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God and the Tao

Author(s): George D. Chryssides


Source: Religious Studies, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Mar. 1983), pp. 1-11
Published by: Cambridge University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20005914
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Rel. Stud.

I9, pp.

i-I I

D. CHRYSSIDES

GEORGE

SeniorLecturerinPhilosophy,PlymouthPolytechnic

GOD

In his highly

AND

work

important

THE

TAO

I and Thou Martin

Buber

speaks

as the

of God

'Eternal Thou', 'who can only be addressed, not asserted'.' Buber might
therefore aptly be described as an 'anti-theologian': one may legitimately
enter into a relationship with God, which is the appropriate response, but
any attempt to theorize about God is not simply irreverent or excessively
academic, but a genuine impossibility. At best, statements about God can
only be understood 'allegorically'.2
The position that the Eternal is inexpressible is by no means confined to
theJudaeo-Christian tradition, whose support has been less than unanimous.
More notably, the notion forms the basis of the religious tradition known as
In Lao

Taoism.

classic

Tzu's

text,

the Tao

words

the opening

Te Ching,

read:
The way that can be spoken of
Is not the constant way;
The name that can be named
Is not the constant name.3
can be said about

In so far as anything

the Tao

at all,

the Tao

is regarded

as the source of the universe and the natural order which flows through it.
One's

spiritual

a return

goal

to the Tao

that one cannot


It is possible

avoid
that

to the natural

is seen as atunement
by

the recognition
flowing

the Tao

that one's

along with
is simply

of nature,

harmony

is the Tao,

consciousness

it, and cannot


name

an alternative

deviate

from

for God?

it.

Buber

iscertainly amenable to the suggestion that it isnot necessary to use theword


'
God'
(or its conventionally agreed synonyms) in order to address the
Eternal

Thou:

'Men have

addressed

their eternal

You

by many

names',

we

are told.4 The fact that, in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, God has been
widely regarded as a person, whereas the Tao is generally impersonal, need
not in itself be an insuperable barrier, for- ifBuber is right - descriptions like
'person'

and

'impersonal'

can only at best function

as analogies,

and neither

term can express any literal truth about the Eternal. Not only is this so, but
Buber's I-Thou relation is not necessarily a relation between oneself and
1Martin
Buber, I and Thou, transl. W. Kaufmann
(Edinburgh:
2 Ibid., p. 147
3 Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, transl. D. C. Lau (Harmondsworth:
4 Buber, op. cit., p. I23.

T. & T. Clark,
Penguin,

I963),

I970),
v.

p.

I29.

I.

RES 19

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D.CHRYSSIDES
GEORGE

another person: it is the quality of the relation which is decisive, not the
nature of the Thou. Buber's examples of I-Thou relations include not only
animals, but human artefacts such as pieces of machinery and objects in the
natural world such as trees and twigs. Indeed, it is possible on Buber's
account to deny explicitly the existence of God but yet to experience the
Eternal Thou:
But whoever abhors the name and fancies that he is godless - when he addresses with
his whole devoted being the You of his life that cannot be restricted by any other,
he addresses God.1

Thus it follows that the self-styled atheist may have the experience towhich
Buber is pointing, and equally, mutatis mutandis, the affirmed believer may
not be acquainted with the Eternal Thou.
On

what

that God

it be argued

might

grounds

and

the Tao

to be

are

identified? One fairly compelling reason is that, if it is true that there is a


Supreme Principle which controls the universe, it seems implausible to
suggest that one religious tradition, whether it be Taoism or Christianity,
has sole access to it. Furthermore, and perhaps this ismore philosophically
there

two concepts

when

is the case when

of common

they admit

and

predication,
of God

the concepts

we examine

an identity

for claiming

is at least a prima facie ground

compelling,

and

the Tao

this,

of

I believe,

as they feature

in their respective religious traditions. This point can perhaps be made


of an analogy.

