Opinion / Editorials

Cult challenge a wider issue

(China Daily) Updated: 2014-06-03 08:20

Almost a week on, the shock waves from the murder of an innocent female diner at a McDonald's restaurant in Zhaoyuan, Shandong province, by members of a banned doomsday cult are still being felt.

That the long-outlawed cult, the Church of Almighty God, a weird concoction that originated in the back-of-beyond, remains active and capable of doing harm; that the killing was carried out in the presence of multiple onlookers who failed to intervene; and especially that it occurred when police preparedness has reached a level unprecedented in recent memory are reasons why this tragedy has not been allowed to subside in our national consciousness.

There will undoubtedly be a harsh crackdown on the illicit cult. And, more likely than not, something like a periodical triumph might be announced soon. And a whole chapter might thus be turned over.

But although it took the form of an independent criminal offense in which a group of cult followers beat an innocent stranger to death because she refused to share her cellphone number, and a case will not be difficult to make against the perpetrators in the courtroom, this is not and should not be treated as an isolated criminal case.

There are tough questions we need to ask ourselves.

The persistent existence and rampancy of cult activities in this country reveals worrying failures in both education and administration. That cults like the Church of Almighty God, whose crude "theories" are nothing more than awkward blends of rural superstition and a madman's ravings, have so easily established themselves and expanded in rural China is a loud slap in the face for the education authorities and their proud indices of success.

Of course, this is not just a matter of literacy. Cults always take advantage of the sense of helplessness that society's underdogs feel. Careful analytical work needs to be done to find out what has driven people to embrace such cults instead of turning to the relevant authorities, who are supposed to be there for them through weal and woe.

The most frightening aspect of the Zhaoyuan tragedy, however, was the extent of the intolerance the cult members displayed. The ruthless treatment of a non-believer was horrifying and pathetic. But it is an extreme manifestation of the habitual intolerance to those who think and act differently that we so commonly see, in such venues of public discourse as the Internet.

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