Fathers of Faith

The World and I, November 1999 | Go to article overview

Fathers of Faith


Whose life and work, in the long arc of history, has the greatest consequence? Today, sports figures, wealthy and influential business and industry leaders, political stars, media celebrities, and acting and singing sensations seem to get most of the attention and adulation, but do they really matter all that much? To be sure, Michael Jordan, Bill Gates, Newt Gingrich, Barbara Walters, and Michael Jackson changed the world. But the changes they made, although impressive, are small when compared with what was wrought by the genuinely great innovators, the founders of the major religions: Moses, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, Muhammad.

In our continuing series on the Fathers of Faith, this month Harvard Professor Tu Weiming presents the life and work of Confucius. As Karl Jaspers in the 1950s and Voltaire, Rousseau, and Leibniz in the eighteenth century all noted, Confucius was one of the most paradigmatic individuals in all of recorded human history. Born into a family of small nobility in 551 b.c.e., Confucius lived in a place and time of social and political turmoil and crisis. As Professor Tu details, through study and work Confucius developed a personal, concrete, and practical way of life that was intended to be universally applicable to all particular aspects of the human condition. This Confucian Way has deeply influenced China and indeed most of East Asia.

In our other essays this month, Anne Wortham looks at the cowboy movies and TV shows that she and her small-town child companions watched in the years 1945--1955. …

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