Heavenly Signs

The American Interest discusses the Chinese crackdown on Church of the Almighty God (also known as Eastern Lightning) after a recruiting operation turned murderous. The general background is most probably familiar, but it’s important enough to run through again:

The strong Chinese reaction against splinter groups — in this case, five death sentences—sometimes surprises Western observers, but we only need to look to China’s history to see why such groups give Beijing officials the willies. In the 19th-century, the catastrophic Taiping Rebellion involved a group not wholly unlike the Church of the Almighty God. In that rebellion a millenarian sect lead by Hong Xiuquan claiming to be the younger brother of Jesus, rose up against the Qing dynasty. At least twenty million people died in the ensuing conflict.

Eastern Lightning, like its Taiping predecessor, grounds itself in Christian texts and ideas. The “god” now born as a woman to bring the apocalypse is seen by the sect as the third in a series: Yahweh, who gave the Old Testament; Jesus who came to save humanity and now the third has come to judge the human race and bring the end of the world. The rapid growth of this movement shows the degree to which many Chinese feel alienated from the official ideology, the appeal of Christian messages in China, and the sense of popular unease as China changes rapidly. There is nothing here to make Beijing feel good.

There’s another reason that the rise of an apocalyptic cult would be of such concern. China’s long history of rising and falling dynasties has given rise to a school of historical analysis that looks for patterns in Chinese history. This approach, shared by many ordinary people and many distinguished Chinese intellectuals down through the ages, seeks to identify recurring features of the decline and fall phase of a dynasty’s cycle. The rise of apocalyptic religious cults is one of the classic signs of dynastic decadence, as is the rise of a pervasive culture of corruption among officials and the spread of local unrest.

Since the 18th century, the divorce of theological innovation from social revolution in Occidental public consciousness has pushed the religious question — originally identical with tolerance — into ever deeper eclipse. Until very recently, within the West, any attribution of genuine political consequence to such matters had seemed no more than eccentric anachronism, although this situation is quite rapidly changing. Elsewhere in the world, religious issues retained far greater socio-political pertinence, largely because the common millenarian root of enthusiasm and rebellion had not been effaced.

It is possible that the Chinese approach to dissident religion remains ‘strange’ to many in the West. There can surely be little doubt, however, that whatever convergence takes place will tend to a traditional Chinese understanding far more than a contemporary Western one. The gravity of the stakes ensures it.

October 14, 2014admin 3 Comments »

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3 Responses to this entry

  • Erebus Says:

    The Church of the Almighty God is similar in many respects to dozens of crazy South Korean evangelical cults. It’s also very similar to Aum Shinrikyo. (Note: The Asian take on Christianity appears to be unusually perverse.) That said, frankly, I don’t think they’re much of a concern. They look like amateur thugs — they’re almost certainly not a credible threat to those in power, even on a local level. They’re clearly less dangerous than the Muslim separatists in Xinjiang.

    What’s much more interesting is the fact that “Christianity”, in a general sense, appears to be positioning itself as a key internal opposition group to the ruling Communist party. Christianity is very plainly becoming grossly politicized. And this view of “Church Against the PRC” is, of course, supported by all adversaries of the Communist party — which leads to thinly-veiled propaganda about “100 million Christians in China”, and “China still persecuting Christians”, etc.

    It’s not going to end well for Christians in China. The PRC is already moving to tighten its grip on religious freedoms. This’ll hopefully mean fewer Muslim agitators in the west, and Christian cults having to go underground… which’ll probably lead to far fewer violent recruiting sessions in McDonald’s and Pizza Hut.


    E. Antony Gray (@RiverC) Reply:

    Christians devoted to social action will always get themselves killed as revolutionaries and not as martyrs.

    Asian Christianity is the memetic descendent of late Pentecostalism (itself a late descendent of Protestant forms) and as such both debunks the Lockean view of the Bible and the notion that Christianity is a kind of Universalism. These millenarian cults (some of them can be found described in 100 Heresies) are examples of people trying to turn Christianity into a form of universalism and ending up with a terrible chimera.

    One of the flaws of Pentecostalism is that it uses Pentecost as a model for everything, but forgets that the 3000 converted that day did not each convert 3000 the next day, etc. Even 400 years later there were still many large groups of pagans in existence in the Roman empire; the progress of the gospel is, relative to our simian impatience, slow.

    Converting Christianity into a memetic virus evades the necessity of the organic growth of its assembly, a process that takes time and is bound mostly by geography and must negotiate the boundaries of groups and lands. But the process denatures it, whose fruit is most clear in the immediate departure from traditional teachings and categories.

    A parable might go as follows, there was a man who had but a bull and a cow, but wanted to have a great herd so he could feed everyone with meat. But he was impatient, unwilling to wait for the normal reproduction cycle of his animals. So he gave the bull and cow growth hormones until they became as large a barns, after which he slaughtered both of them for meat. But the tons and tons of meat had become tough and inedible from the explosive growth, and their blood ran over the countryside killing grass and crops alike.


    Posted on October 14th, 2014 at 3:59 pm Reply | Quote
  • Heavenly Signs | Reaction Times Says:

    […] Source: Outside In […]

    Posted on October 14th, 2014 at 6:44 pm Reply | Quote

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