China Sees a Growing Interest in Religion

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BEIJING - Over the past few decades, China has experienced unprecedented economic growth. And more than 80 percent of citizens say they are happy with the direction their country is heading.

But Brian Grim of the Pew Forum says just because people are happy with China, doesn't mean they're happy with their personal lives.

"A whopping 96 percent thinks that the Olympics will be a success, but a much lower percentage are satisfied with their jobs and family life, etc. So within this context of high satisfaction with the country and low satisfaction with the daily life, we find that religious interest is very high in China today," Grim said.

Thirty years ago, the Chinese government forbid all religious activity. Today, freedom of religion is guaranteed in China's constitution, and millions of Chinese legally worship in state approved churches, temples, and mosques.

"I feel it's an honor to burn incense here and make good wishes, whether they'll come true or not," a local at the Lama Temple said.

"When I come here to worship, my troubles seem to disappear," said a worshipper at Haidian Church.

Even though the government approves of many religious activities, it forbids others.

The underground churches, and groups like Falun Gong are frequent government targets.

Bob Fu, president of the China Aid Association, says that these government restrictions have increased the spread of religion.

"It seems that the more persecutions, there are, the more believers," Fu said.

Despite this friction, Grim says that of all occupational groups, government leaders are actually among the most interested in religion.

"It's not that they're interested in becoming religious, but it does indicate that they realize that religion is a growing force in their country, and one that they have to come to terms with," Grim said.

And many leaders have recognized the influence and benefits of religion in China.

"A lot of things that can't be organized by the government can be organized by the NGOS and religious groups for the overall prosperity of China," Grim said.

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