Two different men, living half of century apart on different continents, representatives of distinctly unlike cultures, and yet their influence on world is so similar.
Both men set the beginnings of new religions and new eras in their countries. The religions they founded, survived for two millenniums shaping ideologies not of a single country but of half of the world. Their names are very well known and influential even in modern world. These names belong to a Chinese philosopher Confucius and Jewish religious leader Jesus Christ.
The two religions they founded are Confucianism and Christianity. Even though these religions dominated in very distant from each other parts of the World, many concepts of these religions may seem strangely alike. Both Confucius’ and Christ’s teachings pursue transcendence within humans and peace with other people, however their ideas of what it is to be human and how to achieve perfection differ drastically.
Two great works of literature Analects and Bible express analogous ideas of Confucius and Christ about perfection of the self and treating others peacefully. Analects describe all the Confucius’ sayings as well as his actions communicating his idea of a perfect “gentleman” the ideal, each man should make his goal to be. New Testament is a collection of short stories describing short episodes from the life of Christ with morale lesson communicating the ideal behavior in each of them.
We can see a lesson taught by Confucius in the quote from Analects: “Not to be upset when one’s merits are ignored: is this not the mark of a gentleman?” (Analects, 1.1). An example of pursuing perfection in Bible could be the morale “When you do charity, do not have a trumpet blown before you as hypocrites do…” (Matthew 5-7).
Both teach how to become better men, how to improve human nature in order to achieve perfect society. Most famous quotes proving this point from different teachings many years apart sound strangely the same: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew, 7:12) – commands Jesus, “Don't do unto others as you would not have them do unto you” (Analects, 15.23) states Confucius.
These two rules are like the two sides of a coin: The same principle taught negatively and positively. The idea of self-perfection from within and in relationship with other members of society is similarly important in teachings of both Jesus Christ and Confucius.
However striking the similarities between two teachers of humanity may seem, the differences between them lay in the very understanding what humanity is and how the ideal personality should be achieved. The definition of what it is to be human is drastically different in two religions. Confucius believed every person is originally good. His whole philosophy is built on this idea even though he admits that he has never seen a person “who really cared for goodness, nor one who really abhorred wickedness” (Analects, 21).
He set three standards of a good person which according to his own words he himself never met. His ideal gentleman would be just what he is naturally supposed to be. In Christianity the understanding of the human nature is drastically different. A man is created by the image of god but disobeyed his creator and has fallen in sin. Therefore all humans are born with original sin in them and tendency to disobey.
And this idea of what the nature of a man is, drastically differs Christianity from Confucianism. The goal of each Christian is to purify himself or herself from the sin, and Jesus Christ dies for all the sins of humanity. Only God can be perfect according to Christianity. These opposing points of view to the nature of humans, is one of the major differences between two great teachers of humanity. Another major difference in teachings of Confucius and Jesus are the directions how to achieve the ideal personality.
Confucius teaches a person to achieve five major qualities such as kindness in the father and obedient devotion in the son, gentility in the eldest brother and humility and respect in the younger, righteous behavior in the husband and obedience in the wife, humane consideration in elders and deference in juniors, benevolence in rulers and loyalty of ministers and subjects (Analects, 18) All these qualities describe social roles of a person, most importantly the roles of a human in his family. And that’s what seems most important to Confucius, not the individual’s self but rather his or her relationships with surrounding people.
The goal of Confucianism is to achieve harmony in society through everybody having perfect relationships with each other. Fulfilling social roles and expectations is the central dogma in the Confucius’ teaching. However, Christianity takes relationships one step further than Confucius. Not only can we have the five relationships espoused by Confucius, we can also have a personal relationship with God. It is from this connection that our earthly relationships find their greatest meaning. Jesus states it in his teaching:
“if you forgive men their offences, your heavenly father will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men, neither will your father forgive your offences” (Matthew 5-7). Jesus stresses the fact that most important relationship for a human is not the one with another human but the one with God. The importance of sacred private relationship with God in Christianity as opposed to purely socially oriented values in Confucianism is one of the major differences in these two teachings.
At a first look the Chinese philosopher and Jewish religious leader agree with each other in the major principles of their teachings. Both create the image of a human, which should be pursued by their followers. Many main features of this ideal image are also alike in both religions, such as treating other people with love and respect and following strict social norms. The differences between two philosophical schools, however subtle, change the whole idea what the humanity is, and how to achieve the perfection