Beijing (AsiaNews) - Religion is an
essential element for life, be it a belief in some transcendent being, or
ideology, or a scientific goal. Professor of the Social
in Beijing, Liu
Peng, puts forward in a systematic manner
a few elements to help understand this phenomenon and ensure religious freedom.
The Chinese world, until now accustomed to only refer to legal or illegal (official and underground), "religious
activities", is coming to the realization that you cannot live without
faith, that the individual and society at large are destined to commit suicide.
Liu Peng does not hide his concern about the "loss of faith" currently
a result of the complete failure of a state ideology that is no longer
supported by the masses. For Beijing,
it is time to integrate the faith of each individual that allows for coexistence
and the path toward progress. This is the second part of the text of a lecture
given by the author, entitled "The Achilles heel of Chinese power: belief."
In the coming days we will publish the third and fourth installments. The
subtitles are an editorial addition.
Levels of Classifications of Belief
What do we mean by faith? To the Chinese, faith seems mysterious, yet not
strange. It is invisible and intangible, but everyone feels its existence in
their lives. The Chinese term for faith consists of two characters:
"xin"(信) and "yang"(仰). Xin means "to believe"and yang means "to
venerate."So "xinyang"means "to believe something in an
attitude of veneration."
Academically, faith is defined in various ways which come down to three: 1) it
is a view of the world and life that provides spiritual support and inner
sustenance; 2) it is a belief and admiration for a certain theory, doctrine,
concept, or philosophy; 3) it is a code of conduct that guides human behavior.
"When coming to faith,"Hegel says, "I mean my personal faith that
totally belongs to my inner being."His explanation reveals the
characteristics of faith. First of all, it must be a true belief that comes
from the bottom of one's heart rather than an idea, value, doctrine, or theory
that is only partially believed.
As a subjective experience, faith is marked by enormous subjective emotions.
The followers of a faith will not hold any doubt towards the object in which he
or she believes and will not change his value judgments no matter how others
view the object of his or her faith. The reverence that followers pay to their
faith may sometimes look crazy and ridiculous to outsiders, but the followers
do not care. As far as faith is concerned, deception lies only in the eyes of
the outsider. To the insiders, it is simply a matter of belief or disbelief;
they fully know what they believe and do not believe.
Secondly, faith must be heartfelt, voluntary, accepted unconditionally. The
acceptance, acknowledgement, belief, reverence, admiration, and pursuit must be
without any compellation or imposition. Coercion, enticement, and deception can
never lead to true faith nor can it maintain or change faith. For the sake of
faith, the followers may become fanatic or even lay down their lives. These
actions, however, must be a matter of their own will. Veneration must be
combined with belief; otherwise the pillars of faith will crumble.
Thirdly, faith is the guide for all human attitudes and behaviors, and the
foundation for outlooks on life and values. The attitudes and behaviors are the
external representation of faith. Without faith, one will be tortured by and
crushed under the irreconcilable contradictions. Thus, to maintain an
existence, one has to believe in something that motivates him to live and
function in life. Only with this reason can one live a life that has meaning
and value. Our understanding of this set of values is one's attitude towards
life and values. Our belief in these outlooks is called faith, without which
one can never fully understand the meaning of existence.
Belief, a reason to live
To put it simply, human beings need faith in order to know the meaning of their
existence, the hope for their life, and to have satisfactory reasons for being
in this world. Human beings live by this reason and for this reason. Faith
provides the temporary existence of a human being with an eternal meaning,
explains the relationship between body and soul, the infinite and infinite,
individual and community, present and future, and embodies the reliable
realization of life value and the most important spiritual connotations. This
is the validity of faith, explaining why a human being cannot live without a
set of beliefs that he voluntarily accepts, acknowledges, seeks and follows,
why faith influences his daily life and controls all his fundamental behaviors,
and why the realization of life value is built on the basis of faith.
For an individual, faith is a necessary motivation to strive towards a goal.
Similarly, for a nation and a country, faith is necessary to offer a
fundamental reason for its existence and development and to motivate its
citizens to work together for greater achievements. In this sense, faith is
inalienable, for the individual, a nation, or for humanity as a whole.
