[Note: This is Part II of a triptych on 主恩. Click here for part one.]
Tim Smith shares his thoughts about secularist transmission of morality. It is often said that secularists often have a stronger moral code than those who hold to a God. To this he writes:
Secularist parents have an insufficient base for a theory of goodness so they tend to produce amoral but socially competent adults, who feel little guilt. (Whenever anyone offers the seemingly pregnant observation that religious people are plagued by guilt, my secret response is something like “duh.” Of course they do [sic].)
By “amoral” I don’t mean they don’t act morally, but that they have no explicit moral theory. The best of these secular parents have only “kindness” as an organizing moral value for their children. They may call it other, more profound-seeming names, like “love”, but this kindness is just a residual glow of an ancient but dead Christian Agape. It comes out in practice something like “be nice when you can.”
I find this rather similar in essence to Confucianisms divorced from the concept of “God”, which can produce morality and some good results, but do not result in regeneration. It emphasizes the concept of humaneness (rén, 仁), but because of human weakness often results merely in a hollow shell of ritual (lĭ, 禮), which can be an excellent cover for hypocrisy.
This is all the more apparent when we see the contemporary term lĭmào (禮貌), whose second element means simply “appearance”. What then is 禮貌 but the appearance of sacrifice, or the fat of rams without the righteousness (yì, 義), a shadow of the good? Although it is said in Lunyu,
many Chinese people who adhere to Confucian teachings still cannot get past that to which to the mean man (小人) clings: money. Why else are materialism and conspicuous spending so prevalent among Chinese people in California? Form without substance, shell without essence, is this not how we often clothe our lives before we know it? Yet when Confucius is placed under God in His service, I think no Chinese-ness is lost: rather the kernel of Master Kong’s teachings is regained in a way their empty pursuit cannot make.
What do you think?
[Continue to Part III.]