Religion & Beliefs

The Draw of Faith: Christians in China and Black Jews in America

The recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life told us what we already knew: America is becoming more and more religious. The draw of a spiritual life is growing in all sectors, and apparently all over … Read More

By / June 27, 2008

The recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life told us what we already knew: America is becoming more and more religious. The draw of a spiritual life is growing in all sectors, and apparently all over the world—even in the officially atheist China. (I guess this is another case of "atheists" who believe in God). The Chicago Tribune has a fascinating article on the rise of Christianity in China, that mentions some of the reasons that people are coming to church: 

Many of the church's new adherents profess a common belief that 30 years of ungoverned capitalism, amid the fading of communist ideology, has opened a yawning spiritual gap. A public debate in China over ethics in business has bloomed in recent years from an unlikely source: the same unsafe products that have bedeviled U.S. consumers. In the most infamous case, 13 Chinese babies died and 200 were sickened in 2004 when a manufacturer skimped on the ingredients in infant milk. The case became a symbol of an economy so out of control that people could no longer trust their countrymen to adhere to the most basic ethical standards.

Later in the article, a Chinese professor is quoted saying that he thinks Christianity may be what helps Communism to survive in China. And in the States, though evangelical Christianity continues to attract hordes of worshippers to mega-churches every week, the quest for spirituality leads in all directions. The Atlanta Journal Constitution covers the trend of black Americans converting into Judaism. Many of these converts feel they are “coming home”: 

That's how Sivan Ariel sees her experience. Born to a Catholic family in the Virgin Islands, Ariel now believes her biracial grandmother practiced Jewish customs she learned from her mother. "She would always talk about the laws of God" and the Exodus story, Ariel said. Her grandmother would light white candles, which now remind Ariel of those lit on the Sabbath. "She was the only person I knew that actually did that, so I wondered if it was actually witchcraft," Ariel said with a chuckle. Ariel left Catholicism when she moved to Atlanta for college and joined a Pentecostal church for a while. But she never felt comfortable there, and she began a spiritual search that led her to convert to Judaism. … Ariel, referring to her experience and those of other black Jews, said, "Some of us know beyond a shadow of a doubt we're here because we're home." Rabbi Norry called this an "unprecedented time" of interest in Judaism. "Business is booming," he said. "On any given Shabbos, there's 10 non-Jews at our service, visiting or studying to be Jewish." Still, he asks every convert: "Why would you ever want to be Jewish? Don't you know how many people hate us?" The black converts respond differently, he said. They look at him as if to say: "Welcome to my world."

People seek religion for a variety of diverse reasons.  How the spread of Christianity might influence the nation of China, and how the growing number of black Jews might ultimately influence Judaism remains to be seen.