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« Confucianism in Communist China | Main | Tao Cat »

July 25, 2007


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I dunno. If you look at things like the Celestial Masters movement and their eschatology, it becomes quite Christian-like (though there are obvious differences). Also, it is my understanding that "Dao" is often used when translating that Biblical passage. So, his confusion is understandable. Whose Dao, which Daoism, yada-yada-yada, you know the drill.

When Matteo Ricci, S.J. translated the Gospels into Chinese in the early 17th C., he used the word "tao" for "logos."

If I'm not mistaken, Chinese bibles still say, "In the beginning was the tao..."

I enjoyed the book "Christ the Eternal Tao" which said much the same thing.

Oddly enough, I had breakfast today with a friend who is the spiritual advisor for her Christian Church. She was having a bit of a spiritual crisis because she was finding it hard to continue believing in the Christian worldview that she was used to. Specifically, she finds it hard to believe in a beneficient God who knows and cares about people. Instead, she sees that the Gods treat people like "straw dogs". Moreover, she finds it hard to believe that ultimately people are more important than anything else (she mentioned the molecules in the table that we were sitting at.) She had gone through a family crisis and found that the only thing that got her through the experience was the conscious act of breathing deeply, calming her mind, and, instead of casting her life at Gods feet (her previous way of doing things) embracing the ultimate emptiness of life.

Ultimately, I think that if someone is living a truly religious life (instead of being a mere pew-sitter or careerist) they are constantly wrestling with what they do, what they believe morphs incessently, and, their core beliefs are almost impossible to articulate. I think that most seriously spiritual people eventually give up trying to explain what it is that they are doing.

This is an interesting idea. A "first-mover" argument about how the universe works would seem to be compatible with the notion of Tao. In other words, God is the first mover and everything created follows its own unique individual (albeit divinely ordained) character without further intervention. In a Christian ontology, Logos would always exist prior to Tao, whereas Tao is prior to everything in a Taoist ontology.

However, I am not sure I entirely buy the argument that the rationality of Logos depends on the mental processes of human minds. Even though the world is supposedly rational according to God's plan, that does not mean that we humans necessarily understand it. In the first chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes, for instance, the author laments that "All things are vanity! What profit has man from all the labor which he toils at under the sun? One generation passes and another comes, but the world forever stays. The sun rises and the sun goes down; then it presses on to the place where it rises. [...] What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing new is under the sun." Ecclesiastes suggests a life of futility, and though Tao and God (Logos) differ in their ontologies, there appears to be a distinct similarity in how humans relate to them. One cannot grasp Tao or capture it or understand it, even though it permeates everything. Likewise, it is impossible for humanity to fully comprehend God, who also permeates everything. The sole exception (and where Logos differs from Tao) is divine assistance, when God chooses to reveal Himself to humanity. For example, in Matthew 16:15-17, Jesus asks Peter, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter replies, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God". Jesus replies, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my heavenly Father."

Ultimately, then, what seems to be at issue is not so much the sort of rationality that Logos and Tao have--they are both at a similar level unknowable by humans--but rather the SOURCES of that rationality (and, by extension, the possibility of humans knowing it given some sort of extra-corporeal assistance).

Thanks for the great ideas...
Perhaps you are right: there are similarities between Logos and Tao. I have noticed other ways in which Ecclesiastes resonates with Taoism: to everything there is a season...
But, I would still point to the differences. It may be more than a matter of the sources of rationality, but, also, the expectations of how much we should even try to understand. The very fact that the Bible speaks of the "word" suggests both an effort by God to make some significant portion of himself sensible to human beings, and an attendant possibility (maybe even a duty) for humans to understand what they can of God. Taoism is more skeptical on the capacities of human understanding, telling us to "give up learning and troubles end." We should not consciously try to understand Tao because, precisely in that conscious act we will miss it. As such, there is no such thing as a conscientious Taoist, while there is a conscientious Christian - one who consciously reflects upon his conscience.

Western Confucian sounds correct. As best I can tell, Matteo Ricci and his fellow Jesuits were an impressive bunch, and probably should be read more by Western Christians.

i think a translation for the word Logos as ratio makes more sense...In the beginning was the ratio...

Just as many Asian cults appropriated the word Tao, many middle eastern cults appropriated Logos. I think if you work back to the roots they are a little more similar but it still seems that Tao is by the Dao de Jing's definition a more encompassing idea than Logos.

Surely some of the chinese and the greek old boys were on parallel tracks:
"the Dao that can be said is not Dao"
"he who knows does not say and he who says does not know".

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