November 22, 2012

Counterfeit Religions X: Taoism

Taoism (Daoism) is prominently characterized by the Yin and Yang symbol (inset left), which is a white and black circle divided in a flowing interacting motion down the middle. The lighter side is linked with positiveness, maleness, and passivity or obedience, while the black side represents negativity, femininity, and action. In each side is one small circle of the opposing color. What we see symbolized in the Yin/Yang image is an ideas of balanced and a harmony. One side ultimately cannot exist without the other. Because of this fact what we see exposed about Taoism immediately is a form of dualism. This is the first place that a people will begin to stumble trying to match Taoism to Christianity.

Moral/ethical dualism began as a theological belief. Dualism was first seen in Egyptian religious beliefs by the contrast of the gods Set (disorder, death) and Osiris (order, life). It could also be seen in the Ancient Persian Religion of Zoroastrianism around the mid-fifth century BC (i.e.: think Biblical Babylonian exile). Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion that believes that Ahura Mazda is the eternal creator of all good things. Any violations of Ahura Mazda's order arise from druj, which is everything uncreated. The perceived dualism of Christianity is not dualism at all. Dualism assumes equal competing halves interacting with one another. Good and evil in Christianity are not equal. God is novel and unique (as Aristotle said: Uncaused), good, sovereign, infinite and omnipotent. Satan a created being, is evil and restricted, finite and impotent. God or good will eventually triumph over Satan. As a matter of fact…He already has in the Lord Jesus Christ.


Lao Tzu is considered the founder of Taoism, though some people will question his actual historical existence. Tradition states that he was an advisor to the Zhou Dynasty until age ninety. He was known for his wisdom and depth of understanding when responding to issues such as politics and religion. If he was alive during the Zhou Dynasty he would’ve also been a contemporary of Confucius. As such Lao Tzu disagreed vehemently with many Confucian ideas. Lao Tzu also believed Confucius to be arrogant and overly idealistic. Lao Tzu believed that people were inherently good, and that there was no need to over-complicate life with laws and regulations.

Here again we see either similarity or an incompatibility to Judeo-Christian religion. Depending on how one views the Law of the Old Testament and the understanding of how Jesus fulfilled the Law in the new Covenant through Him. Jesus too simplified the Law and told us to take His yoke for it was easy. He asked His disciples to divest themselves of the onus of the Law that over-complicated their lives and follow Jesus as a disciple.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

What’s more is that Lao Tzu felt excessive involvement of government, religion, and other institutions would only heighten people's problems. Strangely, this too is like Christian discipleship. God calls us not to a religion but rather a relationship. In Mark 12’s call render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, it is a call to obey government until it tries to disobey God but Jesus is not telling us to become overly involved in the political systems of the world.

The next idea though is where Lao Tzu and Taoism went completely off the rails in terms of its similarities to Christianity. Lao Tzu believed that the best way to maintain people's inherent goodness was for organizations and institutions to stay out of the way. The Bible does not tell us this. First, the Bible does not say that man is inherently good. It tells us just the opposite in Romans 3:9-18…

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Man is inherently wicked, sinful and therefore not good or holy. Only God is good and as such we as fallen flawed humans must get our good or holiness from Him as He is the only source for it. This is exactly what we do when we trust in the work Jesus Christ did on the cross in our stead.

Secondly, although the Bible frowns upon the idea of “religion” proper, the truth is that we are indeed to gather together in an organizational manner. One type of organization in particular that is near and dear to Christ is His bride: The Church. The Church as relation to others in the body of Christ is what’s in view here, not the institution called a church or divisions called by name or denominations.

Writings or Holy Book(s)

When Lao Tzu grew old, he was encouraged to write down his wisdom/ideas. This ended up becoming the Tao Te Ching. I believe it is rather paradoxical that if Lao Tzu were alive today, he would likely be unhappy with the fact that his writing were turned into formal religious practices which have totally defeated the ideas contained within his wisdom.  It is also ironic that the largest incongruity and contradiction within this religion is here. The modern tenants that practice Taoism are not even holding true to the teachings of a potentially fictional character. So this begs the question: Is what modern adherents actually practice even Taoism? 

Although the sacred text for Taoism is the Tao Te Ching and it was possibly written by Lao Tzu around 300BC it is highly probable that the writings were and aggregation or accumulation of many authors who contributed to the compendium. The central purpose of the text is to guide its readers how to live in harmony or balance with the universe. Therefore Tao or (The Way) and Wu Wei (inaction, passivity) are the two main concepts of Taoism. Some misguided zealots that wish to ecumenicalize Christianity and Taosim in a form of eastern syncretism believe Tao to be equivalent to the Christian concept of God. This simplistic understanding is too specific and too distinct to properly understand the Taoist belief. Taoist believe in something much more nebulous and non-descript. This of course makes it attractive to postmodernism which refuses to apply absolute truths or distinct descriptions to reality. Taoism believes that no physical manifestations of the divine appear in the Tao Te Ching. How something this nebulous can even be considered a deity based religion when they are not even sure of what deity is is puzzling and enigmatic to say the least. Later understandings speak to three “personifications” that are called the "Three Pure Ones" but these are not from the original writings of Lao Tzu. Although specific sects may differ, modern Taoism typically presents the Jade Emperor as an official head deity. So it appears the Taoist beliefs have shifted or morphed over the centuries. Traditional conceptions of Tao are not to be confused with the Western concepts of theism. Being one with the Tao (The Way) does not indicate a union with an eternal spirit in, for example, as in the Christian senses when the Holy Spirit indwells the believer. Regardless of these later elaborations, at the heart of Taoism remains the balance of all things in a dualistic state. Therefore this puts Taoism at odds with Christianity and is therefore incompatible because of its own internal contradictions which I will now note.

Strangely Taoism also says that humans habitually want power and control, and this will cause people to act in ways that are unnecessary or undesirable (sinfully). Nature on the other hand always wishes to return to balance. For me this is inherently flawed belief within the logic of Taoism. Why? If one of the core tenants of Taoism is balance and nature itself (which man is a part of) always tends towards balance, then man being of nature should eventually tend towards order or balance but Taoism believes just the opposite in this concept of man needing power and control which is neither passive or a produce of inaction (see above). It also means that man is not inherently good as they have a proclivity for acting in improper ways or as a Christian would say, sinfully or acting bad/evil.

Taoism then requires that humans should take moral action and allow ample time to allow for a change to become more balance. Taoism calls this action through inaction. In other words: A religion of works that its founder would’ve despised because it was a religion to begin with.

Lastly and most strangely, Taoism also includes ancestor worship which is totally in opposition to Christianity’s: “You shall have no other God’s before me” (Exodus 20:3). Sorry folks, there are very few avenues on which to match up these two beliefs, they are completely opposed to one another. As Taoism has just been shown to be internally inconsistent and in contradiction, it cannot be taken seriously as a salvational belief system or religion. Relaxing and balancing, perhaps. Salvational? Not a chance.

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