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The relationship The People’s Republic of China’s to the Muslim Uighur people who live within its borders and are is best understood when it is viewed from more universal contexts.  The first of these would be the universal context of the political relationship between states and religion in general.  This allows for a classification of such relationships.    A second  context would have to be the relationship between religions and communist states such as the former Soviet Union, Communist China, Vietnam, Cuba and Cambodia.  This would naturally lead to an analysis of the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings of what could be called the “Marxist” view of religion where Marx is understood as a representative of the “philosophy of dialectics.  Finally, there is the most universal context from which we can regard the relationship between a communist state and religion, which is the relationship between faith and reason, or between a “metaphysical”  and “materialist” view of knowledge (epistemology).   

Moving from the universal to the specific, it could be said that religion is the standing negation of logical and scientific reasoning.  Whereas religion is grounded in faith, science is grounded in inquiry; whereas religion seeks the answers to universal human questions in another world, science seeks to answer those questions by investigating this world; whereas religion roots its “knowledge” in the words of The Creator expressed through chosen individuals, science and rational thought do not.    Accordingly the ‘sacred”  words are then recorded in “sacred books” thus rendering them fixed and given one and for all, true at all times and in all places.  Religion qua religion denies change and seeks to negate differences.  In order to make its “truth” eternal and universal each organized religion attempts to hold back change, eliminate differences between its dogma and those of other religions by destroying other beliefs, and deny science its fully validity.  This is true in the most general context: The Catholic Church today, having persecuted science and scientists so brutally in the past, now embraces it and its key ideas such as evolution.  On the other hand, the vast variety of Evangelical sects in America absolutely deny evolution. Still, the chief characteristic of religions is that their dogmas do not change, while the higher moral ground belongs to science which is more than willing to admit its errors and limits when new evidence proves them wrong.  It is willing to change.

When we look at the relationship between religion and the state, we find that here too, there has often been conflict.  This conflict, where it has existed, has been over which should have hold power over the  the people. The struggle between church and state was most prominent during the middle ages as the Catholic Church and the Pope vied with various monarchies and states for control over what might be called “the hearts and minds of the people.”  This struggle for power shaped the Western world, its institutions and its ideologies.  It is only after the Catholic Church lost its hold on the Western world, that the Age of Science and The Age of Reason brought light into the darkness in which the human mind had been kept for so long.  The newly born capitalism needed both science and reason to grow, and a new religion grounded in a “work ethic”.

As the world evolved and transformed, the relationship between the secular and religious realms of social existence became clearly delineated into different categories.  There were first those states in which there was no separation between religion and the state, so that they were one.  This is clearly the case in many modern Muslim countries.  It was in fact the final aim of ISIS, which wanted to destroy separate nation states, particularly those with secular leaders such as Assad, and replace them with states in which religious values and laws prevailed and all things secular were prohibited.  Second, were those states in which power over the people was shaped by both Church and State.  This was clearly the case in Northern Ireland, where, despite a secular government, the Roman Catholic Church held sway over the day to day lives of the people.  Finally, there is the United States which was founded on principle of a strict separation of church and state. However, this separation has been difficult to maintain, as segments of the Protestant faith, have struggled for greater control over government policies.   In times in which religion has become more ascendant, such as under the administrations of George W. Bush, the evangelical churches acquired great influence and were able to shape domestic policies since Bush was a believer.  It is unequivocal that they wanted a Bible based system of law and government.   But presidents change, and Evangelical efforts to acquire power, although not completely dissipated, are none the less, ineffectual now.

So, we have those states in which religion is the power of the state, and those in which the State is the power and all religions are allowed to exist, and then we have the Communist states in which all power is secular, and no religions are allowed to exist.  We must acknowledge, that if we are willing to accept and/or grant legitimacy to theocracies  in which one religion controls that people and no other religions are allowed to be practiced, as well as to those states which are ostensibly secular in that there is a clear separation between church and state – states in which all religions are allowed to exist, then we must also grant legitimacy and acceptance to those states which are purely secular, and allow only those “religions” which are not “religions” as much as ways of life that make people strong, fit and centered (Buddhism and Taoism) to exist.  The People’s Republic of China, like the Soviet Union before it, has every right to prohibit religion.  To be sure, no human being should be hurt in any way for any reason.  Yet, the fact of the matter is that China is perfectly within its rights to attempt to “reeducate” these people, and that within the context of its laws and its ideology, it is perfectly legitimate that it do so.

I might add as an aside, that the “atheism” that inheres in Communist theory and practice, comes from the Marxist rejection of portions of Hegel’s thought.  Hegel’s intended for his philosophy to be a new and revolutionary kind of religion: a religion unlike any other.  His creator was not so paltry as to have created the world in seven days and then rested for the rest of eternity.  For Hegel, creation was an ongoing, evolutionary process which would end at some distant time in the future, in which the creator would have fully created and realized himself as such, and in which human beings, created in his image and partners in the process of creation, would realize their god like natures as free, rational and creative beings.  At base, all Marx did was to chip away the Creator from this evolutionary process of Creation, giving primacy to man’s natural evolution, and establishing Communism as that time in which humanity would realize itself as free, creative, and rational.  The elimination of a Creator meant the elimination of religion, and so it is that Communists have never allowed religion.  Doing so would rob humanity of the ability to perceive clearly their own grandeur as self-creators.

Mary Metzger is a 72 year old retired teacher who has lived in Moscow for the past ten years. She studied Women’s Studies under Barbara Eherenreich and Deidre English at S.U.N.Y. Old Westerbury. She did her graduate work at New York University under Bertell Ollman where she studied Marx, Hegel and the Dialectic. She went on to teach at Kean University, Rutgers University, N.Y.U., and most recenly, at The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology where she taught the Philosophy of Science. Her particular area of interest is the dialectic of nature, and she is currently working on a history of the dialectic. She is the mother of three, the gradmother of five, and the great grandmother of 2.

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