There are several major religions in the world and in different parts of the world the religions are quite diverse. In China, two major religions are Taoism and Confucianism, while in the West one of the oldest religions is Judaism. These religions are quite different, with historical, theological, and philosophical differences. But they also have certain aspects in common, such as honesty, integrity, and compassion. These religions espouse doctrines on how a person should to live their life, how they should behave in relationships, and how they should treat other people. This essay will explore these three religious traditions; their histories, differences, and similarities.
Sometime around 550 BCE, in the Chinese kingdom of Lu, there was born a man named Confucius, called "Kung Fu Tzu" in Chinese. After opening a school and serving as a minister for his ruler, Confucius was forced to flee Lu after a conflict with it's ruler and "wandered for 13 years throughout China, giving advice to their rulers." ("Confucianism) His teaching would become the basis of Confucianism and of Chinese culture as a whole.
Confucius taught less about religion than he did about how a person could live and ethical and virtuous life. As a foundation for a life of perfect goodness, "Confucius insisted chiefly on the four virtues of sincerity, benevolence, filial piety, and propriety." (Catholic Encyclopedia) Sincerity, to Confucius meant to be truthful, faithful, and conscientious; but this conduct must be based on the love of virtue. Benevolence was considered to be kindness toward fellow human beings, and a readiness to help others. Filial piety was the faithfulness shown toward the family; the respect for family members and their well-being, honoring parents by taking care of them, and not bringing shame to the family. Propriety, "embraces the whole sphere of human conduct, prompting the superior man always to do the right thing in the right place." (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Confucianism also entails certain rites, or rituals, including capping, marriage, mourning rites, and sacrifices, to name a few. Capping was a ceremony whereby a son was honored upon reaching adulthood, or the age of twenty. The marriage ceremony was very solemn as well as being important for the birth of a son and the continuance of the patriarchal system within Confucianism. Mourning rites for those who died were also very important in Confucianism, especially for the father of the family to whom great respect and authority was granted by Confucius. While sacrifices were vital to Confucian teachings, it is important to state that these sacrifices did not involve blood. There were no sacrifices of animals or humans, but simple food offerings to spirits and ancestors. Finally all these rites and rituals are performed by individuals as there are no priests or priesthood associated with Confucianism.
Another major Chinese religion is called Taoism, and it's founder, Lao Tzu, is traditionally believed to be the author of the Tao Te Ching; considered the Taoist Bible. It is thought that Lao Tzu, which is not a name but a term meaning roughly "Great Teacher," lived in the kingdom of Zhou sometime in the 6th century BCE, although the exact date of his life is still debated. The main element of Taoism is the "Tao," or the "Way," and Taoist teachings propose how to live one's life in accordance with the Tao. "The Tao is conceived as the void out of which all reality emerges, so vast that it cannot be described in words." (Little, 13) Taoism has no supreme being or God, instead there is the Tao, which underlies and permeates all reality. The goal of Taoists is to become one with the Tao and achieve experiences that are considered mystical. Since the Tao is a concept that has been interpreted in many ways, it is not "a unified religion, and has constantly consisted of teachings based on a variety of original revelations." (Robinet, 1)
Despite this diversity Taoism, like Confucianism, contains an emphasis on propriety, ethics, and virtue. To obtain these virtues, Taoism stresses what is called the "three Jewels of the Tao:" compassion, moderation, and humility. Another concept associated with Taoism is known as "Te," and this concept incorporates the action of the Tao, or the cultivation of the Tao. The two concepts of Tao and Te are brought together in Lao Tzu's famous work the "Tao Te Ching," which means "The Classic of the Way and it's Virtue." (Robinet, 6)
Judaism, as opposed to either Taoism or Confucianism, is more in line with the Western tradition of a religion. It entails the worship of a "god," along with certain rites and rituals. Judaism is considered to be the first monotheistic religion and can trace this monotheistic tradition back to roughly 1700 BCE and the father of Judaism: Abraham. (Jewish History) At that time the worship of many gods was common, but "Abraham revolutionized the concept of religion and the idea of deity by proclaiming his belief in one God." (Dosick, 6) Judaism is integrally connected to the land that Jews believe was promised to them by God, the "Land of Israel." And from 1200 BCE to 70 CE, the Jews mainly lived in Israel and worshipped their one God. Unlike Taoism and Confucianism, Judaism also encompasses a race of people "linked by a common history, language, literature, land, culture, and destiny." (Dosick, 6)
The Torah, sometimes called the Old Testament of the Bible, is a book that details the history of the Jewish people and their relationship with their God. The Torah demonstrates the direct communication and revelation between God and humans; and the personal relationship involved. Judaism asserts that each individual can have a personal relationship with God, that God and the Jews have a special covenantal relationship, that each person has free will and each is responsible for their own actions, and that the will of God is manifested in the commandments and law as written in the Torah. (Dosick, 11)
While the belief in God is central to Judaism, there are no doctrines, dogma, or creeds that Jews must follow. However, "Judaism is a comprehensive was of life, filled with rules and practices that affect every aspect of life…This set of rules and practices is known as halakhah." ("Judaism 101") Halakhah can be roughly translated as "the path that one walks," but is usually simply called "Jewish Law." The law comes from three sources: the Torah, the Rabbis, and time honored customs, and following the Law of Judaism, sometimes called Mosaic Law, is the way a Jew can obey the will of God. ("Judaism 101")
According to Jewish tradition, there are 613 commandments, or "mitzvot," which are all sacred, binding, and the word of God. What Christians call the "Ten Commandments," the words of God as recorded by Moses in the Exodus story, Jews call the Aseret ha-Dibrot, or the "Ten Sayings," or "Ten Things;" and are considered as "categories of the law." "Each of the 613 mitzvot can be subsumed under on of these ten categories." ("Judaism 101") The categories are then subdivided into two groups: "duties to God," and "duties to people;" and are a set of rules by which a person should behave both toward God and toward others in the community.
Finally Judaism involves certain rituals which a Jew must observe. For instance, Jews must undergo a ritual known as a "Bris," or the circumcision of the penis. This is considered a mark of the covenant between God and the Jews. They must also obey a set of dietary laws called "Kashrut," more commonly referred to as "Kosher." And Jews must observe the sanctity of the Sabbath by not performing certain actions on that day. ("Judaism 101")
Confucianism is not so much a religion as it is a philosophy, but it is a philosophy that is strictly hierarchical. While this may maintain an orderly society, it does so at the expense of those considered inferior. Women and the younger members of the family are subject to the absolute authority of the eldest male, and have little rights of their own. Confucianism also asserts a great respect for the law, but this law is based on the class system and it's principles of privileges. Higher members of society, when guilty of crimes, usually receive lesser punishments than lower members guilty of the same offence.
Taoism too seeks to create a more harmonious society, but not by instilling crushing external rules, but by creating a system that allows for each individual to personally experience the nature of the universe in their everyday life. It is hoped that by seeking that personal experience, the individual will behave in an orderly and virtuous way. However, while this can be successful for some individuals, each individual is different and some are simply not capable of the personal integrity necessary to achieve such a state. Taoism also maintains a certain amount of the ancient spirit worship of nature which in the 21st century seems to be a…