Taoism is one of the great religions and philosophy in China along with Buddhism and Confucianism. It is perceived that the great three religions established in China is a response to the social, philosophical, and political conditions of life. However, “Taoism has a much more individualistic and mystical character, greatly influenced by nature” (“Lao Tzu: Father of Taoism”).
The political advice by Lao Tzu can be reflected in his teachings that one should endeavour to do nothing. Other philosophers believed that in order to achieve balance and harmony, one must regulate life and society. However Taoism says that in order to acquire balance, one must have no ambitions and one must turn away from domination of government into a solitary contemplation of nature. A Taoist must follow the flow of events and the natural order of things free from desires and follies to achieve spontaneity of action. It says:
“The Tao abides in non-action,
Yet nothing is left undone.
If kings and lords observed this,
The ten thousand things would develop naturally.
If they still desired to act,
They would return to the simplicity of formless substance.
Without form there is no desire.
Without desire there is tranquillity.
In this way all things would be at peace”. (“Lao Tzu: Father of Taoism”)
It was perhaps indirectly express but it can emerge as a philosophy that can greatly affect politics when applied. Taoism believes that Inaction can permit every member of the society to flourish and achieve happiness. Taoism believes that a person can transform its own self as the world and nature stabilizes itself. Laws and regulations that restrict people will just lead to confusion, poverty and turmoil. This is clear when Lao Tzu said “Without laws or compulsion, men would dwell in harmony”. Lao Tzu generally believes that “without sophistication disrupting the nature of a human person, he or she will in time return to their own innate virtue and live simply and peacefully”. (“Doctrines”)
Lao Tzu was clearly sceptical about power and those who exercised it. Taxes can make people starve and can motivate corruption to those in the position. Interference because of laws can create rebellion since not every body share the same principles and so on. It can be contemplate that Lao Tzu’s philosophy always apply in political domain, but how about religion? Are there religious qualities present in the political advice of Lao Tzu? Or are the advices of Lao Tzu were originally for the purpose of creating a religion?
But what is religion? Religion according to Webster’s New World Dictionary is “any specific system of belief and worship, often involving a code of ethics and a philosophy”. The political principle of Lao Tzu’s “inaction” and harmony towards nature already involves a standard of morality, thus can be classified as a religious quality. Lao Tzu’s advice “not to depend on ideologies and to have a deeper awareness on physical laws” is already a general standard of ethics and can be classified as religious quality. The religious philosophy of Lao Tzu about freedom which means “not to be governed” can be a general basis for politics and code of ethics. Religion also generally and basically includes metaphysical existence, redemption and God. Like Christianity, Taoism also believes in immortality. Taoism pursues preservation of health and immortality as their uttermost goal (“What is Taoism?”). They also have system of deities and gods that manifests their belief in metaphysical. Those qualities are common to all religions.
The political and religious qualities are related to each other. Lao Tzu’s principle that “when man establishes himself in harmony with the universal and nature’s principle, good human conduct will follow” is applicable to be applied in politics (Dominguez 2006). There is clearly no conflict between political and religious qualities in Taoism since its general principle can be applied to both. However Lao Tzu’s desire to change reality regarding politics and government and be in accordance to nature is already a social movement. His principle of “inaction” by detaching from dogmas and rules already attempts to achieve transformation. Lao Tzu in this case unconsciously contradicts his teaching to detach from political movement. His teachings somehow established a political idealism for society to follow.
Religion as being represented by church and politics as being represented by the State really affects each other. The problem of church and state arise when the laws and restrictions given by the government don’t conform to the philosophy and practices given by religion. It is an issue about liberty or freedom to apply the concept of both separately and independently. Individuals who belong to religious groups are also members of the state. The dual association of each citizen as both member of the church and the state creates complications. People can sometimes incorporate their faith and beliefs as to how the state should run the government. The secularity of government and freedom of religious exercise is almost impossible since citizens are members of both.
United States has a long tradition of separating church from state, yet a powerful inclination to mix religion and politics is inevitable. As a matter of fact, United States is one of the leading nations when it comes to political and social movements. The women’s suffrage for example was deeply fabricated from Christianity’s belief that “men and women were created equal”. But liberation of thoughts motivated the creation of feminism that aims to have equal opportunities between men politically, socially etc. This call of feminism somehow distracted the conservatives and religious who believe that women have specific role to pursue. War against Iraq, abortion, euthanasia and same sex marriage are just one of the few implementations of the State that greatly distracts Christianity. Churches with their fear that religious morality will now be dominated by world’s standards became increasingly active in political mobilization.
The separation of church and state is still highly debated in America. Churches, synagogues and other religious institutions are overwhelmingly seen as positive forces in addressing society’s problems (“Religion and Politics: the Ambivalent Majority”). However the liberation of thoughts and ideas also transform some American values. There are increasing number of agnostics, sceptics and atheists and etc. As a result, there is a widespread discomfort about how church and religion approach politics. The political movements of Church though, make the law makers retrospect about the very basic of morality and the very essence of law—that is to spread peace and human fairness. Abortion and euthanasia are obviously not fair since it contradicts the basic human law regarding their right to live.
The separation of church and the state is initially acquired from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 referencing the first amendment to the United States Constitution that says:
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
It is obvious that government and its constitution still surpass church when it comes to affecting the citizens’ morality. If faith and reason collides, can both survive the clash? Who can say that church has the right to guide on the morality of human rights? The church is only limited to giving opinions. It seems that belongingness to a state depends on the citizenship than religion. Maybe Lao Tzu is right in his fear that laws and restrictions will just create complications and sins to human lives. It increases desires and wants.
However separation of church and state can be beneficial to unite Christians and other people in the Western Culture. Maybe United States is right that they need to separate the church and the state in order not to create conflicts and disturbances that may hinder for the progress of the state. It is after all logical somehow that church and state needs to work independently so that other members of the state from foreign beliefs would not feel alienated especially that United States is a mixture of culture, race and religion.
“Lao Tzu: Father of Taoism”.Taoism and the Philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan”.
Christopher Majka and Empty Mirror Press.
“Doctrines”. The Tao-te ching and Lao-tzu.OWR
“What is Taoism?” Travel China Guide
Dominguez, J. M.D.”All About Taoism”. Description and personal opinion of the World Religions and 101 Cults and SEcts 2006, May
“Religion and Politics; the Ambivalent Majority”. THe Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life Issues. 2000, September 20.WAshington.
Jefferson, Thomas (1802-01-01). “Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists”.
U.S. Library of Congress. Retrieved on 2006-11-31.