Spiritual freedom in the West: Are we drifting into a culture of suppression?

Increasingly in the West practitioners of alternative spirituality are subjected to discrimination and censorship. It’s sobering to look at the possible outcomes of living in a society where spiritual freedoms are heavily restricted. This article looks at the Chinese government’s oppression of spirituality as an example, to illustrate why we should not take our spiritual rights and freedoms for granted.

A painted stone at Wenzhou's "Anti-cult Themepark" tells visitors to "Worship science"

A painted stone at Wenzhou’s “Anti-cult Theme Park” tells visitors to “Worship science”

There is a dark agenda currently threatening spiritual freedom throughout the world, and it seems to be progressing at an alarming rate.

As recently exposed here on The Conscious Reporter:

In the mainstream media alternative spirituality is frequently illegitimately portrayed with a negative bias as our greatest fears are turned against us in order to manipulate our view of alternative spirituality as a whole.

Despite this, there are many people who feel that standing up for our right to access and practice the spirituality of our choosing is either not necessary or the wrong thing to do. It seems we have been convinced that to resist a problem means perpetuating it, and that external censorship is okay as we will simply evolve spiritually in order to circumvent it.

The reality, though, is that it takes sustained effort in order to evolve spiritually, and if we do not have access to the tools and techniques required for internal transformation, there is no way we will evolve spiritually as a matter of course.

If we don’t stand up for our rights and for spirituality now, is there the possibility that we could lose the opportunity completely?

A closer look at the state regulation of spirituality in China, and the links and parallels to policies in Western countries,  paints a sobering picture of how things could end up if we take our spiritual freedom in the West for granted.

When State-sanctioned religion is the only type allowed

Living in the West it can be hard to imagine that people are routinely incarcerated, tortured and even murdered for their spiritual beliefs, and yet this is happening all around the world right now. In some countries religion is oppressed completely in favour of an atheistic state, and in others a State religion is propagated while other beliefs are persecuted.

One country with strong limitations on spiritual expression is China, whose government see spiritual minorities with the ability to mobilise their devotees in direct action (most recently in peaceful protests) as a threat to state control. This fear may stem from a history of “religious and spiritual uprisings that had catastrophic effects on the country.” Source

Often initially supported by the regime, groups which come to be seen as threatening are persecuted and regulated through law enforcement, media propaganda and a network of anti-cult associations.

There are over 1.3 billion people in China but only five religions approved by the Chinese government:

  • Buddhism
  • Taoism
  • Islam
  • Catholicism
  • Protestantism

However religious experience is not free from bias – all forms of religion are expected to be “patriotic government associations”.

In Tibetan Buddhism the Panchen Lama (second highest ranking Buddhist next to the Dalai Lama) was taken into “protective custody” by the Chinese Government at age six when he was named, and replaced by a Chinese-endorsed Panchen Lama.

For Chinese Christians there are two options: attend a government-approved church, where clergymen are trained in state-sponsored seminaries, or attend illegal underground churches which are often subject to crackdowns and persecution.

Those who find themselves the subject of persecution, may not find much support from their countrymen. Recently when a Chinese blogger took to social media about his Christian pastor friend being repeatedly arrested he found that many people supported the persecution, with one commenter even remarking, “The cops have done a beautiful job!”.

China employs an army of internet trolls to propagate and defend the part line Source

The Chinese government employs an army of internet trolls to propagate and defend the party line Source

Whether this sentiment is genuine or not is hard to tell. The Chinese government employs millions of professional trolls to back government propaganda known as the 50 cent brigade (because they are paid 50 Chinese cents for each comment made on youtube, forums and blogs around the world that distorts or deflects opinion towards government propaganda).

The mainstream media in China is also a tool of governmental control and oppression of religious minorities.

Recently when a 28-year-old woman was tragically beaten to death in a McDonald’s restaurant, state TV blamed the act on members of an “evil cult”.

A few days later the government published its list of 20 active “cults.” From then on, events unfolded with a ruthless and familiar logic: Every TV channel and newspaper issued warnings about the dangers of “evil cults.” Community organizations, village authorities and schools got in on the act.The anti-cult campaign extended to more mainstream religious practices. The People’s Daily website and the Global Times, a government newspaper, opened a barrage of attacks on China’s underground Christian churches. An article in the Global Times said “underground churches and evil cults are spreading like mushrooms … the problem is very urgent.” source

The destruction of Sanjiang church in Wenzhou Source

The destruction of Sanjiang church in Wenzhou Source

What does a crackdown on underground churches look like? In Wenzhou – known colloquially as the “Jerusalem of the East” for its concentration of churches – religious buildings are being destroyed supposedly because they exceed building standards. But practitioners feel this is a smokescreen for religious oppression, pointing as an example to the world trade tower in the same city that exceeds standards by 29,000 square metres but was able to retroactively be approved.

