Monday, August 01, 2011

Tao is the Way, the Truth, the Life? Part II

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In the previous post we examined C.S. Lewis' use of a variety of thoughts, philosophies, and sayings which he collectively identified as the Tao:

"The Chinese also speak of a great thing (the greatest thing) called the Tao. It is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself. It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road. It is the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, stilly and tranquilly, into space and time. It is also the Way which every man should tread in imitation of that cosmic and supercosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar."

Previously, my comments on this passage were quite brief, but I will say more in this second post. Before I do, consider how Lewis concludes the above passage:

"'In ritual,' say the Analects, 'it is harmony with Nature that is prized.' The ancient Jews likewise praise the Law as being 'true.'"

In all of this, much is revealed about Lewis' eclectic view of "truth." His failure to scrutinize the philosophies of men by the standard of Holy Writ leads him into very troubling territories:

1. "[the Tao]...is harmony with Nature..."

2. "The ancient Jews likewise praise the Law as being 'true.'"

3. "...the Tao [is]...the abyss that was before the Creator Himself."

With these statements alone, we are left with a very disturbing lexicon of "truth." Within this small paragraph, Lewis manages to do the following:

1. He heralds the eastern philosophy of being in "harmony with Nature" - a concept bearing little resemblance with Scripture itself (Romans 8:22).

2. He places the divine revelation of God's Law on equal footing with Taoism, Confucianism,[1] and other various philosophies ("The ancient Jews likewise praise the Law as being 'true.'").

3. Remarkably, he refers to the Tao as that which existed "before the Creator Himself." However, the true Creator is eternal and, therefore, nothing can be before Him. To suggest otherwise is utter blasphemy (Genesis 1:1, John 1:1-3).

Any conscientious Christian should be disturbed by such a small sampling as this. The sad reality is that any man who steps away from the foundation of Holy Writ, even a little, stands on sinking sand. In all of this I am reminded of that overly abused adage: all truth is God's truth. While true in a particular sense, this expression is often used in order to formulate a body of "truth" that goes well beyond what God has actually revealed in His Word.

Ultimately, Lewis is guilty of creating a specious body of "truth" in his “Tao.”

Moreover, Lewis' methodology of assembling his Tao is rather suspect at points. It is not uncommon to find Lewis assembling sayings in confounding ways. As mentioned in the previous post, one such example of this is found in Lewis' use of Epictetus:

'Natural affection is a thing right and according to Nature.' (Greek. Ibid. i. xi)

If this quote seems like circular reasoning - it is. But more importantly, it does not reflect any specific quote from Epictetus, Book I, Chapter XI, On Family Affection. It may be Lewis' attempt to offer a paraphrase of Epictetus, but one can only wonder. Ultimately, the point that Epictetus was making within his narrative is that one's affections must be judged by reason in order to determine if something that seems natural is in fact right. The problem for Epictetus is that he is armed with nothing more than his own sense of logic, reason, and experientialism as he endeavors to find "truth." In the end, he fails to supply any real benchmark for judging one's affections rightly. Such citations as these pose a problem for Lewis, especially when one bothers to divine the original meanings of such statements. As Lewis assembles his Tao with the puzzle pieces of such "truth," the careful reader is often left with more questions than answers, especially when one bothers to read the sources. When Epictetus, Juvenal, Cicero, or Confucius speak of creation, nature, evil, and justice, each writer is informed by his own distinctive philosophy. Thus, the lexical realities behind Lewis' assembled Tao become even more complex when carefully considered. As a result of this, Lewis gives his readers a dangerous sense of license in the matter of seeking out "truth" from secularism and false religion. In the modern day, we find this same form of thinking in many churches that are becoming involved in things like Yoga and mystic meditation, under the assumption that such practices coincide with Christian faith. Such an assumption as this requires a shallow understanding of biblical theology, as well as an illiteracy of the very eastern mysticism from which they glean such practices. Throughout history many faithful Christians died in order to pass along God's revealed word to future generations. God’s word is a sacred trust. Such a precious treasure of genuine truth is that which transcends the mere philosophies of men, therefore, it must never be lumped into a common heap of worthless sayings by fallen men. Or as the Apostle Paul said:

1 Corinthians 2:1-5: 1. And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4. and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5. so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

Lewis' Tao is a disgrace. His failures in The Abolition of Man could have been rectified had he started with the absolute and eternal standard of God's Word from the beginning of his arguments. Had he done this, he would not have been touting the Chinese Tao (or some reconstruction of it), but would have instead heralded a real foundation on which others could truly stand.


[1] The Analects [or Lunyu] refers to the collection of writings and sayings of Confucius.