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儒家基督徒论坛编者按:下文作者论述的儒家神学的三种模式是完全儒家传统立场的,不是儒家基督徒立场的儒家神学。但是具有参考价值。

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儒家神学的三种模式(Confucian Theology: Three Models)

Chinese and Japanese Traditions
Confucian Theology: Three Models
By Yong Huang, Kutztown, Pennsylvania, USA (July 2007)


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Key Topics: ethics, Chinese religions, goddesses, atheism, henotheism, monotheism, philosophy, God, gods.

Abstract:
If there are still disagreements about whether Confucianism is a religion, there seems to be a consensus that Confucianism does not have a theology. In this article, I attempt to show that there are at least three models of serious god-talks in the Confucian tradition: (i) heaven is discussed in the Confucian classics of Book of Documents, Books of Poetry, and Analects as something transcendent of the world, similar to Christian God in crucial aspects; (ii) heaven is discussed among contemporary Confucians, represented by Xiong Shili, Mou Zongsan, and Tu Weiming, as something ‘immanently transcendent’, the ultimate reality immanent in the world to transcend the world; and (iii) heaven is discussed by neo-Confucians, particularly the Cheng brothers of the Song dynasty, as the wonderful life-giving activity transcending the world within the world.

儒家神学的三种模式
如果我们多少还有些理由说儒家是一种宗教,大概没有多少人会认为有所谓的儒家神学。我在本文中试图表明,至少有三种严格意义上的儒家神学:(1)在儒家经典《诗经》、《书经》甚至《论语》中的天是一个超越的存在,与基督教神学中的上帝十分相似;(2)以熊十力、牟宗三、杜维明为代表的新儒家“内在超越观念”表达了在世界之内超越世界;(3)在宋明儒特别二程那里用《易经》的“生”解释了的“理”,则与把上帝理解为创造性而非创造者的某些当代基督教神学十分一致。

关键词:
儒家神学;内在超越;天
 
I. Introduction

The title of this essay seems somewhat presumptuous: does Confucianism have a theology? This is indeed a legitimate question, as the title presupposes a positive answer to the prior question: is Confucianism a religion? It is true that, while we are still far from reaching a definitive answer to this prior question, many scholars do regard Confucianism as a religion. However, for most people to say that Confucianism is a religion does not imply that it must have a theology. For example, Joel Kuppermann claims that ‘there are important religions in which a theistic element is negligible or entirely missing (e.g., early Buddhism and Taoism, as well as Confucianism)’ (Kupperman 1971, p. 189).

So, instead of god, scholars have often searched for other religious dimensions in Confucianism. For example, Mary Evelyn Tucker focuses on self-transformation. In her view,

[R]eligion in its broadest sense is a means whereby human beings, recognizing the limitations of phenomenal reality, undertake specific practices to effect self-transformation within a cosmological context. This is not simply a passing or superficial enterprise but one that is all encompassing. In these general terms, Confucianism can certainly be regarded as religious in the sense that the primary activity of Confucians is the establishing of moral reflection and spiritual awareness within the changes of cosmological processes. (Tucker 1998, p. 14)

Herbert Fingarette thinks that Confucian religiosity comes primarily from its emphasis on ritual or ceremony, li(礼)  . In his view,

[U]nlike the way he appears in the Christian view, man is not holy by virtue of his absolute possession, within himself and independently of other men, of a ‘piece’ of the divine and immortal soul. Nor is flowering of the individual the central theme; instead it is the flowering of humanity in the ceremonial acts of men. (Fingarette 1972, p. 78)

While claiming that Confucianism is atheistic, Roger Ames argues that Confucianism is nevertheless profoundly religious in John Dewey's ‘sense of the connection of man, in the way of both dependence and support, with the enveloping world that the imagination feels is a universe’ (2007, p. 10). Paul Rule argues that Confucianism, particularly neo-Confucianism, is religious because of its emphasis on jing(敬)  , reverence. In his view, when we talk about neo-Confucianism, we should focus ‘on behaviour, practices, not systems; on faith, not theology’ (Rule 1986, p. 143). He claims that there is faith or jing in neo-Confucianism, which is not faith in a person but ‘in a way of life and action, the Confucian tao’ or ‘seriousness’ about living (Rule 1986, pp. 143–4; see also Thompson 1990). There are many other attempts to approach Confucianism as religious without appealing to any idea of transcendent god.

Rodney L. Taylor argues against any of these non-theistic interpretations of Confucian religiosity. According to him,

[W]ithout a concept of the Absolute, we are not dealing with the subject matter of religion. On the other hand, when the Absolute is present, the capacity for religion is also present. Notions of the Absolute within religion can appear in different forms – transcendent or immanent, theistic or monistic, or any of a variety of other forms. (Taylor 1998, p. 82)

In his view, there is such an Absolute in Confucian tradition, which

is Tian, translated most frequently as Heaven, in the early or classical Confucian tradition, and Tianli, Principle of Heaven in the later or Neo-Confucian tradition. Throughout twenty-five hundred years of Confucian history, either Tian or Tianli has been the center of Confucian thought. (Taylor 1998, p. 88)

For Taylor, it is in this sense that we can regard Confucianism as religious. While I do not necessarily want to go so far as to say that a concept of the Absolute is the necessary and sufficient condition for a tradition to be religious, I do attempt to show, in this essay, that there are some serious Confucian ‘god-talks’.

II. Theology of the Transcendent


Karl Jaspers argues that there was a breakthrough of transcendence in all cultures of the axial age (Jaspers 1954, p. 100). Many scholars have thus argued that in early Confucianism, particularly in the Analects, and pre-Confucius Confucianism, particularly in the Confucian classics The Book of Poetry and The Book of Documents, 1 there are serious discussions of a transcendent god, shangdi上帝  , Lord-on-High, or tian天  , heaven, although such a theism has been gradually replaced by secular humanism in the later development of Confucianism. This of course is not something new. Some Christian missionaries had brought this to our attention long time ago. For example, writing in 1603, Matteo Ricci, a Catholic missionary in China, already claimed that ‘our Lord of Heaven is the Sovereign on High [Shangdi 上帝] in the Ancient Chinese canonical writings’ (Ricci 1985, p. 123). After citing from The Doctrine of the Mean, The Book of Poetry, The Book of Documents, The Book of Change, and The Book of Rites, he confidently claimed that ‘the Sovereign on High and the Lord of Heaven are different only in name’ (Ricci 1985, p. 125). Speaking in 1880, James Legge, a Protestant Christian missionary, made the same claim: the two Chinese characters, tian天 and di 帝 , in The Book of Poetry and The Book of Documents ‘show us the religion of ancient Chinese as Monotheism’ (Legge 1880, p. 11). In the following, however, I show focus on some more recent scholarly works.

Benjamin Schwartz, a renowned sinologist, is one of those who apply Jasper's idea of the ‘breakthrough of transcendence of the axial age’ to early Confucianism. In his view, the two pre-Confucius Confucian classics, The Book of Documents and The Book of Poetry, present ‘the eagerness of dynastic founders [of Zhou周  , 1111–249 bc] to conflate tian, who is clearly associated with the physical heavens, with shangdi’ (Schwartz 1985, p. 44), the high god of their predecessor Shang商  [1751–1112 bc] people. By using the word ‘who’, it is clear that for Schwartz, despite its obvious association with the physical sky and so its apparent impersonal nature, tian for the Zhou people is the same personal god as shangdi for the Shang people. For Schwartz, while we can find in these two books ‘the grouping toward the identification of Heaven with the ultimate order of things, we also find passages which lend support to the seventeenth-century Jesuit missionaries’ interpretation of Heaven in theistic terms’ (Schwartz 1985, p. 50). In either case, however, ‘heaven’ is clearly in a category that sets ‘him’ far beyond the ancestral and natural spirits. The message the dynastic founders of Zhou tried to send, in Schwartz's view, is that the high god, whether called shangdi or tian, is ‘in no way bound to any royal lineage’ (Schwartz 1985, p. 50). In other words, these dynastic founders were eager to provide a divine justification of the new dynasty and regard the succession of Shang by Zhou as the mandate of heaven or shangdi. Thus, Zhou founders had a clear pragmatic agenda in their appeal to heaven/shangdi as the personal God on high. However, Schwartz also points out that this does not mean that they do not have an intrinsic religious faith, as they are also cautious about preserving the mandate of heaven to avoid their own dynasty ending in misfortune.

