The Weirdest Place in the World to be an Atheist
If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool, Hitchens-quoting antitheist like myself, it might seem that the state-sponsored atheism of a country like China would be a welcome alternative to the overwhelming religiosity of the United States.
No Creationism in schools. No taxpayer funded churches. No ignorant charlatans dictating public policy. But this isn’t what Dr. Winston O’Boogie would’ve meant when he famously told us to “Imagine no religion.”
The parochial and popularized consensus that “China is the least religious country in the world” lies in stark contrast with the complexities that form the foundation of virtually every social issue within the rapidly changing, modern day Middle Kingdom, and the notion that 2013’s People’s Republic is in fact an “atheist nation” flies in the face of all the undeniable evidence to the contrary.
Contemporary scholars, journalists, and the outsiders who have lived here often refer to China as “A Land of Contradictions,” and when viewed through the lens of Western atheistic philosophy, perhaps no other title could be more appropriate. While the Chinese State Constitution explicitly allows for the “freedom of religious belief,” the ironfisted Communist Party has imposed its anti-religious policies through decades of censorship and oppression. Despite The Party’s best efforts to minimize the influence of religion amongst the world’s largest populous, according to the Chinese Spiritual Life Survey taken in 2007, as few as 15 percent of adults can actually be deemed “real atheists,” leaving over a billion Chinese citizens that hold some form of religious belief.
After living in China for more than five years, I am still consistently stunned by many of the odd superstitions that are commonly practiced by the Chinese people. Albeit, for the most part utterly mundane, beliefs like “wearing a mustache is bad luck” or “drinking carrot juice will help you fart out all your anger,” to the widely held belief in evil spirits, numerology, and qi, turn China into a paradoxical wonderland of irrationality for a Western atheist like myself. In the following installments, I aim to provide an overview of eight of the most common – and sometimes bizarre – beliefs that prove the notion of China as an “atheist nation” populated by anything resembling rational-minded nonbelievers to be unequivocally misguided.
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