Confucianism and Christianity

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History's halls rang with the sound of a single hammer as one man remodeled Christianity for all time. This man was Martin Luther, and he changed history's course when he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the cathedral in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. These theses challenged the Roman Catholic Church by inviting debate over the legitimacy of many of the Church's practices, especially the sale of indulgences.1 Luther's simple action not only got him into trouble with church authorities but also precipitated the reform of Roman Catholicism in Europe. Protestantism resulted from this reform, called the Protestant Reformation because its reformers protested against the corruption and unbiblical practices in the Roman Catholic Church. Though this was arguably the most important religion in European history and perhaps the world, it is only one among the thousands of other religions on earth. Another such religion was Neo-Confucianism in China. Though many differences exist between these two religions, their origins, and the reforms that created them, one can also find a number of similarities between them as well. One difference between Neo-Confucianism and Protestantism lies in their origins. Protestantism originated from a denomination of Christianity, Roman Catholicism, basically the only denomination in Europe in the sixteenth century. Christianity centers around the worship of a single, triune God and the study and guidance of the Bible, the inspired word of God. Christians believe that God loved all men so much that he sent Jesus Christ, his own son, down to earth in the flesh, to live for a short time among man, and then to die to pay for the sins of all men.2 By the sixteenth century, however, Roman Catholicism had added many doctrines to Christianity that were not found in the Bible. Such additions included salvation by faith plus works, transubstantiation, the worship of Mary, the mother of Jesus, the infallibility of the Pope, and Purgatory to mention a few. On top of that, many of the Church authorities were corrupt, demanding high taxes, owning altogether about one-third of all the land in Europe, selling church offices, and even selling indulgences or "forgiveness" for sins. All this combined to make many Europeans discontented with the Roman Catholic Church.

Neo-Confucianism, on the other hand, originated from Confucianism, which was not truly a religion. Original Confucianism was actually a philosophy or code of ethics based on the teachings of Confucius,3 a traveling scholar. According to Confucius, an individual's ultimate goal should be to live according to té or virtue, particularly the virtues of li, propriety and ritual, and jén, "benevolence, charity, humanity, love, and kindness."4 Jén found expression in the "silver rule" of Confucianism—"Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you."5 This saying by Confucius is the exact contrapositive of the command given by Jesus Christ to his followers.6 Confucianism set forth five pairs of relationships to observe: the emperor and subject, the father and son, the husband and wife, the elder and younger brother, and the elder and younger friend. In these relationships, "the superior member (parents, husband, etc.) has the duty of benevolence and care for the subordinate member (children, wife, etc.) The subordinate member has the duty of obedience."7 These relationships created the concept of xiào, or filial piety, that Confucius considered very important. In comparison, both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism stressed the importance of these same relationships, though they did not did not stress all of the relationships set forth by Confucianism and more often stressed the concepts behind such relationships.

Although Confucianism stressed obedience in the subordinate member of these relationship, Confucius stated that "It is better to value jén than to passively follow your teacher."8 Thus, just as in Roman Catholicism and...
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