Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Interfaith Series: Tao, Confucius, Shinto

This semester, I'm working as a teaching assistant in a non-Western religions course. A couple of weeks ago, the professor asked me to write a series of devotionals for the students, relevant to the ideas they would be discussing each week. So my task was to write Bible-based devotions for students at a Christian university who are studying non-Christian religions. Fun, right? It was. So I thought I'd take a few days and share some of these devotionals in this space.

Today: Tao, Confucius, and Shinto.

Admittedly, this is a group of religions that we in the West know very little about. We understand maybe some of the popular culture aspects of them, some of the things that have made their way into our common vocabulary - things like "Confucius say..." and the concepts of the yin and the yang (which was rather popular in the 90s; I'm not sure where it stands in Western culture today). Essentially, though, when we think about this group of religions, we can think of two primary ideas: words and light.

These religions place a high emphasis on words. It's why we know what Confucius say. The guy did a lot of talking. The Tao, similarly, is full of compact statements of worldly wisdom, much as if it were a religion entirely of proverbs. We might even be tempted to say these are wisdom religions completed separated from narrative (whereas, of course, the wisdom of God is set alongside His narrative in the Bible). 

Equally, there is an emphasis on light. And especially on the contrast of light and darkness in the world. Not just light and darkness, but good and evil, as well. This is where we get the yin and the yang. It's this contrast between light and dark, good and evil. 

As Christians, we, too, have an emphasis on words and light. But for us, these words are living words; this light is living light. Both are embodied in this Man we call Jesus.

Here we turn to the opening chapter of the gospel of John.

The real light, which shines on everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into existence through him....The Word became human and lived among us. We saw his glory. It was the glory that the Father shares with his only Son, a glory full of kindness and truth.

John gives us the very ideas of these Eastern religions, wrapped into one man. It's not a light that competes with the darkness; it's a light that drives the darkness out. It's not a word that tells us how to live; it is a Word that lives among us, that speaks to us in its own very living. We don't have to figure out what any of it means; Jesus reveals it plainly.

And that is the fundamental difference between Christianity and these other religions. The Tao, what Confucius say - these require the follower to figure out what it all means. You have to do some heavy interpreting. You have to interpret how these words are meant to influence your life. You have to seek out light over darkness, have to stand in the divide between the two and feel the tension.

Not so in Christ. Christ the Word tells you exactly what He means. You don't have to interpret what the Word means for your life; the Word is your very life. The Word spoke life itself into existence. It is the crux on which this whole world spins, the very Word of God spoken into the void and then spoken again in Jesus. You don't have to stand in the tension between light and darkness. Light has come to drive out darkness. The light of a single candle makes all the shadows dance. 

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