Dear China: Why Censor? Why Suppress Religion?

by Becky Hsu

A new book written by a former CNN journalist in Beijing, Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom, documents how the Chinese government has been surprisingly successful at managing the flow of information online during the past ten years.

Why the Chinese government spends so much effort on controlling information (i.e., censorship) is certainly perplexing, and we may be tempted to give a deceptively straightforward answer: they want to stay in power, and dissenting voices are a threat. Perhaps more baffling, then, are these questions: Why are they so determined to keep a tight hold on religious activity? What is so threatening about religion?

An explanation to both questions may lie in a particular series of ideas deriving from classical philosophy. In classical Chinese thought, one of the responsibilities of the government is to protect the population from damaging ideas. It’s very possible that this notion carries over into today’s society.

The government has had a tradition of controlling beliefs because [Read more...]

Religious Freedom: Why Now? Defending an Embattled Human Right

A public event on March 1, 2012, hosted by Georgetown University's Berkely Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs launched the monograph Religious Freedom: Why Now? Defending an Embattled Human Right, authored by Timothy Shah under the auspices of the Witherspoon Institute’s Task Force on International Religious Freedom. At this event, Princeton political science Professor Robert George quoted extensively from Martin Luther King’s Letters from the Birmingham Jail to illustrate why religious freedom deserves legal protection. In the Birmingham letters, Reverend King argued persuasively that human laws can be judged unjust when they degrade basic human goods. Racial segregation, King argued, debases human dignity because it designates one group (Whites) as superior to another group (African-Americans); thus such laws are unjust.

Too often, we think that asserting “I want something” equals “I have a right to something.” But just as African-Americans had the right to civil equality because it upholds their human dignity, George explained that human rights exists only when if those rights leads to a human good.  To illustrate, there is no human right to take an innocent human life because being dead is bad. The human good is to be alive, so our laws protect human life.  To talk of human rights thus requires explaining the good those rights protects. [Read more...]

Burning of the Quran

by Amy Reynolds

On February 20th, burned copies of the Quran were discovered at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The U.S. military admitted that they were responsible for not disposing of the books properly. In the wake of the incident, President Obama sent a formal apology to President Karzai and the people of Afghanistan; General John Allen (commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan) phoned Karzai to express regret as well.

In our highly polarized political environment, several in America—largely political opponents of the president—have spoken out, saying that the apology was too much.  It has been suggested that the apology makes America weak, that there was nothing worth apologizing for, and that apology came from too high an authority. Some have accused the president of merely pandering to extremists.  In the aftermath of the event, at least 40 people have been killed (including 4 U.S. soldiers), and hundreds have been wounded.  Just yesterday, March 5, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the base in Afghanistan.  Protest has erupted throughout many cities in the nation. [Read more...]

Red Sex

(This is an excerpt from my 2011 book Premarital Sex in America…)

Martin was a 19-year-old from Virginia when our research team spoke with him for the second time. He had tried college but had dropped out after a year. It just wasn’t for him. Instead, he settled comfortably back into his working-class roots, becoming an electrician. By ignoring the popular narrative that said he needed a college education to successfully navigate life, Martin had found his niche. And a girlfriend. Not terribly religious and yet very culturally conservative, Martin is one face of “red” America.

Although sexually experienced with a previous girlfriend, Martin wasn’t having sex at age 19 because he was dating Bethany, the 15-year-old daughter of a police officer. Indeed, sex with her would’ve been against the law, and he was well aware of that. But the two were hardly unsexual. Martin said they did “everything but,” a common revelation. A vocal opponent of homosexual behavior, Martin is more conservative about others’ sexual decisions than his own. Although he believes the Bible says that sex before marriage is wrong, he adds, “A lot of it, I think, has to do with society to a certain extent.” While it’s not exactly clear what he means by that, we suspect it’s a way of claiming that sex is normal relationship behavior today, regardless of what might have been acceptable in the past. Like many conservatives, he offers a nod to the standard while excusing his diversion from it: “I’ll tell you, I believe in it. But I’m not perfect. . . . I mean nobody is. But I’ll be the first person to tell you I’m not.”

While premarital sex has largely dropped off the map of salient issues among many conservatives, marriage has not [Read more...]

How Best to Help the World’s Poor?

What is the most cost-effective means of helping the World’s poor? Economist Bruce Wydick surveyed a group of developmental economists about 10 popular strategies. Of the ten, the economists deemed donating farm animals, drinking fair trade coffee, and giving poor kids laptop computers as the least effective interventions.

What was most effective? Programs that provide clean water to rural villages, and programs that provide medicine for deworming people. He cites a study that found that “regular de-worming treatment in worm-infested areas of the developing world can reduce school absenteeism by 25 percent at a cost of only 50 cents per year per child.”  Wow!

Read more in the February issue of Christianity Today.


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