Other Christians are fearful of speaking openly about this:

“You must be careful whom you talk to,” cautioned two women from a Beijing-based religious publication in town to investigate the demolition. “There could be government spies among the people here.” source

Incidentally it appears that the use of spies by anti-cult establishments in the western world is also a regular occurrence.

China’s anti-cult movement

A section of a mural from Wenzhou's "Anti-cult Theme Park" depicting why and how  so-called "cults" should be resisted - with deadly force? Source

A section of a mural from Wenzhou’s “Anti-cult Theme Park” depicting why and how so-called “cults” should be resisted – with deadly force? Source

Wenzhou is also the home of China’s first “Anti-cult Theme Park” (franchises coming soon to a city near you?).

Don’t expect rides and fairy floss – this a place of “exercise and indoctrination”, complete with a sign telling visitors to “worship science” and quotes such as “Cults are religious poison, they are the pollution of human society.” There is also a hand-painted mural explaining why “cults” should be resisted and how to go about it.

But state indoctrination does not stop there. In fact the Chinese government even has it’s own anti-cult office, the “Office of the State Council to Prevent and Handle Cult Issues”. The purpose of this office is a mystery to many, although they influence policy and strategy in both state and party spheres and are “believed to be in charge of developing targeted strategies for the party and government on preventing and dealing with incidents stemming from cult activities, including controlling education and issuing propaganda aimed at deterring and “reforming” [spiritual] enthusiasts”. source

There are also a myriad of anti-cult associations smattered throughout all levels of Chinese society. And it seems they’ve been hard at work.

Anti-cult themed opera Source

Anti-cult themed Opera in Huagu Source

Take for instance this Anti-cult themed Opera in Huagu found on a Chinese tourist website and organised by the Hunan Anti-Cult Association. The write-up says:

Cults are like poisonous weeds do harm to the society. It blows one’s money, and worse, ruins families. In order to raise people’s awareness and enrich their spiritual life as well, modern Huagu Opera Awakening organized by Hunan Anti-Cult Association was staged in Taoyuan County Theatre on Sept.17th, which received high appreciation.The opera reveals the danger of cults through a typical case, assembling moving plots and skillful actors, and overall it represents local culture, meanwhile shows a strong impact of alarming people against cults. [emphasis added]

An exhibition marking the banning of Falun Gong titled “Oppose Evil Cults, Uphold Culture”, was visited by over 200,000 people in 10 days. The exhibition detailed gruesome images of Falun Gong practitioners and comparison of Falun Gong to Nazi Germany and carried a simple message: “Healthy, intelligent people who begin practicing Falun Gong go crazy and hurt themselves and their families.” Source

Visitors to the exhibit had the following to say:

“A very convincing and effective anti-cult show.” — Han Juyin from Chongqing.”I will bring the materials back home to enrich the contents of the anti-cult bulletin on our campus.” — Visitor Zhu Xiaoping from the No. 5 Middle School in Xiangfan, Hubei Province.”Falun Gong is not only the enemy of the Chinese people, but also a common enemy of those who love world peace and respect knowledge and science. It deserves vigilance and lashes from all righteous people,” wrote visitor Qiao Chunhong. Source

But a New York-based spokeswoman for Falun Gong said, “It’s all lies. It’s all propaganda. The reality is that this (Chinese government) is a totalitarian regime relentlessly persecuting millions of its own people.”

This point of view appears to be backed up by the initial response to the banning of Falun Gong, when the Chinese government began to see their growing number of practitioners as a threat to state control:

Falun Gong was outlawed as a threat to public safety. Tens of thousands of members were arrested and sent to labour camps without trial, and many were tortured. The Department of Propaganda launched an immediate media assault on Falun Gong. In the first month after the ban The People’s Daily ran over ten articles a day denouncing Falun Gong, and several TV stations ran marathons of special features 24 hours a day for days on end (Kutulowski, 2004; Yu, 2004). Newspapers, magazines and broadcasting stations published lurid stories of members dying from suicide, and cutting open their stomach to find their inner falun. The blood and guts footage was especially compelling because criminal acts and suicides are usually underreported in China. Source

But in the Western World, we live in a free society… right?