Benjamin Schwartz believes that ‘heaven’ is also the central religious idea later in the Confucian Analects. As Confucius himself claims that he is a transmitter rather than a renovator, Schwartz argues that ‘heaven’ in the Analects is consistent with ‘heaven’ in these two pre-Confucius classics. Schwartz argues that ‘heaven’ in the Analects is often ‘treated as a conscious being concerned not only with the human order in general, but even with the Master's own mission in particular’ (Schwartz 1985, p. 122). Here he particularly alerts us to a few Analects passages, where Confucius tells us that it is heaven that knows him (Analects 14.37) and produces the courage in him when he is in danger (Analects 7.22); that people cannot destroy a pattern that heaven does not intend to destroy (Analects 9.5); and that he is puzzled by the inscrutable ways of heaven (Analects 3.24).

On this basis, Schwartz argues against those who intend to see Confucius’ ‘heaven’ as an impersonal order of nature. On the one hand, such an interpretation cannot do justice with the above Analects passages. On the other hand, the passage, Analects 3.24, that seems to provide support for such a naturalistic interpretation can also be interpreted differently. In the passage in question, Confucius asks rhetorically, ‘What does Heaven say? Yet the four seasons run their course through it and the hundred creatures are born through it. What does Heaven say?’ In appearance, the passage ‘seems to suggest that nature is, as it were, an "emanation" of Heaven. Unlike the God of the Hebrew Bible, Heaven does not speak’ (Schwartz 1985, p. 123). However, in Schwartz's view, first, here Confucius is replying to his student's question why he prefers not to speak, and so ‘it is not fundamentally focused on Heaven but on Confucius himself’ (Schwartz 1985, p. 123); second, a world, both natural and human, governed by the unspoken routines, regularities, generative processes of nature, rituals, and habits of good behavior ‘would decidedly not be a mindless or spiritless world,’ even though heaven does not speak (Schwartz 1985, pp. 124–5); and third, it is not true that the transcendent god of the Bible ‘must constantly "speak" to maintain the regular course of nature. God is also praised as the author of the ordered and regular aspects of the world’ (Schwartz 1985, p. 125).

This is also an approach taken by Julia Ching. Recognizing that there is a gradual transition in the Confucian tradition from the earlier theistic belief to the later philosophical interpretation of the Absolute, Ching claims that the early Confucianism is clearly theistic. In examining the theism in early Confucianism, Ching focuses on the similar texts as Schwartz does. However, with her Christian background, Ching is more interested in comparing and contrasting the Confucian shangdi and heaven with Christian God. In Ching's view, just like Christian God, Confucian shangdi or heaven is also regarded as the Creator. Acknowledging that Confucianism does not have a doctrine of creation, Ching claims that ‘the Confucian Classics clearly enunciate a belief in God as the source and principle of all things, the giver of life and the protector of the human race’ (Ching 1977, p. 118). To substantiate her claim, Ching cites a speech attributed to King Wu, the founder of Zhou dynasty, in the Book of Documents: ‘Heaven-and-Earth is the Father-and-Mother of the Myriad creatures’; as well as a verse of the Book of Poetry: ‘Heaven gave birth to the multitude of the people’ (Ching 1977, p. 118).

More similar to Christian God, Ching claims, is the Confucian shangdi/heaven regarded as the lord of history. In Confucianism, ‘God has not created man in order to neglect him. God is always with man – especially with the good ruler, who is repeatedly told to "have no doubt nor anxiety, because the Lord-on-High is with you"’ (Ching 1977, p. 120). Ching argues that, on the one hand, the rulership itself is derived from heaven, as the following passage in the Book of Documents attests: ‘Heaven, to protect the inferior people, made for them rulers, made for them teachers, that they may be able to assist the Lord-on-High, to secure the peace of the four quarters [of the Earth]’ (Ching 1977, p. 120); on the other hand, Heaven gives rulers instructions to rule, as the following verse the lord said to King Wen in the Book of Poetry makes clear: ‘Be not like those who reject this and cling to that; Be not like those who are ruled by their likings and desires’ (Ching 1977, p. 120).

The third similarity is between Confucian Mandate of Heaven and Christian Will of God. For Ching, it is true that Confucius, in the Analects, does not invoke heaven, unless ‘in moment of distress and crisis, such as at the death of his favorite disciple (11:8), as a source and principle of his own virtue and mission (9:5), and witness to the integrity of his life and actions (7:22)’ (Ching 1977, p. 121). However, Ching argues that Mandate of Heaven is an important idea in the Analects, which, where Confucius is concerned, ‘connotes the meaning of "God's Will" – the will of a personal God. Confucius speaks it with reverence. Unless one knows the Will (ming), he says, one cannot be a gentleman, that is, a person of high moral character (20.3)’ (Ching 1977, p. 122). It is sometimes claimed that the Confucian heaven is nothing but the will of the people. In Ching's view, however, while there is no contradiction between the will of heaven and the will of people, the difference between the two is made clear by the following verse in the Book of Documents: ‘Heaven hears and sees as our people hear and see; Heaven approves and manifests its awesomeness as our people approve and manifest their awesomeness. The above and the below reach each other: how reverent must the masters of the earth be!’ (Ching 1977, p. 121).

However, Ching also notices some significant differences between Confucian shangdi/heaven and Christian God. First, while also regarding shangdi/heaven as creator, ‘the Confucian tradition has never developed a theory of creation ex nihilo’ (Ching 1977, p. 143). Second, while still clearly referring to the personal god, the word ‘heaven’, which was later substituted for shangdi, ‘lacks inherently a notion of personality’ (Ching 1977). Third, while the Mandate of Heaven resembles the covenant between Yahweh and his people, none of the legendary sage kings were personally deified and claimed ‘to the uniqueness of revelation of the divine, as did Jesus Christ’ (Ching 1977).

Of such a theistic interpretation of early Confucianism, Roger Ames and David Hall are staunchest critics. In their view, it is inappropriate to translate tian as heaven. It is true that di or shangdi was conceived as a personal deity in the Shang dynasty. However, even di or shangdi rules ‘over the human and natural worlds in a manner analogous to the earthly ruler’ and therefore is largely this-worldly (Hall & Ames 1987, p. 202). In contrast, while tian has some religious significance for Zhou people who conquered the Shang, Ames and Hall claim that ‘there is no written basis for determining whether or not, or to what extent, tian was held to be a personal deity’ (Hall & Ames 1987, p. 203) for Zhou people before their conquering of Shang. They acknowledge that tian later does acquire some personal features in the attempt of the Zhou people in imitating the personal relationship of di to the royal houses of Shang. Yet, Hall and Ames argue that there are two features of tian that make it difficulty to become a personal deity: (i) tian can also mean ‘sky’; and (ii) it is often used together with di  , earth. In any case, they claim that, from Zhou to early Confucianism, ‘there is a gradual depersonalization of tian, first in the relatively early identification of the will of tian with popular consensus, and further in a gradual redefinition of tian as a designation for the regular pattern discernible in the unfolding processes of existence,’ with the former culminating in the Mencius and the latter in the Xunzi (Hall & Ames 1987, p. 203).

