If you’re in China and in need of a “baby-food bible,” or a “bible” on autoimmune disease, no problem. If you’re in need of God’s word … tough luck. China escalated its war on Christians by removing access to bibles in online stores, CNN reports today, as China’s leaders try claiming that they respect religious belief — as long as it comes under state control:

The Bible appears to have been removed from online marketplaces in China, as Beijing clamps down on how its citizens practice religion.

China has always controlled sales of the Bible, only allowing it to be distributed and printed by state-sanctioned churches, but in recent years it had been available to buy online.

That loophole now appears to be firmly closed. Searches for “Holy Bible” did not return results on JD.com, and results on Amazon.cn did not include the main text, but did include study guides and the Koran.

This move comes at a very awkward moment for the Vatican, which had been working on a rapprochement with Beijing on operations within China. Despite efforts to find concessions on both sides, China hardened its position earlier this week. Having the state select religious leaders doesn’t interfere at all with religious beliefs, including Catholicism, the chief of religious affairs declared:

Restricting the Vatican’s control over the appointment of bishops in China does not infringe on believers’ religious freedom, a Chinese official said Tuesday, amid historic negotiations between Beijing and the Holy See aimed at healing divisions.

Chen Zongrong, an official overseeing religious affairs, said Beijing would not allow “foreign forces” to govern the country’s faith groups.

“The Chinese constitution clearly states that China’s religious groups and religious affairs cannot be controlled by foreign forces, and (the foreign forces) should not interfere in Chinese religious affairs in any way.”

“I disagree with the view that preventing Rome from having full control over the selection of bishops hinders religious freedom,” Chen said.

Chen wasn’t just waxing philosophical, either. Beijing issued a policy paper that  demands that the Catholic Church and other religions adapt their doctrine to support the sovereignty of the state, and the Communist Party:

Speaking at a State Council briefing, the former vice administrator for the recently dissolved State Administration for Religious Affairs emphasized a need for faiths in China to “adapt to socialist society” and “develop religions in the Chinese context.”

“Actively guiding religions in adapting to the socialist society means guiding religious believers to … be subordinate to and serve the overall interests of the nation and the Chinese people,” said a white paper released Tuesday.

“It also means guiding religious groups to support the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the socialist system,” the document said.

Chen added another thought in support of this argument:

“I believe there is no religion in human society that transcends nations.”

Any religion that doesn’t transcend nations isn’t a religion at all. It’s a political club. Or worse yet — and in this case, all too true — the kind of oppression where all thought must be either approved or punished by the state.

Basically, China wants its subjects to worship something, but they insist on it being socialism and the leadership caste. That would explain why Beijing has begun its crackdown on access to Bibles. The scriptures tell the stories of man-made kingdoms that worshiped themselves more than God, and what happened to them when they refused to mend their ways. That lesson is inescapable in the Bible, which is what makes it subversive enough for totalitarians to ban.

This puts a great deal of pressure on the Vatican. Do they continue negotiations with China and attempt to alleviate some suffering by Christians in the underground church on terms that are almost explicitly antithetical to the faith? Or do they walk away and continue testifying to the cruel nature of a regime that cannot abide even a hint that the State is not the end-all, be-all of human existence? And, for that matter, will we hear from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom on this new crackdown in China?