Perhaps we should be cheering?

A Civilization in the balance – Quito’s future?

The New York Times reports that Ecuador, with just 16 million people, has little presence on the global stage, but  that China’s rapidly expanding footprint there speaks volumes about the changing world order, as Beijing surges forward and Washington gradually loses ground.

Without ignoring the harsh realities of the Chinese political system and the questions which keep being asked about its human rights abuses, it might be worth considering that backing China is like taking a train going in the direction of freedom whereas backing the Western liberal model is like putting your money on one going in the opposite direction.

Growing Chinese influence – there and elsewhere, as in Africa – might be much more positive than a growth of American influence where the dominant and ascendant culture is far more hostile to real human values than the increasingly Christian culture in China might be.

Across the Ecuadorian countryside, the Times reports, in villages and towns, Chinese money is going to build roads, highways, bridges, hospitals, even a network of surveillance cameras stretching to the Galápagos Islands. State-owned Chinese banks have already put nearly $11 billion into the country, and the Ecuadorean government is asking for more.

While China has been important to the world economy for decades, the country is now wielding its financial heft with the confidence and purpose of a global superpower. Dare we give two cheers for that?

In China itself, according to the China Religion Survey 2015, details of which have been released by the National Survey Research Centre at Renmin University, Islam and Catholicism are the two religions that have seen rapid growth among the Chinese who are under 30 years old.

In that age bracket, 22.4 percent of Chinese are now Muslims while Catholics follow very closely at 22 percent. But while the Muslim growth comes mainly from population growth – with that clearly indicating resistance to the one-child policy – the Catholic and wider Christian growth is through conversion. Conversion to Islam is relatively rare.

This China Religion Survey, 2015, held interviews from more than 4,000 religious sites between 2013 and 2015. The research found that even though Buddhism and Taoism are more popular with the older generations, Protestantism has posted the greatest number in terms of places of worship.

Furthermore, 60 percent of people who work in places of worship see state regulations as “fair.”

This is contrary to the latest report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which said there is an “alarming increase in systematic, egregious, and ongoing abuses” on religious freedom in China last year.

In 2014, the Chinese government took steps to consolidate further its authoritarian monopoly of power over  all aspects of its citizens’ lives. For religious freedom, this has meant unprecedented violations against Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Falun Gong practitioners. People of faith continue to face arrests, fines, denials of justice, lengthy prison sentences, and in some cases, the closing or bulldozing of places of worship. Based on the alarming increase in systematic, egregious, and ongoing abuses, USCIRF again recommends China be designated a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The State Department has designated China as a CPC since 1999, most recently in July 2014.

Nevertheless, Eleanor Albert of the Council for Foreign Relations, independent but also US based, reports a more positive picture:

Religious observance in China is on the rise. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is officially atheist, but it has grown more tolerant of religious activity over the past forty years. Amid China’s economic boom and rapid modernization, experts point to the emergence of a spiritual vacuum as a trigger for the growing number of religious believers, particularly adherents of Christianity and traditional Chinese religious groups. Though China’s constitution explicitly allows “freedom of religious belief,” adherents across all religious organizations, from state-sanctioned to underground and banned groups, still face persecution and repression.

While no one could argue that the level of difficulty – and even persecution – being experienced by people holding religious beliefs in the West is at the level experienced by Christians  in India or China, it does seem that  in China at least the trend is in the opposite direction. Take, for example, the complaints of Christians in the United States who now find that the moral codes of their religion are in conflict with the new politically correct codes being affirmed in the public square and which are assigning them, at best, to the margins of society.

A few examples:

  • The implications of the multiple court battles going on over Obamacare enforcement of contraceptive culture on Christian institutions.
  • The forcing of service providers to act contrary to their consciences by obliging them to endorse what they consider immoral behavior.
  • The Supreme Court determining to exclude anyone who prays in Jesus’ name from a rotation of officials who open city business meetings.
  • The removal of US military Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt, over the issue of praying in Jesus Name.
  • UCLA’s prohibiting a graduating student from thanking her “Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” in her graduation speech.
  • Colleges making special accommodations for foot baths and Muslim only prayer rooms, while a Muslim group membership may be suspended or revoked for 57 reasons including but not limited to: unbecoming behavior, insubordination, or inactivity; but denying Christian groups campus recognition “because it requires its officers and voting members to agree with its Christian beliefs”.

Matthew Staver, Dean and Professor of Law at the Evangelical Christian Liberty University School of Law, puts it this way:

In a world of political correctness devoid of the rule of law, tolerance has come to mean total rejection of Christianity and moral standards. Modern tolerance redefines words like ‘marriage,’ ‘discrimination,’ ‘equality,’ ‘morality,’ and even ‘absolutes.’ The word ‘tolerance’ as it is used today never includes opposing arguments or competing worldviews. Tolerance has become Orwellian and decidedly intolerant.

So where does that leave Ecuador? It is not in a very good place just now and, with its Chavez-like regime  headed by President Rafael Correa, in the longer-term it may be playing with fire in exposing itself to an economic colonization by China. Seeking to distance itself from the US it has turned to China as Cuba did to Russia back in the 1950s and ’60s. That did not end well.

But if all did turn out well, the question which poses itself about all this is whether there is a better future in store for a country which allies itself with a power which may be evolving towards a tolerant and Christian society than being dependent on one whose Christian civilization is in decay. Furthermore, American investment seems increasingly to come with politically correct cultural strings attached which bear within them the seeds of its ultimate self-destruction.

I watched a chilling interview with David Foster Wallace just a few days ago. It was chilling because of how this tortured soul ended his life. It was chilling because it was hard not to connect his sad death from the grim prospect which he foresaw for America, captivated as it was by a culture of greed, self-indulgence and consumption.

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