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The current Wikipedia article on Taoism contains a relatively prominent section devoted to arguments in favor of an alleged similarity between Taoism and Christianity.

Some authors have dealt with comparative studies between Taoism and Christianity. This has been of interest for students of history of religion such as J.J.M. de Groot, among others. The comparison of the teachings of Laozi and Jesus of Nazareth has been done by several authors such as Martin Aronson, and Toropov & Hansen, who believe that they have parallels that should not to be ignored. In the opinion of J. Isamu Yamamoto the main difference is that Christianity preaches a personal God while Theist Taoism does not. Yet, a number of authors, including Lin Yutang, have argued that some moral and ethical tenets of these religions are similar.

To my current understanding, Taoism and Christianity propose very different ideas. Taoism argues that individuality is ultimately an illusion, in Christianity individual souls are promised eternal life. Taoism is very skeptical of how much we may hope to to grasp as rational knowledge, for Christianity the logos is key. I have no doubt that one can find similar ethical rules in both, but then such rules (do not kill, etc.) are quite universal to all religions: such as similarity would be general, not specific to the two.

Am I mistaken or could it be that the current Wikipedia article is overly biased e.g. towards a Christian view on Taoism where it makes this comparison? Are the cited authors known as representatives of Christian philosophy?

UPDATE On reflection, the most significant similarity between Taoism and Christianity may be that at their cores (and perhaps more so than other religions) they cater to the poor (e.g. Christianity: so the last will be first, and the first will be last; e.g. Taoism: many historical accounts of Chinese who adopted Confucianism at the peaks of their lives and turned to Taoism after setbacks). However, this is not mentioned in the article.

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    I'd dispute one of your suggested differences: Christianity puts a large emphasis on the fact that human knowledge is limited, and encourages knowledge and wisdom. Some may be considered to be more important, even called 'all you need' but never 'all you should ever have.' – Magus Oct 31 '14 at 18:40
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    That makes more sense, but very different from what your question states. That a particular thing is an absolute fact does not mean that there is not an unlimited number of others. Being skeptical about what you do know is very different from being skeptical about what you can know. – Magus Oct 31 '14 at 19:13
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    Is it really true that "Taoism argues that individuality is ultimately an illusion" or are you confusing it with Buddhism? Also in Christianity the logos is the word of God: although humans might say that "the tao that can be named is not the eternal tao", perhaps God isn't meant to be subject to that limitation (ability to speak an eternal truth). I don't think the Wikipedia article is "overly biased" ... IMO Taoism and Christianity have almost nothing in common, except that some people saw enough parallels to write about both, but it's just one paragraph. – ChrisW Nov 1 '14 at 2:18
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    Specifically to the point of Taoist anti-rationalism: It's worth noting that the Logos of the Bible is not the logos of philosophical rationalism, and that influential Christian philosophers such as Kierkegaard have championed an anti-rationalist reading of Christianity. – Chris Sunami Nov 3 '14 at 20:00
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    And I would like to ask, which Christianity are you referring to? Catholic? Protestant? Eastern orthodox? or others? Yes, Religions as time descends made schools after schools, perhaps some school share some same idea with eastern religion? ( and I am not sure when ). It may be perhaps even after the industrial revolution, considering the activities by "Western people", am I so off here? – Kentaro Tomono Jul 12 '15 at 22:22
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Taoism is quite different from christianity, specially in morality and ethics (i.e. considering what is right and what is wrong), since:

