Love, Hate, and Taoism

I’ve been reading a book about Taoism that has helped more clearly understand Taoist concepts and their relation to Christian concepts. I’ve written about the concept of Wu Wei before, and I think I’m still somewhat enamored of the idea, but perhaps not as much. Laozi puts forth the idea that being is better than doing. This idea, as Holmes Welch describes it in the book I’m reading (Taoism: The Parting of the Way), is the concept that attitude is better than action. Laozi’s argument, in its essence, is that when we act we provoke reaction, and the reaction will often be in opposition to the action that we take. Laozi’s answer to the evils of his day was to take no action to stop them, oppose them, or even address them, but to simply ‘be’ good. His argument was that in being good one’s nature would naturally stand in opposition to evil without actively opposing that evil, which would create a strong reaction from said evil. Laozi argued that no one can fight with the sage simply because the sage refuses to fight. Mahatma Ghandi’s life was an excellent example of this principle in action, as was Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights movement.

This same concept can be seen in portions of the scripture (i.e. if a man strikes one cheek, give him the other), but Laozi takes the concept further than scripture allows us to do. Laozi argues that Being and Not Doing is better than Doing and Not Being (i.e. true attitude is better than hypocritical action), but he also argues that Being and Not Doing is better than Being and Doing (because action causes reaction). However, scripture commands both Being and Doing. 1st John is an excellent example of this. John commands us throughout this book to an attitude of love (agape). He juxtaposes love with two possible opposites though: first he tells us that a man who hates his brother does not love God. Here Love (i.e. a deep emotive concern for the well-being of another, even at the expense of one’s own) is juxtaposed with Hate (i.e. a deep emotive concern for the harm of another, even at the expense of one’s own well-being).

It is important not to confuse this Love/Hate juxtaposition with the Love/Hate juxtaposition used in Paul’s legal terminology. Paul tells us that God ‘loved Jacob, but hated Esau’. Does this mean that God had a ‘deep emotive concern for the harm of Esau’? Of course not. This is a legal use of the terms ‘love’ and ‘hate’ that reflects a covenantal choice that holds no emotive value. God did not wish Esau harm, but he did choose Jacob through whom to continue the spiritual line of Abraham, a place for which Esau was rejected. This is important, but entirely different from the emotive love/hate juxtaposition that John creates in his letter.

However, John does not simply juxtapose love to hate. He also tells us that ‘he who does not love his brother does not know God’. Thus, love is also juxtaposed with apathy. Hence it is not enough to show love by not hating another, but we must also show love by showing a deep emotive concern for another’s well-being. This concept is necessarily active in nature. While the love/hate juxtaposition could potentially reflect a non-active attitudinal love, the love/apathy juxtaposition cannot. This is also reflected in James’ exhortation that ‘faith without works is dead’. Thus a very, very important difference between Laozi’s philosophy and Christian philosophy is the necessity of action. Scripture certainly argues that Being and Not Doing is better than Doing and Not Being. However, scripture absolutely argues against the concept that Being and Not Doing is better than Being and Doing.

The other area of major difference is that of ultimate goal or purpose. Laozi’s writing was ultimately concerned with the temporal (though not necessarily material) world. He sought an answer to the warfare that was rife in China during his lifetime (which was probably somewhere between 60 and 200 years, if he existed at all… I must confess that I cannot bring myself to argue that Adam lived 900 some years, Abraham 180 years, Moses 120, and yet completely reject the notion that Laozi may have lived for 200 years). Ultimately, Laozi’s argument is that through Being and Not Doing we can more effectively implement our will in the world than through Doing and Not Being, or through Being and Doing.

However, the ultimate goal or purpose of the Christian is not to implement our will in the world, but to glorify the Godhead (I’ve said this many times) in part by implementing his will in the world (though this is not our only means of glorifying him). Thus, Laozi’s philosophy and Christian philosophy again find themselves at odds simply because of the source of the will that they seek to enact. There are many good things in Laozi’s philosophy, and his concept of Being as primary is one that I think many American Christians need to embrace. However, ultimately, the differences, as well as the similarities, must be addressed, and it is never enough to only examine one or the other.

