The topic of this paper is to define Confucianism and explain why it should or should not be considered a religion. The various issues of this seem to have sparked some heated debates among religious cultures. What and who determines what religion is? Why is Confucianism so different from the “typical” braches of religion we know to exist now? How can we define what we know to have no boundaries? II. STARTING POINTS Religion is defined as “any specific system of belief and worship, often involving a code of ethics and a philosophy. ” (Webster’s New World Dictionary-3rd College Edition) In actuality, defining religion is quite difficult.
There are many different definitions of religion. Some definitions do not include beliefs and practices that are a central part of each respective religion. Other definitions show that religion and Christianity are equal, thereby stating that for every three humans, two are non-religious. Still other definitions define religion as sacred or spiritual and only create more definitions within a definition. Confucianism is defined as “The political morality taught by Confucius and his disciples, which forms the basis of the Chinese jurisprudence and education. It does not inculcate the worship of any god. S. W. Williams for Webster’s Dictionary, 1913 Edition) The overall writings of Confucius born K’ung Fu Tzu, 551 B. C. , deal primarily with an individual’s morality and ethics, and the proper way for rulers to use their political powers. Some versions of Confucianism are blended with the Taoist communion with nature and the Buddhist’s afterlife concepts. Some of the fundamentals of Confucianism were sincerity, benevolence, filial piety, and propriety. Sincerity, the first of the four virtues, taught that it was important to be trustworthy and honest, and to commit to promises made.
Confucius believed that being sincere meant that a person’s conduct started in virtue, and strived to preserve the rules of conduct in outward actions, as well as in the person’s heart. He taught that it was just as important to conduct yourself properly in private, as well as in public. Benevolence, thinking of the well-being of others, and helping those in need, was an important fundamental belief to Confucius. He considered it another important characteristic of the virtuous man. Confucius strongly believed in the ‘do unto others’ ideals.
Filial piety, the third principle in Confucianism, meant that the son was to love and revere his parents, aid them in comfort, bring the happiness, not bring shame to the family name, and to be successful in life. This has a bit of a negative effect because a son had to live with his parents, even after marriage, and be obedient to his father until the day that he died. The son was also required to divorce his wife if, at any time, she made his parents unhappy. Filial piety was also a principle shared with Buddhists and Taoists. The forth principle was propriety.
This principle addressed human conduct as a whole. “The superior man was the one who does the right thing at the right time. To neglect or deviate from propriety was the same ass an act of immortality. ” (Religious Tolerance, 2006) Confucius used his humanistic approach to place humankind, as a whole, at the center of the universe. Society, in general, was to be placed in order from superior to inferior. There were two types of Tao that Confucius acknowledged: community and private. He taught that a person should first focus on the best interest of the community, then on private issues.
Since the Han dynasty, four life passages were regulated by Confucian tradition: Birth: The T’ai-shen, spirit of the fetus, protects the mother and deals with anyone who harms the mother-to-be. The mother’s family is required to supply what the baby needs at the baby’s first, fourth and twelfth months of life. Reaching Maturity: Traditional families are the ones who still celebrate this passage, with a chicken dinner as a group. Marriage: This passage is performed in six stages: Proposal: The couple exchanges their birthdays and the hour of their births.
If the bride’s family has any unfavorable events during a three day period, it is assumed that the proposal is refused. Engagement: The bride announces the wedding with moon-shaped cookies and invitations. A quiet procession delivers these to the groom’s house, where the dowry is then sent to the bride. The groom can also give gifts to the bride in this manner. Marriage and Reception: Vows are exchanged, toasts are made, and a banquet is served. Morning after: The bride serves her new in-laws breakfast, and in return, the in-laws serve her breakfast.
Death: In the event of a death, relatives cry out to tell the neighbors. The family changes into rough material clothing. Mourners bring money to help pay for the funeral. Important items to the deceased are placed in the coffin. A priest performs the burial ritual. The procession accompanies the coffin to the cemetery with a willow branch, a symbol of the deceased’s soul. It is then carried to the family’s altar where the spirit of the deceased is “transferred”. A woman’s role in Confucianism was that of inferiority. Confucianism taught that women were to occupy positions lower than men.
However, women were exalted for their honor and power as mother and mother-in-law. The man’s great belief was that a “woman’s greatest duty is to produce a son. ” (Women in Confucianism, 1996) Confucianism focuses on how individuals lead their lives. Its main teachings concentrate on being a good person, and treating others as you would want to be treated. The same concepts can be said for almost any religion today. Confucianism instills a higher expectation of honesty, trustworthiness, righteousness, and etiquette.
Confucianism uses a lot of rituals, instead of worship. Therefore, it is viewed more as a tradition rather than a religion. Most of the basic concepts of Confucianism were established long before Confucius came along. This makes it difficult to include Confucianism as a religion. Compared to other religions, there is no “higher power” or “benevolent being” to worship. Many people believe that this crucial lacking element is what makes a religion just that.
My view on this debate is one of neutrality. I see the positives and negatives to both sides. While I agree with a portion of the teachings of Confucianism, I disagree with quite a few as well. There should be equality, in any religion, between the sexes. I don’t believe that a man and his wife should reside in the man’s parent’s home. I also don’t believe that a man should have to divorce his wife because she made his parents unhappy. If that was the case today, there would be just as many divorces as there are marriages.
Marriages wouldn’t make it past the first week! I agree with the concepts of treating others well. I believe that humans should act…well, quite frankly, human to each other. Be respectful and mindful of others. Most people today only apply this concept when they will benefit from it, or if it’s the holiday season. VI. CONCLUSION In conclusion, the world in general is not ready for Confucianism, or any other teachings of such, to become a religion. If we can’t even respect ourselves, or use the religions we have now, how could we possibly use the teachings of Confucius to begin another religion?
Religious Tolerance Confucianism (2006) www.religioustolerance.org/confuciu.htm
The Geography of Religion The Geography of Confucianism (2006) www.greenwoodvillage.com
Webster’s New World Dictionary definition of religion (3rd College Edition)
Webster’s Dictionary definition of Confucianism (1913 Edition)
Wikipedia Confucianism (2006) www.wikipedia.org
Women in World History Curriculum Women in Confucianism (1996) www.womeninworldhistory.com/lesson3.html