American Religious Schools Are Brainwashing Chinese Exchange Students

December 22, 2011

Warning: if you are not a fan of my periodic anti-religion screeds, please change the channel now.

Strange, he seems so non-threatening.

Not only do I really dislike religion, organized and otherwise, but I find proselytization in particular to be despicable. I understand why religious people do it, of course. If I thought I knew the secret to everlasting salvation, it would be criminal of me to keep it to myself. Many of these folks are therefore just trying to spread the word and “save” their fellow human beings. I get that.

I’m also a strong supporter of religious freedom, although I do admit to a slight thrill now and then when I hear, for example, the CCP admonishing its membership to remain atheists. Heh.

But free speech and religious freedom have limits, and when it comes to kids, we as a society really need to be careful. I would definitely draw the line at allowing American religious schools to prey on desperate Chinese students in hopes of converting these impressionable youth and turning them into fellow members of the God Squad, ready to spread the message to heathen China.

If you think I’m over-stating the problem, please do go and read this Bloomberg article in its entirety. (I assume that the author of the piece, Daniel Golden, is a Jew. He must have received some very interesting email!)

My head almost exploded as I was reading Golden’s article, beginning with this passage:

As evangelical schools capitalize on the desire of affluent Chinese families for the prestige of an American education, many Chinese students are learning first-hand how the Bible Belt got its name.

While proselytizing is banned in China, Protestant — and, to a lesser extent, Catholic — high schools are doing their missionary work on this side of the Pacific Ocean. Through placement agents and religious networking, they’re recruiting growing numbers of students from China, most of them atheists, and encouraging them to convert, in the hope that some of them will spread the faith back home.

This would be disgusting in any form, but when you learn more about how this racket works, trust me, the gorge will rise in your throat.

Here’s the problem: these are kids. In most countries, there are limits on what kids are allowed to do. Things like drinking alcohol, or voting, or signing contracts. Why do we have those limits? Because we feel that children lack the mental capacity to do certain things, like understand the substance of a legal agreement.

And yet it’s somehow OK for these children, whom we admit are not yet fully developed mentally, to be brainwashed by Big Jesus. It’s bad enough when parents, churches and mass media get in on the action; it’s even worse when kids are assaulted 24/7 at these “educational” institutions. (The word does belong in quotes. Some of these places teach creationism, bigotry and other lessons that ill-prepare their young charges for the real world.)

Here’s what happened to one kid after being assaulted by propaganda at one school for months, including mandatory chapel, religious instruction, bible study, and being sent to a “Christian counselor.” This should not be allowed to happen:

The more she read the Bible, the more truth she discovered there. After praying for a month, she felt the Holy Spirit one night in March 2009.

“Before, what I believed, what Chinese people believe, is that people are innately good,” she said. “I realized that I was sinful. I was lying, not loving. Those are as bad as killing someone. There’s no difference between me and a murderer.”

She was baptized in April, 2009. Now a sophomore at Davidson College in North Carolina, Su proselytized vacationers this past summer on Myrtle Beach.

This young girl was a junior in high school when they told her she was no better than a murderer.

Here’s another one, a boy who hasn’t converted but has certainly been influenced by the propaganda:

After watching a creationist video in Bible class, he developed doubts about evolution. Now a senior, he prays with teammates before games, he said. He lives in a teammate’s home, and prays with the family for success on exams.

OK, many of you might be wondering why these kids, and their parents, decide to go to these schools in the first place. None of them should be surprised at the religious environment as these institutions are upfront about their affiliations.

Two answers to that. First, these kids and their parents are desperate:

Chang Su was unusually blunt. A Shenzhen native, whose father is a computer engineer and whose mother teaches kindergarten, she “didn’t want anything to do with a Christian school,” she said.

She opted for Ben Lippen after missing the application deadline for secular private schools. Meeting Edgren, she informed him that she was not Christian, she said.

She was “so antagonistic,” said Edgren. He thanked her for her honesty and told her she would have to go to church.

