The purpose of this essay is to compare Christianity and Taoism in terms of two basic aspects: God and Spirituality. The main point of reference is each religion’s respective scriptures: The Holy Bible and the Tao Te Ching. This comparative analysis shall be undertaken employing scholarly methods of analysis to include literary criticism, sociological analysis, tradition criticism and source criticism.
A detailed description of the similarities and differences of each religion’s concept on God/Tao and Spirituality was undertaken and their respective origin and contemporary expression are described. This paper also explored ways of possibilities for mutual interaction between the two belief systems by finding some common practice that their respective adherents can perform or undertake together without prejudice to each other’s faith. Through the personal witness of one representative of each faith, the internal dynamics of what it means to experience living out the formal teachings in their respective personal life.
The Christian Meaning of God
God is depicted in the Bible as creator of the universe. The very first line of the scripture reads: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1, RSV). The Hebrew word used for god is el which was the term most commonly used for god in the ancient Near East (Vine, et. al., p 96). But as the sacred history of the Israelites moved on, this God becomes a God who acts and the word el was used in combination with other terms to denote the function or action of God in the world and among men, thus the name “God of Israel” specifies the activity of the God of Israel (Vine, et. al. p. 96).
The history of Israel depicted in the Hebrew Scriptures is the story of God’s gradual revelation of himself as a God involved with mankind, particularly with the Israelites. In Genesis 17:1 God identifies himself as God Almighty (El sadday) to Abraham and became the name for God by the patriarch’s of Israel (Vine, et. al. p. 98), a name that represents God’s eternal being.
Then the God of Israel made a further revelation when he called Moses to be his chosen leader to save the people of Israel from the slavery of the Egyptians. When Moses asked him who will he say sent him to the Israelites God replied with the words ‘I am who I am’ (Gen 3:14), which is “an etymology of the Israelite name for God, YHWH, probably pronounced Yahweh” (May and Metzger, p. 70) and translated Lord. The divine name YHWH, which first appeared in Gen 2:4 is a name that is unique to the Bible and expresses the personal name of God by which he came into communion and relationship with the people of Israel.
Meaning of Tao of Taoism
Tao means “the flow of the universe, or the force behind the natural order” (Taoism) that is believed to maintain by its influence the order and balance in the universe. It is described as the essential, single principle or Great Ultimate that runs the universe. (Hundoble).
The creative principle unifies
the inner and external worlds.
It does not depend on time or space,
is ever still and yet in motion;
thereby it creates all things,
and is therefore called
‘the creative and the absolute’;
its ebb and its flow extend to infinity.
Thus, “Tao is the first-cause of the universe. It is a force that flows through all life.”
(Taoism a.k.a. Daoism)
Similarities and Differences Between God and Tao
The fundamental difference between the Christian God and Taoism’s Tao is in their very nature. The God of the Bible is a personal being. The scripture records the Lord as in a positive stance towards his people. He is being depicted in scripture as positively disposed towards them and attentive to their cry, taking action to respond to their needs (Exodus 3:7-8, RSV).
The Tao on the other hand is “not a person, it is a force, a principle . . . a force which flows through all life and is the first cause of everything . . . thus the concept of a personified deity is foreign to Taoism”. (All about Taoism)
Origin and Contemporary expression
Kirkland (1996), summarizing the application of Sociological, Tradition and Source Criticism to the study of Tao Te Ching, argued persuasively for the transformation of the original concept of Tao and that Tao Te Ching underwent a unique textual history that originated from the day to day life of a local community in which old sages share wisdom teachings through oral transmission where the nature of the teachings reflect a community that is not engaged in the socio-political concerns of the day. But the force of socio-political change and migration of young local “students” to the central cities inspired new redactors to format the teaching of the Tao to the then current socio-political needs.
From this erudite discussion of Kirkland, we can deduce a similar process being perpetuated over the succeeding generations and socio-political changes thereby resulting in the diversification of Tao. This long history eventually resulted to the present three major variations of Taoism – Philosophical Taoism, Taoist Adepts and Religious Taoism – all “centered around the concept of maximizing Te. The philosophical Taoists interest is how to conserve their Te. Taoist Adepts attempt to increase their Te. Finally the religious Taoists try to gather the cosmic energy and give it to those who could not get it for themselves” (Hundoble citing Smith 1994:134.)
Similar process of social, traditional and textual transformation took place in the transmission of the Hebrew tradition of a personal God, which similarly originated with an oral transmission history and later written and subsequently underwent numerous editorial history which spans millennia. In the case of the Christian Scripture the range is simply enormous compared with that of Taoist Scriptures and is summarized by May and Mertz :
“A rich diversity of types of literature marks the Bible . . . Yet amid the diversity runs a unity, and in all the progress there is a thread of a true continuity which derives from the God who speaks through it all.” (p. 1518)
To the Old Testament books were added the New Testament books and the concept of transcendent God led to the incarnate God in Jesus Christ. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. . .” (John 1:14, RSV).
