Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Confucianism And Christianity

There are a number of similarities between Christianity and Confucianism, the tradition that has greatly influenced Korea since ancient times and continues to do so. A seminary professor, whose discussion of these similarities was picked up in a recent issue of the Peace Weekly, focused on three areas to compare: morality, the historical perspective, and human nature, as understood by more recent Confucian interpreters.

What is our goal as humans? Confucianism asks. To be the person we were meant to be. And, more important,  to know who we are. We have been given the  possibility of living virtuously and are meant to realize what we have been given. Many Confucian scholars have considered this the way to become saints.  One of the scholars tells us the reasons we don't achieve this goal is our lack of intention and knowledge. Achieving our goal is only possible, he says, if we have a clear idea of what the goal is.
Another reason  is the lack of effort and sincerity.
St, Paul, to the Philippians, said: "I have come to rate all as loss in the light of the surpassing knowledge of my Lord Jesus Christ."
The attitude of being merciful to others is strong in both traditions. Confucianism has the negative expression of the Golden Rule: Not to do to others what you don't want  them to do to you. Also, that we must begin with ourselves and our families before society can change.

In Confucianism the idea of the after-life and the soul is missing. How could they so passionately work on disciplining themselves and practice the virtues? the professor wonders, if there is no belief in an after-life. Because of their view of history, he says. For the Confucian, humans did not just come from nowhere but broadly from heaven or narrowly from the ancestors. One's personal life was not managed arbitrarily but was connected: What has been received from the ancestors needs to be managed well and passed on. This is the reason, he says, for Confucian filial piety and loyalty to the king.
The article goes on to some thoughts of recent interpreters of Confucius. He selects one telling phrase: The heart has two concerns, one for the individual and one for the community. To have harmony between these two seemingly conflicting inclinations will require a great deal of discipline, with the ultimate goal of matching the interior with the exterior, words with actions, knowledge and practice.
Mencius describes two ways of combining knowledge and practice in his advice on studying well: one way is with our whole being, which requires training to go into the deep recesses of our minds. The second way, also requiring training, is to concentrate our minds on what we are studying to develop interior strength. The first way is the way of the scholar, the second way is the cultivation of the mind which everyone should strive to achieve.

The above brief description of Confucianism, despite its necessarily simplistic treatment here, was able to determine--relying only on the natural powers of reason and on one's own direct experience--societal rules and a way of life that have been influential for many centuries. What the Christian sees as the natural law has been well developed within Confucianism without the help of revealed religion.

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