China, France take a similar approach to religion – UCA News

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

World’s most atheistic regime and one of Western Europe’s most atheistic nations have little patience for faith

China, France take a similar approach to religion – UCA News
China, France take a similar approach to religion

French President Emmanuel Macron (left) meets Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali on Nov 15. Both are heads of largely atheistic societies. (Photo: AFP)

By Ueno Kagefumi, Tokyo Published: November 22, 2022 03:05 AM GMT

From the speech Xi Jinping delivered at the outset of the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October, it became clear that the heart of the party’s ideology, which had been depicted as “socialism with Chinese characteristics” at the previous congress in 2017, was altered to “Marxism adapted to the Chinese context.”

This shift took place in parallel with further monopolization and concentration of power by the Communist Party at the expense of the government. In short, I surmise that China is becoming a more genuinely Marxist nation, at least in terms of doctrine or ideology.

Against this backdrop, I realized that the references to religion were much rarer, almost non-existent. In retrospect, at the previous congress of 2017, there were still some references to religion, as a tool to serve the evolution of socialism.

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Earlier still, during Hu Jintao’s tenure, he even acknowledged that religion had a positive role. Thus, between Hu’s time and today, the marginalization or disregard of religion, in general, has been drastically deepened, a big leap (or a retreat) from Hu’s times.

“Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has stated that Islam in France should be Frenchified”

All in all, I have an impression that Xi’s China has become more atheistic. To be more precise, the Chinese regime has become more atheistic so that it is now one of the most atheistic regimes in the world. Consequently, in today’s China, the faithful and their activities are severely restrained and controlled by the regime. By the way, in this regard, China is in sharp contrast to Russia, its close ally with an equally oppressive regime, in that the latter is religion-oriented, dominated by the Orthodox Church. The two giants are, hence, religion-wise antipodes.

Turning to Western Europe, the most atheistic or the least religious people are, I believe, none other than the French. Despite its image as a Catholic country, according to the Eurobarometer, around 40 percent of French say they do not believe in God nor any deities. They are, in fact, one of the most atheistic nations in the region.

I am wondering if it is worthwhile to compare China, the most atheistic regime in the world, with France, one of the most atheistic within Western Europe. By doing so, I’ve found that they share commonalities in at least two respects.

First, since he took power a decade ago, Xi has repeatedly emphasized that religion in China should be Sinicized. Likewise, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has stated that Islam in France should be Frenchified.

By saying so, Xi meant, I assume, that religion in China should be subordinate to Marxism, while Macron meant that Islam in France should be subordinate to the Enlightenment. Obviously, the two leaders share similar mindsets. After all, the French Enlightenment is characterized by its de-religious or anti-religious tenets. So is China’s Marxism — an illegitimate offshoot of the Enlightenment — similarly characterized by anti-religious ideology, though more purified and much stronger.

Second, the dereligious or anti-religious tenets of France (laïcité) concomitantly urge religion to be contained within a private space, and, therefore, religious symbols such as Muslim headscarves should never be worn in public schools. In China, they impose similar restrictions on scarves or beards of Islam, though much more harshly and more massively. In contrast, countries such as the US, the UK and so forth don’t share such mindsets of imposition.

“The Holy See gained a significant concession from Beijing, the agreement was not one-sided as some analysts negatively assess”

As referred to above, it may be worthwhile to be aware that the two nations have commonalities in terms of governance or containment of religion, though the two have distinct political cultures.

Before ending this commentary, let me also add some words about the so-called Provisional Agreement between the Vatican and China of 2018, which was extended for two more years in October. When officially agreed four years ago, many analysts observed that the agreement was one-sided, favoring China, in that the Vatican gave to China much more than China gave.

I don’t agree with that view, simply because I understand, China (Chairman Xi) also made a big compromise by giving the first formal acknowledgment of the authority of the Pope in the Catholic Church in China, though officially unconfirmed. If that’s what Xi really did, one could say he was bold to have made such a decision (concession), contradicting or compromising his well-known assertion that religion in China should be Sinicized, by excluding or eliminating external influence. A very political decision.  I am, therefore, of the view that, as the Holy See gained a significant concession from Beijing, the agreement was not one-sided as some analysts negatively assess. You may well trust the Vatican’s sense of proportion.

In any case, it is highly unlikely that the religious milieu in China will be ameliorated rather soon. And it’s not the fault of the agreement. Simply because the Chinese regime remains atheistic and anti-religious. It may be prudent to wait with patience until the tide changes to a better mode.

Ueno Kagefumi is former Japanese ambassador to the Holy See (2006-10). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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