Confucianism: a religion?

Discuss literature (e.g. books, newspapers), educational studies (getting help or opinions on homework or an essay), and philosophy.

Is Confucianism a religion or a philosophy?

It's got the temples and the rituals - I'm going with option A.
2
15%
No gods, no ghosts, no afterlife, no creeds - no religion.
4
31%
Depends on which Confucian you're talking about.
6
46%
Who cares?
1
8%
 
Total votes : 13

Confucianism: a religion?

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Fri Apr 06, 2012 2:42 pm

The argument over whether Confucianism is a 'religion' or a 'philosophy' goes all the way back to the end of the Qing Dynasty, and possibly back as far as the first contact between the Chinese and the Jesuits (when the Jesuits were trying to figure out what to make of the Classics). Recently, though, there seems to be an interesting popular / intellectual movement to make a religion out of Confucian doctrines and practices, complete with 'televangelists' such as Beijing's Yu Dan. I recently wrote a term paper on the topic, which I then made into a blog post. There's an interesting intersection between the intellectuals who are adopting Confucianism as a religion and Chinese nationalism, which I think tends to go against quite a bit of what Confucius himself was originally about... but hey, if it causes Chinese people to rediscover their historical ethical traditions and turn away from the crass consumer culture and shallow, soulless imitation of America their government has been rapidly pushing them towards since the '80's, don't let me get in the way. :P

Any thoughts on the subject? Is the way of Master Kong a religion? Should it be? Does it even matter whether or not it is?
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Re: Confucianism: a religion?

Unread postby Zhuanyong » Fri Apr 06, 2012 3:47 pm

Before anyone reads my post, please note that I have very limited knowledge on Confucianism.

My opinion based on what I do know and have observed on Confucianism, is that it is a philosophical means of how one can live out their life. However the philosophy itself, just as derekh hachaim, becomes a religion or way of faith-based observance once it is corregated with rituals, precepts, and denominational spawnings.

Anything can be pretty much made into a religion and given a standard name based on the doctrine or root of it's standing.
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Re: Confucianism: a religion?

Unread postby Korin » Fri Apr 06, 2012 9:33 pm

this gonna stay a debate for a long time...

cause I believe it's more philosophy than religion

90% philosophy
10% religion

but then again

I don't really know much

I'm just going by of what I've read so don't judge me

this my opinion, don't take it as fact lol

anyways im agnostic atm in terms of "Religion"
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Re: Confucianism: a religion?

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Fri Apr 06, 2012 10:22 pm

Zhuanyong wrote:Before anyone reads my post, please note that I have very limited knowledge on Confucianism.

My opinion based on what I do know and have observed on Confucianism, is that it is a philosophical means of how one can live out their life. However the philosophy itself, just as derekh hachaim, becomes a religion or way of faith-based observance once it is corregated with rituals, precepts, and denominational spawnings.

Anything can be pretty much made into a religion and given a standard name based on the doctrine or root of it's standing.


I can agree to that; particularly the last statement. It seems to be being borne out, as well, given the upsurge in ritual devotions at Temples of Confucius in China and the growing interest in Confucianism in China as an authentically-Chinese ethical system and worldview. The billion-dollar question, though, is whether it can sustain itself as such a religious belief system without ultimately betraying its principles. Confucius was never endowed with any godlike traits by his students, nor by dozens of successive generations of his followers; and Confucian doctrines were non-credal enough to support a wide plethora of student schools (Mencius, Xunzi, Sima Qian, Ban Gu and Ban Zhao, the xuanxue school, the lixue school of Zhu Xi, the yangmingxue school of Wang Yangming, Gu Yanwu, and now all of the New Confucians with their debates over modern liberalism). If it turns out to be a religion, it may end up having a difficult time articulating its message, though it certainly won't have problems retaining a healthy, pluralistic internal discourse.

Korin wrote:this gonna stay a debate for a long time...

cause I believe it's more philosophy than religion

90% philosophy
10% religion

but then again

I don't really know much

I'm just going by of what I've read so don't judge me

this my opinion, don't take it as fact lol


That's the most imbecilic, harebrained thing I ever--naaah, I'm just joshing ya. :P

I have no problems with someone saying it's more a philosophy than a religion, but I would like to understand why you believe, from what you have read on the subject, that Confucianism is 9/10 philosophy and 1/10 religion. What gave you such an impression, and which parts do you think are more 'philosophical', and which more 'religious'?
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Re: Confucianism: a religion?

