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Confucius and Jesus: Humanism Took Different Pathways in Chinese and Western History
(for the book titled A Nevw Interpretation of Chinese Taoist Philosophy)
Chinese government first named Confucianism as its official ideology in the second century BC. Since then Confucianism remained as the mainstream culture to shape society and the way of life for more than two thousand years until the early twenty century when the first republic of China was founded. As the influence of Western culture entered China and it was followed by the subsequent revolutions, the fading out of Confucianism in the Chinese life occurred in a relatively short time between 1840 and 1919. The Roman Emperor Theodoisius made Christianity, based on Jesus’ teaching, the official religion in the late fourth century, and since then Christianity remained the dominant ideology to shape society and the way of life in Europe for more than a thousand years until recently. The fading out of Christianity as the main ideology in the Western society was a gradual process. The underlying reason was the social movement of secularization started by the Renaissance.
If we see a culture and its people as a man, the two giant men firmly stood, one in China and the other in Europe, for thousand years, unmoved by the strong winds of various cultures and ideologies. Their brains were nothing but the teachings of two real men, Confucius and Jesus. Their successes were due to the humanist soul in their teachings, which represent the peak humanism ever reached during ancient time. It is most interesting and revealing to compare the two men, their ideas, and their influence on subsequent history.
1. Definition of Humanism and its History in China and the West
Humanism is the tendency to emphasize man and his status, importance, achievements, and interests. The definition of humanism varies within a broad category of ethical philosophies that support the dignity and worth of all people. Furthermore, humansim can be a component of a variety of more specific philosophical systems and is incorporated into several religious schools of thought. Humanism entails a commitment to the search for truth, morality, social justice, and an ideal society through human means.
It is worth noting that humanism here is not in the narrow meaning in contrast to faith in supernatural being, and that humanism in relative terms includes any ideology that directs towards the improvement of human conditions, physically or spiritually. For example, human sacrifice was considered to be running against humanism, but its complete disappearance in China was only witnessed about a hundred years ago. Confucius was so opposed to human sacrifice that he even cursed those who started to use artificial figures to replace real men, as Confucius thought, the dignity of man was buried with those figures that looked so real. Such an idea of Confucius falls in the broad category of humanism as it contributed to the disappearance of human sacrifice in China. For similar considerations, Jesus’ teachings and Christianity fall in too, though it is not a popular topic to write about Jesus’ humanist contribution.
Early Greek people began their thought by studying nature, and those are called the natural philosophers. Since Socrates and other sophists, attention was shifted to social, political, and moral issues. This shift is regarded as the beginning of Western humanism. The next important time in humanist history was when Stoicism appeared as a school of thought. Seneca’s (2 BC- 65 AD) aphorism, “To man, a man is sacred”, remains as a powerful slogan for humanists today.
In spite of the remarkable development of human thought along the line of humanism, the Roman Empire was still built on slavery. Millions of slaves lived inhumane lives. It was the emergence of Christianity and the collapse of the Roman Empire brought an end to the slavery system, and many thought that Christianity contributed to the Roman collapse. Christian teachings reached the bottom of the social stratification, and warmed their hearts when they say that God loves every man on earth. Christian bishops fulminated against the entertainments of the theater and amphitheater, and the baths. The baths were thought to be responsible for sexual depravity. Christian aristocrats gradually redirected their funding money to churches, which were constructed in great numbers in the 400s and 500s. They also funded hospitals, orphanages, homes for the aged, which was for the first time in Roman history.
For a thousand years or so, Christianity remained as the mainstream culture to unite Europe and keep the social order. The Renaissance was a much broader social campaign to stress the value of mankind and the value of a man in front of society and or in front of nature. The Renaissance however denoted a move away from God to man as the centre of interest. The Renaissance encouraged on the ability of man to find about the universe through his own efforts, and more and more to
Nov 12, 2013 - 5:00PM
Re: Confucius and Jesus: Humanism Took Different Pathways in Chinese and Western History
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