By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
I was reading “The Big Box Series” over at Scarlet Letters, a blog exploring the Christian homeschooling subculture, the Christian patriarchy movement, and women’s and gender issues within Christianity. I came across a post featuring one of Doug Phillips’s lectures, entitled “How to Evaluate a Suitor,” on marriage and being “unequally yoked.” Scarlet Letters makes interesting connections between Phillips, Rushdoony, and implicit racism; the post is worth a look. But what I was most intrigued by — since my M.A. focused on Eastern philosophy and religion — was his truncated and highly inaccurate understanding of Eastern philosophies and religions. Take a look:
There is no relationship in the entire earth in which agreement is more necessary than marriage. It is the most heightened level of agreement that is necessary in marriage, because two people become one. It’s the only relationship that we have in which two become one, physically and spiritually you become one. And so if one is at complete differences with the other, you’ve got a formula for disaster. That’s the Buddhist philosophy of yin and yang. Good and evil coexisting together, both in a constant state of war to create a one. That’s Buddhism, that’s Daoism, that Confucianism. It’s not Christianity. We don’t believe in yin and yang. We believe the two should be one, they need to be in agreement.
I mean, my main reaction is just: LOL.
My more detailed reaction would be:
1) “Good and evil coexisting together in a constant state of war to create one” is not the Buddhist philosophy of yin and yang.
2) “Good and evil coexisting together in a constant state of war” is more of a Hindu concept, which for some reason didn’t even make it onto Phillips’s list of religions.
3) Relating “good and evil” to yin and yang is a American/Westernized thing; it’s not a faithful interpretation of yin and yang in their cultural and historical contexts.
4) Buddhism is not the same as Daoism.
5) Daoism is not the same as Confucianism.
6) Confucianism is not the same as Buddhism.
7) When “yin and yang” is properly understood, Christianity actually does express similar sentiments.
I will not bore my readers with a detailed explanation of Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. But I would like to at least explain “yin” and “yang” briefly, because — hey, I rarely have the opportunity to apply my M.A. directly in my work with HA. I might as well take advantage of this rare opportunity.
So here we go:
Both yin and yang are traditional Chinese characters. Here’s yin: 陰. Here’s yang: 陽. If you notice, on the lefthand side of each character is the same “mini-character”: 阝. 阝signifies a mound or hill. When combined with 侌, which signifies “cloudy,” you get what we think of as “yin,” which signifies the cloudy or shadowy side of a hill. On the other hand, when 阝is combined with 昜 (which signifies “bright”), you get “yang,” which signifies the sunny or bright side of a hill. Thinking of a hill is probably the easiest Intro to Yin and Yang I could give you: it’s the same hill, but it has two sides: a cloudy side and a sunny side. The sides aren’t “in a constant state of war”; rather, they’re two sides of the same coin and — despite unique characteristics and personalities — work together in harmony.
Which, if you think about it, is an interesting metaphor for marriage.
I am absolutely fascinated by the foundational Daoist text, the Dao De Jing. So here’s the main passage (Chapter 42) in that text that discusses the traditional Daoist understanding of yin and yang:
Tao gave birth to the One; the One gave birth successively to two things, three things, up to ten thousand. These ten thousand creatures cannot turn their backs to the shade [yin] without having the sun [yang] on their bellies, and it is on this blending of the breaths that their harmony depends.
To be orphaned, needy, ill-provided is what men most hate; yet princes and dukes style themselves so.
Truly, “things are often increased by seeking to diminish them and diminished by seeking to increase them.” The maxims that others use in their teaching I too will use in mine.
Show me a man of violence that came to a good end, and I will take him for my teacher.
Most every chapter in the Dao De Jing begins with some universal principle and then applies it to how a ruler ought to govern. In my opinion, the Dao De Jing is primarily a political treatise about the nature and application of power; it’s not a religious statement. To put it in “Christianese” terminology, it’s about “living in the tension.” In this case, it’s political tension: a wise ruler knowns how to non-violently embrace and marshal opposing political elements to his own advantage. (Which, again, is an interesting metaphor for marriage, albeit Machiavellian.)
But that’s just Daoism — and that’s just one interpretation of one Daoist text written by one Daoist. How Daoism (as well as Buddhism and Confucianism) thinks about and applies the idea of yin and yang is as diverse as how American Christians think about and apply the idea that humans are made in God’s image. It’s completely sloppy (and unfair) to just group all those religions and their denominations together and make sweeping generalizations. For example, some American Christians think the “humans in God’s image” concept necessitates we accept and love LGBT* individuals; other American Christians think the same concept justifies bigotry and discrimination. If American Christians wouldn’t like being made into unfair caricatures, they ought not make unfair caricatures of other religions and people groups.
Making unfair caricatures of other religions and people groups is a serious problem in the Christian homeschooling subculture and American Evangelicalism in general. (It’s also a problem that plagues other cultures. No uniqueness here.) I have talked about this previously in my “How I Learned to Stop Being Afraid and Love Other Religions” series. When I realized that curriculums and ideas created and advocated by everyone from David Noebel to Ken Ham to Worldview Weekend to James Dobson was passing on nothing but soundbites and straw men of other people’s beliefs, I felt upset. And confused. If homeschool leaders actually want to raise up a generation that is taken seriously in the public square, they owe that generation the truth. They owe it an accurate and generous understanding of opposing viewpoints: whether those viewpoints be Buddhist, Daoist, Confucian, or even atheist.
When homeschool leaders (or former ones like Doug Phillips), throw everything from Buddhism to Confucianism to Daoism into one box and cannot even understand a basic concept like yin and yang, how is that any different from Richard Dawkins throwing those same religions — but also Christianity — into the same box and declaring, “A plague on all your houses”? Remember Jesus’s Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”
Which, incidentally, Confucius said 500 years prior: “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.”