Thursday, September 06, 2012

Morality Without Religion

Walter Russell Mead writes that Even Authoritarian Communist Countries Need Religion:

Chinese leaders know they need a force that acts on the consciences of individuals: to take care of the elderly, to fight corruption, to induce the rich to give to the poor, to influence the behavior of employers and so forth.

They are turning to Confucianism, an ethical system that has appealed to rulers for centuries because of its authoritarian qualities, but the appeals ring hollow in a country whose way of life has moved far from Confucian norms—and whose economic ambitions are radically at variance with traditional Chinese values. Nevertheless, large numbers of Chinese are turning to religion to find a center for their lives. Again the government prefers traditional Chinese observances over formal religions, which, among other things, also make ethical demands on rulers.

Ultimately China’s government is going to have to make its peace with the two world religions that have sunk deep roots among Han Chinese: Buddhism and Christianity. These great religions hold the key to the development of a sustainable Chinese society. Rather than trying to limit and control them, the government should be removing all obstacles in their path.

After one of my first trips to China, I noted that while the Chinese were no longer godless Commies, they were still for the most part godless. It will be fascinating to watch as the Chinese government continues to attempt to instill a moral code in society while at the same time limiting the religious freedom of its citizens. As Mead says, it seems likely that they will have to relax their approach to organizied religion if they really want to achieve that goal.