In President Obama’s meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao this week, should discussion of human rights and religious freedom be on par with economic and environmental issues, or should human rights and religious freedom be secondary matters?
I am concerned about the future of religious freedom in China. Not only because I think Tibet was done a great injustice, one that should be corrected, but because I care deeply about the millions of polytheists and pantheists who call that land home. Taoists, followers of various indigenous and imported folk religions, and syncretic mixes of all of the above lay claim to the hearts and minds of tens, possibly hundreds, of millions. Currently, China’s government sees the social value of encouraging (well-regulated) official manifestations of these faiths, but a new regressive turn isn’t impossible. Should Taoism, or various folk practices, be seen as an impediment to social and political order, their future could be imperiled. We can’t gloss that over with a down-played “concern,” quickly moving on to something else, human rights and religious freedom should be at the top of the diplomatic agenda for a country that says it values those freedoms above all else.