Mar 18, 2008

China's Increasing Christians

Hu Jintao [the engineer] has been reelected Chinese President and also Chairman of the Central Military Commission. I often watch the English language Communist China TV station, and alternatively feel mildly optimistic or somewhat pessimistic about the future of that country. What intrigues me is that China now calls for the advancement of "socialism with Chinese characteristics."--a strange dragon if I've ever seen one. Zenit just published a comprehensive picture of China.

The truth is that China definitely seems to be embracing their ancient heritage and history. The Chinese TV network constantly covers anything in their country that recounts or emphasizes their old traditions and culture.

Today is a day for some optimism due to the March 18, 2008 report by the Wall Street Journal.
Christianity of the unofficial kind is winning Chinese converts in huge numbers. Not only that, it's winning them among every class of Chinese: farmers, urban migrant workers, professionals and intellectuals.

What is the appeal of Christianity to so many Chinese -- or, for that matter, of Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, the old-time peasant religions and the newfangled Falun Gong? In "smashing" organized religion, Mao Zedong also destroyed the traditional institutions of charity and social support that used to provide succor to the lonely and the needy. Now that succor is desperately in demand, and the churches are there to meet it.

The party also helped destroy traditional morality in the name of an ideology it has itself largely abandoned. To a degree that alarms even Chinese rulers, morality and ideology have been replaced by corruption, opportunism and widespread indifference to life's ordinary decencies. Religion offers a corrective to this, too, as it does to the quandaries of 21st century existence.

...Just as remarkable is how all this is slipping beyond Beijing's grip. The repression of Tibetan Buddhists and the Falun Gong has been severe, mainly because both dared to challenge the Party directly. Most Christians pose no such obvious challenge, particularly Protestants who belong to no formal organization, have no connections to outsiders, and do not openly question government policy. Some party leaders even see Christians as model citizens, patriotic even if they are not members of a "patriotic association."

Yet precisely because the party's captains and engineers tend to assess threats and opportunities in purely utilitarian terms, they tend to miss the real threat that a religious revival poses to their power. As French essayist Guy Sorman notes in his brilliant book "Empire of Lies," religion operates "in the realm of beliefs and conscience, where the party has no control." Mr. Sorman, who spent the year of the rooster (2005) traveling the length and breadth of China, recalls that one religious uprising, the 19th-century Taiping rebellion, destabilized the Manchu Dynasty, which in turn was succeeded by the Republic of Sun Yat-Sen, a Christian.

Might the same happen again in China?
I'll be even more optimistic when the Hammer and Sickle Red Flag of China is replaced with a flag showing a beautiful Chinese peony. Better yet, a cross!

Bella and the Second Crucifix

Here's a short story I put on the Collegium Scriptorum Catholicae, a site devoted to encouragement of science fiction and fantasy writing by Traditional Catholics attached to the Latin Mass. Bella and the Second Crucifix is meant to be the first chapter of Adventures in Heaven that will utilize some ideas on Heaven from a previous post.

Bella and the Second Crucifix
Bella talked to Michael who talked to Mary who talked to her Son. Somehow they decided I should write the story of my life. Bella is the best place to start.

Bella is the one I continue to thank. She was the only one who always loved and didn’t criticize. Of course, I always deserved criticism and punishment and I got it in every way possible. My parents, teachers, jailers, and everyone else were all at fault, or so I thought so at the time.

The first time I saw Bella was when I stole her from the pet shop, one of my many crimes, but probably the least
of them. She still has the body of a Shih Tzu, but now her intelligence and goodness are so much clearer.

My companions and I loved dog fighting because of it being a blood sport. I stole Bella because I wanted a little
dog to let loose inside a pen of fighting pit bulls. The dogs fight much better with an early kill. The bloody tearing apart of live animal flesh never ceased to release the rage inside me.

But sitting on the seat beside me in the car was a little Shih Tzu with an inquisitive face. Her eyes watched me intently and I had a hard time looking at the road to drive. It wasn’t until the accident that I began to appreciate her. She suddenly barked and then I saw the truck. As the 18-wheeler grazed me, I was certain that the little dog had tried to warn me. ME--A lousy, dumb, hating jackass of a criminal who planned to kill her!

