Politicizing Religion as Ideology:  The Case of the 10,000 Chinese Converts

Politicizing Religion as Ideology:  The Case of the 10,000 Chinese Converts

by Dr. Robert D. Crane

  A sign of the times is the widely disseminated report by the veteran correspondent of the National Catholic Reporter, John Allen, that ten thousand Chinese become Christians every day.  In his Asian Times article, “Christianity Finds a Fulcrum in Asia,” of August 7, 2007, Spengler hyperbolizes that 200 million Chinese may comprise the world’s largest concentration of Christians by mid-century and the largest missionary force in history.  If you read a single news article about China this year, we are told, make sure it is this one.

  The most eye-catching conclusion is the forecast that Evangelical Christianity will convert the Muslim world from the East (China) rather than from the West (Euro-America).  As a professional long-range global forecaster I would rank this scenario as unlikely, that is, as between 10 and 30 percent of likelihood, and perhaps even as impossible (less than ten percent).  The author of this forecast seems clearly to regard it as probable (50 to 70 percent) or even very probable (70 to 90 percent). 

  In my lexicon this forecast falls in the category of “urban legend.”  Nevertheless, professional forecasters are very careful not to dismiss such contingencies out of hand, because such exogenous variables (trends that have not yet hit the radar of general observation sufficiently to be included in forecasts) might within a decade or two become endogenous as part of mainline thinking and therefore politically important.

  To keep this in perspective, we should be aware that 10,000 converts to Christianity a day amounts to only 3.5 million a year or 35 million in a decade, which is only 3 per cent of the total population.  What this report does not include is the fact that Islam is spreading faster, admittedly perhaps in part due to the fact that the ten leading ethnic groups in China are majority Muslim and now are officially categorized demographically by the national government as 100% Muslim. 

  A professor from China, sponsored by the U.S. State Department, spent five hours with us at the International Institute of Islamic Thought last February 8th in Herndon, Virginia, to gain our insights into how Islam as a religion can support much of what the newly evolving economic and political systems in China are accomplishing.  This young woman, Yang Gui Ping, a minority leader herself, is Associate Professor at the Central University for Nationalities in China, in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, in the Institute for Religious Studies, in Peking.  My conclusion from her talk is that Christians and Muslims have much in common to offer any modernizing country, perhaps especially the teaching that enlightened religion can compensate for the ideological dogmatism of both religious and secular extremism. 

  The major global challenge today, as Imam Zaid Shakir suggested last year, is that the secular ideologies of the 20th century seem to be metastasizing into the religious ideologies of the 21st.  As a professional optimist, however, my assessment is that the world religions contain an inherent immune response to internal subversion and perversion and that the struggle against militant extremism within each religion is just beginning, in sha’a Allah. 

  The future for a pluralist global civilization is undermined by sensational reports about one religion overcoming another in a global battle for converts.  Even more dangerous are the secular extremists, posing as religious, who interpret their own scriptures to support a political agenda, when the classical teachings are at a spiritual level in accord with the core of all religions which focus on personal salvation. 

  The worst offenders in ideologizing religion are Muslims, though Christian Zionists, Jewish extremists, and a new breed of Hindu are in a close race for second, third, and fourth.  The ideological Muslims, which is my generic term for Muslim extremists, base their drive for imperial aggrandizement, supposedly in self-defense, on Surah al Tauba 9:33.  This ayah reads, “It is He Who has sent His Apostle with Guidance and the Religion of truth to proclaim it over all religion.”  The Khilafat movement, headed de facto by Osama bin Laden, uses this ayah to justify the imposition of a global political caliphate dominated by a single person who alone represents God.

  As Imam Shakir shows so clearly in his article, “Religion or Ideology,” posted on July 27th, 2006, at http://www.zaytuna.org the c,lassical scholars interpreted this ayah theologically, not politically.  In contrast, the post-classical movement leaders have relied on this ayah in their efforts to reduce Islam to a political ideology, thereby reducing the sacred understanding of divine scripture and the spirit of Islam to the utilitarian and expedient worship of the mundane shorn of all wisdom and compassionate justice. 

