In atheist China, religion is winning

That’s one surprising and uplifting discovery in a new study on religious belief in China.

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One of the last great efforts at state-sponsored atheism is a failure.

And not just any kind of failure. China has enforced its anti-religion policy through decades of repression, coercion and persecution, but the lack of success is spectacular, according to a major new study.

No more than 15 percent of adults in the world’s most populous country are “real atheists.” 85 percent of the Chinese either hold some religious beliefs or practice some kind of religion, according to the Chinese Spiritual Life Survey.

Members of the Chinese Communist Party and Youth League are required to be atheists, yet 17 percent of them self-identified with a religion and 65 percent indicated they had engaged in religious practices in the last year, reported sociologist Fenggang Yang of Purdue University, a lead researcher in the project.

The notion of China as a secular nation with little or no religion is “silly,” said sociologist Rodney Stark of Baylor University, another principal investigator.

“It’s a pretty religious bunch of folks if you follow what they’re doing,” he said.

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