Is this the general consensus towards alternative spirituality? Source

Is this the general consensus towards alternative spirituality? Source

If you think that such a mentality toward spirituality would never make its way into the “free” western world it might be worth thinking again.

In the West, it is not uncommon for commercial web filters to target and block “alternative spirituality”, and even filter this material in the same “adult” category as subjects like drugs, gambling, weapons and pornography. Web filters are widely used in public schools and libraries in the USA where alternative beliefs are often blocked in a discriminatory way, while only a narrow list of religious beliefs can be accessed. In Australia, the Queensland State Government currently blocks Alternative Spirituality/Belief throughout its public schools using the Blue Coat web filter.

In the UK, web filters used on mobile phone networks and public WiFi providers have been found to block alternative beliefs.  Disturbingly, when David Cameron proposed placing network-level web filters on fixed-line ISPs in the UK to “protect the children” he praised TalkTalk which was using a filtering system controlled by Huawei, a company with close ties to the Chinese government, whose own web filtering system blocks among other things “superstitious” material and anything related to Falun Gong.

At an “anti-cult” conference in Australia a senator who has used parliamentary privilege to attack a new religious movement also spoke of his plans to raise the idea of “incorporating cult education into the new national curriculum“.

The Chinese Government itself uses examples from the Western anti-cult movement to support their own campaigns of spiritual oppression, and have hosted prominent Western anti-cult campaigners in China to speak in support of their cause.

Will enough people stand up for spirituality before it’s too late?

ignore-your-rights-conscious-reporterWhile Western governments are obviously not persecuting spiritual minorities to the same extent as governments like China, there are disturbing signs that we could be heading in that direction.

The question is, will enough people stand up for spirituality before it’s too late? Or through apathy will we risk a future similar to those experienced by spiritual seekers and aspirants in countries where spiritual freedom is heavily restricted?

If you care about spirituality, please take the time to share this article. 

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About David Gardner

David has a deep interest in spiritual development, but has discovered there are many forces in the world working to keep people asleep. His recent interest has been researching the psychological tactics and techniques used to limit people's spiritual potential, writing about his discoveries here at The Conscious Reporter.


  1. With regards to the censorship of spirituality in the West, you might want to contact the owners of Wikipedia; who will not allow it to be published that tens of thousands of Albigensians were exterminated by agents of the Roman church for teaching, as Jesus did, that the Doctrine of “the resurrection” is a Doctrine of ‘Rebirth’; who will not allow it even to be *mentioned* on the page on “resurrection” that Isaiah, Daniel, Jesus and Mohammed *all* taught the Doctrine of “the resurrection” as a Doctrine of ‘Rebirth’. Nor will they allow it to be published that Jesus was the author of the Thanksgiving Hymns of the Dead Sea Scrolls; which would strike at the very foundations of Christian theology, and which is also certainly important for anyone seriously interested in spirituality.

  2. Snowden revealed that when the secret services spy on you, and watch what you are doing on the computer, they are not interested in your final public statements, or final private letters etc, they are interested in your ‘thought process’. They monitor what you backspace and delete, to determine your real intent and real feelings etc.

    If you think ‘thought crime’ was fictional, it’s already here.

  3. Thanks for the article David. It is really disturbing to see all the facts about how the governments can use media to influence public opinion about alternative spirituality. From all ten filters that are being put in place it seems that it is slowly the direction we are going as a society. What you say about, how later on, it could be too late to do something about is the most important thing. If this does get too far we will find ourselves in the same shoes as countries like China and Iran, without anywhere to turn or complain.

  4. “Despite this, there are many people who feel that standing up for our right to access and practice the spirituality of our choosing is either not necessary or the wrong thing to do. It seems we have been convinced that to resist a problem means perpetuating it, and that external censorship is okay as we will simply evolve spiritually in order to circumvent it.”

    I have encountered this attitude in people practicing some from of New Age spirituality. That to fight something is the same as violence, it is bad, because we focus on something we give energy to it. That even reading this article because it talks about bad things happening is to endorse it. This is a strong belief for many and it is not easy for people practicing modern spirituality to be open to the idea that fighting for our religious rights is needed, precisely because it seems that if you only come from love, you will change the world that way. It’s a vicious cycle because many ‘gurus’ and channeled messages spread this idea of changing the world through positive thinking and avoiding bad and negative things. It is a revolutionary thought that spirituality means active defense of your rights instead of passive endurance and hoping it will turn out ok.

