Eastern Religions: Confucianism and Taoism

These two religions are from China.  They have their roots in the 6th century B.C.

Confucianism

There are between 5- 6 million followers of this religion in the world (World Religions by Number of Followers, Conservapedia.com).  Most are in China, Taiwan and east Asia.  Data could not be located for numbers in the U.S.A.

The history of the religion begins with the philosopher Kong Qui (c. 551-479 B.C.), better known as Confucius (Master Kong).  He was born and lived in northeastern China, in the state of Lu.  His years may be summarized this way: (1) Before age 50, he held various minor positions in state government, and was a school teacher.  (2) From age 50-56, he held a few major positions in state government, including: assistant minister of public works, and minister of justice.  He resigned when he found that his superiors were not interested in his reforms.  (3) From age 56-67, he traveled state to state attempting to bring about political and social reform.  China was in a state of unrest.  Warring states were not uncommon.  His tour was largely unsuccessful, though he did gain some followers among the people.  (4) From age 67 till his death, he spent writing and teaching, in his home state of Lu.  The Analects consist of 20 books (or chapters) 473 verses.

His writings contain many good moral maxims.  He taught on how one treats others, “What I do not want others to do to me, I have no desire to do to others” (The Analect 5:11; 12:2; 15:23 cf. Proverbs 24:29; Matthew 7:12).  “In dealing with the aged to be of comfort to them; in dealing with friends to be of good faith with them; in dealing with the young, to cherish them”  (The Analect 5:25 cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Proverbs 23:22; Matthew 18:1-3; 19:13-15).   “Till you learn to serve men, how can you serve ghosts?” (The Analects 11:11 cf. 1 John 4:20).  He taught on family relations.  “Behave in such a way that your father and mother have no anxiety about you, except concerning your health” (The Analects 5:6 cf. Proverbs 10:1).  He taught on employment.  “Be faithful to your superiors, keep all promises… if you have made a mistake do not be afraid of admitting the fact and amending your ways” (The Analects 11:24 cf. Ephesian 6:5-8).  He taught on government.  “You may rob the Three Armies of their commander-in-chief, but you cannot deprive the humblest peasant of his opinion” (The Analects 9:25, also see 12:7 cf. Proverbs 14:28).  He taught on education.  “In the old days men studied for the sake of self-improvement; nowadays men study in order to impress other people” (The Analects 14:25 cf. 2 Timothy 2:15; Psalm 119:105).

It is important to understand that Confucius did not claim perfect knowledge or complete understanding.  He said, “I for my part am not one of those who have innate knowledge.  I am simply one who loves the past and who is diligent in investigating it… Even when walking in a party of no more than three I can always be certain of learning from those I am with” (The Analects 7:19, 21 cf. 7:1-3).  Again, “Do I regard myself as a possessor of wisdom?  Far from it.  But if even a simple peasant comes in all sincerity and asks me a question, I am ready to thrash the matter out, with all of its pros and cons, to the very end” (The Analects 9:7 cf. 7:33), Confucius regarded himself as a transmitter of ancient knowledge), and not an originator (Arthur Waley, The Analects of Confucius, p. 25).

Confucianism might be regarded as a philosophy, and good moral teachings, if it were not for later developments.  Confucius was eventually deified.  Animal sacrifices have been made at his tomb.  Temples have been built (see Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, p. 326-ff).

Taoism (Daoism)

There are about 20 million followers of this religion in the world (World Religions by Number of Followers, conservapedia.com).  Most are in China, Taiwan and east Asia.  There are an estimated 30,000 followers in the U.S.A. (American Daoism, pluralism.org).

The history of the religion is purported to begin with Li Er (6th century B.C.), better known as Lao Tzu (old philosopher).  He was from the state of Chu, eastern China.  He produced a book known as the Tao Te Ching [The book of the Way of Virtue (or Power)].  The book is about 5,500 words long in English, a total of 81 chapters or poems.

The books contain many good moral teachings.  It warns against boasting.  “Achieve results, but never glory in them.  Achieve results, but never boast.  Achieve results, but never  be proud” (30).  “The sage works without recognition.  He achieves what has to be done without dwelling on it” (77 cf. Proverbs 27:2).  It teaches about contentment.  “A contented man is never disappointed” (44 cf. 1 Timothy 6:6).  It teaches against violence.  “A violent man will die a violent death” (42 cf. Matthew 26:52).  It has much to say about government.  “Why are people starving?  Because the rulers eat up the money in taxes… Why are people rebellious?  Because the rulers interfere too much… Why do the people think so little of death?  Because the rulers demand too much of life” (75, cf. 58).  “Ruling the country is like cooking a small fish” (60).  In other words, don’t overdo it.

However, the book also contains things which seem too passive.  “The world is ruled by letting things take their course.  It cannot be ruled by interfering” (48).  “The highest good is like water.  Water gives life to ten thousand things and does not strive” (8).  “Yielding is the way of the Tao” (40).  This at least on the surface seems contrary to Biblical teaching (Psalm 82:3-4; Jude 3, etc.).

This is a religion of the yin and yang, and “it’s all good.”  Josh McDowell and Don Stewart have concluded, “Taoism has no real answer to the problem of evil, for the Taoist ‘solution’ of ignoring or withdrawing from the ills of society does nothing to cure those very real ills” (Handbook of Today’s Religions, p. 347).

Taoism might be regarded as a philosophy, containing some good moral teachings, if it were not for later developments.  Lao Tzu was eventually deified.  Animal sacrifices have been made to him.  Temples have been built (see Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, p. 346-f).

Thoughts

The issue is not whether other religions contain some good moral teachings.  Aesop’s Fables, Poor Richard’s Almanac and The Book of Virtues contain good moral teachings.  The issue is inspiration.

Moreover, Christianity is not primarily about a better moral system (though I think that it is).  It is about Jesus Christ.  Paul wrote, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).  Again, “I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you… Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures… He was buried, and He rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  He concluded, “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty… But now Christ is risen from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 20).

 

 

 

 

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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