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 Sciences Academy 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 gripping China, 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 support.
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 their faith.
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 and honor.
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 in China 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 "providence."
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 clans.
For Part I of Liu Peng's lecture see 25/07/2012: The Achilles' Heel of China's Rise: Belief