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.
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:
- Censorship measures are being implemented in the UK in shadowy circumstances against the wishes of UK citizens; and
- many sites related to spirituality (including this one) are already being blocked by commercial web filters widely used in the West.
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:
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!”.
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
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
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.
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?
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?
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?
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