Christianity is catching on in China like never before, and for reasons that would surprise the secular West: It's a great way to build a democracy.
For the past 25 years, Christianity has been realigning worldwide, shifting south toward Africa, Asia and Latin America, away from western Europe.
Relatively few Chinese are Christian, but with its enormous population of 1.3 billion, even a small percentage has a huge global repercussion. It already has the world's fourth-largest Christian population.
The China Daily, controlled by the Communist government, recently reported on its front page that 31.4 per cent of the country considers itself religious, astonishing in a dictatorship in which religion is strictly controlled and was banned outright only 40 years ago.
A poll done by professors at a Shanghai university indicated 300 million Chinese regard themselves as religious. Of these, about 40 million are Christian, far higher than the 2005 official estimate of 16 million.
But even those numbers may be low. Since a great many Chinese attend underground Christian churches, estimates usually range between 50 million and 100 million, with some as high as 130 million.[...]
Most significant is Christianity's spread among urban middle classes and intellectuals who believe the faith can contribute to China's economic and social modernization.
In 2002, a Chinese scholar told a delegation of Americans in Beijing that he and his colleagues had studied every aspect of western civilization to discover why it is so pre-eminent. The scholars looked at politics, economics and military power, but they finally came to one conclusion: "The heart of your culture is your religion, Christianity," the scholar said. "That is why the West has been so powerful. We don't have any doubt about that."
David Aikman, a former Time correspondent in Beijing and author of Jesus in Beijing, was in that delegation, and he still remembers the astonishment of the Americans, most of them Christian ministers. The last thing they had expected in Communist China was a socio-political assessment of Christianity, and a positive one at that.
No doubt the last thing they wanted either.
And that's not the worst of it. Perhaps we should send Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens over to have a word with these folks.