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Confucius for Quakers:  2

Posted on Friday, September 29, 2006 at 09:00PM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in , | CommentsPost a Comment

Artful words and a pose of respectability are seldom associated with human kindness (jên).

— Confucius (K’ung-fu Tzu), Analects (Lun Yü) 1.3
(shortly after 500 B.C.)                                       

In my last Confucius posting, I pointed to a skill that Confucius valued and that established Quakerism also values, and asked whether it was also something Christ values, or truly essential to our Christian, Quaker path.

I asked, because the skill that Confucius was talking about — the skill of going slowly and remembering the distinction between major issues and minor ones — is procedural and practical. And as such, it plugs right into that purely ceremonious Quakerism which some Friends, especially converts, seem to get stuck in: the Quakerism that is fascinated with the details of how we conduct weddings and how we conduct meetings for business and so forth, but not particularly drawn to what Christ called “the weightier matters of justice, mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23).

Now in this present passage, we see a different side of Confucius: a side that Friends who are skeptical of ceremonialism and hypocrisy can easily relate to.

Christ denounced the hypocrites — “hypocrites”, in the original Greek, meaning “people who go through the motions without understanding what it’s about”, or in other words, “people without a clue”. Here Confucius points to why hypocrisy is wrong — namely, that it so often masks an absence of that absolute essential, human kindness.

What is by-the-numbers Quakerism worth, anyway, when human kindness isn’t in the picture? What is rightly-ordered meeting for business, what is plain dress be it ever so striking to the eye? What is principled behavior worth, indeed, when kindness is not a controlling part of it?

There’s a key Chinese word at the end of the aphorism I’ve quoted: jên (or in other dialects, rén). It stands for a whole complex of ideas, and in other passages from Confucius’s works, I translate it a bit differently. But always, kindness is a part of what it’s all about.

Would Christ have approved of this emphasis on kindness? You know he would, and does.

(click here to go to the next essay in this series)

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