Near and Far: Intersecting Patterns of Religious Values in Asia and North America

Unbeknownst to me, the American Marine afoot— who, in the recent past, meandered in several Asian countries completely disinterested in anything but adventure –were the ground rooted social values that many Asians have and continue to practice. These are the kind of values that do not have price tags or, at times, even titles; it is simply an ancient “way” that has semblance to those values cultivated in my own familiar society that, in my case, has existed on both the east and west coasts of America.

After digesting a modest heap of journals and articles recommended by an Asian history educator and conducting my own digging a same— simultaneously reflecting on my past “adventures” and social interaction with Asian culture –I belatedly discovered a correlation between Asian and American values, albeit hot and cold. I recognized that filial piety, a premier value of Asian religion, has distinct similarities to the fifth commandment of Christianity; that the education of these values were paramount in both cultures and that science nearly beached many religious beliefs in Asia as it did during the progressive era in America. That being said, I am aware that not all Asian or American belief systems are considered religions. However, for sake of argument and continuity, I turn to the dictionary definition— a necessary trite – in order to promote contextual understanding of the word religion:

1. The belief in a god or in a group of gods

2. An organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods

3. An interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group

I will borrow definition “3,” as underlined, for the duration of the essay in order to streamline diction; inasmuch as I feel this to be overkill, the word religion in and of itself is a slippery slope to climb, and as a god or gods are not always in the cards when it comes to cultural religions as aforementioned, clarity favors the truth.

It is no secret that North America is but an infant in a line-up with Europe and Asia, or, what has come to be known as Eurasia. A small-scale example of this vast variance can be related to the difference between the east and west coasts of the United States: the east coast holding the historical foundation, and the west coast the new kid in town. It is my argument that many of the religious values Americans harbor, or have at one time harbored, are those passed down, not from pilgrim to pilgrim, but from Eurasia to pilgrim.

A fair assumption even in modern times is that Christianity has been a religion native to the west. However, there is definite overlapping. Perhaps in the intricate details of Christianity not so much, as the correlation of eastern religion can miss the mark, but in the grand view of the message or purpose of living an ethical life, many of these branches of religion have sprouted from the same tree. In an article from the Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, author Daniel Qin recognizes that: “Jesus sets an example of being filial to both his earthly parents and His heavenly Father. Jesus being fully man and fully God and the only Mediator between God and man, reveals to mankind the true meaning and practice of filial piety, and the connection between being filial to both earthly parents and our heavenly Father” (Qin 159).   

The fifth commandment of the Old Testament simply stated: honor thy father and thy mother (Exodus 20:12), is fairly cut and dry and can be understood as obeying the wishes of earthly parents. In the New Testament, and similar to the Asian civil hierarchy of filial piety, Jesus also grants a respectful nod to honoring civil law and authoritative figures (in this case Caesar): “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).

There is little room for misinterpretation of the fifth commandment, and similarly, filial piety just as stern. Balancing this commandment on the common practice of most modern Americans however, can be likened to a trapeze artist without a net, whereas filial piety practitioners have the safety net of the family as a cohesive unit. In frank, Americans have grown to be rather individualistic in modern upbringings while major populations of Asian families have retained ancient, traditional filial piety and followed it as intended.  

Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore who proudly served the nation from 1959-1990, was interviewed extensively in 1994 by Foreign Affairs. LKY states that a problematic phenomenon in the United States is “The liberal, intellectual tradition [of the U.S.] that developed after World War II… that human beings had arrived at this perfect state where everybody would be better off if they were allowed to do their own thing and flourish” (Zakaria 112).  What can be taken away from this statement is that the U.S., according to LKY, has become an individualistic society, and I do not disagree. Short-term results of an individualistic society may at first flourish positively, but over time, without familial strength and support, a society of individuals will fail. LKY goes on to say that “Eastern societies believe that the individual exists in the context of his family. He is not pristine and separate” (113).  

According to Professor Joseph Adler, in his investigatory essay “Confucianism in China Today,” Confucius’ mission was to “restore social and political harmony by reviving the moral character of the ruling class and the literate elite” (Adler 1). Confucians believe that a human is like a seed that needs to be nurtured, educated.  This resulted in strong efforts to educate and cultivate sages BCE, which in turn produced a trickle-down-effect continuance of the knowledge of Confucianism, thereby fostering teachings of morality. Millenniums later, American colonists in their own morale right wished to educate fellows on the principles of the prevailing Puritan philosophy. In 1636, Harvard College was established to facilitate this action, and although the college never concretely affiliated its institution with a religious denomination– much like Confucianism –many of its early graduates were ministers (The Harvard Guide/”Early History”).

During the progressive era in America (1890s-1920s) scientific methods and ideology took a stronghold on both American thought and faith. With inventions and scientific theories shooting up like weeds overnight, religion became a secondary resource in many American’s lives. The intrigue of victory through science, and the manipulation of a society through such theoretical experiments as eugenics, Americans boarded a bandwagon that veered from spirituality toward a misleading utopia powered by science and technology. Returning to Adler’s essay regarding Confucianism, it is revealed that during the 20th century in China, Confucianism was “harshly criticized by the New Culture Movement” (Adler 6). This movement was of the inclination that traditional culture was restraining the nation from moving forward into modernity. Under the influence of science, the Movement believed that Confucianism was a dated, irrelevant belief system that hindered China’s progression, and ought to be thwarted from society. Simultaneously however, there were many intellectual movers and shakers that disagreed, and held fast that Confucianism could simply be reformed to conform to the modern goals of the country, “especially by engaging in dialogue with Buddhism and Western philosophy” (6).

The perception of ethical values can often be camouflaged by politics, radical and even pragmatic movements; however, at the roots of these values is a simplicity that is perhaps so intrinsically simple by nature that persons fail to recognize the value of the values themselves. I pose the question: who can consciously ignore the social benefits of compassion, humaneness, moderation, respect and obedience to the elders of these practices? And moreover, who can deny the education of these values to our children, which, if accomplished could generate nothing less than success and triumph over what has become near and far: evil, manipulative ignorance.     

 

Works Cited and Referenced:

Adler, Joseph. “Confucianism in China Today.” Kenyon College, 2011. Web.             <http://www2.kenyon.edu/Depts/Religion/Fac/Adler/CV.htm

“Early History of Harvard.” The Harvard Guide. Harvard University, 2005. Web.              <https://web.archive.org/web/20070726133429/http://www.hno.harvard.edu/guide/intro/I ndex.html>.

Qin, Daniel. “Confucian Filial Piety and the Fifth Commandment: A Fulfillment Approach.” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 16.2 (2013): 139-164. Web.

“Religion.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster. Web. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion&gt;.

Zakaria, Fareed and Lee Kuan Yew. “Culture Is Destiny: A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 73, No. 2 (Mar. – Apr., 1994). pp. 109-126. Web.

About Hudson Saffell (36 Articles)
Freelance Writer / Editor
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