Unread postby Lady Wu » Sat Apr 07, 2012 4:39 am

Depends on which Confucianist you talk to.

If we're limiting to Confucius himself (and maybe add Mencius and Xunzi, basically the people of the Confucian school before there's such a thing), then no, he was not teaching religion. He was teaching people how to be good given the existing social/political/religious context. My extremely sloppy of a religion is that it is a set of beliefs that answer "why" questions ("why is there thunder?", "why is it not good to eat this kind of plant/animal?", "why do we exist?", "why is there suffering in the world?") by invoking a supernatural force or entity that cannot be directly experienced or observed. It's been a long time since I've read the Analects, but I don't think Confucius bothered to explain why certain things happen or why certain things have to be done, apart from that "it'll make society a better place." He was a humanist concerned with this life ("未知生,焉知死"), and while he probably believed in spirits and such (I personally think he's a religious person at heart), he advised against focusing too much on the supernatural ("敬鬼神而遠之").

Religions also require a leap of faith, and the only really leap of faith required in Confucianism is to believe in an underlying order (理) in the universe--which, really, modern science also requires. Confucius himself presented a social theory of this underlying order; other Confucians have extended it to natural phenomena (e.g., Dong Zhongshu). The supernatural realm plays no part in strict Confucianism.

What about temples and ancestor-worshipping, then? I think it's a bit of a cheat to ascribe that to Confucianism. Those "Confucian" practices really just piggy-back on existing indigenous/folk religion in Chinese culture. Worshipping Heaven and Earth is just acknowledging Man's role in the social order, and worshipping ancestors is an act of filial piety (and again, acknowledging social structure) more than supernatural piety. In fact, even if you eliminate temple worship completely from Confucianism, what you end up with is still unmistakably Confucianism. Occam's razor. You can be a complete atheist, someone who doesn't believe in the existence of things science cannot prove, and still be a good Confucian.

People get confused by Confucianism's (or Daoism's) status as a religion because Confucianism is a set of beliefs with a strong cultural background, and that cultural background involved spirits and gods. The concept of a single, supreme god (天帝), which the Jesuits jumped on, existed long before Confucius' time. By continuing to appeal to the "one god", the Chinese were simply continuing an ancient tradition/belief, rather than doing something particularly "Confucian". Of course, part of being Confucian was about continuing traditions, but I don't think it really mattered what the tradition was.
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Re: Confucianism: a religion?

Unread postby Starscream » Sat Apr 07, 2012 12:10 pm

It depends on how you view Confucius and Confucianism. If you deify Confucius and perform rituals of worship to his individual person, then it is a religion. If you practice what he preached, then it is philosophy.

It is the same as Buddhism imo. However, Confucianism is a more down-to-earth philosophy that recommends behaviour that are ideal for maintaining social order and harmony. Confucius himself focused more on the mundane world than on transcendental elements. Though Confucius covered some areas of conducting proper rites and rituals, these relate to filial piety.

Then again, you have to define what you meant by "religion" and "philosophy". Does it involve all these?
- a doctrine
- a figure of worship
- rituals
- thoughts and ideas
- followers and educators
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Re: Confucianism: a religion?

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Sat Apr 07, 2012 7:32 pm

Interesting, Lady Wu and Starscream. I actually agree with much of what you say, but just for the sake of playing devil's advocate... :devil:

Lady Wu wrote:If we're limiting to Confucius himself (and maybe add Mencius and Xunzi, basically the people of the Confucian school before there's such a thing), then no, he was not teaching religion. He was teaching people how to be good given the existing social/political/religious context. My extremely sloppy of a religion is that it is a set of beliefs that answer "why" questions ("why is there thunder?", "why is it not good to eat this kind of plant/animal?", "why do we exist?", "why is there suffering in the world?") by invoking a supernatural force or entity that cannot be directly experienced or observed. It's been a long time since I've read the Analects, but I don't think Confucius bothered to explain why certain things happen or why certain things have to be done, apart from that "it'll make society a better place." He was a humanist concerned with this life ("未知生,焉知死"), and while he probably believed in spirits and such (I personally think he's a religious person at heart), he advised against focusing too much on the supernatural ("敬鬼神而遠之").

