Is Christianity a Religion?

The question, "Is Christianity a Religion?" may seem absurd. But it is the right question to ask when trying to understand Chinese Religion. The two videos below are excellent quick introductions to the problem of understanding Religion in China. I have been trying to tackle a more difficult problem which is how to get people to understand how Chinese martial arts were an intrinsic and inseparable part of Chinese Religion before the Boxer Rebellion. In fact, the modern attempts to separate, secularize, and de-spirit Chinese martial arts have failed in many ways. This is important because what we are calling Chinese martial arts today is like an antique chair that is missing a leg. People say, no, the arts have always been like this, you just have to have really good balance to use them. And I'm like no, that chair is missing a leg. [If you like this analogy you will love my book, Possible Origins.]

When Christians, especially Protestant groups like the YMCA, came to China they were like, "Hey, Chinese people don't have a religion, they don't believe in anything, and they don't belong to anything that looks like a Church congregation; but boy are they superstitious...about everything." The funny thing is that if we use a Chinese definition of religion, Christianity doesn't look like a religion either. It only has one text (the Bible). The readers of that text have no way to verify it (belief only), no way to change it or update it (no channeling, no prophets), no way to write a new text (no direct talking with god), no way to talk to the original authors (no spirit writing), and no way to improvise the stories in the text on the stage (blasphemy). Christianity claimed to be completely separate from the state, whereas the Chinese definition of religious ritual is an act of establishing or rectifying order, which can only be understood in relationship to some kind of governance. The Chinese definition of religion is an experience of the multiplicity and multidimensionality of the body and the actions of the the body. Christians had nothing like that. But as Chinese started to convert to Christianity, a purified form of martial arts practiced at the YMCA or modern state versions of it like the Guoshu institutes made perfect sense! It solved the body problem and the state problem at the same time. [This is a prelude to the "theory section" of my next book...hopefully finished by August!]

In this video Professor John Lagerwey examines the boundary between the state and religion in China. Importantly, he identifies the problems that arise when attempting to understand Chinese religiosity through a Western religious framework, rather than through a Chinese cultural one. His book China a Religious State is awesome.


The video below is a panel, but David Palmers is the only one worth listening to here, so you can skip around the others. The question by the Chinese woman at 1:04:00 is shocking because it shows how complete the YMCA indoctrination still is. She actually believes there is no religion in China.

The Religious Question in Modern China highlights parallels and contrasts between historical events, political regimes, and cultural movements in China in order to explore how religion has challenged and responded to secular Chinese modernity, from 1898 to the present.