Belaboring the Obvious

Friday, April 21, 2006

Bush, Hu Get Gonged...

... or something like that. If anything, the interruption of Hu's Rose Garden speech on Thursday by Wenyi Wang (left, being silenced by uniformed Secret Service), a member of Falun Gong, proved that business is thicker than religion. Bush later apologized to Hu for the sudden outburst of free expression.

What makes this all very complicated are American notions of religious freedom and free expression. The establishment clause of the First Amendment, along with IRS rulings exempting churches from taxation, has turned the U.S. into the world's largest open-air religious zoo. And the American way of life seems to drive people into the arms of religious groups of all stripes--mainstream churches, splinter groups, radical evangelicals, Wiccans and others, along with a thoroughly oddball assortment of both benign and dangerous cults, running the gamut from Aimee Semple McPherson's Foursquare Church operating from her Angelus Temple to Jim Jones' People's Temple Christian Church and Heaven's Gate.

All of which are tolerated in this country--sometimes just barely--until they are found to be destructive of public order, life or property--or are openly and brazenly extortive or fraudulent. This broad expanse of religion in all its extremes is more or less unique to the United States, and has been a part of the country's character at least since the Puritans drowned their first witch.

For that reason, it's difficult for Americans to see that what to them is within normal limits of tolerance is not in other countries. A certain church (which shall remain nameless because they love to sue for unauthorized use of their trademarked name) has official tax status as a religious organization in this country, but, is nevertheless not seen as a church in some other countries (particularly in Europe) and has been the subject of criminal investigations there, and is described as a cult in others.

Wherever Falun Gong fits into that spectrum, its troubles in China are a matter of concern to human rights organizations around the world. There have been reports (all of which have been denied by the Chinese government) of Falun Gong members being imprisoned, sometimes beaten, or sent to labor camps without trial.

On the other hand, some news stories have suggested that the organization does have some attributes of a cult. At its simplest, the belief is quite benign, with a meditative and movement routine similar to tai chi, but its leader, Li Hongzhi, implies that additional study and greater commitment lead to enlightenment of a peculiar sort. In a 2001 interview for TIME's Asia edition, Li said:

TIME: Why does chaos reign now?
Li: Of course there is not just one reason. The biggest cause of society's change today is that people no longer believe in orthodox religion. They go to church, but they no longer believe in God. They feel free to do anything. The second reason is that since the beginning of this century, aliens have begun to invade the human mind and its ideology and culture.

TIME: Where do they come from?
Li: The aliens come from other planets. The names that I use for these planets are different . Some are from dimensions that human beings have not yet discovered. The key is how they have corrupted mankind. Everyone knows that from the beginning until now, there has never been a development of culture like today. Although it has been several thousand years, it has never been like now.

The aliens have introduced modern machinery like computers and airplanes. They started by teaching mankind about modern science, so people believe more and more science, and spiritually, they are controlled. Everyone thinks that scientists invent on their own when in fact their inspiration is manipulated by the aliens. In terms of culture and spirit, they already control man. Mankind cannot live without science.

The ultimate purpose is to replace humans. If cloning human beings succeeds, the aliens can officially replace humans. Why does a corpse lie dead, even though it is the same as a living body? The difference is the soul, which is the life of the body. If people reproduce a human person, the gods in heaven will not give its body a human soul. The aliens will take that opportunity to replace the human soul and by doing so they will enter earth and become earthlings.

When such people grow up, they will help replace humans with aliens. They will produce more and more clones. There will no longer be humans reproduced by humans. They will act like humans, but they will introduce legislation to stop human reproduction.

TIME: Are you a human being?
Li: You can think of me as a human being.

TIME: Are you from earth?
Li: I don't wish to talk about myself at a higher level. People wouldn't understand it.

Benign meditation/exercise regimen, or a cult led by a kook who's seen "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" one too many times? Who knows? If there are pod people out there, as Li contends, it would certainly explain Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Pat Robertson. But, most of us would be rightly skeptical of Li's claims.

Li, at other times, has said that racial miscegenation is very wrong, and that heaven itself is segregated. In other interviews, Li "has also told Western reporters... that he is invested with supernatural powers allowing him to move through dimensions. He also criticizes rock 'n'roll, science and homosexuality."

Sometimes it's difficult to separate
the truly warped and dangerous from the benignly goofy or the culturally bigoted. China, without doubt, sees Falun Gong as dangerous. Right now, we do not. Even if it were ultimately dangerous to society at some point in the future, that presupposition would be no justification for the sorts of human rights abuses that Amnesty International, for example, has documented. Nor should Bush apologize, for the sake of business relations with China, for a Constitutionally-protected impassioned outburst by someone protesting those same human rights abuses. Explain, perhaps, but apologize, no.

The injury upon insult may be yet to come. The Associated Press reports that federal charges against Wenyi may be pending for "intimidating" a foreign leader under an obscure Ford-era law, even though that law has a clear exception for First Amendment expression.

The irony here, of course, is that Bush's State Dept. will continue to list China as one of the world's major human rights abusers, but may well prosecute someone for saying so publicly. The further hypocrisy is that the US never puts itself on that same list for its human rights abuses at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, in secret prisons across Eastern Europe and central Asia, and for its wars of opportunity, present and future.

© AP)


  • The "injury upon insult" has come... From my post:

    Today, we learn the protestor's name is Wang Wenyi, aged 47. She was officially arraigned in court on charges of seeking to "intimidate, coerce, frighten or harass Chinese President Hu Jintao, a foreign official in the performance of his duty." David Bos, Wang's court appointed lawyer, made a motion to dismiss the charge but this was rejected by Judge Deborah Robinson.

    (See this AFP article for more.)

    By Blogger Don Bangert, at 8:12 PM  

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