Confucius’s Place in Christianity, a Dialogue between East and West

Jian Wang

I found an article on Erenlai Magazine that says:  “The most critical of them think it is a heresy even to claim that one is not sure whether or not Confucius is in hell, because it is so clear that he is, based on the correct reading of the Bible.”

I strongly believe that diversity and inclusion are critical elements of American society. Diversity brings strength, inclusion brings power, and together they make America a great society respected by people all over the world.

The legacy of Confucius is one of the most important cultural heritages of many countries in East Asia. The concept of “Confucius in hell” is detrimental to the unity between Asian American Community and other communities. 

Abraham Lincoln said “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I am writing this article to make contributions to the unity of American society.

Let’s borrow the cognitive, behavioral, emotional approach from psychology. With strong execution power, people are most likely to adopt the behavioral approach.

In the Old Testament, there is no concept of hell as a place for punishment. The religion practice is more behavior oriented in the Old Testament, with less emphasis on ideology. The Hebrew tribes had to be inclusive in order to be strong, and absorbed many Egyptians and Hittites, together with traces of alien religions.

Also the Hebrew priests enjoyed strong executive power including taxation. So they were at a better position to regulate people’s behavior, do more and say less. 

For Christianity, because of its humble origin and the persecutions from executive power, it set a limit to what it can do to regulate people’s behavior, forced it to say more and do less. There were no more requirements for fasting, behavior constraints were relaxed. Christianity puts more emphasis on the cognitive side, and made the concepts of heaven and hell deeply embedded in people’s consciousness. So instead of using executive power to discourage people from harmful actions, now you can shape people world view through the cognitive process of recognizing the punitive power of hell, and consequently make people hesitate to harm society.

Limbo is the supposed abode of the souls of unbaptized infants, and of the just who died before Christ’s coming. Limbo is a place between heaven and hell. For Confucius, hell is out of question. The more appropriate discussion should be if Confucius has a place in heaven. 

In traditional Chinese culture there was no hell for after life punishment. Also Confucius made conscious efforts to avoid the discussion about supernatural beings. 

Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language.

Actually there are many common grounds between the teachings of Jesus and thoughts of Confucius. Both of them overcame the divisions of classes and nationalities. At a time that hates and divisions are on the rise both domestically and internationally, we have more to learn from their wisdom to make the world a better place for everyone.