by means

clearer

and

are one

and Ceylon

Lanka

we

Suppose

the same place.

the matter
of dealing with
both
can be made
predication

common

How

of

Sri

whether

One

does one decide?

is to assess

way

obvious

are wondering

how many

'Sri Lanka'

and

pieces

of
We

'Ceylon'.

therefore note:

might

Ceylon is an island.
Sri Lanka is an island.
Ceylon is off the south-east coast of India.
Sri Lanka is off the south-east coast of India.
Ceylon is a Buddhist country.
Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country.
Ceylon exports tea.
Sri Lanka exports tea.
Once

sufficient

conclude

that

common
the

terms

'Ceylon'

it is then

is established,

predication

and

'Sri Lanka'

reasonable

do not

to

out

two

to God

and

pick

different referents, but one.


Can
the Tao,
outset

the same

kind

to ascertain
there

of operation
whether

is an obvious

there

problem.

be carried

out with

is sufficient

common

No

1 Ibid., p.

common

respect

predication?

predication

is possible

124

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At

the
if no

THE
AND
TAO
GOD

predication at all is possible, and, according to both Buber and Lao Tzu,
nothing at all can be predicated of either God or the Tao respectively, since
in both cases we are dealing with the inexpressible. Nevertheless, in both
religious traditions, although it is, strictly, true that one cannot express the
Eternal
and

Thou

it is clear

that

the Tao

and

they are

certain

is inappropriate.
'eternal',

of each,

analogously

things

is a range of expressions

that there

traditions

and a range which

is appropriate
God

one can state

or the Tao,
from both

but

Thus,
it would

which

one can say of both


be nonsense

to say

of either that they were, for instance, 'hexagonal' !


Just as Buber allows that remarks about God may be made 'allegorically',
similarly one finds that, in connection with the Tao, there is some lifting of
the ban on silence: ifwords cannot express the ultimate source of all things,
neither can silence. As Chuang Tzu states, 'Neither speech nor silence is
sufficient to convey the notion of it.Neither by speech nor by silence can our
thoughts about it have their highest expression'.1 Just as words in the
religious traditions ofJudaism and Christianity are allegorical, so, Chuang
Tzu tells us, theword 'Tao' is itself ametaphor.2 When Lao Tzu writes, 'The
can be said

Tao which
one may

put

and one which

is not

it so, two Taos


cannot.

The

the eternal

Tao'

and not one former

gives

that there are,

he is implying

can be expressed

there is one which

to the latter,

us a clue

if

the former

being, as one writer has put it, 'obscuremore profound than obscurity itself'.3
But the unknowable has nevertheless a mystical entrance, and language can
assist by expressing relative truth.
Insofar as the Tao can be expressed inwords, the descriptions of the 'Tao
which

can be said'

are

in many

cases

remarkably

to those which

close

are

predicated of theJudaeo-Christian God. Above all else, the Tao isdescribed


as 'great'.

As Lao Tzu

writes:

I know not its name


So I style it 'the way'.
I give it the makeshift

name of 'the great'.4

Its three great names are 'complete', 'all-embracing', and 'whole'.5 All
things depend on the Tao,6 it is unchangeable and cannot be stopped.7 This
is not all dissimilar to the description of God which is given, for example, in
the Thirty-Nine Articles:
There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions:
of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; theMaker, and Preserver of all things both
visible and invisible.8
I The Writings of Chuang
Tzu, Book xxv,
ii, transl. James Legge
(New York: Dover,
3 Max Kaltenmark,
Lao Tzu and Taoism
4 Lao Tzu, op. cit., ch. xxv, v. 56.

Part

iII, Sect.

iII, para.

I962).
(Stanford

University

I I; in The Texts of Taoism, Vols.


