When to leave religion alone

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When to leave religion alone

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On Dec. 29, 2006, China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs passed a law saying all clergymen without certificates were prohibited from conducting religious activities. Since then, clerics in China have bowed to the rule, for fear of being driven out of the country if they didn’t get a certificate. The government check on clergymen has become stricter since then.

The second administrative measure on religion came from the Tibet Autonomous Region. At a meeting of the ninth Tibetan People’s Congress on Jan.10, the chairman of the People’s Government of Tibet said venues for religious activities should be registered and the government would “examine the qualifications of monks, who claim to be the embodiment of Buddha.” It meant Buddhist monasteries could be closed and clergymen thrown out at any time.

China’s supervision of religious activities as a national strategy was carried out in three stages. The first was nation building through revolution. The establishment of the government in 1949 till the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1977 belongs to this stage. Founding the nation, maintaining the government and revolution through class struggle were the focus. The second was nation-building through reform. It lasted till the end of former President Jiang Zemin’s term of office. The focus of this period was reform and open-door policy.

Now, the strategy is achieving national prosperity through harmony. The Chinese are not concerned about how to develop the country but about the purpose of development.

Hence, government supervision of religion becomes important. To build a harmonious society, China must block separatist movements that use religion for politics. Another reason is that some clergymen became corrupt as money overflowed from the market to religious institutions in the form of offerings or donations.

Finally, the third stage appeared. The director of the religious affairs administration said recently that the government will implement a law that stipulates the inspection and management of religious sites’ financial affairs. Authorities will watch religious organizations’ flow of money. All such organizations are required to have an accountant and report income and expenditures more than once a year.

The key is in the following clause. Article 3 stipulates that religious organizations’ funds should be used only for religious activities, promoting the public interest or charity. The purpose of this clause is to block money flow into separatist movements.

Whether GNP floor leader Ahn Sang-soo intervened in religious affairs has become a political football. The truth is still uncertain. In China, interference in religion at least forwarded a national strategy and quite a few people supported it. But if a religious leader is selected by a political party, it will be a laughingstock. I hope Korean politicians do not stoop that low.

*The writer is the chief of an investigative reporting team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Jin Se-keun
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