Tuesday, October 23, 2007

No Reincarnation without Legal Permission in China

You have got to love it. The Chinese government, in order to have some control over certain social aspects of Buddhism in China has issued Order No. 5-- from the Administration of Religious Affairs. Cutting to the chase basically this order says that no Buddhist monk has permission to return from the dead, by way of reincarnation, WITHOUT GOVERNMENT APPROVAL. If only the first century Jewish authorities and Pilate had thought of issuing such an edict as well!

The story about this made major news in the NY Times recently, and here is the link----


What makes this Order No. 5 interesting to me is that China is increasingly allowing Christianity to proliferate prodigiously. They believe that religion can be a major force for social stability, but they know it can also be a force for instability as well (cf. the recent events in neighboring Myanmar). In fact there are even students going to Regent College in Vancouver on the Chinese government's yen. The Chinese government has worries that the economic boom is putting too much stress on the social fabric. What they do not say, but what seems likely, is that they have quietly concluded that the ideology of Mao is not super-gluing the fabric of society together in the desired way. They are also concerned about ethics as well. This is presumably one reason why I was asked three years ago to be a founding dean or director at Bejing University's first Christian studies program (master's degree-- and now PhD as well). The only Mandarin I know however is 'duck', so I will only go once in a while to do some teaching with a translator.

Nevertheless, one thing is clear from my recent trip to Hong Kong. Christianity is burgeoning in this whole region, and as one missionary said to me-- 'the 21rst century could belong to China' both economically and spiritually, if it doesn't get in its own way. Time will tell. In the meanwhile, if you are planning to come back from the dead, and are deathly ill, do not make last minute vacation plans for China.


Unknown said...

Perhaps I'm a cynic, but the Chinese government could just have looked at how well Christianity fits in with the American type of capitalism and since that's the route China is slowly but surely taking, they would have felt that Christianity is much safer than Buddhism in the long run.

Falantedios said...

What interests me is how Christianity fits in with relation to the following sentence from the article:

"What bothers Chinese authorities are sects like Falun Gong that insist on independence from state control."

Isn't that exactly what bothered Roman authorities about Christianity?

in HIS love,

PS - Will anyone here be attending the NT Wright lecture series in November?

Ben Witherington said...

You may well be right, but if that's what the Chinese officials think, they are in for a shock, for they have a tiger by the tail in Christianity.

tonymyles said...

There's something about knowing our little version of Christianity is bigger than our culture.

crystal said...

I've read a few articles about the underground Catholic Church in China .... it seems from what I've read that the Chinese government wants to use religion as another way to control people.

Aslan Cheng said...


Welcome you come to Hong Kong last time. I heard your Revelation's sermons are great.

I like your signature of your Matthew Commentary which I brought.

China Christianity go more in Calvinism way. They emphasis Puritan tradition. Because many China Christians believe America build up from this tradition.

I like you can give me short reviews "The End of Biblical Studies" by Hector Avalos if possible.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Aslan: I have not read the book you mention.


Ben W.

Paul Allen said...

If the Chinese government is subsidizing students' tuition at Regent College in Vancouver, this surely impacts how that institution and its professors teach, or is that too wildly spculative?

Ben, David Jeffreys had a column 2 years ago which dealt with the massive numbers of Chinese converts to Christianity and asked at what threshold of the population would it take to throw out the atheist creed of the Chinese communist party - if 35% or more of the civil service is Christian - or something like that... Big changes coming in the next 20 years.