Quotes on Religion

I have a small collection of famous quotes organized by theme, each with a Chinese translation. It’s very interesting to see how some of these famous quotes are translated.

In the case of the religion category, I think what’s most interesting is the quotes that were chosen. There weren’t many, so these few say a lot about the Chinese editors.

There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.

-G. Bernard Shaw

It is only fear first in the world that made gods.

-S. Johnson

Religion is a daughter of Hope and Fear.

-A. Bierce

An honest God is the noblest work of man.

-R. G. Ingersoll

All are not saints that go to church.


Man was made at the end of the week’s work when God was tired.

-Mark Twain

Religion is the opium of the people.

-K. Marx

I guess I should have known better than to expect Thomas Aquinas.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Not surprised to see Marx thrown in there, that’s for sure.

  2. You’re right, it is interesting to see what quotes have been translated. Although the Ingersoll one is quite fascinating — haven’t heard that before but it reminds me of Descartes’ argument that God must exist because man could not imagine anything perfect since perfection does not exist here (or something to that effect). I wonder if anyone has done a study on what Chinese proverbs are translated into English and why? Everyone knows Laozi’s one about giving a man a fish and teaching a man to fish — we only know it so well because it fits in with our thinking and supports our arguments — not because we are trying to learn from the Chinese necessarily!

  3. Da Xiangchang Says: October 26, 2004 at 4:20 am

    I’m with Marx on this one–the ONLY thing I agree with that dumbshit.

  4. Since I am the “Switzerland” when comes to religion, I have no opinions on it.

    What really bugs me is that when I meet someone, they would ask about my religious background. After I told them that I am complete neutral on the subject. They would then try to convert me into their flavor of “righteousness”.

  5. Would that sum up pretty much the religious belief of the mainland Chinese in the recent years?

    I am a Chinese myself but coming from quite a different background (I was born in Taiwan) where polytheism dominates people’s thinking, instead of atheism. Currently I am working in Australia, but also helping out a university church here with vast number overseas students from China, trying to “convert them into my favour of righteousness”, i.e. christianity. That’s why I have been a camper here at Sinosplice, trying to learn as much about the Chinese culture as I can from westerners’ eyes.

    If the idea of “god” is made up by human as an explanation to the unknown (supernatural?), as a stabliser to the society (fear tactics?) or as a comforter to the down and out (eternal hope?), then it makes sense to do away with it completely as studies in science, law and pyschology matures. Feel free to follow any of them – or better – don’t follow any of them as the “gods” are probably nothing but other people’s bed time stories.

    However, if “god” turns out to be what it claims to be, a subjective truth rather than made up stories, then it not only deserves to be looked at carefully, it also demands people to respond correctly.

  6. “I wonder if anyone has done a study on what Chinese proverbs are translated into English and why?”

    Welcome to the field of literary criticism Kaili. I don’t know what they do in the psychology/theology departments, but in the Chinese lit. department, it seems that they take Laozi’s work as didactic poetry; which seems very sane, because it was how the Chinese took it thousands of years ago. I don’t think you can take his work in English even and try to classify it as a religion despite the many attempts at it over the years. It always seems that throughout history “the Chinese” were never really fixated on one religion exclusively eventhough their emperor might have been. I think if Communism hadn’t villianized religion in China, the result would be a lot like what we see in Japan today — people having multiple religions (Shinto birth, Christian wedding, Buddhist funeral), and there’s nothing wrong with it.

    (I’m not a lit major, I only play one on the internet)

  7. This tends to support my opinion that the Chinese are just not very religious. Even without the imposition of state atheism, religious observations had always tended to be ad hoc. On the other hand, I believe we Chinese are a very superstitious people, something that isn’t neccessarily the same as being devout.

  8. “I’m with Marx on this one–the ONLY thing I agree with that dumbshit.”

    Joan Robinson once described Das Kapital as a black pool which reflects nothing but the eyes of those looking in. She was describing the tendency for most people to project their beliefs onto Marx rather than reading what he actually wrote.

    I would be surprised if that isn’t the case here. Because however one feels about Marx, the word “dumbshit” is one of the few that is completely inappropriate.

  9. Da Xiangchang Says: October 30, 2004 at 3:28 am

    Well, I describe Das Kapital as a black turd that thankfully got flushed own the toilet in the early ’90s. “Dumbshit” is completely appropriate because Marx got EVERYTHING wrong. All the communist countries in this world were and are shitholes, from N. Korea to Cuba. The only reason China’s not a complete shithole is it started adapting capitalist practices in the early ’80s. And the LEAST communist country in the world is the richest, most powerful, and fairest nation–America, naturally.

  10. Even with an atavistic revulsion to the left, you can get a sense of Marx’s intellectual importance by reading the right. Schumpeter has a particularly nice discussion in “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy”.

  11. Trevelyan, that’s a good comment about how looking into Marx everyone comes out with their own ideas anyway. Sometimes in studying socialism in China (and in Russia, Rumania etc) I wonder how the policies that you see actually relate to Marxism at all. Even the link between Marxism and Leninism is fairly tenuous!

    In saying that, I’ve often seen the same thing happen with the bible — where people read into it what they want to hear rather than looking at what it actually says in context. It just goes to show that it is the mind that tells the eyes rather than the eyes telling the mind — we are always looking through our own worldview.

    And uhh, the comment on ‘the richest and fairest’ country, Da Xiangchang — I’m sure on the richest — but the fairest??? No offense to John, whose site this is, but America has its own dark side related to Capitalism and trying to open up the world to it’s free trade agreements… just a comment from downunder New Zealand where we constantly struggle against the big boys throwing their weight around in the WTO!!

  12. I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires. – Susan B. Anthony
    I like this one.

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