However, the main concern of Hall and Ames is not about whether tian is anthropomorphic (personal) or not but whether it is transcendent or not. On this more crucial issue, they claim that even di or shangdi of Shang people, to say nothing of tian of Zhou people, is not presented as a transcendent deity, and so whether tian is personal or not is really not an important question. Hall and Ames acknowledge that ‘in the Analects, tian is unquestionably anthropomorphic,’ even though there is a gradual depersonalization (Hall & Ames 1987, p. 205). However, they argue that this does not mean that the Confucian tian can be equated with the Western conception of the deity. The significant difference between the two is that, while the latter is transcendent, the former is immanent. To justify their position, they appeal to Analects 17.19, discussed above. In their view, this passages shows that

[T]ian is not a preexisting creative principle which gives birth to and nurtures a world independent of itself. Tian is rather a general designation for the phenomenal world as it emerges of its own accord. Tian is wholly immanent, having no existence independent of the calculus of phenomena that constitute it. There is as much validity in asserting that phenomena ‘create’ tian as in saying that tian creates phenomena; the relationship between tian and phenomena, therefore, is one of interdependence. (Hall & Ames 1987, p. 207)

In this relation, Hall and Ames argue that tianming, which others translate as the mandate of heaven, for Confucius is not an imperative (ming) coming from an external and independent source (tian). Rather, ‘ming constitutes the causal conditions that sponsor the emergence of a particular human being, or any other phenomenon, and that these conditions are neither predetermined nor inexorable’ (Hall & Ames 1987, p. 207). 2

In his two recent articles, Kelly James Clark defends the theistic interpretation of the early Confucianism against Ames and Hall's criticism. He acknowledges that he makes few pretensions to originality in his interpretation. Nevertheless, he states that ‘it is worth considering because of the increasing tendency among sinologists, especially philosophers, to claim that ancient China had no concept of a personal deity. Hall and Ames are representative and influential proponents of this view’ (Clark 2005, p. 119). In an article focusing on the theology of Zhou people as evidenced in The Book of Documents, Clark argues against the naturalistic interpretation of tian, claiming that ‘Tian functions in precisely the personal and providential way of Di’ (Clark 2005, p. 124), the supreme personal god of Shang people. After some detailed comparisons between this Confucian conception of tian and the Hebrew notion of god, he concludes that there are striking similarities between the two: ‘both traditions affirmed, or came to affirm, a single, ultimate, and personal source of both value and power, both beings were deemed worthy of worship’ (Clark 2005, p. 129). In an article focusing on Confucius, Clark argues that Confucius self-consciously aligns himself with the golden traditions of the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Thus, Confucius believes in an anthropomorphic Heavenly Emperor, tian. Clark cites Analects 2.4 where Confucius claims that he understood heaven's mandate at the age of 50 and thereafter he was able to follow his heart's desire that is to accord with heaven's mandate. Clark argues that Confucius’ belief in heaven as something transcendent is further supported by many other Analects passages, such as 7.23, where Confucius claims that heaven itself has endowed him with virtue; 6.28, where Confucius requests that heaven punish him if he does anything wrong; 9.6, where Confucius says that if heaven does not intend that a culture perish, then no one can do anything with it; and 8.18, where Confucius claims that Yao is great because he models himself on the great heaven. Thus, Clark concludes that Confucius’ heaven is ‘god-like, perhaps in a way that invites comparison to the Western sense’ (Clark 2007).

III. Theology of the Immanently Transcendent


In contrast to the above approach that attempts to find the similarity, particularly in terms of their transcendent nature, between Confucian heaven and Christian God, many contemporary Confucians emphasize the difference between the two. At the same time, however, they also reject a purely naturalistic interpretation of Confucianism. The result is the now well-known conception of Confucian tian as ‘immanently transcendent’ (neizai chaoyue内在超越  ) rather than ‘externally transcendent’ (waizai chaoyue外在超越  ). On the one hand, while the Christian God is transcendent of the world (outside of the world), Confucian heaven is immanent in the world; on the other hand, against those who think that Confucianism is therefore complicit with the status quo (see Weber 1951, p. 152), Confucian heaven for contemporary Confucians calls for the transcendence from what is actual. While the idea of ‘immanent transcendence’ is almost common to all contemporary Confucians, I shall focus my discussion in this section on Xiong Shili熊十力  , Mou Zongsan牟宗三  , and Tu Weiming杜维明  , the respective representatives of the three generations of contemporary Confucians.

Xiong Shili is perhaps the first contemporary Confucian who develops the idea of immanent transcendence as an alternative to Western metaphysics and Christian theology of external transcendence. He complains that,


[W]hen talking about noumenon, many philosophers often regard it as the opposite of phenomenon. In other words, they see phenomenon as actual and noumenon as something behind or beyond phenomenon, as the origin of the phenomenon. This is a mistaken conception originating from some religious idea, as religion acknowledges that there are both the world with everything in it and God beyond the world and everything. (Xiong 1985, p. 297)

Against such a dualism of noumenon and phenomenon, Xiong argues that noumenon, ti体  , and phenomenon, yong用  , while different, are not separate. Noumenon is right within phenomenon, and in this sense it is immanent. At the same time, however, it is also transcendent, ‘not in the sense that it can have independent existence in separation from ten thousand things, but in the sense that it is the substance of these ten thousand things’ (Xiong 1985, p. 554). As the substance of ten thousand things, it is transcendent because it is not transformed by the ten thousand things but is their master: it ‘transcends the surface of things’ (Xiong 1985, p. 554). In other words, the noumenon as the true nature of things and human beings, while not outside things and human beings, is not what things and human beings actually are. It is important for human beings to transcend the surface, their small selves, to reach the innermost nature, their great selves.

While using philosophical vocabulary most of the time, Xiong claims that the noumenon can also be regarded as god, shen 神 , although it is very different from Christian God. In his view, it is important to distinguish between two types of god: ‘On the one hand, there is God as the creator of things. This is a personal God, the God that religious people talk about. On the other hand, there is God in the sense used in The Doctrine of the Mean as the substance of everything’ (Xiong 1988, p. 20). In his view, Confucian heaven is god in the second sense. Since everything has god as its substance, for any particular thing, including any human being, such a god is the god as the self-nature of everything (zi xing shen自性神  ). However, to the extent that a thing has not fully realized its own self-nature, such a god is also the god upon which any particular thing or human being depends (yi ta shen依他神  ).

The idea of Confucian heaven as both transcendent and immanent, however, is more clearly developed by Xiong's student, Mou Zongsan. Commenting on tian in the Book of Poetry, Mou claims that

[T]he Dao of Tian is high above and in this sense it is transcendent. When it pervades in human beings, it is also internal to human beings as their nature and in this sense it is also immanent. . . . The Dao of Tian is both transcendent and immanent and so is of both religious and moral implications: religion emphasizes the transcendence, while morality the immanence. (Mou 1997, p. 21)

It is not entirely clear what Mou precisely means here. One possible interpretation is that the transcendent tian, being ‘high above’, is outside human beings and other things. However, it can be manifested in human beings and so is also immanent. Thus, by saying that tian is both transcendent and immanent, Mou says nothing but that the transcendent tian is also involved in human affairs. If this is the case, then such a view is not much different from Christian conception of god. As pointed out by Benedict Hung-biu Kwok, even the most radical Christian understanding of transcendence of god does not ‘reject the possibility of the involvement of God in the world. The aim of their radical understanding of transcendence is to interpret God as not one of the beings in the world’ (Kwok 1999, pp. 25–36). However, Mou himself claims that the Confucian conception of tian as both transcendent and immanent is radically different from Christian conception of god as totally transcendent.