  • In Taoism every concept appears immediately with their opposite. In christianity, there is God, and be apart from God. Most of the concepts in the Bible arise from the idea of being apart from God. An example of this is the first two chapters of the Book Of Wisdom in the bible, when referring to the people with no God.
  • Have this quote: Thus being and non-being produce each other, and try telling a christian that the Devil creates God (the opposite is true). I can teach you how to block punches. You will need it.
  • In Taoism, as stated in the very first "chapters" in Tao Te Ching, Tao cannot be defined (this includes: there is not intrinsic ethics arising from the main concept). Tao morality looks then no more than a guideline (subjective note: which for me and other taoists I know, is a GOOD thing; with this I remark that this is not a despective comment about the practice, but considered as a feature). In Christianity, God is Good, Benevolent, Fair, bla bla bla. Opposite concepts arise from being apart from God.
  • In Taoism, there's the paradoxical concept of "no action". In Christianity, there's a constant referenct to acting, good deeds, God's plan or predestination (depending on schools).
  • In Taoism, in particular chapter 38, having hope, believing, and waiting for the future is stupid (depending on the translation, the word stupidity, ignorance or confusion is used; [...] Abides in the real, and does not dwell on the flower [...]). In Christianity, a huge part of the belief is about the future rewards and punishments (Book of Wisdom chaps 1-5, and almost whole book of Apocalipsis). Most of the rewards are somehow related to power or rank (over nations, over angels, ...). Edit: The flower concept is a reference to the promise, the future. Meanwhile, Christianity (and mostly every abrahamic school, say) is deeply based (and tied to) the concept of prophecy. There's a high honor to be considered a prophet (and gained the gift of prophecy).
  • In Taoism, you die and you are part again of Tao. In fact, you never stop being apart from Tao in a "literal" sense. In Christianity, you can fall apart from God.
  • You have no commandment in TTK to attend a Taoist temple, or consider any Taoist church as a sacred organisation. You have no commandment to pray, but you are encouraged (or informally recommended from practitioners) to learn from the whole bunch of metaphors.
  • Reality is one in Christianity. Reality is not fixed according to Chuang Tze metaphors of dreaming about being a butterfly.
  • For this point I have no concrete source (others have their source in TTK and Bible as I stated), but experience: Christians often reject non-contemplative or non-God-based meditation, including activities like Qi Gong and Taiji Quan.

Here you have a source. This is always the main taoism source (it is a must-read), regardless other authors.

They can have common points, but as a practitioner I can tell it is quite different in essence.

  • Yes, +1 even there is no belief through Christ ( Tao ) we can go to heaven. ( Tao's Heaven is more like a Nature to me. ) – Kentaro Tomono Mar 17 '16 at 15:41
  • "Most of the concepts in the Bible arise from the idea of being apart from God." Perhaps, but most of this is interpretation,. Check out the doctrine of 'Divine Simplicity'. This is no different from the advaita (not-two) view of the Upanishads or the nondualism of philosophical Taoism. – PeterJ Aug 14 '17 at 14:18
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Speaking from personal experience as a Christian with Taoist sympathies, although it's far from a mainstream line of thought in either Christian or Taoist circles, the cause of reconciling the two is well known, and has been taken up by a number of different thinkers.

Part of the motivation may come from the fact that Taoism is largely non-theistic, which makes it possible to incorporate aspects of Taoist philosophy into Christian practice (as well as many other different religious traditions), without the burden of also taking on incompatible claims about God or gods (compare Hinduism or Shintoism). Taoism also functions largely without any central prophet or Messianic figure whose authority could be considered by Christians as trespassing on that belonging to Jesus (compare Buddhism or Islam).

There is also the fact that the Tao translates most naturally as "The Way," a term which, in the Christian tradition, is claimed by Jesus ("I am the Way, the Truth and the Life"). This fact may seem coincidental, but has been taken as significant by some writers.

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    +1 Can you perhaps add some further references or (better) book recommendations under "... is well known, and has been taken up by a number of different thinkers". I'd like to explore the topic further, but am not confident in the sources that the Wikipedia article currently refers to. – Drux Nov 3 '14 at 20:10
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    has been taken up by a number of different thinkers. Please let me know the thinkers and the exact phrase by people with thank you in advance. – Kentaro Tomono Jul 12 '15 at 21:42
  • @Kentaro Tomono - In the literature of mysticism Taoism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism. Kabbalism, Theosophy et al are spoken of a single doctrine showing different aspects or approaches. This requires a particular interpretation of the teachings. There are more books explaining this than a person could read in a lifetime. A Christian might like to start with Keith Ward's 'God: A Guide for the Perplexed' which eases the reader into this area of thought, or check out the doctrine of 'Divine Simplicity', which is a key doctrine in relation to Taoism. . . . – PeterJ Aug 14 '17 at 14:13
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To argue that the ethics and morality of Taoism are similar to the Christian is a rather simplistic argument. All the great religions teach similar ethics and morality. Taoism is a non-dual tradition, very different from the monotheistic tradition of Christianity.

