In general, secular oppression strengthens the Christian churches, a lesson the Chinese are already starting to learn, to their embarrassment. They admit to 80 million Christians in China, though the real number is probably about 120 million, or almost 10 percent of the country’s population. There are about 30 million people combined in the Protestant front organization and the Catholic Patriotic Association, the state-dominated Catholic “Church” that John Paul II and Benedict XVI have refused to acknowledge (causing the Vatican to continue, with commendable unconcern for diplomatic fashion, to recognize Taiwan as China). This official framework conforms exactly to Napoleon’s famous dictum that “of course, the people must have their religion and of course, the state must control it.” But as many as 90 million Chinese are in “house churches,” semi-secret Christian, mainly Roman Catholic, congregations that evade the overlordship of the Communist state and are growing rapidly.
In the 20th century, the number of Roman Catholics in Africa grew from 1.9 million to 130 million, an advance of over 6,700 percent (and most of the 1.9 million who started the century were French North Africans). In 1900, one-quarter of the world’s Roman Catholics were in the southern hemisphere. If present trends continue, the corresponding total will be three-quarters in 2050.
In the end, the effort to stamp out spirituality, exalt materialism, and reduce religious structures to mere appendages of discredited pagan and atheistic governments that commit the ancient Roman heresy of elevating the incumbent rulers to the status of presumptive deities is bound to fail. Man is not perfectible; men are not gods; and spiritual forces exist. Even horrible crises like the sexual-abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church are matters of defective and sinning personnel, not invalidations of the Ark of eternal truths, which is why Roman Catholic Church attendance and recruitment have not been much affected by it.
However great the suffering and oppression inflicted on Christians by Godless regimes, the effort won’t succeed. Where the problem is religions’ persecuting other religions, as in the mistreatment of other sects in Islamic countries, the more frequent outcome is the flight of the oppressed, as the Jews and most of the Middle Eastern Christians have shown.
This raises again the troubling indulgence of the persecution of Christianity by the West. It is an Achilles’ heel of Western tolerance that it causes the West to hesitate to complain of the conduct of communities regarded in the West as underdogs, even when they are oppressing Christians. Christianity is, after all, the beneficiary of 1,700 years of establishment and dominant market share and the author of no mean sequence of abuses itself, from the Crusades to the Inquisition to Victorian humbug.
That, unfortunately, is not a full explanation of this inattentive lassitude. The shameful truth is that most Western media are atheistic and consider Christianity fundamentally no better than the Muslims who attack and kill Christians and desecrate the moral and religious foundations of the West.
The diverting but insubstantial gadfly Christopher Hitchens was more widely mourned in the Western media than any Christian victim of the Muslims or Communists in recent memory. The atheism of most of the Western media and academia has made the West vulnerable to the outrageous allegations of the Muslims that the West is an anthill of infidels. And it has left our political leaders relatively indifferent to Islamic and Communist oppression of Christians, as their electorates are under-informed of these atrocities by the media and don’t require a robust official response to them. This encourages the Islamists and Communists to believe that they may continue to impress their followers and gratify their own ideological and intellectual inferiorities by beating up the local hostages of the brand leader with impunity.
The West must resolve to defend human rights whenever it is not wholly impractical to do so, at least with splendid tongue lashings such as the Holy See regularly administers in these matters (without, as Stalin remarked, the benefit of any military divisions to hand to enforce them). And, where possible, Western society and its governments must insist on adequate publicity of these atrocities and appropriate punishment of them.
More generally, we, the whole West, are going to have to come to grips, eventually, with the Enlightenment. A quest for knowledge is not a war with faith; spirituality is not usually an infelicitous amalgam of superstition and philistinism; and moral relativism, taken outside midfield, leads inexorably both to heresy and to secular wickedness, which are often identical. The failure to grasp this intellectual and philosophical nettle for 250 years rests heavily upon us today, and can only become more onerous.
— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, and, just released, A Matter of Principle. He can be reached at [email protected].