Some may contend that the above argument is too dogmatic. They would respond
"I believe in nothing. Am I not living a good life without
faith?"Such a statement demonstrates the mistake of equating faith and
religion. The majorities of people in most countries around the world believe
in a certain religion and understand clearly the object of their faith.
However, in China
many people, except those who are followers of a particular religious belief,
are not particularly conscious of faith. In fact, although religion is a kind
of faith, faith does not equal religion. Therefore, to have no religion does
not mean that one does not have faith. The object of faith can in fact be
religion or something other than a religion. As long as one believes it and
takes it as the right cause of their existence, then it will be their spiritual
One's life goal and life pursuit show clear evidences of a person's faith.
Although they may vary from person to person, these goals and pursuits fall
into the following three inter-related categories: career, family, and self.
The pursuit of a career refers to the fact that one desires to achieve certain
things and takes actions towards those goals. It is a long process in which one
acts for the realization of his ideas and values. This intentional act is
called an "ideal", the efforts made towards this ideal is called
"career", and those who live for career are called
"idealists."To those who strive for their careers, that career is
their faith, their goal, and their reason for living. Their success in a career
gives significance to their life and marks their highest achievement.
Belief and the nation
Humans are also biological in nature, born with the instinct to breed, support
family members, and to love and be loved. Thus, everyone needs a family. This
family is the core of human society and a miniature world to an individual.
Some regard marriage, family and child-rearing as their meaning for existence
and take the pursuit of family happiness as the best manifestation of this
goal. For them, family is their faith, the source of all their motivations.
However, there are those who break with this family for a variety of reasons.
They prefer to confine the meaning of their lives to their own existence. To
them the world exists in order to meet the needs of the self. Rather than
living for family or society, they live for themselves and their acts are
motivated by their own existence and desires. For them, self is the object of
Different goals constitute the bases of faith for all mortal beings and reflect
the social attributes and biological attributes of mankind. To an individual,
the above three kinds of goals are not in conflict, since a person may live for
one, two, or all of them, and any one of them may be a strong motivation to
live. In contrast, faith in actual life is manifested in much more complicated
ways due to the fact that one not only requires a reason for his own existence
but also wants the reason to have maximum value. When one's values rise above
personal interests to the values shared by a community or a nation, his faith correspondingly
ascends from the level of pure individual pursuit to the level of social
interest; from the material and tangible level to the spiritual and abstract
level; from the finiteness of individual life to the infiniteness of the world
and the universe.
To an individual, faith is the motivation for personal pursuit and the meaning
of existence. To a nation, faith stresses the common goals shared by the
community and society. Despite the gap, the two are not unrelated. Because of
faith's subjective and voluntary nature, the faith of a nation should be a
collection and manifestation of the faith of the individuals; otherwise it will
lose its fundamental momentum and fall by the wayside.
Since the beginning of time, through observation and study, numerous
philosophers have categorized, summarized, and combined the meanings of
existence into numerous complex opinions and theories in order to provide
answers for all of the problems encountered in life. These explanations,
differing in both form and content, are represented by religion, philosophy,
and science. These theories have evolved over time and have broken out of their
original regional, tribal, and ethnic boundaries to be widely disseminated,
refined and systematized into a wide range of faiths. These include: religious
faiths such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism; philosophical faiths
such as Materialism, Idealism, Confucianism, Indian philosophy, Platonism, and
Hegelism; political faiths such as Communism, Marxism, National Socialism, and
Pacifism; humanitarian faiths such as Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and Rule
of Law; scientific faiths such as Heliocentric theory, the Big Bang Theory, and
the Theory of Evolution.
Belief in nothing is a little like dying
The forms and contents of these faiths differ, and occasionally come into
conflict with one another. Despite the differences, however, they play the same
role in providing a valid reason for human existence. A person may commit
himself to one faith or several faiths at the same time. One may, for example,
be a religious follower and a supporter of a certain political idea. One may be
committed to both religion and science. One may believe in both science and
certain philosophical ideals.
These faiths enrich people's lives with purpose and power. The power can not
only affect change in the follower of the faith as an individual, but can also
influence society. It may even captivate the follower to such a degree that he
is willing to sacrifice his interests and life for the spreading and
realization of his faith. To die in the service of one's faith is an honor.
