Officially, there are five religions recognized by the government of China — Buddhism, Taoism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and Islam. However, China is a communist country that propagates a militant atheist ideology. The country makes for a good case study as to why communism and belief in the divine can’t actually coexist.
Christianity has been present in China ever since the Tang Dynasty (618 CE to 907 CE) period. However, it only started gaining a huge following in the Qing Dynasty period when a large number of European explorers and missionaries came to China. After the Communist Party came into power in 1949, Christianity was severely restrained along with other religions. Christianity was equated with Western imperialism and shunned.
At present, there are an estimated 100 million Christians in China, most of whom have to register themselves with the state-sanctioned Church organizations. For protestants, it is the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, while for Catholics, it is the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Christians who are not part of any of these two churches are considered dangerous. The Chinese government sees them as a threat to their power. Such Christians are forced to pray in underground churches. Those who do show courage to preach publicly risk being caught, tortured, and brainwashed.
This is the same situation for other officially recognized religions too. Buddhists of Tibet have been almost eliminated, with many of them escaping to countries like India or the U.S. to stay true to their faith. Buddhist institutions that produce monks are required to adhere to communist teachings in order to be officially considered monks. Islamic communities like Uyghurs are forced into re-education camps and made to give up their beliefs.
In short, no matter which religion you belong to, as long as you are not part of the state-backed institution, you are considered a heretic. The intervention of state institutions as the sole authority of religion essentially means that people do not actually have any freedom to follow their religious calling. They can only follow what the Party-sanctioned institution has deemed as religion. And when it comes to religious beliefs not approved by the state, like Falun Gong, only misery awaits. Followers of Falun Gong have been hunted down and forced to abandon the practice for over 20 years.
Falun Gong or Falun Dafa adherents have been the most victimized in China’s drive for communist atheism. Numbering around 100 million when the practice was unlawfully banned in 1999, the practitioners have been forced out of schools, colleges, workplaces, and homes. Families have been torn apart, kids left without guardians and homeless. Spearheaded by Jiang Zemin, the practitioners have been subjected to horrible tortures against which numerous cases have been filed throughout the world. The worst of these is organ harvesting, where practitioners are murdered and mutilated for their organs.
Increasing the sinicization of religions is also a problem. The Chinese government is rewriting books of “foreign” religions like the Bible and the Quran. Once the rewriting process is done, only these books will likely be used as the official versions. This essentially means that the future generation of Chinese Christians and Muslims will only be educated about their faith in a completely distorted manner.
“Dismantling crosses and putting up national flags are the practices seen on the surface. In contrast, incorporating the “core socialist values” into the Bible is the most insidious trick that easily disturbs believers’ hearts. This is a distortion of the Christian faith. It is the work of the devil… The situation is becoming increasingly dire; the government is increasing pressure step by step. In the end, they want to eliminate religious belief completely,” a preacher said to Bitter Winter.
For people to freely practice what they believe in, society needs to have a government that does not view them as problematic. A government with an ideology like communism, which sees religion as some kind of evil or flaw in human beings, will only end up destroying the religions of that society and crushing the spiritual development of its people.