David Loy writes in Nonduality: A Study of Comparative Philosophy: "The first section [of Chapter 3] argues that the Taoist paradox of wei-wu-wei (the action of non-action) is a description of such nondual action. It is highly significant that the same paradox is found in the other two nondualist traditions, clearly enunciated in the Bhagavad-gita and more fully developed in the Buddhist account of the Bodhisattva's path."

Western academics consistently try to show non-Christian religions as either 'pre-Christian' in their ethics and morality, derived from Christian influences, or not up to snuff with Christian ethics and morality. There is a good book on the distortions that are done by Western academics. The book is called Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America. THe book is available as a free download here - http://rajivmalhotra.com/books/invading-sacred/

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    no, does not mean that at all. Nondual means that Everything is One. There is no separate existence apart from the One. – Swami Vishwananda Nov 1 '14 at 10:07
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    No, actually what is commonly called monotheism in the West is called dualism (dvaita) in the Eastern philosophy. It is called dualism because the soul of man is seen as having a separate existence from God. In nondualism (advaita) the soul of man and God are one and the same. – Swami Vishwananda Nov 2 '14 at 4:49
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    I think your last paragraph is severely overstated and somewhat outdated (it was more true in say 1890 with the Jesuit translations of eastern philosophy). Many contemporary Chinese philosophers in the US and the West argue stringently against this imposition going so far as to reject pretty mundane translations (義 Yi as "righteousness", 徳 De as "virtue"). Even historically, it's not like Schopenhauer liked Eastern philosophy because he thought it was latent Christianity. If you could temper it slightly, this would be a pretty solid answer in my view. – virmaior Nov 3 '14 at 4:37
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    Skim read the book referenced and then tell me the same. It is well researched with many many specific current references. – Swami Vishwananda Nov 3 '14 at 13:10
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    The book actually convinces me even less of the claim that Western academics are engaged in some sort of concerted project to stifle Eastern thought. It's an assemblage of anecdotes showing that there are people who treat Hinduism in an inaccurate way vis-a-vis how its scholars want it to be treated. You could write reams of that for any view. – virmaior Nov 3 '14 at 22:16
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Taoism teaches that a way of living exists that is compatible with health and happiness. There is a great emphasis on not explicating the way, but to use intution and experience to impliment or activate it. Christianity does the same thing but can point to a incarnation of the right way -- the life of Jesus.

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"Why does everyone love the Tao so much when they first find it? Isn't it because you find what you seek, and know that your sins are forgiven?"

When I first ran across this bit from the TTC, as penned by my teacher, Gia-fu Feng in his beautiful translation (the first available in the West that was done by a native Chinese speaker), I was quite stunned by the similarity to Christian thought. You could just swap out "Jesus" for the word "Tao" there, and someone who didn't know any better might think that was a quote from the New Testament. I was particularly struck, of course, by the "and know that your sins are forgiven" bit. I asked Master Feng about this, saying, "I wasn't aware that the concept of sin existed in Taoism", to which he wittily replied, "Sure, we do bad things sometimes, too." :)

Ultimately, Master Feng and studying Taoism actually helped me with a number of issues that ultimately led me to becoming a Christian. For example, I was one of those people who was always a bit rankled by what I saw as God's arbitrary rules. Feng helped me to see things such as the Ten Commandments not as rules but simply as instructions for living life in harmony with Tao. In other words, one should see things such as the commandment, "Do not commit adultery", as merely informing you that adultery is not in harmony with the Way of Life - if you're committing adultery (or stealing or killing), then you're swimming upstream against the flow of Tao.

Just a thought (or two).