Striving and Satisfaction

We’ve all had good days, and we’ve all had bad days. We’ve probably all had days that went from good to bad, or bad to good, or stayed solidly somewhere in the middle. If anyone ever tells you that they’ve just had the worst day ever, tell them to visit Hiroshima or Nagasaki… or Auswitch… or Carthage… then hit them… preferably with something metal… ok, that’s probably going a little far. Don’t do that, but you get my point. Even though we should love overly dramatic people (thankfully, I can be one sometimes), it’s a ridiculous claim. Of course, on the other hand, the claim that you’ve never had a bad day is equally ridiculous.My day today went from pretty good to mildly bad and back again. I mentioned the other day that there’s a lady that I’m somewhat fond of, and I happen to know that she’s spending time with a friend of mine tonight… well, a couple of friends actually (which makes all of this even more ridiculous). Honestly, I know that what they’re doing is innocuous, and yet my satisfaction was ruined. Why? Very simply, I don’t know what she thinks of me. Now, here’s the ridiculous thing: Honestly, I don’t have a clue where I am romantically. I like this woman, but I’m really not sure if I’m ready for any kind of relationship, and I don’t know if I actually want to do anything about the fact that I like this girl. Nonetheless, my satisfaction is ruined because I’m not sure whether she wants something that I’m not sure that I want. This is the ridiculousness of humanity. The ridiculousness of me!

We all strive for the things that we want, or the things that we think we want, or even the things that we don’t really want, but think that maybe we should want, and when we don’t get them, or think we might not get them, we lose all sense of satisfaction. The thing is, happiness isn’t a choice. I can’t simply choose to be happy, or choose to be satisfied any more than I can choose to be orange or choose to be thin. None of these things are simple choices.

Our happiness is based on our desires, and our desires are based on the things we focus on.¬†When my focus is on the fact that I want to be married, then I find myself unsatisfied because I’m not married. When my focus is on a woman, then I’m unsatisfied because she isn’t mine. When my focus in on wealth, then I’m unsatisfied because I am not wealthy, or at least I am not as wealthy as someone else. Thus, in striving to become I destroy my own satisfaction.

I lose all sense of the fact that I am who God has made me, not that he is finished (far from it in fact), and that I am who God is making me. I forget that he is what I should be striving for, instead of striving for all of the things that I see and want around me. Laozi, a Chinese philosopher, introduced the concept of Wu Wei, or ‘non-action’, though the idea might be better translated as ‘non-striving’. Laozi believed that the Tao was the essence of all things (obviously I disagree with him here), and that our only striving should be a striving to be in harmony with the Tao, and even this should not be a true striving. He believed that we should seek to be in harmony, and that when we were in harmony we would naturally do the things that should be done. That is to say, that we will do right without striving to do right.

Christians are commanded to abide in Christ, and when I truly abide in Christ, when I am holy, then my actions will be right. When I abide in Christ and keep my focus on him, then I find myself satisfied because he does not fail. When my focus waivers, when I focus on something else, then my satisfaction disappears. In striving to better myself, or to achieve my desires, or to meet arbitrary goals, I find myself unsatisfied because all of these things are dust. These strivings can never satisfy me, because these achievements are meaningless.

Do not think that I mean that marriage is a bad thing, or that to be wealthy is evil. This is not what I am trying to say. However, marriage without Christ is meaningless. Wealth without Christ is worthless. Christ is all things, and when I am in Christ, then I will be satisfied with whatever he chooses to give me. When I am in Christ, then marriage will be wonderful, if that is what he chooses to give me, and if it is not, then it will be equally wonderful to be single.

I think that I’ve probably botched this entirely, but I’m still kind of working these ideas through in my head. However, I think that Americans have generally lost all concept of being satisfied with what God gives us, and this makes me very sad.