Q: What Have Communism, Superstition & Legalism Got in Common?

A: they all bind you through fear.

Pensées on Seeing the Effect of these Three Influences in Hong Kong

In the sense that Communism, Superstition and Legalism bind people through fear, they are all religious. Because of this they are also in a curious way attractive, at least to certain types of people, but maybe to all of us, just in varying degrees.

Many people like to be told what to do. They like not having the responsibility to think through things for themselves. I think this is a fundamental and perhaps universal human flaw.

Fear and faith also have a lot in common; in both cases you believe that what you cannot yet see will happen to you. The difference is that fear is not based on trust. In fact in many ways fear could be said to be the opposite of trust.

The word religion comes from a Latin root which means to bind. Under communism, superstition and legalism, human beings find themselves bound to act in certain ways, not in the end because they trust those who have dictated things to be so, but because they fear the consequences of resisting and not doing what they are told to do.

The kind of questions they are faced with are: What will they do to me if they find out? What will my fate be in their hands? What will others think?

Fear is not based on reason. In fact fear undermines reason to the extent that people who allow fear to dominate their lives eventually stop thinking reasonably for themselves.

Faith, especially the Christian faith, invites reason, encourages reason, is a healthy environment for reason to flourish. Faith is based on trust, and where there is trust there is progress. You can talk openly, you can even disagree. You confess that you are on a journey together and that you do not know all things but have much to learn.

A few Christians might subscribe to communism (but I don’t know any personally!) Some Christians are strangely superstitious in their behaviour. But there are many more Christians who remain sadly bound by legalism as if it were the acceptable face of being a Jesus follower. As if you blend in better with the religious world by so doing. The deeper sadness is that most do not even realise it, thinking instead that this is as good as it gets in the Christian life.

As we meandered around the Hong Kong and learned more of the diverse cultural history of the city and its environs it made me think about the legacy of these influences today. Eastern Mysticism in its plethora of manifestations, from Buddhism to Taoism/Daoism (neither of which incidentally is especially theistic) has held people in superstitious bondage to a greater or lesser degree for years; rooted in animism and with so often the common thread of reincarnation these –isms, religions and philosophies still focus on a human being’s individual moral obligation to do right things and abstain from wrong things in life in order not to be punished in the future. Thus this fear is a major motivation and the onus is totally on the individual’s responsibility to earn the right to a better life. Communism more recently has built on this culture of fear and perhaps even in its less vicious modern incarnation mixed now with the demiurge of materialism is still overshadowing Hong Kong’s future with its claws of control; in this case Big Brother is certainly watching, not only next-door but now lurking in the corridors of power waiting for an opportunity to inflict its crushing fear. It was indeed Mao Zedong who professed “Communism is not love. Communism is a hammer which we use to crush the enemy.” The fearful question is then ‘Who is the enemy?” and the supplementary one is “Have I become the enemy?”

Now the impact of Christianity sadly has also often done little to thwart, in fact sometimes it has added to, this oppressive weight of the culture of dos and don’ts, ask not and question not, tick all the boxes and feel proud; for this is the bewitching effect of legalistic Christianity, which can come in and immediately attract those who have grown accustomed to this lifestyle based on other fear-founded –isms.  The Apostle Paul goes so far as to call this “another gospel… no gospel at all” [Gal 1:6-7] It is surely not the Gospel, for it is not good news at all. And yet it has and still is masqueraded as the Gospel around the world by well-meaning ministers. It is not even new news, for it is based so much on the worldly concept of earning favour – do good = be accepted, do bad = be rejected. It just perhaps seems more holy when wrapped up in Christian paper.

The Gospel of Grace in the Lord Jesus Christ is the exact opposite. He gives rest to the heavy laden. We simply come to Him and ask. [Matt 7:7, 11:28; Luk 11:9, 13]

So it is basically this ungospel of legalism that Rob Rufus and others like him are vehemently seeking to see stamped out, and I for one am glad for it. We must pray for this glorious good news to go out far and wide, especially in a place like Hong Kong sitting, as it has for centuries, like a gateway into China and the East. But currently City Church International‘s impact on Hong Kong, and on locals, let alone on China, is, in reality, minuscule. It is out of proportion to the thousands of downloads of Rob’s sermons in the rest of the world via the web. So we must pray too for churches like The Vine whose impact in Hong Kong is growing rapidly and currently have, I believe, at least the nascent strategic apostolic and administrative gifting to reach out and sustain evangelism and church-planting within Hong Kong and into mainland China. In my humble opinion these two mixed together would be a lethal weapon against the kingdom of darkness, much like Wesley and Whitefield might have been if they’d been able to work together more often!

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7 responses to “Q: What Have Communism, Superstition & Legalism Got in Common?

  1. Walking around HK made you thing? Interesting …
    Does Nate know that you are writing about him?

  2. Ex-Christian

    I find it very amusing that you can talk about Christianity encouraging reason. I suppose it is true if you only reason about what you believe or read in the bible. However real reasoning requires facts which don’t come from our heads and an ancient set of manuscripts. Once you start to look at such facts Christianity falls apart.

    When I was a christian I tried to look at the facts and how they fitted in with my beliefs. They didn’t!

    As a simple example, I spent a year researching the issue of why we can see starlight from astronomical bodies which are more than 10000 light years away. Let’s face it, if the universe is only 10000 years old or so as the bible requires for a literal interpretation then we shouldn’t be able to see them.

