Tag Archives: religion

Abstinence Education and Christian Fundamentalism in China

I was disturbed last week to come across this story:

In Yunnan schools this year, teachers are being trained with a sex education curriculum created by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. The agreement with the Yunnan ministry of education is a milestone for Focus on the Family, which has struggled for four years to make inroads on abstinence in China.

It is also the result of a narrow confluence of interests: Evangelical Christian groups want an entree into China. And Chinese authorities, despite the country’s official atheism, want help with controlling population growth and managing the society’s rapidly shifting values.

You might think that sex education in China needs all the help it can get — and you’re almost right. This, however, is a firm step in the wrong direction.

First of all, there’s significant evidence that abstinence education doesn’t work. Kids who are taught abstinence are just as likely to have premarital sex as everyone else. And, of course, since they haven’t been taught about sexual health or how to properly use condoms and other forms of protection, when they do have sex, it’s more likely to end badly.

Moreover, Focus on the Family is a religious group, and their form of sex education is likely to also include some homophobia if their founder, James Dobson, is any indication. In Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide, he wrote:

“[The homosexual] agenda includes teaching pro-homosexual [sic] concepts in the public schools, redefining the family to represent “any circle of people who love each other,” approval of homosexual adoption, legitimizing same-sex marriage, and securing special rights for those who identify themselves as gay. Those ideas must be opposed, even though to do so is to expose oneself to the charge of being “homophobic.”

He has also suggested that gays and lesbians are intentionally trying to destroy marriage, and that same-sex families with children are unstable. He also opposes civil unions. And luckily for those studying the “science” that’s included in Focus on the Family’s sex ed curriculum, the group has also been charged with intentionally misrepresenting scientific data for its own purposes:

Judith Stacey, a sociologist at New York University, said her work was manipulated in an attempt to show gays and lesbians do not make good parents.

“This is a direct misrepresentation of the research,” she said.

(And here’s some more evidence of that.)

So why the hell is China letting these guys anywhere near their official sex ed curriculum? I have no idea, but it’s a terrible plan. Sex ed should be based in science — especially in an atheist country — and theirs is not, period. It’s based in an extremely narrow interpretation of a several-thousand-year-old book.

Li Yinhe, China’s foremost sexologist, agrees with me. In a recent blog post, she wrote:

In my point of view, this is a huge step backward. As the Chinese Minstry of Education and people in sex ed circles is pulling together and pushing forward an appropriate sex ed curricula, preparing to teach children about sex using scientific knowledge and promoting the correct attitude about sex, [Yunnan officials and Focus on the Family] are suddenly promoting an anti-sex, ascetic abstinence program. This will become a milestone for China’s step backward in terms of sexual values and sex education. It’s a huge victory for American sexual conservatives, and a huge loss for people everywhere who are open-minded about sex.

Amen. Not to mention that letting these guys in (and giving them official government acceptance, what were you thinking, Yunnan?) paves the way for other Christian fundamentalists, like this asshole and these bigger assholes.

Of course, people are free to do (and believe) whatever they want when it comes to sex. However, in China as everywhere, children should be taught about their bodies and their options based on the latest science, not based on the way some people interpret one book that’s meaningful for one particular religion. Especially given that probably 99% of the kids in Yunnan have never read the Bible and don’t know much about Christianity generally.

I know the government wants “help with controlling population growth and managing the society’s rapidly shifting values,” but abstinence-only education isn’t going to help with the population growth issue. In fact, it’s probably going to hurt (especially since Focus on the Family is pro-life). And I’m fairly sure this is not the direction the government wants China’s values “shifting” towards.

I do realize my opinion isn’t the only one out there, though ((It is, however, the correct one.)). What do you think about this?

(Also tangentially related: this post on OkCupid’s statistical analysis blog is fascinating for many reasons, but scroll down to the end to check out what they learned about the correlation between religion and writing ability. The short version is that they found religious people to be better writers when they were half-assed about their religious beliefs, and they found atheists who were very committed to their atheism to be better writers than fundamentalists from any religion. Agnostics are next. Protestant fundamentalists like our friends at Focus on the Family, sadly, rank dead last. Color me shocked.)

Implications of a Religious China

It’s funny how things turn out: after 60 years as an officially atheist country, it seems kind of hard to deny that religion is growing in China. That in and of itself doesn’t mean as much as one might think – after all, China has had religion for most of its history and the past decades have been the exception, not the rule. The return of religion to China is the return to normalcy.

What is interesting is the type of religion that’s returning to China – definitely not the garden-variety triple-religion of Confucianism-Daoism-Buddhism. Islam and Tibetan Buddhism are both growing quickly because Tibetans and many Muslim minorities are exempted from the One-Child Policy.

But this doesn’t represent any radical shift in those cultures, only a growth in their numbers (though as a side note, do read about Han Chinese converting to Tibetan Buddhism here). What’s interesting is that one of the fastest growing in religion in China is Christianity.

Christianity is a foreign import into China and – unlike Buddhism, another foreign-imported religion – its popularity is relatively recent. The official government count of Chinese Christians in 2005 – 16 million – is almost certainly low, since many Christians are thought to be unregistered with the official CCP-sanctioned church.

Instead many Chinese Christians practice in informal underground churches that meet secretly, called house churches. The total number of Christians in China was estimated to be in the area of 40 million in 2005. More dubious sources claim numbers as high as 100 million.

Religion and government have a long history of distrust in China, and religious movements are often tied to anti-government sentiment and even rebellion. But this time around the government seems to be taking a lesson from history and trying to accommodate religion, at least on some level.

The government has made overtones towards China’s growing religious believers, and Hu Jintao has stated “We must strive to closely unite religious figures and believers among the masses around the party and government.” It seems like in the face of such rapid growth the government has chosen the path of least resistance.

Though it’s true that house churches are often harassed (and often much worse) by the police, it seems unlikely that the government will be able to clampdown on Christians in the way it has clamped down on certain other religious activities in recent years that it perceives as threatening, not least of all because of the backlash it would receive from the international community.

What is down the road is a China that is – in very real ways – influenced by Christianity. Although today only 12% of religious believers in China are Christian, that number is growing quickly and it’s easy to imagine the stir that millions of newly-converted Chinese Christians will make in China.

This blogger thinks it’s inevitable that Christians in China will get involved in politics – that seems to happen everywhere, though it isn’t always clear whose side they end up taking. The government is acting it its own best interests and trying to make sure it can make an ally in Chinese Christians. It wouldn’t be surprising if in the next few years and decades, abuse and harassment against unregistered Christians drops off and more attempts are made to bring them into the establishment.

At least, that seems to be the best-case scenario. The last time the government had a confrontation with (quasi-) Christians was in the mid-1800s during the Taiping Rebellion. It was arguably the worst thing to happen to China during the 19th century with up to 30 million dead and 20 years of war.

Comparing Taiping rebels to modern Chinese Christians is a huge stretch, but it does illustrate the potential that religiously-motivated rebellion has in China, and none of this is intended to be fear-mongering. The point is that it is relieving to see that China’s current leaders are not letting this issue fester until it’s too late to made amends.

UPDATE: Fool’s Mountain posted an interesting piece that touches on the topic of a “Chinese” Christianity.