China Tightens Laws Against Illegal Cults
Should government be allowed to intervene in personal spiritual choices of their citizens? China will soon tighten laws to combat cults and publish a list of legal places to worship and conduct religious activities. This issue is explored in Sneha Shankar’s article for the International Business Times.
Sneha Shankar’s story “China Will Publish A List Of Legal Places To Worship In An Effort To Root Out Illegal Cults,” The International Business Times, 27 December 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/china-will-publish-list-legal-places-worship-effort-root-out-illegal-cults-1767976
The article summarizes China’s plans to create a list of legally approved places of worship in order to identify and denounce illegal worship activities, largely pertaining to illegal cults and sects. The list, which should be completed within two years, will comprise of largely Taoist and Buddhist ventures, leaving little room for freedom of religion. Chinese government protects only government-sanctioned religions and registered places of worship. This law raises the issue of freedom of religious and spiritual choice. At which point is the subjectivity of religion a measurable decision for policy-makers?
The article highlights the element that religious institutions must be loyal to the Chinese government in order to be sanctioned. When unsanctioned religious movements arise and expand, Chinese authorities can legally intervene and arrest individuals who are believed to be linked to these religious institutions, which Chinese government deems “cults”.
A related article for the New York Times notes that China’s obsession with social stability means no room for cults, going as far as executing sect leaders and implementing prison sentences up to seven years for individuals who use cults/religion to challenge Chinese law.
(Reuters’ Story “China to Tighten Laws to Combat Illegal Cults” for The New york Times, 28 October 2014 http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2014/10/28/world/asia/28reuters-china-religion.html)
The article addresses the rising number of new religious movements and cults appearing in China. This begs the question: Why is China experiencing a higher-than-average level of arising cults? What factors of Chinese culture are causing so many people to turn to cults? Hexham and Poewe (1998) note that individuals experiencing personal crises or tension may turn to a worldview that can save them from the world and the evil within it. It can be argued that China’s reputation for lack of solidarity can lead individuals to seek commonality and relief of crises in arising cults and sects.
At which point can government justifiably step in and impose on religious freedom? In China’s case, is undermining national law means for banning religion, imprisoning followers and executing leaders?
Hexham, I., & Poewe, K. (1998). Understanding cults and New Age religions. Vancouver: Regent College Pub.