The Role of Religion

While reading Religion flourishes in political and historical titles by Henry L. Carrigan Jr. in ForeWord magazine, I thought of China’s history with religion, and saw no comparison as to how religion has influenced beliefs and politics in the West.

Carrigan wrote a seamless piece mentioning fourteen titles that deal with atheists and religion in America. After reading the piece, it’s obvious why Western religion plays such an important role in US politics.

However, in China, religion has never had a role and probably never will. In fact, religion never had an impact on China until after the First Opium War early in the 19th century. The result was the Taiping Rebellion led by a converted Christian known as God’s Chinese son.

More than twenty million died due to God’s Chinese son. Imagine how that influenced opinions regarding Christianity in China. The first major contact with a Western religion ends in bloodshed and much suffering.

The Exodus of the Jews from Egypt took place around 1504 to 1254 BC about the time of the Shang Dynasty (1783 – 1123 BC). A few Jews (not enough to establish the religion in China and have a lasting impact) would reach China almost twenty-four hundred years later.

In 312 AD, Constantine adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, and he did it for political reasons.

Next came the rise of Islam after Mohammad proclaimed the message of believing in one God about 610 AD.

Freedom of religion in America wouldn’t be guaranteed until July 4, 1776.

The evolution of religion in the West spans thousands of years, yet China’s Western critics expect the Chinese to accept these religions and allow them to have an important role in Chinese culture almost overnight.

Carrigan writes, “Over the past decade, most polls have consistently found that 95 percent of Americans say they believe in God…”

However, more than a billion Chinese do not belong to any organized religion. It is estimated that the number of Christians in China number 40 to 100 million depending on whom you believe. If the high number is correct, that’s still less than ten percent of the population compared to America’s 95%.

In fact, religion in China has mostly been family-oriented for thousands of years.

Some scholars doubt the use of the term “religion” in reference to Buddhism and Taoism, and suggest “cultural practices” or “thought systems” as more appropriate.

Generally, the percentage of people in China that call themselves religious is the lowest in the world compared to America, which is probably the highest number.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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