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 cocontractorsmpanions watched in the years 1945–1955. In contrast to other commentators, who represent these years and their media as ones of conflict in which whites imposed their understandings on nonwhites, she finds that for children such as she these mass media were an agent of cultural consensus, of moral and civic consciousness that transcended race and that embodied and characterized the American ideal.
In an essay on the general topic of humanitarian aid and voluntary giving, Daniel T. Oliver looks at what has happened to those nonprofit organizations that receive significant amounts of their funding from the government. He details how such organizations become, in effect, government contractors–politicized, bureaucratized, secularized, and no longer independent entities.
Mark Barna takes up the problem of job satisfaction and career fulfillment. Present-day best-selling spiritual books tend to tell us to do what we love, make a difference in the world, and be our own boss. But, he says, this is a watering down and misunderstanding of perennial truths. In fact, he points out, for every person who has succeeded through implementing such ideas there are many dozens who have failed. We begin to unveil the mystery of vocation when we understand the radical reorientation of one’s values, called “repentance” in most English Bibles.