    That’s why I think your article is great David because it’s a real eye-opener to the potential future we face in the West today. If it can happen in China, there is no reason why it couldn’t take place in the West. We think our society is free, people are free to do what they like, but how many really see the creeping censorship and attitude against ‘cults’ eating away at our rights? I hope that it will not be too late to stand against the sly oppression and change the future alternative spirituality is headed towards.

    Thank you very much David for an insightful article!

    • I have seen the same as you Laura, a denial of negative or bad things happening in the world in favour of focussing on good things. While I think it’s important to focus on building spiritual qualities, what happens if we don’t stand up for our rights and lose the ability to find the information that can help us build spiritual qualities in the first place.

      I imagine getting caught in a society like this would burst the positivity bubble quite quickly, but by then it might be too late to do anything about it.

      I have also heard in some circles (eg. people pulling strings behind the scenes) that China’s methods of social control are looked upon as a model way to run society – which is a pretty scary thought if it truly is where we’re headed!

      • I’ve also been puzzled by the strange unwillingness among some spiritually-inclined people to deal with harsh realities happening in the world like you both mentioned.

        It is really strange that speaking the truth could be viewed as negative; the truth is the truth, and as has been said, the truth will set us free. If people view the truth as negative then they are living in an illusion or fantasy, and running away from reality. And as their illusion grows so does the darkness they hide from, whether it is within themselves or in the world, and sooner or later they will have to face the consequences of it.

        Compared to China, I think the methods of propaganda in in the West are much more sophisticated. I think it’s like how you explained in your other article David about how fear is used against us — those who founded “public relations” did so to control a population that had won too many rights to accept the brute and blunt imposition of force and ideology, in the way we still see in China.

        Instead the methods of propaganda used against us in the West can give the illusion of choice and freedom, but people are given a limited set of choices which suit a given outcome, and the methods of persuasion are much more subtle and insidious, but probably ultimately more effective.

        Consider that in China, the government cracks down on underground Churches, but they are spreading a growing rapidly nonetheless. But in the West, Christian congregations are declining in numbers in many places, yet there is not government persecution and religious freedom exists in law. We have all the freedom to pursue spirituality if we wish, yet people turn away from it, becasue they don’t want it, or have been positioned to think they don’t want it or need it.

        It would certainly be scary if we ever ended up like China, and not impossible. But it seems the powers that be have a much more effective and sophisticated strategy at work in the West.

  5. The 50 cents brigade is just absolutely shocking, creepy and very worrying. What chances is there for a little minority group to be heard among 1.5 millions paid propaganda trolls??? How can truth about censorship be heard, seen, accepted if literally millions of people are paid to say the opposite, distort the truth, and hide the facts among lies…

    This is really sad to see tolerance being so disrespected, where people’s rights have clearly no value, and even more worrying to see how this tendance is growing in the so-called free world.

    Thank you for another very good article David – been really enjoying, sharing and supporting your voice online!

    • Thanks Geraldine. I agree it is pretty shocking and scary to see a whole country mobilised against alternative spirituality. So important to stand up for our rights now before it’s too late!

  6. These examples that you’ve cited in your article are really extreme, David. Anti-cult theme parks and operas…it just shows that the dark forces which oppose the free practice of real spirituality will go to any lengths to suppress people. Paid web trolls, laws against reincarnation, it seems nothing is too far out of reach.

    We may not have anti-cult theme parks here in the West, but the use of the ‘cult’ label to marginalize alternative spiritual practice/ groups has definitely picked up in the media in recent years. For example, a recent HBO series called ‘True Detective’ featured a ‘cult killing’ theme (ie. there was a victim, body marked with ‘esoteric’ symbol(s), placed in a ritualistic pose surrounded by various ceremonial items, detectives try to catch the suspected voodoo/Satanic cult killer) and became quite popular in its first series with little advertising.

    Now that’s a fictional TV series, but it really adds right into the ‘dangerous, psychotic cult’ narrative, which is a tool used to suppress free spiritual choice. So perhaps this is our Western equivalent of anti-cult operas, complete with celebrities and cinematography. http://www.cleveland.com/tv/index.ssf/2014/03/hbos_true_detective_subverts_c.html

    • That’s a good point Dara. I recently saw a couple of TV shows that have been based around the idea of “dangerous cults” kidnapping people, feeding into the whole idea of mind control and other so-called cult criteria. Probably even more effective than an opera.

