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May 18th, 2016:

Regardless of whether I agree with the message,…

…I can’t help wondering what the public outcry would be like in my home town in America, if a police car was parked on a corner, broadcasting that a religious practice is a scam, and encouraging people not to be taken in.

Because that is what this car is doing. The message is that face reading, fortune telling and numerology is a scam. This is on the street next to one of the largest temples in Beijing. And this is a police vehicle, meaning that the message is being delivered at the behest of the government.

As someone who has a complicated relationship with religion, I have mixed feelings about the government broadcasting anti-religion messages. On the one hand, I tend to agree with the message. That the government is telling people not to be swindled out of money seems like a good public service. On the other hand, it seems like this action on the part of the government is pretty obnoxious. If someone wants to be religious, and gets emotional satisfaction from religious expression, it’s not nice to get in their face and tell them that they’re being played for a fool.

Maybe I’m overreacting. The actual practices that the bullhorn is calling out are probably manipulative and deceitful. The claim that you can change your lot in life by changing your name seems unsupportable. So maybe an “emperor has no clothes” message is a public service.

By the same token, you could make  similar accusations about the cosmetics and fashion industries. And the government doesn’t broadcast that makeup and fancy clothes are a scam. It seems to me that the Chinese government has chosen to target religion and ignore other activities that could be labeled “scams.”