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Is Confucianism a Religion?

Essay by   •  February 24, 2011  •  Essay  •  852 Words (4 Pages)  •  1,097 Views

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Is Confucianism a religion?

There is much debate as to whether or not Confucianism should be classified as a religion. This is an inherently difficult question because it centers on the definition of religion. If someone defines religion as the worship of powerful supernatural deities, then Confucianism as well as many other belief systems would not be classified as a religion. However if the definition of religion is revised to include broad belief systems that include moral codes for how to live one's life, then Confucianism certainly would be considered religious. Because today's western viewpoint defines religion as the worship of a supreme being with no room for alternatives, we can say that Confucianism is not a religion, but rather an ethical framework for life.

Many religions today are mutually exclusive. One can not be Muslim and Catholic at the same time. The traditions that go along with those two religions require the individual to pick one god to worship and to reject all others. One reason that Confucianism is not considered a religion is because it has the ability to transcend the mutual exclusivity that is attached to certain religions. It is certainly possible for someone to be a Catholic as well as a Confucian at the same time. A person can accept Jesus as their savior, and still follow the Confucian ethical code for living. Likewise a Muslim can worship the prophet Muhammad and still follow the five major Confucian teachings. It is because of this crossover that Confucianism transcends individual religions and therefore can not be defined as one.

Another major difference between religions that worship the supernatural and Confucianism is the rationale behind the practitioner's actions. Christianity's Ten Commandments are similar to the Confucian belief of humaneness. Both ideas basically state that people should love and care for one another. However the main difference between these two philosophies is the reason you should be this loving and caring person. In Christian Philosophy people obey these commandments to win the favor of god. They follow his creeds so that they may one day get eternal life in heaven. They don't necessarily obey the commandments because they believe they are for the benefit of society, but rather believe them so they can get eternal life.

However Confucian belief is quite different. There is no promised afterlife the followers of Confucionism. Confucians hope to be mourned after their death by their family but that is their only expectation about death. In fact they don't even worry about it. Confucius said "How can one know about death before he knows clearly about life?"(Analects, 11:17). Because of this view towards death there is no extra incentive to follow the ethical framework Confucius laid out. There is no extra reward people get for following Confucianism. Therefore the followers of Confucian thought really believe it is the correct way to live and follow it because they really believe it is right, not because of a promise of immortality.

This leads back to a basic differentiation between Confucianism and

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