¶ … Confucianism, Catholicism and Islam between 1450 and 1750.
Three major religions, located at diverse axes of the world, Catholicism, Confucianism, and Islam, were faced with similar problems and challenges in the years between 1450 and 1750. Catholicism encountered a militant Protestant Reformation in the shape of Martin Luther King that espoused religion whilst criticizing the Pope. Confucianism, in the shape of the renowned philosopher and politician Wang Vangming, grappled with a future that threatened to challenge its traditional learning and way of life whilst Wahhabism introduced fundamentalist religion into an Islam that had gradually become more secular and detached from the Koran-simulated way of life. The following essay elaborates on their individual problems and challenges.
Luther's Protestantism effectively ended the many years of sole religious monopoly that the Catholic Church had on Europe. At the same time, Catholicism was also threatened by the new Humanism that tentatively insisted, first weakly then ever stronger, that man was as equally as the Church in charge of his destiny and ruler in the world. Humanism was characterized by changes in Arts, agriculture, general culture, and exploration to other parts of the world and most importantly the printing and the scientific revolution all of which opened people's minds up to new ideas. Renaissance was followed by the Enlightenment that, particularly towards the end and specially so in the shape of thinkers such as Hume, Rousseau, and many other French philosophes, questioned religious authority and religious claims to sole and eternal truth. Whilst both Protestantism and Humanism challenged Catholicism, each ironically differed from the other. The first looked to the past, namely to religion seeking its inspiration therefrom, whilst the second looked to the future and to man's ability to overcome travails and create his future, not through religion, but through his own resources.
Luther is not denying the truth of Christianity. He avows his belief in Jesus and allies himself with the Gospel. It is only the Pope (and this is a huge step) whom he denounces claiming that the Pope's acts make him no true Christian, that he is the Antichrist and a 'Turk' and that contrary to Jesus, founder of the Christian church who was humble, poor, and espoused a simple life, the Pope and his retinue engaged in power-mongering, in generating money, generally by corrupt means, and in practicing hypocritical activities such as celibacy, asceticism, 'scourging themselves' and fasting none of which is required by God:
If the Pope were the head of the Christian Church," writes he, " then the church were a monster with two heads.. The Pope may well be, and is, the head of the false church."
Whilst Catholicism grappled with Protestant reformation and Humanism, Confucianism was undergoing its own transition.
Traditional Ming Dynasty China (1368-1644) had emphasized elite education for the few that constituted moral self-improvement and rigid learning to pass a national exam. Only the very wealthy could afford these conditions and, hence that it was the fact that only a privileged few gained access to official positions and social prestige.
In the 15th century, Wang Vangming debated this position contesting that all kinds of people should be allowed the opportunity to advance to and attempt to achieve elevated status in Chinese society. Wang Vangming's writings give us a glimpse into the humility of the man and his certainty that moral certitude lies within us. We also see his esteem of the 'ordinary' individual in the example, for instance, of the lower-ranking official who complained that preoccupation with his work prevented him from studying as much as he wished. Wang Vangming consoled him that ordinary wisdom was encountered by him on a regular basis "since you have official duties, you should use them as a basis for your studies." And that "all you need to know is in yourself 2." True wisdom, he insisted, lay as much in ordinary people as it lay in the elite and wisdom could be found as much from absorption in the normal routine of life as it could in academic pursuit. Moral knowledge need not be necessarily gained from books. It lies within the reach of each and every individual since "intuitive moral knowledge exists in people. No matter what…
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