This is true for the martyrs who die for their religious beliefs, the
politicians who die for their political claims, the scientists who die for
their scientific pursuits, and the women who die in defense of their chastity
Conversely, if one does not have faith in any particular belief system other
than himself, he is a so-called "self-belief follower."This is
considered to be the lowest level of faith that offers the minimal motivation
and reason for one's existence, similar to an animal's survival instinct. As a
highly intelligent animal with rational thinking, this position is difficult to
maintain since "I"cannot at the same time be both the subject and the
object. Since he cannot truly answer the question "what do I live
for?"he will eventually give up trying to discern the meaning of his
existence, reaching a state of "zero faith"or "believing in
nothing."The inevitable outcome of this denial of the value of one's existence
is suicide. Without a reason to live, life itself becomes redundant.
Dangerous as it is, this state of "zero
faith"is not easy to reach. In fact, in most cases, this position is
really simply a lack of awareness of the levels and categories of faith. When
most Chinese claim they have no faith, what they mean is that they are not
committed to any particular religious belief. This begs the question: is it
feasible not to be committed to any religious belief? The answer is no. This is
not to say that everyone has to believe in a religion. Rather, a majority of
the people has not yet realized that, apart from the established religions
(Christianity, Buddhism, Islam) which are marked by beliefs in the supernatural
God and transcendental existence, other ideas, opinions, theories, and philosophies
which touch on coexistence, transcendental existence and the existence of the
next world are also forms of "religion."When one unconditionally
venerates and believes in something that is beyond reason and practical
verification and looks to it for guidance in goals and actions, he has, as a
matter of fact, already turned that "something" into a religion in
his own world. Though this "religion"is different from or even in
opposition to the common notions of religion, the fact remains that it serves
as the spiritual pillar or faith of that person.
For a person who believes in religion,
religious faith is a peg on which he hangs everything and a spiritual pillar
which upholds everything. Conversely, to a person who does not believe in
religion or opposes religion, he can take any non-religious theory or idea as
his own "religion"to worship, to provide the basis for his outlook on
life and values, and give meaning to his existence. These two kinds of
"religion"differ in that they have different objects of worship, but
function with the same effect in offering something as a basis for a value
system and spiritual pillar.
Loss of faith in China
When the term "loss of faith" is used
today, it refers to the loss of a system of belief in the state, nation, and
society. It does not mean that there is no official belief system; rather the
belief system established and advocated by the state has lost its status as the
collection and manifestation of individual faiths. In other words, the common
ground between individual faith and official faith has disappeared. Both the
individual and the state need a "god"to resort to, but as it
currently stands the one set up by the authorities and the one worshipped by
the common people are not the same.
Discussing the above differences has practical
significance. In the course of human history, there was a long period during
which religion was taken as the supreme faith and everything was subservient to
that religion. When organized states appeared emperors, kings, and other state
rulers used the sacredness of religion to justify and consolidate their reigns.
When the Church and State were unified the notion of the "divine right of
kings" formed both the content of religious faith and the core of
political faith. When the Church and State were separated the state justified
its reign and established its authority through violence or
"democratic" means. The positions and policies of the state were no
longer considered sacred, but most rulers still took religion as their official
ideology. By keeping religion at the center of community life, they were able
to consolidate their power. They placed themselves alongside the religion and
god of the people, giving the impression that they were acting on behalf of
Even to this day, many countries in the world
are still classified according to the religious belief shared by a majority of
the population. Countries are said to be "Christian" or
"Muslim" or "Buddhist." In these countries it is the
religion, not the rulers, who provide the spiritual foundation and value
system. The official ideologies and official faiths conform to the religious
faith of the general public. The public may express their dissatisfaction with
their rulers, but they will not change their faith or their god. The rulers may
come and go, but the spiritual beliefs remain the same. For these countries
"loss of faith" is not a problem. The conformity between official
ideologies and individual value orientation and spiritual faith is reasonable
and inevitable when viewed from the perspective of national interests of the
whole. No country is willing to lose its ground of existence, fall apart, and
destroy itself. It is for this reason that no state takes lightly the role of
religious faith as a bond that integrates diverse ethnic groups and various
For Part I of Liu Peng's lecture see 25/07/2012: The
Achilles' Heel of China's Rise: Belief