This is the character "Ren", which is used nearly 100 times in the Confucian scriptures and is often translated as humanness, benevolence, love and most accurately as "human-heartedness." This character combines two images: one is the image of the human being, with the other image representing "two"; thus, the idea of being in right relationships with others.

Back when I was in Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Tyler, Texas, I was invited by one Troy Sherman to go hear the “most travelled man in world history” speak at a Korean Church in Dallas.  That most travelled man – a title others have given him — is Loren Cunningham, the founder and past President of YWAM.

Being that he spoke to a group of Koreans, he decided to speak on Asia and specifically China.  I honestly don’t remember too much about the message, except that he believed China would be the World Power in about 50 years because 1.) the “re-birth” rate is twice the birth rate and 2.) because of the respectful and intellectual nature of the Chinese people, which is instilled in them by Confucianism.  Factor in that China owns the majority of the United States’ debt, and it’s hard to ignore that Loren’s conclusion has some validity.

Out of the other two Asian religions I’ve looked at, Confucianism is probably the least “religious” by Western standards.  In fact, for the Chinese, it’s not even considered a religion, but a philosophy … a way of life.  For example, China officially recognizes five religions: 1. Buddhism, 2. Daoism, 3. Roman Catholicism, 4 Protestantism and 5. Islam.

Prothero writes, “To this day, Confucians are preoccupied with humans rather than gods, and with life before death rather than life after it” (106).  He goes on to state that Confucianism can almost be called a “religious humanism”.  He then makes this distinction: “whereas secular humanists insist on emptying the world of the sacred, Confucians insist on infusing the world with sacred import – on seeing Heaven in humanity, on investing human beings with incalculable value, on hallowing the everyday.  In Confucianism, the secular is the sacred” (108).    Tu Weiming, a Confucian thinker, writes that to be Confucian is “to regard the everyday human world as profoundly spiritual.”

THE HISTORY: “OVERCOMING CHAOS THROUGH CHARACTER”

Necessity is often the mother of development; such is the story of Confucianism.  During the Zhou dynasty, China was being torn apart by war after war; resulting in an intense desire among the Chinese for a harmonious society.  There were four schools of thought on how harmony could be achieved: 1) Realists sought harmony through law; 2.) Mohists sough harmony through universal love; 3.) Daoists sought harmony by retreating from society; and 4.), Confucian sought harmony through engagement, through ritual, etiquette and relationship.

Prothero (who doesn’t claim to be a Christian) states, “Like modern-day evangelicals, Confucians say that if you want to change society, you first need to change individuals” (110).  And how can individuals change?  The Confucian answer came through education, not just of the mind, but mainly of the character.

If we remember back to the first post I made on worldviews, the Confucian view of the world is the relational / network view, where the self is not an isolated atom.  There may be an self, but it is secondary to the network of family, community and nation, which is why Confucianism has such a strong emphasis on “proper” roles within a community.  This network outlook, and Confucianism’s value of roles is why Confucians have been more easily accepting of Communism and have also tended to devalue and narrowly define the roles of women.

REN AND LI

You can reference the definition for “Ren” in the caption for the picture I have at the top.

In addition to “Ren”, “li” is the second major feature in Confucianism.  In fact, “li” is such a major part of Confucianism that some Chinese refer to Confucianism as “lijiao”, or the religion of “li”.  If you know any Chinese who haven’t been Westernized, you’ve probably seen the struggle of “li” on their faces as they attempt to dicier how to approach you — the Westerner — properly.  It’s a visible struggle that occurs with something so simple as greeting them with an outstretched hand, and them attempting to dicier it it’s indeed proper to shake back.  “Li”, writes Prothero, “means the proper thing in the proper way under any given set of circumstances”.  It is the daily struggle of being in the right.  It is wearing the right clothes, drinking your tea at the proper rate, allowing your teacher to speak before you do, not cutting in line and allowing everything you do to be done in reverence.

A CHRISTIAN CONFUCIAN

Out of the all the Asian religions that have been looked at so far, Confucianism varies with Christianity the least.  In fact, Chinese who become believers still latently engage both “Ren” and “Li” in their lifestyles, must the way a new American Christian can still retain their cultural sentiments of individuality and freedom.  Have you ever met a Chinese person?  The latent values of Confucianism are a major factor in what makes a Chinese person Chinese.

This can make us in the West uncomfortable, because the mannerisms and paradigm through which a Chinese Christian looks at the world (the network and relational worldview; at times, even the oceanic worldview) is very foreign from our own, so that a Chinese believer, influenced by Chinese culture, can, in a sense, almost seem un-Christian to us who are so used to the Americanized version of Christianity.

So, how much of the way we judge “who’s in” and “who’s out” determined by the American and/or Western part of us who are Western Christians?

For instance, our view of “sin” is Westernized, due to the atomistic nature of Western culture. We often see sin as largely personal, and so we see repentance as largely personal.  Yet the Hebrew culture — and the Old Testament — is largely based on a network view, so that their view of sin and even repentance is much more communal; even their view of judgment is much more communal (which is why we have problems with God wiping out whole cities, and the Hebrews didn’t).

So here’s the final questions of this “World Religions” series: Can you escape syncretism? And finally, is it possible to understand the Bible “literally” and “objectively” if our perspectives are often syncretic with our heritage and culture?

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