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confuciusErin (12) is in the middle of a nice comparative religion curriculum in her social sciences class. Looks to be much better than the usual slapdash.

The units are tied in with geography and culture. They’re currently on Southwest Asia, so at the moment it’s the three Abrahamic monotheisms. As usual, minority religions — Bahá’í, Gnosticism, Druze, Zoroastrianism, et al. — get the short straw, with no mention that I can see. I’d especially like to see Zoroastrianism covered, if only for all the yummy Christian parallels.) But three is ever so much better than one.

I know from Connor’s middle school years that they’ll get into the other two of the Big Five as they move east, and I told Erin as much.

“So what religion is in China?” she asked. She’s taking introductory Mandarin at the moment, so it’s a natural first place for her mind to go.

“All of them,” I said. It’s an annoying answer that happens to be true. I try to resist the tendency to paint countries with a single religion, a practice as misleading as Red and Blue states.

Most people equate China with Buddhism, but the country has a long history of pluralism of belief. Buddhism, Taoism, and various folk religions account for about half the population combined. Christians and Muslims are estimated at 2-4 percent each, with a metric smattering of Jews, Hindus, and others.

And the rest? I told Erin the largest single belief group in China is the nonreligious, clocking in at 40-50 percent — not a consequence of Mao, but a strong tradition going back 2200 years.

“A lot of those follow a philosophy you might hear about next year when you study China,” I told her. “It’s called Confucianism.”

She puzzled on the word a moment.

“Is that because they don’t really know what they believe?”

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.