Religions also require a leap of faith, and the only really leap of faith required in Confucianism is to believe in an underlying order (理) in the universe--which, really, modern science also requires. Confucius himself presented a social theory of this underlying order; other Confucians have extended it to natural phenomena (e.g., Dong Zhongshu). The supernatural realm plays no part in strict Confucianism.


I think you are reading Confucius quite correctly on most points - particularly regarding his lack of concern for the afterlife and what we might term the 'supernatural' (鬼神). But perhaps it might be wise to note that Confucius constructed his ethical system within what would have been then considered a suspended transcendental: healthy human ends and human virtues (道德) were to be determined by their relations to 天地 (heaven and earth), as I believe you note below. I don't think it is necessarily appropriate to collapse the concepts to 'just acknowledging Man's role in the social order', since for Confucius, the social order came out of and was dependent on 天地 (as in, he didn't necessarily treat them as the same thing). Heaven was the ultimate source of the Good, even in exemplary human beings such as Yao (唯天為大,唯堯則之). It isn't the same concept as the Abrahamic God, though, since Confucius is consistently and emphatically silent on issues such as the personhood of 天 - and as far as he is concerned, such things are unimportant.

Lady Wu wrote:What about temples and ancestor-worshipping, then? I think it's a bit of a cheat to ascribe that to Confucianism. Those "Confucian" practices really just piggy-back on existing indigenous/folk religion in Chinese culture. Worshipping Heaven and Earth is just acknowledging Man's role in the social order, and worshipping ancestors is an act of filial piety (and again, acknowledging social structure) more than supernatural piety. In fact, even if you eliminate temple worship completely from Confucianism, what you end up with is still unmistakably Confucianism. Occam's razor. You can be a complete atheist, someone who doesn't believe in the existence of things science cannot prove, and still be a good Confucian.

People get confused by Confucianism's (or Daoism's) status as a religion because Confucianism is a set of beliefs with a strong cultural background, and that cultural background involved spirits and gods. The concept of a single, supreme god (天帝), which the Jesuits jumped on, existed long before Confucius' time. By continuing to appeal to the "one god", the Chinese were simply continuing an ancient tradition/belief, rather than doing something particularly "Confucian". Of course, part of being Confucian was about continuing traditions, but I don't think it really mattered what the tradition was.


Starscream wrote:It depends on how you view Confucius and Confucianism. If you deify Confucius and perform rituals of worship to his individual person, then it is a religion. If you practice what he preached, then it is philosophy.

It is the same as Buddhism imo. However, Confucianism is a more down-to-earth philosophy that recommends behaviour that are ideal for maintaining social order and harmony. Confucius himself focused more on the mundane world than on transcendental elements. Though Confucius covered some areas of conducting proper rites and rituals, these relate to filial piety.


I think you're both right to the extent that it would be a cheat to ascribe the rites venerating 媽祖、財神、福神、土地公、關公 or any of the various other Chinese folk deities to Confucianism (even ancestral folk heroes like 黃帝 or 堯、舜、大禹), even though Confucian philosophy has undoubtedly had influence on the way the rites for these traditional gods were carried out. But there are Temples to Confucius and to his students, as well as particular rites which are performed at each, which I think it would not be a cheat to describe as particularly Confucian. I also admit difficulty in imagining a Confucianism in good faith stripped completely of considerations of 禮樂 (rites and music), given how much importance Confucius himself attached to these as formative elements of being a humane person (克已復禮為仁, for example, or 先進於禮樂,野人也,後進於禮樂,君子也。如用之,則吾從先進。). I also don't think Confucius was just about following traditions whilst making no reference to the content of the tradition - he was primarily concerned with whether the tradition was in following with humaneness. He was a great fan of the rites of Zhou (周監於二代,郁郁乎文哉。吾從周。), but apparently had little use for those of Zheng, for example (放鄭聲,遠佞人:鄭聲淫,佞人殆。).

From a philosophical perspective, too, I think separating acts of 'social' piety from 'supernatural' piety becomes very problematic very quickly, particularly when one starts unpacking the various elements of the ancestor-worship you are describing here as a 'social' piety. From what I have observed amongst overseas Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Kongers (and feel free to call me out on this one if you feel my understanding is lacking), ancestor worship, even if it makes no knowledge-claims on the supernatural, nonetheless assumes a continuity beyond life and transcending time and space in ways which would make a 'complete atheist' (in modern Western terms, at least) rather uncomfortable.

