle on the Bible Belt. It is one of those southern states where church going has been deeply ingrained and where a Christian identity has been considered virtually fundamental. Charleston, South Carolina is the site of the First Baptist Church in the South. South Carolina was the home to some of the First Presbyterian churches in the South. It has been the backbone in so many ways of Southern Protestantism.
The formerly Episcopal, now Anglican diocese there in Charleston has been one of the brave units of the former Episcopal Church which has been standing against theological liberalism. The point made explicit in this article is this, if this kind of secularization can happen in South Carolina, it can happen anywhere. And furthermore, it is probably already happening elsewhere, only faster. Ellis then reports, "At least 97 Protestant churches across South Carolina have closed since 2011 according to data from the Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Methodist and Southern Baptist denominations. An untold number of other closing certainly are not, " she says, "captured by these statistics. She continues stating, "Many churches are dying slow deaths stuck in stagnation if not decline. And if they don't do something in the near future, then they are likely to close."
Ellis offers cogent analysis later in the article when she writes, "The South is slowly catching up to national and European trends shifting toward what many call a post Christian culture. That is, a society with characteristics no longer dominantly rooted in Christianity." She continues, "Studies and surveys have documented the decline of self-identified Christians and the rise of nuns or the religiously unaffiliated across the United States. The Pew Research Center, " she documents, "describes the United States as in the midst of significant religious change. The share of Americans who identify with Christianity is declining," said Pew. "While those who say they have no religion is growing rapidly."
Ellis also broadens this comprehension beyond South Carolina, looking at the South as a whole. She writes, "But as in the rest of the country, a shrinking proportion of Southern adults say they regularly attend religious services. It was in 2014, 74%, but just three years later, it was three points lower." One of the interesting aspects of the story in the newspaper, The State, is the fact that there was a quote from David Turner identified as Minister of music and worship at Ebenezer Lutheran Church in downtown Columbia. He said, "If you just want to be a philanthropic person, there are a gazillion opportunities for you to feed hungry people, clothe cold people, do service projects, build a house." That's fundamentally right, and it's very interesting that that kind of quotation made its way into this kind of story. What does it tell us? It tells us that people who had seen in religious participation some kind of merely philanthropic or humanitarian motive they can now fulfill those motivations elsewhere. They can do so quite easily, and they can have their Sunday back.
What we are seeing beyond the scope of this article is the breakdown of cultural or nominal Christianity. Cultural Christianity means that there was the dominant cultural expectation that people would identify as Christian. They would attend Christian churches, they would show up at church, they would make sure their children are at church and whether or not they actually attended church regularly or not, they would want you to think that they did. That's what's breaking down, that cultural expectation or nominal or minimal Christianity.
What's not so clear in this article is what is clear in the larger picture, and that is this, the only churches that are going to survive are the churches that hold steadfastly, eagerly, joyfully to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The only churches that are going to survive are the churches that are distinctively Christian, deeply doctrinal, confessional and theological. Because otherwise, people can meet the needs they perceive as their own humanitarian or communitarian needs, they can fulfill those needs, find them elsewhere. Elsewhere, with less demand, or these days, with less complications, perhaps in some circles, even less stigma, less risk to social capital and moral reputation.
The most important reality concerning this article is the fact that the article appeared. And not only that, appeared in The State, the newspaper of Columbia, South Carolina. The big lesson there is that if it can happen in South Carolina, it can happen anywhere. And more fundamentally, this means that the process of secularization in the modern age is now reaching everywhere. Everywhere, including South Carolina, and most assuredly including wherever you are hearing The Briefing.
A classic case study in secularization: How church attendance in Quebec can go from 95% to 5% in one lifetime
But next we shift from South Carolina to Quebec where we understand that the secularization of that Canadian province has been accelerating remarkably, even in just the last several decades. Quebec has become so ardently secularized even though it had a very clear Catholic identity through most of the 20th century, that as one author, Genevieve Zabriskie said and I quote, "Religion is in Quebec now a skeleton in the Quebec's closet. Of a palpable absence, like phantom limb pain."
That's a very telling metaphor. Religion we are told in Quebec now is like phantom limb pain. It's about pain that comes from a limb that is no longer even present. To make that point quite emphatically, the New York Times on the 30th of July, ran a major article by Dan Bilefsky entitled, where churches have become temples of cheese, fitness and eroticism. Bilefsky reports, and I quote, "For generations, parishioners whispered their sins in the dark wooden confessional booths of Notre Dame [foreign language 00:20:59], and imposing Roman Catholic Church in Montreal." But he says, "Now, instead, an edgy Quebec comedian is being filmed inside one of the confessional booths, the latest episode in a talk show which is known in English as, The Church Is Packed. The comedian talked about making a sex tape in order to be famous."
After telling a dirty joke, we are told that the crowd in the church roared with laughter. But that's when Bilefsky tells us, the crowd is not made up of religious parishioners, not of Roman Catholics at all. Instead, "It is one of the dozens of churches across Quebec that have been transformed into university reading rooms, luxury condominiums, cheese emporiums and up market fitness centers. Bilefsky continues, "At another event at the church devoted to free wheeling dance, dozens of barefoot, amateur dancers fill the space and undulated in a trance like state in front of its former altar, amid drums and chanting. Two men in tank tops clasp hands and twirled each other, a woman in blue juggled three white balls, putting one in her head. Several wooden pews were recast to build a handsome bar for alcohol fueled banquets. The former sacristy were priests prepared for communion is now a dressing room fit for a diva.
While the church has welcomed a crucifix Halloween party featuring barely dressed leather clad dancers gyrating in front of a lit up cross." But however, we are told that the space is "Still sacred rather than profane." Why is it sacred? "It teaches former addicts, juvenile delinquents and high school dropouts, technical theater skills so that they can enter the job market." Note, that that's the explanation of what it now means in Montreal to be sacred.
Now, as we're thinking about secularization, it is hard to find a more classic case study of just how secularization can happen, than Quebec where back in the 1950s, 95% of the population went to mass, but today only 5% do. That's 5% rather than 95% in the span of a single human lifetime. Bilefsky goes on report that in Quebec alone, as of April 547 churches, and of course that speaking of church buildings, have been closed, sold or transformed. That's 547 churches in a single Canadian province. A rather famous Canadian cheese-maker Jean Morin had turned one imposing Catholic edifice into a new cheese manufacturing center. He bought the church for $1, and spent over a million dollars to renovate it. Speaking of the production of cheese there in this former church, he said, "Producing my cheese here is my idea of paradise."
But the article from Montreal is important mostly because it tells us just how quickly this pattern and process of secularization can take place. It's of concern that in South Carolina in a relatively short amount of time there was a reduction at least reportedly of 3% in adults in the state attending church. But that's a far cry from what has taken place in Quebec over the course of a single lifetime with church going rates falling from 95% to 5%. The fundamental reality is this, if churches abandon the gospel, and abandon the scriptures, then people abandon the churches as it turns out rather quickly. And that's a warning we all need to hear.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
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