Natural Polytheism in China
Published on: November 30, 2011
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  • Gloria

    Fascinating article. But I suggest your conclusion is a bit askew. Instead of “the weight of history over the present,” I suggest “the continuance of tradition into the present.” Why?

    History is a reification of events and is objective, not subjective in nature. In contrast, tradition exists only as it is embodied in successive generations, and tradition is thus necessarily a subjective phenomenon. By “objective” I mean something we look at; by “subjective” I mean something within us or that is us.

  • WigWag

    “The educated Confucian gentleman considered such superstitions below his dignity, but quite permissible if not actually desirable for women and other uneducated people.” (Peter Berger)

    As we’ve come to expect, this is a very interesting and thought-provoking post from Professor Berger.

    The idea that a well educated Confucian gentlemen might think that religion is superstitious mumbo jumbo but useful for controlling the servants and his female relations is just as prevalent in the west as it was in the east.

    Unless, I’m mistaken, the idea of the “noble lie” goes back as far as Plato and his “Republic.”

    More recently, the idea that religion could be useful even if it wasn’t true, characterized the thinking of Leo Strauss and the founding father of the neoconservative movement, Irving Kristol.

    Obviously neither was Confucian; both were secular Jews who wrestled with atheism. But like the Confucian gentleman in Professor Berger’s post, they were both in love with religion but not because they were personally devout.

  • R.C.

    One can generalize even further (or should it be farther?) about the propensity of the educated gentleman to blasé disbelief in propositions he finds it convenient for his fellow men to hold.

    It is as widespread as the contrast between the urbane “city mouse” and the unsophisticated “country mouse.” In many ways, it is the contrast between the city-dweller in the Manhattan-to-D.C. corridor and the rural or suburban family man who genuinely enjoys his distance from the bustling halls of power and wouldn’t have it any other way. Something about the former environment (noise? distractions? privilege? decadence? constant exposure to dangerously large crowds of humanity?) seems to erode faith. Something about the latter (family focus? the opportunity to see stars and trees and open undeveloped land and to hear silence?) seems, if not to bolster it, then not to erode it.

    In the Republican party, for example, most of the movers and shakers either have “complicated” faith lives or none. But this is the party whom Democrats characterize as clinging to their guns and religion; in the 2000 presidential election, maps were produced labeling the red states “Jesusland.” What is the difference between the GOP leadership and the Tea Partying conservative base? Easy: The former live in New York and in D.C., and the latter live in flyover country.

    National Review Online featured, in recent memory, comments by several regulars about how they think it’s a good thing that Christmas has effectively become a secular holiday: One doesn’t find devout Christians holding that view!

    John Derbyshire commented on this very topic: He’s glad so many red-staters are Christians. He isn’t; he’s an atheist. But he thinks the U.S. would be far worse off if the percentage of atheists in the G.O.P. were to rise precipitously, because he thinks that most folk who are atheist would not, as he does, retain ideological commitments to various ideas which Christians in the U.S. tend to favor.

  • James Lane

    By postulating an absolute distinction between Western civilization and Japanese (and Chinese) culture, the Japanese philosopher (whose name Dr. Berger can’t recall) is himself employing what he considers a Western fallacy—the principle of the excluded middle.

  • Natural Polytheism???–tradition only
    “harmonious society”—a truly Confucian concept ?—– we could not feel that in China,it like a slogan for the “harmonious society”

    Most of Chinese do NOT have religion,atheism,our religion maybe was wrshipping our ancestor,it’s culture,traditional culture,Not Polytheism,it likes the chinese new year…..


  • It is not unusual at all for Chinese to study Bhuddism. In fact, Tibet is the source of Bhuddism for China historically. However, Christianity is rapidly rising in China. Christianity was only put down in Japan with great loss of life. There is no natural polytheism in China or Japan. In Japan Shinto shrines and theology are ignored except at New Year.

    Africans are “natural” polytheists because they are still living in a pre-indusrial society. Industrialization and Westernization have destroyed the legitimacy of polytheism. Even so, Christianity is spreading rapidly in Africa.

    Only India and Muslim countries have been resistant to Christianity based on extreme levels of violence, whether official or unofficial. Hindu nationalists and high caste Hindus see Christianity as a threat as much as radical Muslims do.

    What is unusual is the lack of an spiritual sense in Japan. This is probably related to the social enforcement, public expressions of Christianity are socially punished by shunning and economic attack. No salary man can admit to being a Christian in Japan or be fired outright. It is considered a threat, for no rational reason, to the employer and to Japan.

  • Indeed,it is not unusual for chinese study Buddism, other religious as well,when people ask a chinese what is your religion,the answer is No RELIGION for majority of chinese

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