Remember Nero, the lunatic emperor who wanted to mount a massive urban renewal project in Rome, so he lit fires that got out of control and left much of the city in charred embers?
Since responsibility for such a horrendous act would not have been good for Caesar’s image, what did Nero do? He blamed the tragedy on an obscure sect most Romans tended to view as religious fanatics, who were known as Christians.
Thanks to Nero, then, lots of Christians — men, women, and children — were crucified, their bodies set aflame to provide nighttime illumination, and the seeds of countless major persecutions that would bloody multiple centuries to follow were planted in the Roman Empire.
Now it’s in China that we see tyrannical leaders blaming somebody else for their own failures as COVID-19 spreads rapidly in a province near Beijing, according to reports published by LifeSite.
Posts on social media platforms MeWe and Weibo began spreading accusations against Catholics for causing the recent cases. The rumors also claimed that a number of European and American priests came to participate in the religious ceremonies without taking any preventative measures, bringing the virus with them.
The accusations, circulating widely since January 6-7, further mentioned that “20 days ago the village of Xiao Guozhuang organized a religious activity and there were several priests from Europe and the United States together.”
Another article pointed to the village of Xiao Guozhuang, accusing it of being a Catholic stronghold, of holding regular ‘mysterious activities,’ and thus responsible for spreading infections.
LifeSite’s Michael Haynes reports that the 22 million inhabitants of China’s Hebei Province have been placed on severe lockdown, with everybody ordered to remain in their homes, thanks to “a recent uptick in positive cases.”
Not surprisingly, there appears to be no credible evidence that any group of Christians in Hebei Province were responsible for the increase in positive COVID cases, but that didn’t stop one of the top officials in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from linking the two.
The accusations “were supported by Sun Chunlan, China’s second Vice Premier who visited Hebei on January 15-18 and blamed religious gatherings for the new infections,” Haynes reported. “Despite admitting that the source of the recent outbreak had not been identified, Chunlan stated, ‘It is necessary to learn lessons from the spread of the epidemic caused by religious activities and suspend group activities in religious places of worship and other gathering places.'”
The focus in the Hebei Province is on Catholics, but the attempt to link the rise in COVID cases with “religious gatherings” is part and parcel of the CCP’s increasing persecution of all things Christian in the world’s most populous nation.
As The Guardian’s Lily Kuo reported in January 2019, all Christians are suspect to the CCP because Christianity is associated with Western culture, as seen in the arrest and jailing of a prominent Chinese pastor of the Early Rain Church in Chengdu:
Early Rain is the latest victim of what Chinese Christians and rights activists say is the worst crackdown on religion since the country’s Cultural Revolution, when Mao Zedong’s government vowed to eradicate religion.
Researchers say the current drive, fueled by government unease over the growing number of Christians and their potential links to the west, is aimed not so much at destroying Christianity but bringing it to heel.
“The government has orchestrated a campaign to ‘sinicise’ Christianity, to turn Christianity into a fully domesticated religion that would do the bidding of the party,” said Lian Xi, a professor at Duke University in North Carolina, who focuses on Christianity in modern China.
Since 2019, the campaign against Christianity in China has expanded to include banning foreign missionaries, forcibly removing congregations from their facilities, which are then turned into secular spaces, and even rewriting the New Testament so that Jesus murdered the woman caught in adultery rather than forgiving her.
And for those who worry about the censorious powers of Big Tech in the U.S., one of the key tools the CCP uses in its campaign against Christians is the digital Social Credit System that tracks every individual and keeps account of his or her whereabouts and actions.
As HillFaith reported a year ago, quoting Open Doors CEO David Curry:
“Imagine a system where citizens are given 2,000 points and every time you do something the government disagrees with, you are marked down for it,” Curry said.
“Eventually, your travel is restricted, your children won’t get into the best schools. You lose points for taking your children to Sunday School. That is what the experience is like for many Christians in China,” he said, according to the Christian Post.
Curry saw the Chinese system up close during a recent visit there.
“I saw with my own eyes the surveillance on the street but also in the churches, watching their congregation,” he said. “Facial scans when you come in and then tracking you and generating reports [with] assumptions built into their artificial intelligence system that is tracking Christian behavior.”
Regular church-goers will be labeled as “radicals” under the system, he said. But that could just as easily be regular attenders of Sierra Club activities, or participants of a local Tea Party chapter, subscribers to a left-wing publication like The Nation, or signers of the Newsom recall petition in California or …
The list of potential offenders is endless. It doesn’t have to be that way in America.
Mark Tapscott is an award-winning investigative journalist who covers Congress for The Epoch Times, and who is founder and editor of HillFaith, an apologetics ministry sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with congressional aides.