So either Mou has misunderstood the Christian conception of god, as implied by Kwok in his response to Liu Shuxian刘述先  , another contemporary Confucian who has also written extensively about immanent transcendence; or Mou means something different by the immanent transcendence of tian. My view is that the latter is true. Tian for Mou, obviously, does not mean sky and so, just like Christian God, is not one of the beings in the world. However, unlike Christian God, tian is not something outside the world either. It is within human beings (which is the particular Confucian concern) and other beings in the world. So it is truly immanent. At the same time, although tian, as the ontological substance or reality, is immanent in every human being as the human nature, a human being on the phenomenal level is not identical with its metaphysical nature. In Mou's view, this immanent transcendence of tian is made most clear by Mencius’ statement that ‘the one who can fully realize one's heart/mind can understand one's nature, and the one who can understand one's own nature can know Tian’ (Mencius 7a1; see Mou 1997, p. 6). The fact that one can acquire knowledge of tian by fulfilling one's heart/mind and knowing about one's nature shows that tian is right within each of us. However, before we fulfil our heart/mind and know our nature, tian still appears transcendent to us. When citing Max Müller's statement that ‘a human being itself is potentially a God, a God one presently ought to become,’ Mou comments that ‘this is particularly true. It reflects the idea of humans as God in Eastern religions (in Confucianism, it is the idea that "everyone can become a sage"; and in Buddhism, it is notion that "everyone can become Buddha")’ (Mou 1996, p. 184). So what is important for everyone is to transcend the phenomenal level to reach his/her inner nature: tian. 3

It is here that Mou makes an important distinction between Christianity and Confucianism. Christianity does not ask one to become a Christ but only a Christian, a follower of Jesus, as the nature of Christ is not only fully human but also entirely divine, while the nature of human beings lacks the divinity. In contrast, ‘Confucian sages teach people how to become sages and worthy people and not merely their followers’ (Mou 1997, p. 29). The reason is that the sage is the one in whom tian is fully manifested as his nature. However, tian is inherent in everyone and so everyone can become a sage. Thus, for Mou, Confucianism as a religion is primarily a religion of morality, ‘a religion of fulfillment of virtues’ (cheng de zhi jiao成德之教  ), the highest goal of which ‘is to become a sage, a person of ren, and a great person. Its true meaning lies in seeking the infinite and complete meaning in a finite life. This is at once morality and religion’ (Mou 1996, p. 6). Similarly, for Mou, Confucian theology is primarily a moral theology (see Mou 1996, p. 10). Here, the individual life is finite. However, the reality or substance in virtue of which one becomes moral is infinite. This infinite reality is nothing but tian, the Confucian god. Thus, in order to become a sage, a person of ren, or a great person, one need transcend one's finiteness to reach the infinite, the Dao of Tian, which is the transcendent ground of moral life as well as the ground of cosmic processes. It is in this sense that the Dao of Tian is transcendent. Of course, it is not outside the finite human lives and other finite beings but lies right within them. It is in this sense that it is also immanent.

Tu Weiming, a student of Mou, further develops this type of god-talk. He argues against the interpretation of Confucianism as atheism on the one hand and as a religion of externally transcendent god on the other. In his view, ‘the former significantly limits Confucian thought and ignores its many vital sources, while the latter unilaterally transplants the religiosity of one particular culture to Confucianism’ (Tu 1999, p. 43). The unique Confucian religiosity for Tu is its immanent transcendence in contrast to external transcendence in Christian theology. Tu believes that tian for Confucius ‘is not an objective and external God’; it is rather the ‘transcendent substance’ immanent in human (as well as natural) world (Tu 2002, p. 343). For this reason, he argues that

[A] person is in this world and yet does not belong to this world. He regards this secular world as divine only because he realizes the divine value in this secular world. Here the secular world in which the divinity is manifested is not a world separate from the divinity, and the divinity manifested in the secular is not some Ideal externally transcendent of the secular world. (Tu 1999, p. 45)

Since the Confucian divinity is right within humanity, Tu makes the seemingly paradoxical but actually profound claim: ‘the more you can penetrate into your own inner sources, the more you can transcend yourself. This is what Mencius means by "digging a well to reach the source of water" [Mencius 7a29]’ (Tu 2002, p. 345). This inner source for Tu is nothing but tian as divinity. Therefore a person who reached the inner source has transcended its phenomenal self.

As the phenomenal self is not the true self and the true self can be reached only by transcending the phenomenal self, the true self, the true humanity, is not different from divinity that resides in every human being. It is in this sense that Tu defines Confucian religiosity as the ‘ultimate self-transformation as a communal act and as a faithful dialogical response to the transcendent’ and claims that ‘this is also Confucian prescription for learning to be human’ (Tu 1989, p. 94). As true humanity is identical to divinity, Tu emphasizes that this ultimate self-transformation does not aim to go beyond humanity but to realize it as completely as possible. Here, Tu argues that ‘the general diagnosis and prognosis that the Confucian offers is deceptively simple: we are not what we ought to be but what we ought to be is inherent in the structure of what we are’ (Tu 1989, p. 98). 4 To use the Mencian analogy again, the entire source of water, the transcendent tian, is within us, and it is up to us to dig deep into this source. Here, Tu argues that it is indeed blasphemous ‘to suggest that the full meaning of Heaven can be embodied in our humanity’ and so it is also blasphemous to claim that we can embody our humanity in its all embracing fullness. However, what he means is not that the divinity only partially resides within; we cannot fully embody heaven, just as we cannot fully touch the source of water, although the heaven is fully within us, just as the whole source of water is under our foot. However, even though we cannot fully embody heaven in our humanity, Tu claims that ‘our inborn ability to respond to the bidding of Heaven impels us to extend our human horizon continuously so that the immanent in our nature assumes a transcendent dimension’ and we can become increasingly human (Tu 1989, p. 97). By emphasizing the ‘faithful dialogical response to the transcendent’ and ‘response to the bidding of Heaven’, Tu attempts to show that this human self that undertakes cultivation and transformation is at the same time the transcendent Heaven. Without the bidding of this transcendent heaven, human self is merely a phenomenal self and will be unwilling ‘to open up to the dimension of reality,’ which is ‘a fulfillment of humanity as well as an answer to the Mandate of Heaven’ (Tu 1989, p. 97).

In this connection, Tu also makes a contrast between Confucianism and Christianity in terms of their respective religious experiences with the Ultimate. In Tu's view, as Christian God is an externally transcendent being, ‘there is a huge and unsurmountable gap between humans and God. Therefore one has to rely upon faith’ in order to know God (Tu 1999, p. 57). In contrast, as the transcendent divinity is immanent within humans, one can obtain knowledge of divinity through one's inner experience, tizhi体知  , one of Tu's favorite ideas. Tu's notion of tizhi is fundamentally related to Zhang Zai's 张载 (1020–1077) knowledge of/as virtue (de xing zhi zhi德性之知  ) in contrast to knowledge from hearing and seeing (wen jian zhi zhi闻见之知  ). While the latter is merely intellectual, the former is also affectional: the one who has knowledge of/as virtue is committed to act according to such knowledge. Using tizhi to characterize the knowledge of/as virtue, Tu explains why there is such a difference between these two types of knowledge:

The Confucian tizhi is not empirical knowledge commonly understood. It is something known and justified by oneself, similar to the Chan Buddhist idea. We can obtain such knowledge because we are both affectional and rational animals. It is the knowledge upon which human religiosity ultimately depends. (Tu 1999, pp. 57–8)

In other words, the inner experience through which one obtains such knowledge is not merely experience of mind (rational) but also experience of heart (affectional).