  7. Wow, thanks David for this glimpse into an almost unbelivable reality in the world now. It’s something of an Orwellian nightmare. It’s easy to think that it couldn’t transfer here, that somehow the Chinese public are more suceptible to blantant propaganda than us in the West, but it seems that the human mind, wherever it is, is often too weak to withstand intense and continuous pressure to believe something; there have been so many cases around the world of people acting with awful hatered when stimulated by fear of others.

    There are certainly signs of the not-so-early steps towards religious and spiritual persecution and suppression in the West. Even the weight of the intellectual prevelance for aethiest thought in Western countries is a huge pressure on peoples’ ability to think independently, and often to find a spiritual reality.

    I also wanted to add something about the Panchen Lama – I believe his kidnap (a.k.a protective custody) effectivly serves to break the line of the Dali Lamas of Tibet. His role is to identify and find the Dali Lama reincarnate, and should go through a life of special training for this. It seems the Chinese are trying to break a process inherent to the survival of Tibetan Buddhism. I also heard they had ‘outlawed reincarnaion’! It seems silly, but with a law like that in place who knows how it can be used.

    Thanks again for helping to get this message out there!

    • The propaganda in China is extreme, but unfortunately there is already a lot of anti-spiritual propaganda towards New Religious Movements in the West, especially through current affairs type news shows. I can see how we could easily move in China’s direction if this was ramped up in the same way and other areas of government and the public mobilised against it.

      This has already happened to a degree in France where they have an anti-cult law that can be used to disband groups, and they have made psychological manipulation a crime (despite “mind control” being debunked in many circles), which I feel opens small spiritual groups to attack by anyone who might dislike them.

      Thanks for sharing that information about the Panchen Lama, it makes more sense now why they would kidnap him.

  8. Thank you very much David, this looks very scary indeed! Anti-cult movements cooperating and supporting themselves across the borders, plotting with governments and police sounds like a witch hunt on spirituality to me. It is very sad that in 21-st Century we seem to be going back to the times of inquisition.

    “Worship Science” slogan would sound good to me, if they meant a whole science, that is, including the conscious explorations of the inner worlds. There are indeed many parallels between the findings of the physicists and the findings of the mystics, and it is very inspiring to see how these 2 worlds are meeting when somebody is open enough to see the wider truth. Some most visionary scientists we know of have always worked in an intuitive way, suggesting the links between these 2 worlds.

    “The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the power of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms- this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of all true religions.” A. Einstein

    “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who sets the planets in motion.” I. Newton

    “The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence” N. Tesla

    • Thanks for sharing those quotes Lucia, I especially like the Tesla one.

      It certainly seems like the inquisition to me – except that this one has no religious backing, they seem to see spirituality as the enemy of state – maybe because it sets people free.

  9. A very eye-opening article David, it’s interesting to see the anti-cult agent in full bloom so that people can see where the west is heading to if people don’t put their foot down and say no to the spiritual oppression that is emerging through web censorship and web filtering.

    To me it’s a very fundamental right and the foundation of all human rights. If we lose the right to choose, express and experience our spirituality, we lose all other human rights. Because this right gives our society the principles by which to live that doesn’t need government and corporate control. There is much more freedom in spirituality than in a wold without it, and if we don’t defend it today, we are enslaving future generations in ways we have no idea of the oppression they will experience.

    I’m so glad you put this information out, as now we can see that there is much more to lose than what we are being told.

    • Thanks Layla. It’s hard to imagine a world where you have to go underground if you have spiritual beliefs / practice, and even then get persecuted and harrassed, I had no idea it was so much of a reality before starting to do some research. It is definitely a threat not just for us but for future generations as you said, as if we don’t stand up for our rights there will be less and less people to stand up in the future as spirituality will be squashed out of existence and people won’t even really know what they’re missing!

  10. Thank you for the article. It’s helpful to see what happens in other countries related to religious/spiritual suppression. I feel like that is the kind of information that can help to change what we do now with regards to this issue. I can also see the strength behind researching the truth of things. Imagine if people questioned the opinion that was put to them and did actual research into it. It would be a strong knock to the pushing of false information.

    • I think you’re right Aleks, researching what’s going on seems to help reduce fear about it and make you immune to the psychological effect or less easily manipulated as you understand the methods being used against us.

      I hope that people won’t just think it has nothing to do with them, but will make sure not to let it happen in the Western World!

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