Welcome once again to the battle over holiday greetings. While I understand why some people are upset when other people don’t wish them a Merry Christmas, and why some others are upset when they do, I find the whole thing very sad. And worse: it distracts us from the all too real war on Christians and Christianity.
Christian bookseller Shi Weihan was abducted by the Communist Chinese on November 28, 2007, and has been imprisoned in an unknown location ever since. His crime? Establishing and failing to register his “house church.” Mr. Shi is one of thousands of Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims arrested every year in China. China is just one battleground in the real war against Christmas, and if American Christians really want to “take up the cross” and follow Jesus, they should stop allowing themselves to get sidetracked by faux culture warriors on Fox News, and start boycotting Chinese manufactured toys this Christmas.
Communist China is officially atheist. While it does allow certain religions to operate in the country, it does so under strict governmental control. People who wish to prosper politically or militarily in China know better than to profess any religious belief or belong to any religious organization.
Why is the Chinese government so afraid of religion? The Chinese aren’t paranoid. They know that religion is one of the most effective ways to resist the tyranny of the state (unless of course the religion is the state). Look at the powerful role Roman Catholicism played in the collapse of the Soviet Union. If you think Ronald Reagan and Charlie Wilson did this without the aid of the Pope, you don’t know your history.
It is ironic that freedom seekers in China turn to religion, while their counterparts in the United States turn away from it. Why is that? Let me speculate:
Christians are a threat to China for the same reason that Jesus and his Jewish followers were a threat to Rome: they insisted on the holiness of each human person, and demanded justice and freedom in the name of that holiness and the One in whom it is grounded. Whether or not you believe in God, you can see how this prophetic ethic would threaten the oligarchies of both Rome and China. It is the same power that Jefferson drew upon to affirm the inalienable human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These rights are rooted in something greater than the state, and in today’s China, ancient Rome, and 18th Century England there was nothing greater than the state.
In the US where this ethic has been secularized and affirmed (even if only in theory), religion preoccupies itself with whining about holiday greetings and creationism. But in China where there are no inalienable rights, religion gets to do what it does best: speak truth to power, and confront empire with the cry for prophetic justice.
This Christmas season it would behoove all of us to shift our focus from the petty to the prophetic. Free Tibet! Free Mr. Shi! And Merry Christmas!