Religion a Threat to Authoritarianism

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As I am an avid reader, I decided to read Jennifer Zeng’s acclaimed memoir “Witnessing History: One Woman’s Fight for Freedom and Falun Gong.”

This book, published in 2005, is a well-known memoir of a member of the Falun Gong faith who was imprisoned in a Chinese labour re-education facility, tortured, and humiliated until she was “reformed.”

It is a story of perseverance, faith, persecution, and redemption, and it is a testament to the enduring power of faith, truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance.

But primarily, the book is a tangible reminder of the persecution of religion and conscience in many different parts of the world. Hence, Zeng’s book has been reviewed numerous times.

Zeng’s story examines why the Chinese authorities and other governments ruthlessly and violently persecute religious groups merely for practising their faith.

In the case of Falun Gong, this persecution included sleep deprivation, hard labour, indoctrination, executions, a horrible existence in a re-education camp, organ harvesting, and more.

However, the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners in China is not an isolated event of religious persecution in the world. For example, in China right now, the Muslim Uyghur minority of Xinjiang is experiencing much the same treatment.

Further, the Baha’i community has been persecuted for a long time in Iran and Yemen, where their members receive lengthy prison sentences.

More recently, Christian churches have been destroyed in Indonesia, sometimes even with the tacit support of the authorities. In Afghanistan, there have been reports of people executed because they had the Bible on their phones.

So, why do some countries viciously persecute religions?

The answer to this question is as unsettling as it is true. The governing regime is afraid that people would obey and take instructions from an authority they consider to be higher than the ruling party.

In China, the Communist Party effectively takes the place of God. It will brutally suppress any religion, philosophy, or ideology that is deemed to compete with the communist party for the hearts and minds of the people.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will do anything to retain power and stamp out opposition to its authoritarian rule, even a non-violent religious movement, because it is afraid of ideas that it cannot control or do not emanate from it.

Zeng’s book reminds its readers that religious freedoms are seriously threatened today.

Even in countries like Australia, where the common law system—rooted in religion, religious values, and traditions—is being eroded, dismantled, and in any event, seriously questioned and attacked.

Faiths often clash with waves of new legislation aimed at engineering society.

These laws affect people’s lives, from the cradle to the grave. These include, and relate to, how and when we are born, how marriage is defined, and even now extend to the way in which we die.

The treatment of Falun Gong, which the Chinese authorities have falsely claimed is “evil,” is a reminder that totalitarianism fears religion.

Totalitarian states will subscribe to Article 1 of The Humanist Manifesto II 1973—a text of the humanist movement—which states, “traditional … religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience do a disservice to the human species. Any account of nature should pass the tests of scientific evidence; … the dogmas and myths of traditional religions do not do so.”

The persecution of religions also violates international law. There are many international human rights documents that protect the right to exercise one’s religion in public and private freely. They are an attempt to codify natural rights.

Article 19 of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religious belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Emeritus Professor of Law Harrop A. Freeman argued in 1958 that religious belief and action could not be separated, saying, “great religion is not merely a matter of belief; it is action” and that one of the “most scathing rebukes in religion is reserved for hypocrites who believe but fail to so act.”

The persecution of religion is, using the language of the 1981 Declaration, “an affront to human dignity.”

It is incompatible with international human rights standards which protect religious belief and practice.

Religion should be protected in China and other authoritarian states and revalued in Western countries, including Australia.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Gabriël Moens


Professor Gabriël A. Moens AM is an emeritus professor of law at The University of Queensland, and served as pro vice-chancellor, dean, and professor of law at Murdoch University. He has published a novel about the origins of the COVID-19 disease, “A Twisted Choice,” and recently published a short story, “The Greedy Prospector,” in an Anthology of short stories, “The Outback” (Boolarong Press, 2021).

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