    I’ve seen all kinds of explanations from christians including the speed of light varied, we are wrong (by a factor of about a million) in measuring the distances to the objects or god created the light in transit so we could see them and be in awe of him. In *EVERY* case the explanations are either disprovable from a knowledge of physics and maths (e.g. the changes in the speed of light required would have left obvious consequences – which we simply don’t see) or they require god to be a liar (why create light in transit showing a supernova event which never happened – indeed why create any objects which are billions of light years away?).

    All this led me to review the evidence for an old Earth, evolution, etc and to find that there is an absolutely colossal amount. And then it hit me. How could all of that fit with Jesus coming to redeem us from the sin of a man created 10000 years ago? It can’t!

    If the universe wasn’t created as it says in the bible with one couple who ‘fell’ then Jesus’ mission to redeem us was completely pointless.

    The choice for me is between an incompetent, vindictive, impotent liar of a god or one which is not existent. The choice was easy.

    Contrary to the bible, faith is not the evidence of things unseen rather it is a profound sounding way of trying to explain the complete lack of any evidence whatsoever. Side note: hysterical actions by hyped up people or occasional coincidences are not evidence for the christian god any more than they are evidence for any other deity or the flying spaghetti monster (praise his noodleness)

    Sorry but reason and christianity are totally incompatible.

    L

    • Dear L,

      Thanks for your open and frank response.

      Time and space prevent me from responding fully right now – and I’m not trying to worm out of doing so, atheist friends who know me well will vouch that there’s nothing I enjoy more than a good debate! But I understand what you are getting at.

      Certainly some Christians have acted and thought unreasonably and I believe misrepresented Christianity therefore. That is really what I am getting at when I speak about ‘legalism’. Such an attitude will cause people to become entrenched in defending positions which in the end are contrary to revelation.

      But in terms of creating an environment where steady, progressive reasonable debate can take place Christianity actually has a good track record, indeed much better than other philosophies or religions. Rodney Stark (who says of himself “I don’t know what I believe. I was brought up a Lutheran in Jamestown, North Dakota. I have trouble with faith… I would believe if I could”) in The Victory of Reason, and The Rise of Christianity, argues that it is because not despite of Christianity in the West that we have freedom of speech, scientific advances, democracy, reasoned debate etc.

      Those who insist of interpreting the Bible – 66 “books” – some parts of which are poetry, others historical chronicles, some letters, some apocalyptic prophecies, some songs, others legal documents… all the same are missing the rich wisdom and power of the texts. You don’t have to check your brain out at the door to appreciate the beauty of this; neither need you deny the inexplicable to accept what immediately does speak to your heart. Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said (admittedly ironically!) “It’s not the bits I don’t understand in the Bible that concern me, it’s the ones I do!” I think that cuts both ways!

      Don’t feel you need to remain anonymous – we won’t take offense!

      Thanks again,

      Jonathan

      • Ex-Christian

        Well, where to begin …?

        Are you by any chance American?

        It is interesting “Certainly some Christians have acted and thought unreasonably and I believe misrepresented Christianity”? Surely you know that there are literally thousands of denominations, sects and cults under the banner of Christianity. Why are you so sure that what you believe is the correct interpretation?

        Whether or not Mr Stark is right or not (and I believe not) it is utterly irrelevant to whether Christianity is true or not. I could not care less whether Christianity is slightly less barbaric in the long run than other philosophies or religions. It does not make it true.

        I am not quite sure where you are going with the statement “neither need you deny the inexplicable to accept what immediately does speak to your heart”. My point is that there is nothing inexplicable in the bible any more than there is anything inexplicable in Grimms’ Fairy Tales.

        I do agree that there are some very beautiful bits of the bible but there are also some incredibly dull, pointless and absolutely contradictory bits too. Are you trying to convince me that there must be a god because the bible is quite nice to read (in parts)?

        Leon (just to make you happy :0))

      • I’d still like to know your thoughts on why the universe looks old when it is not … and why we have natural disasters which kill many thousands of people when god is a loving god and why god ‘is not man that he should change his mind’ but then changes his mind and many other issues too.

  3. Paul Le Page

    “So it is basically this ungospel of legalism that Rob Rufus and others like him are vehemently seeking to see stamped out, and I for one am glad for it.”

    I totally agree….although I have noticed that some who seek to defeat legalism speak more about it than grace. Rather than teaching grace, instead they teach an “anti-legalism” doctrine that I consider unhelpful, as the danger is they become “religiously irreligious” and thus the very thing they despise.

    In the Freedom in Christ teaching, they use the analogy of bank cashiers. When banks train their staff to find counterfeit notes, they don’t show them fakes, they give them loads of original, authentic notes. The idea being that they become so well acquainted with the authentic, they quickly spot the counterfeit.

    In the same way, I think we should be spending more time teaching the truth and less time going on about various counterfeits, which after all is an endless task as they can come in all different shapes and sizes…even though when you scratch the surface, they’re often based on the same foundational lies.

    Grace is the answer, not antilegalism.

  4. Interesting discussion.

    I am no longer a christian, after decades of church attendance, and ‘spirit filled’ activity.

    I CANNOT reconcile god with the poverty/sickness and hate in this world. Why is evil cited as existing so that we can have ‘free choice’ when it comes to choosing to follow god or not?

    I’d gladly give up my ‘free choice’ if one child did not have to suffer abuse, so that I could choose to follow god or not.

    This is no justification.

    This is just the tip of the ‘why I am no longer a christian’ iceberg.

    S.

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