Starscream wrote:Then again, you have to define what you meant by "religion" and "philosophy". Does it involve all these?
- a doctrine
- a figure of worship
- rituals
- thoughts and ideas
- followers and educators


Aaaaah, now we're gettin' to the crux of the matter, laddie.

The term 'religion' is probably more problematic than we make it out to be. My personal take is that religion is an attempt to order values, beliefs and desires through ritual and mythic narrative, in relation to an experience of the sacred. But even this definition can include supposedly 'secular' ideologies like nationalism or human rights or communism or capitalism. So on the one hand, I'd say that certainly Confucianism fulfills these conditions (being an ordered value system with rituals and myths, in relation to what may be a transcendent experience), but your mileage may certainly vary depending on what definition you yourself are using for what is 'religious'.
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Re: Confucianism: a religion?

Unread postby agga » Sun Apr 08, 2012 8:23 pm

Lady Wu wrote:What about temples and ancestor-worshipping, then? I think it's a bit of a cheat to ascribe that to Confucianism. Those "Confucian" practices really just piggy-back on existing indigenous/folk religion in Chinese culture. Worshipping Heaven and Earth is just acknowledging Man's role in the social order, and worshipping ancestors is an act of filial piety (and again, acknowledging social structure) more than supernatural piety. In fact, even if you eliminate temple worship completely from Confucianism, what you end up with is still unmistakably Confucianism. Occam's razor.


to argue from analogy, isn't this similar to christianity being a sort of 'rectification' of judaism?

Lady Wu wrote:You can be a complete atheist, someone who doesn't believe in the existence of things science cannot prove, and still be a good Confucian.


again, by analogy, does this mean that many unitarian universalists (who might deny that there was anything supernatural about jesus, etc etc) are not religious?

and, argument from experience, when i (who grew up as a christian) have bowed to my wife's ancestors on many occasions, including at their graves, it really felt as though i were praying - though of course it's my only point of reference, it still seems to me that it's more than just a symbolic act.

WeiWenDi wrote:My personal take is that religion is an attempt to order values, beliefs and desires through ritual and mythic narrative, in relation to an experience of the sacred.


i think that perpetuation through generations, especially from parents to children, is another important feature of a religion (obviously not a sufficient one, but necessary i would say), in particular one that distinguishes a religion from a cult. also, the way religious practices take a place within a family (with my personal experience with christianity, islam, hinduism, and confucianesque (as opposed to buddhaesque) chinese religion), seems to me pretty similar..

and yeah, of course it all comes down to definitions of words; so really, my argument is that according to my definition (laced through the above), confucianism in whatever form (no matter how you distill it) is a religion, because that is its fundamental form.
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Re: Confucianism: a religion?

Unread postby Lady Wu » Sun Apr 08, 2012 10:52 pm

agga wrote:to argue from analogy, isn't this similar to christianity being a sort of 'rectification' of judaism?

Not really. Christianity introduces certain theological elements that are not in Judaism, such as the notion of the Trinity and the incarnation of God. And even if Christianity is a "rectification" of Judaism, it doesn't mean Christianity can't be a religion--the main point of Christianity lies in believing a deity and in an afterlife. Confucius doesn't say anything about what deities are, what they do, why worship them, or what happens to people after they die. He pretty much leaves people to interpret what they will from existing religious traditions.

again, by analogy, does this mean that many unitarian universalists (who might deny that there was anything supernatural about jesus, etc etc) are not religious?

I really don't know what to make of UU as a religion, honestly. But I'm not arguing that religious people are necessarily theists (cf. Buddhism). I'm just saying that part of the definition of being religious is the belief in a system of supernatural or unmeasurable forces (which would include animists), and that Confucianism is silent on the existence or non-existence of such forces.

and, argument from experience, when i (who grew up as a christian) have bowed to my wife's ancestors on many occasions, including at their graves, it really felt as though i were praying - though of course it's my only point of reference, it still seems to me that it's more than just a symbolic act.

You're making the assumption that your wife practises that out of her Confucian values (and is she a self-professed Confucian?), rather than out of her Chinese tradition. What about people who keep a moment of silence or take their hats off and bow in remembrance of the dead (Veteran's Day, death anniversaries, etc.)? Are they all necessary praying or believing in the spirits of the dead? Are they all religious by your argument?