  Imam Tabari, who is perhaps the leading early Qur’anic mufassir, writes that this ayah refers to the end times when Jesus, ‘alayhi as salam, returns and all religions will become a single faith under the inspiration of God, at which time, as other scholars interpret this ayah, God will infuse into the Prophet Muhammad and all the other prophets the norms of justice taught by every religion so that nothing will be hidden from them.  At this time every Jew and Christian and every other human being will submit to God as a Muslim in the sense that this term is used throughout the Qur’an, namely, as a person who is aware of God and accepts the justice of God as the ultimate guidance both in this world and the next.

  The salvation not merely of every person but of global civilization was best articulated by Billy Graham more than half a century ago in his first book, published by Doubeday in 1953, Peace with God.  Billy Graham has long been the universally recognized leader of the Evangelical movement in America.  A few days ago, I found a mint-quality first edition of this book in a trash heap at the local dump where I take my garbage out where I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  Commenting in his first chapter, “The Quest,” on modern ideologies, secular and religious, he writes, “There is nothing that nature resents more than a vacuum.  We are desperately weary of the hatred and greed and lust that we know are within us, but we are helpless to be rid of it and filled with something better. ... For man, in spite of the loudly acclaimed ‘progress’ of our times, remains just as he was in the beginning. ... Why are we empty? Because the Creator made us for Himself.”

  On pages 28-29, Billy Graham cites seventeen attributes of God from the Old Testament (the Jewish Bible) and four from the New Testament (the Evangelium), which, of course, he does not recognize to be Islamic.  He writes further, “The Bible is a revelation of the nature of God. ... As a diamond has many facets, so there are innumerable aspects of God’s revelation of Himself, [of which] four are the most significant and should never be forgotten.  First, the Bible declares God to be spirit. ... Christ after His resurrection says, ‘Touch Me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have’.  Therefore we can see that spirit is without body.  It is the opposite of body.  But it has being and power.  This is difficult for us to understand because we are trying to understand it with finite, body-limited minds. ... The Bible declares that God is such a Spirit. ... He is absolutely immeasurable and undiscernable by eyes that can see only physical things.”

  “Second, the Bible reveals Him as Person.  All through the Bible it says, ‘God loves’, ‘God says’, ‘God does’. ... Third, God is a Holy and Righteous Being.  He is utterly perfect and absolute in every detail. ... The scripture declares Him to be the Light in whom there is no darkness at all, the one Supreme Being.

  “Fourth, God is Love, but as with the other attributes of God ... that word has become one of the most widely misused words in our language. ... Like describing the ocean, its total beauty cannot be understood until it is actually seen.  It is the same with God’s love.  Until you actually accept it, until you actually experience it, until you actually possess true peace with God, no one can describe its true wonders to you.  It is not something that you do with your mind.”

  Then in two chapters on sin and the devil, Billy Graham writes, “One of the many prices Adam paid for listening to the Devil was to lose the vision of spiritual dimensions. ... He lost his sense of continuity, of oneness with the universe and with all living things.  He separated himself from God and became an alien being in God’s world. ... Hell is separation from God.”

  In forecasting the global future from the perspective of the opportunity mentality, instead of the constraining framework of the threat mentality, we would do well to take to heart his personal statement on pages 37-38: “I am eternally grateful to my mother for many things, but one of the most enduring blessings she brought into my life was to teach me at the age of ten that, ‘God is Spirit, Infinite, Eternal, and Unchangeable.’  That definition has been with me all my life, and when a man knows in his heart that God is Infinite, Eternal, and Unchanging Spirit, it helps to overcome the temptations to limit Him.  It helps to overcome all doubt about His ability to accomplish things that you can’t do yourself.”

  If 10,000 Chinese converts to enlightened Christianity cannot save the world from species suicide, perhaps together with 10,000 converts to classical Islam they can, bi ithni Allah.