This conception of immanent transcendence has been under some severe criticisms, particularly from Roger Ames and David Hall in the English-speaking world and Feng Yaoming 冯耀明 in the Chinese-speaking world. 5 Hall and Ames's criticism starts from a definition of strict transcendence. In their view,
[S]trict transcendence may be understood as follows: a principle, A, is transcendent with respect to that, B, which it serves as principle if the meaning or import of B cannot be fully analyzed and explained without recourse to A, but the reverse is not true. (Hall & Ames 1987, p. 13)

With this strict sense of transcendence, the idea of ‘immanent transcendence’ becomes self-contradictory. In their view, this idea makes some sense only if we use ‘transcendence’ in a weak and informal sense, ‘meaning simply the ideal that functions in relation to actual affairs,’ with no ‘ontological claim to the effect that the ideal is an existent independent of and unaffected by the actual’ (Hall & Ames 1998, p. 226). For this reason, they argue that, for Mou Zongsan, ‘there must be an explicit rejection of any notion of radical otherness or ontological disparity between what he calls the immanent and transcendent or the moral and religious aspects of that process’ (Hall & Ames 1998, p. 224).

Feng makes a similar criticism of the notion of immanent transcendence. Feng argues that this notion cannot serve to disclose the unique feature of Chinese philosophy in general and Confucian philosophy in particular, as it is also common to the pantheistic and mystic traditions in both India and the West (Feng 2003, pp. 195, 234). More importantly, however, Feng argues that the notion of immanent transcendence itself is problematic:

When a substance is regarded as something transcendent, it should be non-spatial and non-temporal; it should be without generation and destruction. However, when it is regarded as immanent, it seems unlikely that it is not limited by space and time or not subject to generation and destruction. (Feng 2003, p. 235)

If the transcendent heaven is immanent in humans as their nature, then what happens when a particular human being dies? Does the Heaven immanent in that person as his/her nature still exist? If it no longer exists, then it is entirely immanent and not transcendent at all; if it still exists, then it becomes difficult to understand how human nature can exist without human beings (see Feng 2003, p. 238). So in Feng's view, ‘immanent transcendence’ as a theological or metaphysical substance, as it is the case with Xiong Shili, is inherently problematic. Contemporary Confucians can avoid this problem only if it is either used as an a priori concept or as a tool of moral cultivation. While immanent transcendence may serve as a tool of moral cultivation in Tu Weimin, it is an epistemological idea in Mou Zongsan. In Feng's view, as transcendence for Mou means universality and necessity, more appropriately understood, it is something not transcendent but transcendental in Kant's sense. In other words, just like Kant's time and space and the twelve categories, ‘immanent transcendence’ is merely the a priori condition for us to experience the phenomenal world. 6 However, understood either epistemologically or morally, the idea of immanent transcendence, as it has lost its original meaning, cannot be used to characterize the Confucian heaven in contrast to Christian God, which is supposed to be externally transcendent.

These two criticisms share the view that ‘immanent transcendence’ as an ontological, metaphysical, or theological idea is self-contradictory. However, it is clear that, not only in Xiong, but also in Mou and Tu, it does have such a meaning, in addition to their possible epistemological and moral meanings. For this reason, some other contemporary Confucians have responded to these criticisms. Li Minghui李明辉  , for example, points out that it is true that in Hall and Ames's strict sense, transcendence and immanence are mutually exclusive and the notion of ‘immanent transcendence’ is self-contradictory. However, the question is whether contemporary Confucians use these two terms in such a strict sense. Li's answer is of course negative. Li acknowledges that, ‘when contemporary new Confucians regard Heaven or Dao as transcendent principle and reality, by transcendence, they also mean "going beyond the status quo" or "idealness"’ (Li 2001, p. 130). In other words, transcendence refers to what is ideal and infinite, while immanence refers to the actual and finite. However, Li emphasizes that this moral dimension of ‘immanent transcendence’ is inseparable from its religious dimension, which is ontological, metaphysical, or theological. Robert Neville, a self-claimed Boston Confucian, also argues against Hall and Ames's notion of strict transcendence. In his view, in this strict sense of transcendence, nothing, including those Hall and Ames use as examples of strict transcendence, such as god, a Platonic form, the unmoved mover, a classical atom, a decisive will, can be regarded as transcendent, as none of them can be ‘explained in itself’, but ‘only in its explanatory function’ (Neville 2000, p. 150), since ‘one can say nothing about them apart from their functions in founding the cosmos’ (Neville 2000, p. 149).

In response to Feng Yaoming's criticism, Liu Shuxian, another representative of the third generation of contemporary Confucians, argues that the notion of ‘immanent transcendence’, while not unique to Confucianism, can at least disclose the difference between Confucianism and Christianity: as ‘Christian God creates the world and is not part of this world and so it is an "external transcendence," while Confucian Dao of Heaven is metaphysical and in this sense is transcendent, but it also pervades the world and so it is "immanent transcendence"’ (Liu 1996, p. 102). In Liu's view, such an understanding of transcendence and immanence can also avoid what Feng regards as the inherent problem of the notion of immanent transcendence, as it seems perfectly right to say that the Dao of Heaven, as metaphysical reality pervading the world, is both immanent in and transcendent of the world. Liu acknowledges that this is a complicated notion, but he argues that so is the Christian notion of God as externally transcendent: ‘if God is indeed "the wholly other" and has nothing similar to the world, how can people in the world have any knowledge of it?’ (Liu 1996, p. 103).

IV. Theology of Creativity

In recent years, I have tried to provide an alternative approach to Confucian theology, based on my interpretation of Neo-Confucianism in Song宋  and Ming明  periods, particularly its founding brothers, Cheng Hao程颢  (1032–1085) and Cheng Yi程颐  (1033–1107) (Huang 2004, 2005). Instead of regarding the divinity in Confucianism as some thing, some entity, some substance, that acts and gives birth to everything in the universe, whether immanent in or transcendent of the world, I argue that the Confucian god is the activity, the life-giving activity (sheng 生 ), the creativity, of the world to transcend itself. In other words, like the above approach undertaken by many contemporary Confucians, I also argue that the ultimate reality in Confucianism is both transcendent and immanent; unlike that approach, however, I argue that the ultimate reality in Confucianism is not a reified thing (whatever thing it may be regarded as), but is a de-reified activity.

Neo-Confucianism refers to what Chinese call the learning of li理  , which has been variously translated as ‘form’, ‘law’, ‘reason’, ‘pattern’, ‘organism’, and most commonly ‘principle’. Of course, the term li is not a creation of the Cheng brothers. However, it is in the Chengs that li not only obtains, for the first time, the central place in Confucianism but is also regarded as the ultimate reality of the universe. Cheng Yi, for example, claims that ‘only because there actually is li can there actually be a thing; only because there actually is a thing can there actually be a function’ (Cheng & Cheng, p. 1160; hereafter references to this work will be indicated with page numbers only); and ‘all ten thousand things under heaven can be explained by li’ (p. 193). So for the Chengs, li is ontologically prior to things. It explains not only how a thing exists but also why a thing is such a particular thing instead of something else. If there is no li, there can be no things; things can exist because of li. It is in this sense that the Chengs uses li interchangeably with many other terms that have been commonly used to refer to the ultimate reality in the Confucian tradition. For example, Cheng Hao claims that the ultimate reality, which does not have any sensible quality, ‘is called change (yi易  ) with respect to its reality; is called dao道  with respect to its li理  ; is called divinity (shen神  ) with respect to its function; and is called nature (xing 性 ) with respect to it as the destiny in a person’ (p. 4). Cheng Yi also states that ‘with respect to li it is called heaven (tian 天 ); with the respect to endowment, it is called nature, and with the respect to its being in a person, it is called heart/mind (xin)’ (p. 296). In these passages the Chengs regard li as identical to dao, nature, heart/mind, divinity, change, and heaven among others.