Christian Spirituality and Taoist Spirituality
Quoting Hans Von Balthazar, Haight (1982) defined spirituality as “the way a person understands his or her own ethically and religiously committed existence, and the way he or she acts and reacts habitually to this understanding”.
The spirituality of the person stems from an understanding of one’s own existence derived from the teachings of the scripture on which he or she is committed to live one’s life. Thus Christian spirituality proceeds from an understanding and significant influence of the Holy Scripture and Taoist spirituality likewise emanates from one’s unique understanding and relationship to the truth of the Taoist Scriptures.
A Christian’s spirituality is a product of the person’s personal knowledge and relationship with a personal God who revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ.
Relationship with Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the grand intention of God for his people expressed in the messianic promise: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you. . . And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes . . . and you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:26-28, RSV). It is in habitual living out of one’s life as proceeding from this covenant of love and obedience that one lives out one’s spirituality. To be God’s people and to relate to God as Lord demands an appreciation of the terms of the covenant – which is living the commandments in the power that God gives through his Spirit. All other myriads of commandments and virtues flow from this basic position of covenanted relationship. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23, RSV)
Taoist spirituality is a product of one’s understanding and response of living out one’s life to the Tao as expressed in the Tao Te Ching. Based on the original concept of Tao, one’s fundamental spirituality is achieved
“By using the means appropriate,
we extend ourselves beyond
the barriers of such complexity,
and so experience the Tao. “ (Stan, 1)
This spirituality is more elaborately explained in various ways and among the principles on which this spirituality is based are: oneness, dynamic balance, cyclic growth and harmonious action (Mason).
The above principles when applied in one’s life produce the following behaviors which when experienced habitually became the virtues meant to characterize a Taoist. These ethical habits/characters are: selflessness, moderation, embracing the mystery, non-contrivance, detachment and humility. (Mason)
Difference in Spirituality
The fundamental difference in spirituality of a Christian and a Taoist flowed in the basic difference between the concept of God and Tao. Since the Christian God is a personal being, we can see that the Christian Spirituality in its basic essence is a spirituality of grace – giftedness – owing from God’s honoring a Christian’s commitment to and honoring of the covenant of love. The grace, privilege as son and daughter and the power and blessing are gifts bestowed by the power of God. The initiative comes from God through the word of God in scripture, and the person responds. The Taoist, on the other hand, has to decipher and understand the way of the Tao and yield to its flow.
Contemporary Expression of Spirituality
Both the Christian and the Taoist spirituality are the essence of the respective religion’s spirituality. We may say that they are the original and pure expression as distilled from their respective scriptures. Both respective history and growth of respective tradition differentiate into the Church and Temple cultures with their respective rituals. Christian churches abound and the rituals are basically centered on the preaching of the word of God and the payers. The more manifest expression of Taoist spirituality in the contemporary world are the products of the Religious Taoism among the practices are “faith healing through the confession of sin. . . rituals involving both external and internal alchemies, mediumistic practice, and visionary communication with divinities. . . worship of divinities called T’ien-tsun (Heavenly Lords) and Taoist monastic movement (Religious Taoism).
There is a greater inroad of Taoist practices among more liberal Christians who find common interests in such practices as meditation, tai-chi martial arts, feng shui. That this should not be a problem is underscored Mabry citing Indian theologian Amarjit Singh Sethi who believes that people of different faith can join together in certain shared involvement or cause list of which are:
· A shared quest for intellectual clarity and understanding.
· An encounter on the level of a common humanity.
· A shared involvement in the secular community.
· A common quest for ultimate reality, or God
Living Witness to the Christian and Taoist Spirituality:
A friend of my friend whom we will call David is 29 years old, single, computer programmer, a half-Chinese, whose family migrated, from China. When interviewed whether he still practice the faith of her parents who are faithfully going to temple to offer incense to deities, he kind of shrugged his shoulder and remarked that he respects his parents, beliefs. He still remembered while he was young taking delight on temple offerings, and celebrations. But now that he is more or less on his own he discovered what he calls virtual religion by surfing the Internet for deeper truths about Tao Te Ching. And he is being inspired to pursue the original way. When asked what is the original way. He jokingly says “I have not yet any words for it” (meaning he has not yet progress instead of being speechless about the Tao experience).
Lyn, a single mother, who became a born-again Christian, said she had shopped for churches, specially when she was in trouble, having to care for her child all alone and when she happened to join a congregation, she remarked, “For the first time I know that I know God is real and he loves me”. When asked about practices she was attending before she became a born-again Christian she simply said, “I don’t’ want to talk about it anymore. I have died to them”.
Reading all the resources especially the primary one, though scantily, has created in me a hunger for something deeper. And I also appreciated the finer elements of both Christianity and Taoism. There are elements in both of them that are good to practice together and they complement one another especially in the more mystical-contemplative aspect. I am a Catholic and Taoism holds fascination for me, not the Religious Taoism but the Philosophical Taoism.
All about Taoism. http://religion-cults.com/Eastern/Taoism/taoism.htm
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