Confucius Say: We Are In Trouble

And he did [that which was] evil in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that Jehoiakim had done…
-Jer 52:2

ConfuciusBelieve it or not, Confucius has a lot to say about the present state of our society. And it is not pleasant to hear.

One of the essential tenants of Confucian ethical theory is the idea that there exists in every society five Cardinal Relationships. The strength of these relationships determines the vitality of that society, both internally and externally. Through these partnerships flows de – or virtue – which Confucius defines as the Power to Influence. It is also clear through his writings that de was intended to influence toward the good and right.

In order for these relationships to work, they had to exist in a structure – both vertically and horizontally. Vertically they exist in this order:

  • Ruler->Subject
  • Father->Son
  • Husband->Wife
  • Older Sibling->Younger Sibling
  • Friend->Friend

The horizontal relationship is also important. As de flows down, it also flows across. Therefore, it is the Ruler’s responsibility to instruct his people in the aspects of virtue. A Father is to instruct his son, and so on. There are two places where this flow of power is reciprocal. The first is Husband and Wife. In that relationship, the flow starts from the husband – but is then returned by his wife. The second is Friend to Friend – where the flow must be both ways.

The outcome of all this is that if all relationships are conscious of the need of de, and actively participate in it – then society will be stable and vital. Break the chain at any level and society breaks as well.

While Confucius penned these thoughts, they are not unique to him. Neither are they antithetical to Christian thinking. We see these relationships outlined throughout Scripture. When the kings of Israel walked with the Lord their reign was blessed. When they were not obedient their land was plunged into ruin. Fathers are told to both love their children and discipline them. Husbands are instructed to love their wives as Christ loved the church. And we are always to be in a community of faith where we can be loved and challenged by other believers.

We are seeing today what happens when those relationships break down. We as a people neither trust the wisdom of those who lead us nor seek to emulate their morality. We have made divorce incredibly easy. Families are broken apart and are distant from each other. We have digitalized our society to the point where we have very few “soul friends” who can challenge each other. Perhaps most frightening of all is the increasing lack of the role of the father in the American family:

Yesterday the federal government released its latest figures on births in the United States, including out-of-wedlock births. The numbers are very close to last year’s: 72.3 percent of non-Hispanic blacks are now born out-of-wedlock; 66.2 percent of American Indians/Alaska Natives; 53.3 percent of Hispanics; 29.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites; and 17.2 percent of Asians/Pacific Islanders. That’s 40.7 percent overall: a disaster. (National Review)

No wonder we see crime rates that are out of control in places like Chicago and Los Angeles. While the death of Trayvon Martin (who had an active father in his life) is a tragedy, the even greater tragedy is that he indeed fit the very real profile of a young black man who has been given no moral direction in his life and therefore represents a threat. The gangs that we see which are the source of this profile are boys who are responding to a very deep need for a moral authority – but only end up finding that father figure in groups of boys who share a similar loss and therefore hold a warped view of what being a real man entails.

Our marriages are in shambles. We have thoroughly emasculated men so they no longer take a leadership role in marriage. The irony is the overwhelming sentiment from female students in my ethics classes is that they long for strong men who will care for them, love them, and cherish them in every way. They cannot find any men who are so defined – because society has done a great job of removing them.

In fact, we have very few good relationship structures in place that can halt this flow of destructive force. Families are spread throughout the country – so we cannot be a source of strength and support for each other. We do not trust our neighbors – and tend to make communities online – so we are not challenged in faith or action. The Cardinal Relationships – so essential to any community – have all but vanished.

The good news of all this is that we do not have to fix the entire structure at once. All we have to do is fix just one level – and the rest will come. Imagine – for example – what would happen if husbands would take up their proper role in marriage. Men would neither dominate their wives nor shirk from them. Instead, husbands would do everything in their power to help their wife be the very best Child of God she could be. He would cherish her, strengthen her weaknesses, exalt in and give witness to her strengths, protect her, and in all things love her.

Imagine what would happen if the goal of every husband is to present his wife to God as a testament of Christ’s faith and sacrifice. Children who see this servant-leader in their father would seek to know the same with each other. As they see that flow of virtue in their family, they would also seek it in their relationships outside of their kin. When these children – who have known self-sacrifice and virtue when they were young – become people in positions of power, odds are that they will continue to seek and teach virtue in whatever they are doing. When men are empowered by virtue to be leaders in home and work, they then can teach that virtue to their sons – so that the boy does not grow up to be a bigger boy – but indeed grows up to be man. And that man – in the end – will continue that role in his relationship with his wife.

All this can happen. Indeed, if our present society is to exist in freedom and prosperity – it must happen. If we are not intentional about our relationships with each other then our society will continue to crumble.

Is that too much to ask?

With Thy strength, O Master, gird us;
Be our Guide, and be our Guard:
Fill us with Thy Holy Spirit;
Oh, revive us by Thy Word!
Send refreshing, send refreshing,
From Thy presence, gracious Lord!
Send refreshing, send refreshing,
And revive us by Thy Word!
-Daniel Whittle

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