In terms of the relationship between li and ten thousand things, it is sometimes claimed that there is some similarity between the Cheng brothers’ li and Plato's ‘form’. It is true that in the sense that both ‘form’ and li are ontologically prior to things, they are indeed similar. However, it is important to not ignore a fundamental difference between the two. In Plato, while everything must partake in a form, a form does not have to exist in a thing. This is made most clear in his analogy of image or reflection. A shadow of a tree cannot exist without a tree of which it is a shadow; yet a tree can exist without any shadows. However, for the Chengs, while li is indeed ontologically prior to things, it does not exist outside things. To use the language in the previous section, we may say that Plato's ‘form’ is externally transcendent, while the Chengs’ li is immanently transcendent. This is better understood through their view about the relationship between li and vital force (qi气  ), of which actual things are made. In Chengs’ view, li or dao cannot be outside qi. Commenting on the statement in the Book of Change that ‘the unceasing transition between yin阴  and yang 阳 is dao,’ Cheng Yi claims that ‘dao is not yin and yang. Dao is the unceasing transition between yin and yang’ (p. 67). Here, although he says that li or dao is not the qi of yin and yang, he also states that li is the unceasing transition between yin and yang. It is then clear that li cannot be outside these vital forces. Cheng Yi further argues that ‘there is no dao if there is no yin and yang. The becoming so of qi is dao. Yin and yang are qi and so is physical, while dao is metaphysical’ (p. 162). Such an interpretation is confirmed by the Chengs’ view on the relationship of a related pair of concepts: dao and qi器  (instrument or a concrete thing). Regarding the distinction between the two, Cheng Hao quotes the Book of Change: ‘what is metaphysical or above the form (xing er shang形而上  ) is called dao, while what is physical or below the form (xing er xia形而下  ) is called concrete thing’ (p. 119). Although it is important, for the Chengs, to make the distinction between dao as the metaphysical and qi as physical and emphasize the ontological priority of the former over the latter, they also emphasized their inseparability: ‘outside dao there are no things and outside things there is no dao’ (p. 73).

What is then li that ontologically determines qi气  and qi器  and yet is temporally and spatially inseparable from them? Li in the Cheng brothers is primarily not some thing, but the activity of things. According to Xu sHeng's 许慎 Explanation of Script and Elucidation of Characters (Shuo wen jie zi说文解字  ), li originally is a verb, meaning to work on jade. As jade is a gemstone with veins and clouds of varying colors, a carver has to be adept at following the veining. Chen Rongjie 陈荣捷 (Wing-tsit Chan), noticing this original meaning, argues that the meaning of li has since undergone through a transition from the physical (xing er xia) meaning of ‘governing’ in ancient classics to its metaphysical meaning of ‘pattern’ in Neo-Confucianism, a transition from its use as a verb to its use as a noun (Chen 1991, p. 57). However, the transition of its use from a verb to a noun, if there is indeed such a transition, really indicates the reification of li as some thing, as it is originally not a thing but an activity. From the Heideggerian point of view, nothing reified can be regarded as metaphysical in its true sense. Even god conceived as the absolute being, however different it is from any other beings, is still some thing, and in this sense is still xing er xia (below the form), whose ontological or metaphysical being still needs to be explained. It is my contention that the unique contribution of the Cheng brothers is precisely to de-reify the Confucian idea of the ultimate reality by their unique interpretation of the term li. In other words, li used in the Cheng brothers is still a verb meaning some activity, not a noun referring to some thing. For example, illustrating what he means by ‘nowhere between heaven and earth is there no dao’ (p. 73), Cheng points out that

[I]n the relation of father and son, to be father and son lies in affection; in the relation of king and minister, to be king and minister lies in seriousness (reverence). From these to being husband and wife, being elder and younger, being friends, there is no activity that is not dao. That is why we cannot be separated from dao even for a second. (Chen 1991, pp. 73–4)

It is in this sense that in his commentary on the Book of Change, Cheng Yi complains that ‘Confucians in the past have all seen the heart/mind of the heaven and earth as something quiet. They did not know that it is the origin of activity that is the heart/mind of heaven and earth’ (p. 819).

Yet what exactly do the Chengs mean by activity? It is the life-giving activity (sheng  ). Cheng Hao, for example, claims that ‘the reason we say that ten thousand things form one body is that they all have this li. It all comes from this fact. "The unceasing life-giving activity is called change." It is right in this life-giving activity that li is complete’ (p. 33). His brother Cheng Yi concurs: ‘li as the life-giving activity is natural and ceaseless’ (p. 167). The Chengs believe that the existence of ten thousand things is due to li precisely because the life-giving activity of ten thousand things is ontologically prior to the ten thousand things that have the life-giving activity. Without the life-giving activity, the ten thousand things will be nothing, as they would lack the act of ‘to be’. Of course, for the Chengs the life-giving activity is always the life-giving activity of ten thousand things, and the ten thousand things are always things that have the life-giving activity. As we have seen, the Chengs idenitified li with many other things that have traditionally been regarded as the ultimate reality of the world. In their view, this is also because all these terms have the same meaning of the life-giving activity. Regarding dao and tian, Cheng Hao, commenting on the statement from the Book of Change that ‘the unceasing life-giving activity is called change,’ makes it clear that ‘this [the unceasing life-giving activity] is how tian can be dao. Tian is dao only because it is the life-giving activity’ (p. 29). With this, his brother Cheng Yi completely agrees: ‘dao is the natural life-giving activity of ten thousand things. A thing's coming into being in the spring and its growing in the summer are both dao as the life-giving activity. . . . Dao is the unceasing natural life-giving activity’ (p. 149). Regarding the heart/mind, both of humans and of heaven and earth, they claim that ‘the heart/mind is nothing but the dao of the life-giving activity. Because of this heart/mind, one's body is born. The heart/mind of commiseration is the human Dao as the life-giving activity’ (p. 274); and ‘the heart/mind resembles the seed of grain. Its li as life-giving activity is ren’ (p. 184). Cheng Hao explains xing (human nature) also in terms of life-giving activity, particularly in his interpretation of Gaozi's 告子 sheng zhi wei xing生之为性  in the Mencius. This phrase of four Chinese characters originally means ‘what one is born with is the human nature.’ However, Cheng Hao, relating it to the statement from the Book of Change that ‘the greatest virtue of heaven and earth is the life-giving activity,’ explains: ‘the most spectacular aspect of things is their atmosphere of life-giving activity’ (p. 120). Therefore, this phrase, to Cheng Hao, no longer means ‘what one is born with is human nature’ but ‘one's life-giving activity (sheng) is the human nature.’