My way of life was hard, very hard. I hated everyone and everthing because I had lost all faith, hope, and charity. Get mine first, last, and foremost was my motto. No virtues grew in me—I
couldn’t be honest, tell the truth or help a person or work hard if my life depended on it. Of course, I paid all the penalties—mental, social, health, and even was jailed for almost 15 years.

That was when I really became bad. When I got out, I found that dog fighting offered a good substitute for knocking people around. That’s when I found Bella, or better yet, she found me. God let her live for only 8 months with me, until I was shot in an attempted robbery of a rival dealer.

I cried out in pain and Bella was there and put her small furry body next to me. The bleeding wouldn’t stop and the dog’s warmth made me feel just how cold I was becoming. At first, the dog’s barking annoyed me. Why is she barking? Does she know I’m dying?

The barking attracted no curiosity seekers, because the neighborhood was dangerous and shots had been fired. No one wanted to come and help, and I was angry, afraid, and hopeless. My dog suddenly jumped away to bark in the middle of the street. The approaching car hesitated, then stopped. A young man with a heavy black beard got out and saw how bad I was.

He asked if I had been baptized, and I said that my Aunt Bea had once told me she had baptized me when I was a kid and she thought I was choking to death. I should have died then and not caused nearly so much evil.

The man asked if I wanted to go to heaven. I replied, “What’s the use? Not even Satan wants me.” I started to laugh, but the blood rose in my throat so that I began to choke.

Bella stood quietly beside the man. She seemed to be looking at him, even imploring him. The man looked at me with solemn and sad eyes and asked, “Do you feel betrayed by the world? Even by Satan?”

“Yes, by everyone.” All except Bella.

“The man pulled small two crucifixes from his pocket. Both were hooked to a chain. I had never seen two different kinds of crucifixes before, although I had once grabbed one off a wall to throw at my Mother when she was drunk.

“Hold onto this one,” said the man, “It’s helped me many times.” And he began to pray while holding the other crucifix. “You have the cross of St. Dismas, son. Do you know who he was?”

I swore, “Never even heard of the name!” Then begged, “Get me a doctor!”

“I don’t think a doctor is going to help you, my friend,” said the man. And I knew it was true because my bloody choking became worse.

The man continued to talk, and I heard the short story of the crucified St. Dismas as he hung on the cross besides Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Then came the softly spoken words of the dying Jesus, “This day you shall be with me in Paradise.”

The black man continued to kneel and pray for me. Prayed for me—the baddest guy in the entire world. But the second crucifix wouldn’t let go of my hand. Bella licked my hand and then the Dismas crucifix. What a cruel joke for God to promise such an undeserved reward for such a terrible life.

“I can’t believe,” I said between bloody gasps.

“Your dog loves you, doesn’t she?” asked the man. “Isn’t God greater than your dog?”

Bella looked sorrowful, as if mourning my passing. I thought, How can I live without her sleeping at the foot of my bed, and creeping up slowly in the night to put her head next to my arm.

“Don’t give up, friend. If the dog can see a little good in you, so can God. Aren’t you sorry for the way you’ve lived?”

Remorse covered my soul in grief, as I realized God's love. I cried out with the foreign words of my grandmother, “Ntra. Sra del Perpetuo Socorro.”

I died, and saw the terrible Light of the Transfiguration. Everyone who dies—the good, the unrepentant, and the repentant—sees the Light of God’s presence. Unrepentant sinners see the Light to know what they will miss in Hell. The tremendous regret at not being able to continue to enjoy the Beatific Vision is the worst punishment of all. Through Hell’s Gate, I saw the red fires and smelled the awful stench.

I was so ashamed when I saw the Light, I cast myself down to Purgatory. Painful and long suffering was my lot. The blue fire held me tightly in its grasp, but I actually felt being cleansed, like burning soot off a pan or oven. And I had hope—no more despair. I knew I was going Home someday!

That’s how I got to Heaven—in the very bottom place. And that’s the reason the angel Bella talked to Mary to ask her Son, Jesus, to allow this story to be told. I know God intends to share this story, and I am writing it to please him. In His great and glorious mercy, He has told all of us that He will allow this single story to be told to the remaining Christians so that they do not lose heart in this worst and last time on earth.