Jack Maverick

  • Yes! This would be an immediate and obvious connection, that in both cases we ar able to discover the truth and would not need to speculate. This would only be possible for the esoteric form of Christianity, (and also Islam), and therefore it is the 'heretical' forms of these religions that are alike with Taoism. not the dogmatic/speculative religion of the priests. – PeterJ Aug 13 '17 at 11:21
  • Hi, welcome to philosophy.SE! As written, your answer doesn't really fit our site's format. For a quick primer on answering questions here, see this, or look at Luis's answer above. I have no idea if the quotation you posted is relevant or not, but it certainly needs some explanation as to how it compares the ethics and cosmology of Taoism and Christianity. – Canyon Aug 15 '17 at 1:23
  • Canyon, Thanks for your note - sorry about the formatting. I'll edit and offer some explanation, but frankly I thought the quote itself was pretty much self-explanatory as to the connection. Jack – Jack Maverick Aug 15 '17 at 23:40
  • Thanks for listening! Your edits greatly improve the answer. In particular, your third paragraph, where you compare the ten commandments to Taoist practices, is exactly what the question calls for. Keep it up. – Canyon Aug 16 '17 at 3:03
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"Taoism argues that individuality is ultimately an illusion"

where does it argues this? Individuality may end with death (I think that's Dao De Jing's point of view), but as we're alive, it is not an "illusion". We are social animals, we are part of a group, but we are individuals too (at least we are not interconnected as coral reefs).

"could it be that the current Wikipedia article is overly biased e.g. towards a Christian view on Taoism"

Lots of western translations use "God" as the word for "Dao", or use monotheistic assumptions ("eternal dao", "eternal life", "the saint", etc).

In common between the two I see:

1) "What others have teached, we also teach: 'the violent ones can't choose their own death', this is going to be our most important teaching" (DDJ 42), very similar to "who wounds with iron will be wounded by iron";

2) "they have so many goods that may waste them, those act as thieves, of course this isn't Dao" (DDJ 53) has a lot in common with "It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God".

But they have a lot more that opposes them. In "catering" the poor, the Taoist counsels to kings and princes would enrich the people. Christianity, with all its moralism, usually lets the people poorer.

  • Any comment on the downvote? – Rodrigo Feb 7 '15 at 10:36
  • Many Christians see their religion as teaching that individuality is an illusion. This is the Christianity of 'A Course in Miracles' and it may be the classical Christian view. If the world is a Unity differentiation is some sort of illusion. Meditators the world over report that the distinction between objects and subjects is illusory, and that this may be verified in our own experience. . – PeterJ Aug 14 '17 at 11:22
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What Francis Bradley calls 'commonplace' Christianity is very unlike Taoism. To see their similarity, some would say equivalence, one would have to compare the nondual form of Christianity, ('classical' or 'gnostic' Christianity' (lower-case 'g')) of such people as Eckhart, de Cusa, David Bentley Hart. Keith Ward et al, with philosophical Taoists like Lao Tsu and Chuang Tsu.

The later 'religious' Taoism that developed some 500 years after Lao Tsu, with its Heaven and Hell, Gods and angels etc., might seem rather like ordinary dogmatic Christianity, but where Taoist writers explicitly endorse the teachings of Jesus it is the esoteric Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas, not the Jesus of the Church of England and the Protestants.

I have a book here somewhere here by a Taoist writer who uses Jesus as a model throughout and refers constantly to his teachings and stresses that Taoism is the path to becoming a True Man, thus to achieve what Jesus achieved. This would be the esoteric teaching, that our goal should be to emulate Jesus and find Truth, Reality and Immortality. If I can find the book I'll post a reference but at present it's hiding somewhere.

The complication would be the various forms of Christianity and the two main types of Taoism. But if we read A Course in Miracles, The Mystical Theology or de Cusa's On the Vision of God, it is not difficult to see the connection with Taoism.

We see that de Cusa states that God 'move and moves not, rests and rests not, is and is-not', and so forth, while Lao Tsu tells us 'True words seem paradoxical'. This is not a coincidence but evidence of a shared truth.

The topic is vast. To see the close connection between Christianity and Taoism it would be necessary to have some understanding of the principle of nonduality, and this is not something that can be acquired quickly and easily. Or not unless one has a sudden revelation.

  • a lot of taoism is about immortality etc. – user28117 Aug 13 '17 at 11:15

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