Doug Phillips on the “Yin and Yang” of Marriage


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.”

How I Learned To Stop Being Afraid and Love Other Religions, Part One: If Satan Made Xanax, And Other Worldview Myths


HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from R.L. Stollar’s personal blog. It was originally published on July 30, 2013.


“Nothing short of a great Civil War of Values rages today throughout North America. Two sides with vastly differing and incompatible world-views are locked in a bitter conflict that permeates every level of society.”

~James Dobson and Gary Bauer, Children at Risk: The Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Our Kids, 1990


Part One: If Satan Made Xanax, And Other Worldview Myths

When I enrolled in the Eastern Classics program at St. John’s College back in 2005, I encountered many and varied responses from fellow evangelical Christians. Some proved encouraging and others not so.

The most common response, though, was: “Are you a Buddhist?”

As the months passed and the time of graduation grew closer, the question changed, but only slightly:

“Have you become a Buddhist?”

At first the question provoked but a smile. As it grew more regular, however, and as I began to know more about Eastern philosophies and religions as well as what actually occurred in the minds of the questioners, it provoked a thought process. I realized that, to many Christians I knew, “Eastern” meant “Buddhist.” And “Buddhist” meant some tranquil species of rebellion against the American Jesus — like if Satan made Xanax for the mind. I vividly remember one individual who commented that, if I were to study Eastern religions, I better not become a Buddhist: Buddhists have no emotions whereas, you know, Jesus wept.

Such comments are likely the result of ignorance regarding world religions. A good number of the people who asked this question in 2005 did not shun inquiry. They merely lacked familiarity with Buddhism. They did not know (as I did not know prior to a year of study in the Eastern Classics) that Buddhism, like Christianity, has a dizzying number of denominations, each vying for doctrinal dominion. Consequently, when someone asks me now if I agree with Buddhism, I experience great difficulty answering the question: “Which denomination?” I have to ask. I have great fondness for the emotional freedom and experience-based practices of Diamond Way Buddhism, for example, whereas I dislike the asceticism of Theravada Buddhism. American Zen Buddhism is another story.

I have thus realized, after these conversations with friends and fellow students, that the American Christian mind (maybe even the American mind) has a paltry understanding of some of the longest-standing and deeply rooted ideas of the world. American evangelicals especially do not take time to appreciate, let alone understand, a good number of their strongest opponents in the sphere of religion. Those who have taken time (seemingly not much) only do so to construct flimsy card-houses with the purpose of a surprise attack.

You have groups like Summit Ministries and Worldview Weekend, training up the next generation with nothing more than an arsenal of generalizations, simplifications, and shameless reductionism.

No one seems interested in taking the ideas of other religions at face value and learning to see any sort of beauty or value in them.

To say that other religions can be beautiful or valuable is not an exercise in relativism. But granting this beauty or value will likely suffer the fate of being interpreted as such by many of today’s “worldview” champions. The old guard of American Christianity and Christian homeschooling — Dobson and Bauer, from this post’s opening quotation, and people like Summit’s David Noebel and John Stonestreet, or homeschooling’s Kevin Swanson and Ken Ham — is terrified of anything that sounds “postmodern.”

Postmodernism is like intellectual dub step to the old guard.

In today’s evangelical culture, a defense of religion as an aesthetic and social phenomenon seems indistinct from a defense of religious pluralism and intellectual apathy. But that’s because this culture is so afraid of “liberal” arts to the point that it cannot comprehend some basic philosophical and sociological concepts. The fact is, to understand religion as an aesthetic and social phenomenon grants humanity the freedom to explore a ground to aesthetics and society that condemns, rather than condones, an unwillingness to pursue truth.

But first: what does “religion” mean? And what would it mean, that one can perceive this noun’s content as “aesthetic” and “social”?

To the evangelical culture, religion is either Christian and thus true or pagan and thus untrue. This proves a stunted understanding, however, because religion is neither one nor many truth-claims which one can either affirm or reject. Religion is no doubt a phenomenon which entails truth-claims. But it also entails much more. Religion is a complex totality of human and other elements, only one element of which is the sort of truth-claim that one can package into propositions.

We need to start seeing religion — and any particular religion — not as a mass of disembodied doctrines but as what sociologist Peter Berger calls a “world conspiracy.” “World conspiracy,” in fact, seems the best definition for religion.

What does this mean?

In The Sacred Canopy, Berger explains that,

“The condition of the human organism in the world is…characterized by a built-in instability. Man does not have a given relationship to the world. He must ongoingly establish a relationship with it.”

The world abounds with the sort of innate precariousness that a Buddhist would term as impermanence — “All things pass,” sighs Kaoru, one of the main characters in Murasaki Shikibu’s Tale of Genji. This line is almost identical to Solomon’s sentiment in Ecclesiastes.

Human and other life forms, buildings and projects, ideas and romances—these all rise and fall, constantly, perpetually, each and every day. As a result of this precariousness, human beings go about selecting structures of meaning in which they can operate. Humans construct families, work places, technology, and institutions in which to control the elements of the world that bear chaos. Out of their constructions human beings hope for an order, a society. Peter Berger says,

“Society, as objective reality, provides a world for man to inhabit. This world encompasses the biography of the individual, which unfolds as a series of events within that world”

But humans need more than order: they need to feel meaningfulness within that order. They require that order to be “ordained” in some way. Thus,

“a meaningful order, or nomos, is imposed upon the discrete experiences and meanings of individuals.”

This nomos is religion:

“Religion is that human enterprise by which a sacred cosmos is established, wherein ‘cosmos’ implies not a galaxy but order.”

This final addition to the human world-building project grants the project and its everyday objects and endeavors a sense of purpose, an all-encompassing reason for pursuing the ends of the society. Berger terms this sense of purpose or reason a “sacred canopy” cast over world-building. It is a “world conspiracy” in the sense that humans work together to give their reality a meaning:

“Religion is the audacious attempt to conceive of the entire universe as being humanly significant”

What Berger as a sociologist calls a “world conspiracy,” or “sacred canopy,” a theologian like N.T. Wright might term “worldview.” (1) Jamake Highwater, a historian and philosopher of sexuality, preferred the term “mythology” in his 1991 book Myth and Sexuality:

“All human beliefs and activities spring from an underlying mythology—those metaphors, informing imageries, and paradigms which deeply influence every aspect of our lives and which determine our attitudes about reality—about the world and about ourselves: good and evil, normalcy and abnormalcy, fact and fiction, justice and injustice, beauty and ugliness, power and powerlessness.”

Whether one prefers world conspiracy, sacred canopy, worldview, or mythology as a descriptive, the common factor among the ideas is that human being itself contains within it a hope and passion for carving out a home in a hostile existence.

This hope and passion — and all its nuances, quirks, failures, and successes — is the stuff of religion.


Part Two: When Buddhism Saved My Life >