My claim is that Chengs’ doctrine of li can be properly regarded as a Neo-Confucian theology. To make this claim, it is important to examine the role of another important idea of the Chengs’: shen神  , which can be literally translated as divinity or god. It is true that sometimes shen, particularly in Cheng Yi, means spirit and so often goes together with ghost as in the phrase guishen 鬼神 . Yet, as we have seen earlier, the Chengs do also use shen in a different sense to refer to the same ultimate reality referred to by such terms as heaven, li, dao, and nature. For example, talking about heaven, Cheng Hao claims that ‘its reality (ti体  ) is change, its li理is dao, and its appearance is shen . . .’ (p. 4). Cheng Yi relates shen to human nature and argues that ‘shen and human nature are always together’ (p. 64). In this sense, shen is obviously not the physical vital force but is the metaphysical reality: the life-giving activity. In their view, ‘the reason that it is cold in the winter and it is hot in the summer is yin and yang; the reason of change and movement is shen. So shen does not have a location and change does not have a body’ (p. 121). Here shen is clearly distinguished from qi. Shen does not have a location, as change does not have a body, because both refer to the life-giving activity. While things that act have locations and bodies, the act of things does not.

However, if shen is indeed a metaphysical and ontological idea, in what sense can we regard it as theological? The reason that the Chengs use ‘shen’ to refer to the Confucian ultimate reality is to illustrate the two related aspects of the life-giving activity: the mysterious wonderfulness (miao) and the unpredictability or incomprehensibility. For example, Cheng Hao states that ‘tian is nothing but li. We call it shen to refer to the wonderful mystery of li in ten thousand things, just as we call it lord (di) to emphasize its being the ruler of events’ (p. 132); and ‘the mysterious wonderfulness of transformation is what is meant by shen’ (p. 121). With this Cheng Yi agrees: ‘when the qi is complete, the li is straight; and when the li is straight, there will be impartiality, and when the impartiality is complete, it is shen’ (p. 597), as ‘shen means the extreme mysterious wonderfulness’ (p. 64). It appears mysterious and wonderful to us, because it is beyond our comprehension and anticipation. Cheng Hao, for example, claims that ‘the unceasing life-giving activity is called change, and the unpredictability of the change is called shen’ (p. 133). To illustrate the life-giving activity as mysteriously wonderful, the Chengs provide us with some examples: ‘being swift without hurrying and reaching destiny without moving is what one has to ponder deeply in order to understand and for this reason we use shen to describe it’ (p. 121). It is natural for us to think that we have to hurry in order to be fast and we have to travel in order to arrive somewhere. When the life-giving activity is fast without hurrying and reaches destiny without moving, it is beyond our understanding, and it becomes something mysterious and wonderful at the same time. Similarly, in Cheng's view, ‘the heaven-li is to have things done without action and to reach a goal without walking’ (p. 215). From our human point view, we need to do something in order to get something done, and so when we see things getting done without any efforts of doing them observed, we regard it as mysteriously wonderful.

Of course, the life-giving activity appears to be mysterious and incomprehensible only to common people but not to sages, because sages, or rather the activities of sages, are identical to the life-giving activity itself. Cheng Hao, for example, states that ‘sages are no different from heaven and earth’ (p. 17); and Cheng Yi also claims that ‘the shen of sages is the same as tian. How can they be different? That is why they can hit the mean without trying hard and understand things without thinking. Their heart/mind is no different from heaven and earth’ (p. 22). In other words, when one becomes a sage, one can understand the life-giving activity of ten thousand things and so can act naturally in light of this cosmic life-giving activity. It is for this reason that Cheng Hao argues that ‘sages are selfless’ (p. 126) and Cheng Yi concurs that ‘sages are faultless’ (p. 364). Of course, sages do have emotions as common people do, but

[T]hey are happy with things that one should be happy with, and are angry at things that one should be angry at. Thus, a sage's being happy or angry does not depend upon his own mind but upon the things he is happy with or angry at. (p. 461)

Because of this, not only the life-giving activity as the ultimate reality is not mysterious to sages, but the activities of sages appear mysteriously wonderful and incomprehensible to us common people. For example, we common people cannot understand how ‘sages never try to memorize anything and yet can remember everything’ (p. 64). So when explaining Mencius’ statement that, ‘when beyond one's understanding, sages are shen,’ Cheng Yi points out that ‘this does not mean that shen is above sages. Shen is merely sages beyond our understanding. This means that sages’ behaviors are so mysteriously wonderful that we cannot anticipate’ (p. 177).

If shen does have this meaning of mysterious wonderfulness and unpredictability, can we appropriately regard it as divinity or even god in the Western sense? It is true that this conception of shen is very different from the traditional Judea-Christian conception of god as some thing that is beyond, beneath, or behind ten thousand things in this world. However, some contemporary Christian theologians have questioned the plausibility of such a deified conception of god and the resultant two-story world picture. For example, the Harvard theologian Gordon Kaufman points out that

[T]here do not seem to be any compelling reasons any longer which can be cited in its favor. . . . Indeed, it is not clear just what counts as a reason for speaking of the existence and nature of some being – a cosmic agent – who exists on the other side of a metaphysical divide as absolute as that supposed to obtain between the creator and creation. (Kaufman 1993, p. 272) 7

Thus, instead of conceiving god as creator, Kaufman suggests that we should conceive god as creativity, that is, ‘the evolutionary and historical processes which produces us’, as well as the cosmic processes in which the evolutional and historical processes take place (Kaufman 1993, p. 330). By such a reconception, Kaufman aims to underscore this important fact: ‘change is more fundamental than structure: all structures come into being in the course of time and eventually pass away again in time’ (Kaufman 1993, p. 252). 8

It is interesting to see that Kaufman here also focuses on the idea of change that the Cheng brothers borrow from the Book of Change in their discussion of li. As these cosmic, evolutionary, and historical processes or the creativity exhibited in them is something that cannot be completely understood by us, Kaufman regards it as a serendipitous creativity. To illustrate the serendipitous creativity, Kaufman talks about its being in history:

The tendency in history to produce more than was intended by the women and men acting in and through them, the tendency to outrun human expectations and purposes. Although the movements of history are shaped in many ways by human decisions and actions, much more is going on in them than simply the realization of deliberate human intentions. (Kaufman 1993, p. 273)

To illustrate this serendipitous creativity, Kaufman uses such examples: Columbus intended to find an easier way to India but unexpectedly discovered America; a group of Dutch settlers intended to found New Amsterdam, which, beyond their expectation, developed into the modern New York City; King John signed the Magna Charta to guarantee certain feudal rights but, without his anticipation, it became the foundation of constitutional liberties and modern democracy. Because god as creativity is serendipitous, Kaufman claims that god is ultimately a mystery (see Kaufman 1993, p. 312). Understood as such a serendipitous creativity, we can see why the life-giving activity in the Chengs is nothing but the life-giving activity of ten thousand things including us human beings and yet appears to us mysteriously wonderful and incomprehensible.

