Scholar from China Compares Judaism, Confucianism

September 30, 2008

Fu Youde, professor of philosophy and Jewish studies of Shandong University in China, spoke about the defining characteristics of both Judaism and Confucianism in a series of talks at Brandeis this month. His talks were cosponsored by the Ethics Center.

“The existence of a single deity is the most fundamental concept in Judaism,” he said. “He is creator of the world with some supernatural characteristics such as omnipotence and omniscience.” At the same time, God in Judaism also expresses human emotions such as love, anger, and compassion, Fu pointed out.
Fu noted that Judaism and Confucianism both value “love of man.” In Judaism, he explained, love has two meanings, a religious one, as in love of God, and one is moral, as in love of a neighbor. In Confucianism, that love is “not limited to family, clan, tribe, city or country,” he said. He went on to describe what he sees as a big difference between love in Confucianism and Judaism, is that in Judaism “the love is universal,” he explained. “In Confucianism, there is some preference. You love your parents first.”

The faiths differ in that Judaism is God centered and Confucianism is man centered, he explained. “God functions as both the basis and the goal of Jewish ethics,” he said. “In Confucianism the ultimate goal is to be a good man.”

He stated that Confucian ethics are self-disciplined while Jewish ethics are other disciplined. In Judaism, he said, believers fear God and his punishment. “Man’s moral motive … comes not from within but from fear of an external power,” he said.  In Confucianism, man behaves correctly “because he wants to.”

“In Judaism, God is the creator of the world; he supervise and guides human behavior and is the goal of individual pursuit,” he concluded. “God is the beginning and end of morality.” In this way, he said, the core of Judaism is religious, the ethical aspect is secondary. In Confucianism however, he said, “heaven and the spirits are subordinated to man.”

—This report was written by Miranda Neubauer ’10, a correspondent for the Office of Global Affairs.