Post Secularists, Christianity, and China

by Scott W. Sunquist 

SunquistWhatever happened to secularism and the secular hypothesis? Chinese political scientists describe their contemporary ideologies as post-secularist. What this means, in part, is that Marxist and other ideologies of the 19th and 20th century that predicted or worked toward a purely secular society have been found wanting, and so newer forms of Marxism—with room for religious belief and practice—are being formed. Chinese political theorists also have a sense that things are not all going well in China. There is an urgent need to work together to help develop political and economic thought that will serve China better. Serving China better includes care for the environment and recognizing a place for religion in the public square.

 Various issues around the future of Chinese society and government were debated and discussed in Oxford, England, August 20-25. The gathering was the Sixth Annual Symposium on Chinese Theology. This particular symposium, a total gathering of 104 delegates, was made up of 46 Chinese scholars representing Christian, liberal, new left and new Confucian thinkers. Some of these scholars represented important Chinese universities as well as the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in Beijing. Debate at times was direct and (for the most part) very well informed. Most of these scholars knew each other by reputation and writings but this was a unique opportunity for them to discuss in a neutral location under the support of Christian institutions. The gathering was actually called together by Chinese Christians, and sponsored by the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies in collaboration with Wycliffe Hall (Oxford), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary.

 I believe the conference could very well become an important turning point for Chinese political and religious thought. The Chinese scholars were men and women of significance, including both Zhuo Xinping and Liu Peng of CASS. By the end of the conference, the Chinese delegation came up with a written and signed statement, “The Oxford Consensus” subtitled, “Some Consensus on China’s Current Situation and Future.” This is a public document (we have it posted in both English and Chinese on our website) that shows some important agreement among neo-Confucianists, New Left, Liberal and Christian scholars. The first of four points in the document sets the tone, expressing the shared concerns of the Chinese: “We hope that China will hold to a governing philosophy of ‘the people as fundamental,’ and that the idea that the consent of the people is the source of power, the sovereignty of the people is the foundation of the political system, and the benefit of the people is the aim of the country.” Do read the full statement here