V. Concluding Remarks

In the above, I have presented three models of theological interpretation of Confucian tradition, particular its conception of heaven. In presenting these three models, no claim is made as to whether such theological interpretations are any more authentically Confucian than other interpretations of the Confucian tradition, religious or non-religious. It does show, I believe, that there is at least some legitimacy in talking about ‘Confucian theology’. Also, in presenting these three models, no claim is made as to which of the three is the best candidate for Confucian theology. Perhaps Confucian theology itself is pluralistic. From the perspective of comparative theology, however, the first model, which emphasizes the Confucian heaven as something more or less similar to the Judea-Christian God: both personal and (externally) transcendent, has less to contribute and may suffer the same problem that Kaufman claims the traditional Christian theology suffers. 7 In contrast, the second and third models can provide a viable alternative to this traditional thinking by reconciling the transcendental and the immanent dimensions of the ultimate reality, the heaven. As we have seen, the second model regards Confucian heaven as something that is immanent in the world as its ultimate reality and yet has the ability to transcend the world, thus forming a contrast with Christian God. The third model is similar to the second one in the sense that it also regards the Confucian heaven as both immanent in and transcendent of the world, but it becomes different as it regards the Confucian heaven, not as a reality that has the transcending activity, but as the activity, the life-giving activity, the creativity itself. In other words, in the second model, the transcendent heaven is regarded as the nature or essence of the ten thousand things, including, human beings; in this sense, we can say that it is essentialist. In the second model, however, the transcendent heaven is seen as the life-giving activity of the ten thousand things, including human beings; in this sense, it is existentialist. 9

Short Biography:

Yong Huang is a Professor of Philosophy at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. He is editor of Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy and serves as Co-chair of Columbia University Seminar on Neo-Confucian Studies. His research interests include philosophy of religion, philosophical and religious ethics, and Chinese and comparative philosophy. As author of Religious Goodness and Political Rightness: Beyond the Liberal and Communitarian Debate in the Harvard Theological Studies series (2001), he has also published in Philosophy Today, Philosophy and Social Criticism, Religious Studies, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Journal of Law and Religion, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, Philosophy East and West, Asian Philosophy, etc., as well as a number of anthologies. He is completing a book manuscript on the Cheng brothers. He received his BA (1982) from East China Normal University, MA (1985) and PhD (1988) from Fudan University, and ThD (1997) from Harvard University.


Notes:

*Correspondence address: Dr Yong Huang, Department of Philosophy, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA 19530, USA. Email: yhuang@kutztown.edu.

1 As Benjamin Schwartz points out, ‘these texts are not simply pre-Confucian; they might in fact be called proto-Confucian. While they may have not been selected and edited by Confucius himself, as tradition would have it, they do seem to represent a vision of the world which may have been characteristic of the scribal circles from which Confucius himself emerged’ (Schwartz 1975, p. 57; see also Schwartz 1985, p. 41).

2 In rejecting this ‘familiar Heaven (tian) centered "Christianized" interpretation of classical Confucianism’, however, Ames also challenges the interpretation of it as merely a secular humanism. In Ames’ view, ‘classical Confucianism is at once atheistic and profoundly religious’ (Ames 2003, p. 165). By ‘religious’, of course, Ames does not mean Schleiermacher's feeling of absolute dependence. Rather it refers to ‘a person's attainment of a focused appreciation of the complex meaning and value of the total field of existing things through a reflexive awakening to the awesomeness of one's own participatory role as co-creator’ (Ames 2003, p. 177), or to ‘the sense of the connection of man, in the way of both dependence and support, with the enveloping world that the imagination feels is a universe’ (Ames 2007).

3 Philip H. Huang makes a good point in this connection: Confucius’ ‘true teaching is that man is both rational and magical, natural and supernatural, empirical and superempirical, humanistic and divine, secular and sacred, this-worldly and other-worldly, utilitarian and intentional’ (Huang 1989, p. 56).

4 Commenting on the Mencian passage on heart/mind, human nature, and heaven discussed above, Tu makes a similar claim: ‘existentially we cannot fully realize our heart-and-mind. Thus, in practical terms, it is unlikely that we will ever know our nature in itself and, by inference, it is unlikely that we will ever know Heaven in its entirety. But, in theory and to a certain extent in practice, we can be attuned to the Way of Heaven; specifically a sympathetic resonance with the cosmic process is realizable through our persistent self-cultivation’ (Tu 2007).

5 Some other scholars argue that this whole issue of transcendence and immanence is misguided in the exploration of Confucianism as a religious tradition (Tucker 1998, p. 11; Taylor 1998, p. 89).

6 Zheng Jiadong  , through a careful examination of Mou's translation and exposition of Kant's philosophy, reaches the same conclusion that the transcendent in Mou's ‘immanent transcendence’ really corresponds to ‘transcendental’ in Kant's sense (see Zheng 2001).

7 Moreover, Kaufman believes that such a reified conception of god is politically dangerous, as it ‘can easily become, for example, a notion of an essentially authoritarian tyrant, one who is arbitrary and unjust in the exercise of omnipotence’ (Kaufman 1993, p. 270); it is metaphysically unintelligible, as ‘the world-picture generated in connection with it is fundamentally dualistic and is thus difficult to reconcile with major strands of contemporary thinking’ (Kaufman 1993, p. 271); and it is theologically na?ve, as ‘this model presupposes that selfhood or agency can be conceived as freestanding, as metaphysically self-subsistent and self-explanatory; but everything we know today about persons suggests that they could neither come into being, nor continue to exist, independently of long and complex cosmic, biological, and historical processes’ (Kaufman 1993, p. 271).

8 Robert Neville, an influential Christian theologian who is seasoned with the Confucian tradition, also calls Christians to abandon the view that ‘God is a being apart from the world’; instead of creator, Christian God should be understood as the act of creativity. In his view, ‘the act depends on nothing and the world depends on the act. The world has no separate being from the act, although the ontologically creative act is not itself another thing within the world. Its nature is part of the created world, but its creativity is not. In the West, the ontological creative act is called God’ (Neville 2007).

9 While we can make such a clear distinction between these two models, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether a particular Confucian theologian advocates this or that model. For example, in this essay, we discuss Tu Weiming's theology in the second model. However, in a recent article, he sometimes seems to advocate a Confucian theology of the third model, as he de-reifies heaven and regards it as creativity itself: ‘Heaven as a life-generating creativity may have been present all along’; ‘Heaven is creativity in itself and human beings learn to be creative through self-effort’; and ‘there is an explicit way that the Confucians understand Heaven as creativity in itself’ (Tu 2007). Still, even in the same article, Tu sometimes also speaks in a way that reifies heaven as some thing (entity) that is creative: ‘there is nothing in the world that is not a demonstration of Heaven's creativity’; ‘Heaven emerged as the result of billions of years’; Heaven ‘is the generative force that has created all modalities of being’; and there is an ‘interplay between Heaven's creativity as expressed in the cosmological process and humans’ creativity as embodied in Heaven's life-generating transformation’ (Tu 2007).

Works Cited:

?Ames, RT, 2003, ‘Li and the A-theistic Religiousness of Classical Confucianism’, in Tu Weiming and ME Tucker (eds.), Confucian Spirituality, vol. 1, The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York.
?Ames, RT, 2007, ‘Becoming Practically Religious: A Dewey and Confucian Context for Rortian Religiousness’, in Y Huang (ed.), Morality, Human Nature, and Metaphysics: Rorty Responds to Confucian Critics, State University, New York Press, Albany, NY.
?Chen, R,  ( Wing-tsit Chan) 1991, ‘The Evolution of the Neo-Confucian Concept of Li as Principle’, in Essays on Chinese Philosophical Thoughts: Song and Ming Periods  . Shuiniu Chubanshe, Taibei.
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?Ching, J, 1977, Confucianism and Christianity: A Comparative Study, Kodansha International, Tokyo, Japan.
?Clark, JK, 2005. ‘The God of Abraham, Isaiah, and Confucius’, Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, vol. 1, pp. 109–136.
?Clark, JK, 2007, ‘Tradition and Transcendence in Masters Kong and Rorty’, in Yong Huang (ed.), Morality, Human Nature, and Metaphysics: Rorty Responds to Confucian Critics, State University, New York Press, Albany, NY.
?Feng, Y,  2003, The Myth of ‘Transcendent Immanence’: Contemporary New Confucianism from the Perspective of Analytic Philosophy  , The Chinese University Press, Hong Kong.
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?Neville, RC, 2007, ‘A Comparison of Confucian and Christian Conceptions of Creativity’, Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, vol. 6, no. 2, forthcoming .
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?Tu, W, 1989, Centrality and Commonality: An Essay on Confucian Religiousness, State University of New York Press, Albany, NY.
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