‘Almighty God’ has worked largely underground since the government decided it was a cult. Its followers are concentrated mainly in Henan province, which is a poor region. People have little education, so it is little surprise that they would have a difficult time differentiating a cult from other religious groups. And it is also little surprise that the authorities would feel threatened by a group that compares the Communist Party to a dragon to be slain. They clearly want to subvert the ruling party.
This seems like Falun Gong
all over again. [Authorities have repeatedly cracked down
on followers of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that mixes Buddhism, mysticism and exercise.] In both cases, the authorities first used media propaganda to discredit the religious group. In the case of ‘Almighty God’, state media quoted an expert
saying that that the man who stabbed schoolchildren last week
may have been inspired by the group, even though there was no evidence. Then, the authorities follow up with widespread arrests.
The banner reads: "God really will come down to earth to save people from the apocalypse". This photo was taken during a demonstration on December 10, in Weishi in Henan province.
“It serves little purpose to arrest rumour mongers once the rumour has already spread”
The authorities feel threatened by growing sects like these because China has a long history of revolts inspired by religion. In the 19th century, the rebel Hong Xiuquan
claimed he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ, and founded the group “Taiping Heavenly Kingdom” to revolt against Qing Dynasty. And during the Cultural Revolution, nearly all religious practices were eliminated. After the revolution, when worship was once again allowed, religions boomed.
Today, Chinese have partial religious freedom – we can worship in official churches, mosques and temples, where the clergymen are appointed by the authorities. Other religious organisations, however, are in a legal grey area. The government does not accept their legal existence, but leaves most of them alone.
I think the Chinese government should change its policy and legally register religious organisations. Since these organisations are not official, they work in semi-secret. This lack of transparency could potentially lead to their radicalisation and turn some of them into cults like ‘Almighty God’. If religion is out in the public eye, radicalism is much less likely to develop. Furthermore, I believe it serves little purpose to arrest rumour mongers once the rumour has already spread.