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by Spencer J. Palmer

The Confucian focus upon moral example as the basis of harmony in society, government, and the universe is consistent with LDS views. However, Confucius was not interested in metaphysics or theology; he did not advocate belief in God, nor did he talk about life after death. He was concerned with humans in their social setting.

Arguments that Confucianism is not a religion have often been answered by references to its sacred text. One could also point to the lives of millions who have sought to practice its teachings by honoring parents and deceased ancestors through acts of affection and piety in the home or through performances at tombs, shrines, and temples that convey spiritual belief as well as moral affirmations (Palmer, p. 16). For Latter-day Saints, morality is based upon the individual's relationship with God as an expression of one's faith in God and upon obedience to his will.

Confucian morality is generally expressed in social and cultural ways. Values of loyalty, virtue, respect, courtesy, learning, and love are preserved primarily through outward courtesies and formalities, including traditional family ceremonies. Filial piety is the ultimate virtue. It includes honoring the spirits of one's ancestors not only by observances at graves and family tombs but also by striving to achieve acclaim in learning, in the mastery of sacred texts, and in aesthetic arts such as music, poetry, and painting.

The Confucian quest for sagehood, for refinement and cultivation of the ideal human, has its counterpart in the Latter-day Saint quest for eternal life. Both the sage and the true Latter-day Saint personify the transforming power of righteous behavior (see Righteousness). In LDS scripture it is sometimes referred to as putting off "the natural man" and becoming a saint, one characterized as being "submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict" (Mosiah 3:19).

Latter-day Saints and Confucians share a mutual concern for the salvation of the extended family. Though the focus differs, both carry out devotional ceremonies in sacred places on behalf of departed ancestors. In this respect, both the LDS Church and Confucianism may be called family-centered religions. Both place importance upon genealogical research, the preservation of family records, and the performance of vicarious holy ordinances on behalf of their dead. In both instances, there exists a commitment to the idea that the living can serve the needs of departed loved ones (see Temple Ordinances).

Church members believe that Elijah, the Old Testament prophet, personally appeared to Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple in 1836 and conferred priesthood keys, or authority, by means of which the hearts of children could turn to their ancestors and to the promises of salvation made to the fathers and the hearts of forebears could turn to their children (D&C 110:13-16), with the result that families and generations can be joined together "for time and for all eternity." Joseph Smith's remark concerning the dead "that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect" (D&C 128:15; cf. Heb. 11:40) also resonates in the Confucian world.

(See Daily Living home page; Interfaith Relationships home page; World Religions (Non-Christian) and Mormonism home page)


Palmer, Spencer J. Confucian Rituals in Korea. Berkeley, Calif., 1984.

Palmer, Spencer J., and Roger R. Keller. Religions of the World: A Latter-day Saint View. Provo, Utah, 1989.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, World Religions

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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