Also, to put some perspective on that practice: I am a Chinese Catholic, and my family on my father's side has been mostly Catholic for at least 4 generations, and those deceased are buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Hong Kong. Twice a year my family goes to visit the graves, and we bow thrice respectfully to those who were born before us and who were gone before us. But we are not worshipping our ancestors--we worship only one God, and we bow to our ancestors to show solemn respect. Some may pray for the souls of the departed at that moment. This is one way how a non-religious Chinese tradition can be compatible with a non-Chinese religion. Of course, we don't do things like burn incense or burn paper money for the deceased--those are parts of traditional Chinese religion that are not compatible.

Similarly, ancestor worship fits in nicely with the values Confucius promoted, but is not fundamental to Confucianism.

i think that perpetuation through generations, especially from parents to children, is another important feature of a religion (obviously not a sufficient one, but necessary i would say), in particular one that distinguishes a religion from a cult. also, the way religious practices take a place within a family (with my personal experience with christianity, islam, hinduism, and confucianesque (as opposed to buddhaesque) chinese religion), seems to me pretty similar..

Was Christianity a cult then, at the time of the Disciples? Was Islam a cult, then, at the time of Mohammed? Was Buddhism a cult, then, when Siddhārtha Gautama travelled and taught in India?

I think you are confusing Confucianism with "what Chinese people believe". I maintain that Confucianism influences and is influenced by, but not equivalent to, Chinese traditional religion. I'd be interested to hearing what teaching of Confucianism you know fits in with your definition of a religion.
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Re: Confucianism: a religion?

Unread postby agga » Sun Apr 08, 2012 11:38 pm

Lady Wu wrote:Confucius doesn't say anything about what deities are, what they do, why worship them, or what happens to people after they die. He pretty much leaves people to interpret what they will from existing religious traditions... I'm just saying that part of the definition of being religious is the belief in a system of supernatural or unmeasurable forces (which would include animists), and that Confucianism is silent on the existence or non-existence of such forces.


i guess this all gets to the definitions problem, see below-

Lady Wu wrote:You're making the assumption that your wife practises that out of her Confucian values (and is she a self-professed Confucian?), rather than out of her Chinese tradition.


according to her, they are the same; confucius codified and justified the chinese religion, so you have to consider his prescriptions as being attached to that same religion. and, she wouldn't say she's a confucian and neither would i (say she is).

Lady Wu wrote:What about people who keep a moment of silence or take their hats off and bow in remembrance of the dead (Veteran's Day, death anniversaries, etc.)? Are they all necessary praying or believing in the spirits of the dead? Are they all religious by your argument?


yes.

Lady Wu wrote:Similarly, ancestor worship fits in nicely with the values Confucius promoted, but is not fundamental to Confucianism.


i think that "promotion of values" is already suspiciously close to what i would qualify as religion, though not quite enough; prescription of ceremony and ritual, similarly; put those two together and you're almost there. the next step:

agga wrote:i think that perpetuation through generations, especially from parents to children, is another important feature of a religion ..., in particular one that distinguishes a religion from a cult. also, the way religious practices take a place within a family ..., seems to me pretty similar..


Lady Wu wrote:Was Christianity a cult then, at the time of the Disciples? Was Islam a cult, then, at the time of Mohammed? Was Buddhism a cult, then, when Siddhārtha Gautama travelled and taught in India?


absolutely! i wouldn't have thought this was arguable. though this points to differences in level of meaning between 'religion' and 'religious'..

Lady Wu wrote:I think you are confusing Confucianism with "what Chinese people believe". I maintain that Confucianism influences and is influenced by, but not equivalent to, Chinese traditional religion. I'd be interested to hearing what teaching of Confucianism you know fits in with your definition of a religion.


i think you can see that my definition is expansive; i'm one who agrees with the notion that humans are basically religious, all of them (not that that means i think atheism, e.g. me, is a religion, or science, or darwinism, etc.; i'm probably some sort of 'naturist' or something, maybe a sort of unitarian universal daoist.. or maybe a stoic, i really like marcus aurelius lately). chinese religion is complicated because it's so syncretic, having components from different traditions, all wrapped together; i guess i understand seeing confucius purely as a philosopher, but it's just not what i usually think of as 'philosophy': intellectualization of nature. it's a set of moral prescriptions and emphasis on ritual, and it grows in families, so i call it a religion.
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