Confucianism – similarities to Christianity
The other soldier cautiously crept out from behind cover, his own rifle carefully trained on the other. He said nothing.
“We’re on the same side really,” the first soldier smiled ruefully. “There’s no need to shoot. Look: I have a rifle – just like you. I wear a uniform – just like you. I have a rank, just like you.”
The other soldier nervously adjusted his aim, unsure what kind of game this was.
“I wear boots – just like you. I have a helmet – just like you,” he continued, lowering his arms and coming forward with a smile. “Bro!”
But the rifle never moves. “Yeah – but you’re in a different army.”
One of the remarkable things that you will notice when you start reading Confucius is how remarkably similar Confucianism is at quite a few points to Christianity. Here are a few of the similarities:
- the need to cultivate virtue
- belief in heaven
- the will of heaven
- leadership through example not coercion
- importance of family
- a kind of ‘golden rule’
- ordering of society
- harmonious relationships
- children obeying parents
And I think the similarities disarm people to culture. Surely that means that Confucianism is good to the extent that it bears similarities to Christianity? Surely we should embrace, perhaps even encourage those elements of Confucianism?
How are we to think of these similarities – or indeed the similarities of any other cultures and philosophies?
The first thing to bear in mind is that these are signs of God’s common grace (Matthew 5, Acts 14). In his kindness human cultures have developed in ways that preserve some of the good in God’s created order and restrain sin. And so in some cultures justice is treasured, in other cultures courage is prized, in still others family is prized.
And when we consider philosophies, we can acknowledge that yes, there are things that post-modernism gets right, there are things that feminism gets right, there are things that hedonism gets right. By studying the world, people can perceive something of the truth of how God has ordered his creation. And so it should come as no surprise that non Christian worldviews will share points of similarity with Christianity.
But secondly while on the surface cultures and philosophies may share some similarities – that is not enough. It doesn’t make Confucianism – or any other philosophy – harmless or neutral. Because at its heart, none of these worldviews or cultures are constructed with the glory of God at the centre of its worldview. Yes, there might be a love for justice – but it is always justice without reference to God. It will instead be justice turned in the service of Man, or perhaps Justice itself as the highest good. Yes, there might be a love for family – but it will always be family without reference to God. Perhaps even Family itself as the highest good… and therein lies the problem.
In Romans 1 Paul makes clear that a love for family, or justice, or pleasure for its own sake and not for the sake of the creator, is not praiseworthy. Instead, it is idolatrous! This is because the glory that should go to him instead goes somewhere else – and actually makes people more culpable rather than less. It is a rifle stolen, and wielded in service of the enemy. A helmet used in rebellion against God. And so Paul’s analysis in Romans 3 is that all people ’fall short’ of the glory of God.
And thirdly an uncritical acceptance of certain features of Confucianism (or any other philosophy) is dangerous because it will inevitably be bound up with an alien worldview. it will not be just a simple and neutral ‘love for harmony’ – it will be a Confucian-branded love for harmony; it will not be just a simple and neutral ‘love for sex’ – it will be a hedonism-branded love for sex. One that carries with it distortions and a network of underlying beliefs which need to be carefully examined, tested, corrected.
And so those who are followers of Jesus should not be scared to bring the searchlight of the gospel onto their own culture – whatever that culture is. Instead, we should welcome in-depth analysis, wanting in all things to honour him, having a healthy suspicion of all worldviews that do not have the glory of God at its centre.
You can expect that different cultures and philosophies will share similarities to Christianity. It’s a sign of God’s common grace. But a soldier who also has a rifle and a helmet, by virtue of those things, is not necessarily an ally…