Reminds me of the necrophilic Christian sects in the U.S. who prey on the ill and elderly in hospitals. Both my parents were subject to their propaganda in their final days, despite their deteriorating mental conditions. When I went to visit my mother in the hospital earlier this year before she died, I had to remove from her room the various books, leaflets and cards that these ghouls left there for her to read in her final hours. The people responsible are lucky that they didn’t show up while I was present. (Yeah, you betcha I’m biased on this issue.)

In addition to desperation, a lot of these kids and their parents are misinformed. Just because a school’s English-only website has lots of Jesus information does not mean that the parents will be properly informed. Some of these people go through agents, who of course do not disclose the downside of these schools. Here’s what one education consultant had to say:

“Relying on recruiters who do not emphasize their schools’ religious focus, Chinese parents perceive these schools as ’safe’ and ‘family-oriented’ places where their children will get a typical American experience,” she said in an e-mail. “They have no idea how religion permeates the day to day environment. I would no more place a Chinese student in an evangelical Christian school than in an orthodox Jewish school.”

Even when parents are informed that these are religious schools, their wrong-headed expectations and prejudices often propel them to make poor decisions:

Zhang Shaoxuan, the father of another girl at the fair, would gladly send her to a Christian school, he said.

“Both religious school and private schools are fine, the public schools are what you don’t want to be in,” he said. “Because there will be all kinds of odd students there.”

I might be off-base here, but I’m assuming that “odd students” is code for black kids. (That’s a topic for another day. Suffice it to say that among folks in the PRC, there is a lot of casual, uninformed racism against Africans and African Americans.)

And don’t think the schools are innocent educators here. They know what they’re doing:

While some trustees were leery of bringing so many non- Catholics to St. Mary’s, they couldn’t pass up the chance to evangelize. One trustee said, according to Glowacki [headmaster], “We have blank slates coming that we have an opportunity to write upon.”

Or the head of another school:

“Some people sacrifice so much to spread the gospel,” said Park, a Presbyterian. “Now we have people at our doorstep, offering money. I always tell the schools, ‘God has a bigger plan than we see.’”

Charming. Sinclair Lewis couldn’t have written it any better.

The question remains what to do about all this. First, and this will never happen, the government here could simply bar minors from going to these schools and being subject to religious indoctrination. Richard Dawkins has gotten into some trouble talking about how religious education of minors is tantamount to child abuse. I won’t go that far, but putting a child into such an environment is morally reprehensible.

It will never happen because China encourages students to go abroad, and many of these schools have generous financial aid. Many of the students, I’m sure, take the free education and just pretend to listen to the Jesus talk for a year. Good for them. If the PRC restricted students from going to these schools, the U.S. government (which regularly fawns on Big Jesus) would have the foreign policy equivalent of an aneurysm.

Second, the Chinese government, perhaps through the Ministry of Education, should try to educate parents more about their options. That’s assuming, of course, that they have options. If a religious school is the only way for these kids to get their one year in the U.S., a lot of them will go anyway, even if it means putting up with Big Jesus for 12 months.

Third, there should be a lot more scrutiny of education agents, including tougher licensing requirements. I don’t know enough about this industry to get into detail, but the agencies that outright lie to their clients should at least be sanctioned. Guidelines on dealing with the subject of religious schools might not be such a bad idea either.

Fourth, it would be nice if the U.S. or state governments cared enough to get involved. No wait, my mistake, this involves religion, so if anything, the U.S. government will somehow make it easier for the charlatans and hucksters to get in on the action. As long as religion is involved, then the failings of the institution are almost always overlooked. As the late Christopher Hitchens eloquently put it, religion poisons everything.

I wonder what’s going to happen to that poor kid who now doubts evolution and, I would guess, believes creationism has merit? Forget about that engineering degree; you need to believe in science to do that kind of work. Perhaps he can devote his life to smuggling Bibles into China — the school would love it.

It’s hard to believe that in 2011, we still allow young, impressionable kids to be brainwashed like this.