2 Loc. cit.
Press,

I965),

5 The Writings of Chuang Tzu, Book xxii, Part ii, Sect. xv, para. 6.
6 Op. cit., Book xxii, Part ii, Sect. xv, para. 5.
' Chuang
Tzu, op. cit., Book xxii, Part iI, Sect. xv, para.
io; Book xiv,
8 Articles
of Religion:
Article
I; in The Book of Common Prayer (London:

p. 35.

Part ii, Sect. vii, para. 8.


I968), p. 388.
Collins,
1-2

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I&

GEORGE

D.

CHRYSSIDES

What is also common to both religious traditions, of course, is that they


refer to a Supreme Principle which is incapable of being named, and what
is even more striking, the reasons given for the inappropriateness of naming
either God or the Tao are surprisingly similar. Naming the Supreme
Principle would be to suggest that one had control over it,when in fact the
Tao controls us, together with the rest of the universe. Thus Kaltenmark
writes:
tao nor any other word in a human language can serve as a name (ming)
Neither
for the Supreme Principle. For ming is the personal, intimate name of the individual,
the use of which was forbidden to inferiors, and which was therefore taboo, because
to know it and (especially) to pronounce
it was to gain a hold on the person named.
The true name of the Tao must therefore remain unknown - Tao is only a style (tzu),
a non-taboo given name for public use.1

This idea is virtually identical to the prohibition which still exists today
withinJudaism on the pronunciation of the divine name 'Yahweh', and there
are stories written in theOld Testament which underline the idea that God
has a name which his servants must not use. For example, in his encounter
with Moses at the burning bush, the divine answer to the question, 'What
is your name?'
AM

appears

to be a deliberately
evasive one: 'I am who I am ... I
'2
to you.
At the ford of the Jabbok, when God wrestles with

has sent me

the patriarch Jacob, Jacob, who reveals his name, is physically


whereas

God,

who

to do so, maintains

refuses

the upper

hand

injured,

and

is unable

to be controlled.3 The taking hold of the divine name is thus to be construed


as an attempt

to control

God,

in fact God

when

and

firmly

controls

surely

man.
far I have

Thus

the case

argued

a substantial

that

amount

of common

predication provides a case for establishing identity. But at this point an


be raised.

objection

may

ascribing

identity,

your

hat

and

only

but

Common

in all respects,
one

numerical

hat

but

it does

condition?
not

follow

us: our hats

between

identity.

predication

is it a sufficient

in

Likewise,

the

possess

case

is a necessary

condition

for

hat may

be exactly

like

My
from

this that we

qualitative

of Ceylon

and

identity,

share one
but not

Sri Lanka,

it is

conceivable, although unlikely, that Ceylon and Sri Lanka, while bearing
identical descriptions, are two different places which happen to look exactty
are not

but

alike,

identical,

and

co-ordinates
some

other

pointing

the same

island.

In order

be correctly

stated

to occupy

and

serve as a means

island which

out at this point

to be numerically
the same spatial

this criterion - identity of spatio-temporal

simultaneously:

- will

occupation

one
B must

us to distinguish
Sri Lanka
from
to look remarkably
similar.
It is worth
that this criterion would also enable the philosopher
to enable

happened

I Kaltenmark,
Op. Cit., pp. 28-29.
2 Exodus
3. I3 f New International
3 Genesis
32. 22-3 I.

Version

(London:

Hodder

& Stoughton,

I979),

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p. 69.

THE

AND

GOD

TAO

of religion to equate Jehovah and Allah, for the Islamic tradition would
acknowledge that Allah sent Moses to deliver his people from Egypt. Thus,
and

Jehovah

Allah,

by

virtue

of

the

fact

that

act

they

in

the

same

spatio-temporal co-ordinates, cannot be two separate gods, but must be


regarded as numerically identical.
It may be pointed out, however, that, unlike the situation with respect to
Islam and Christianity, the Taoist and the Christian traditions have no
common ancestry and hence the terms 'God' and 'Tao' do not overlap, but
name two separate, discrete principles, not one. However, there are two very
compelling reasons for rejecting this suggestion. Unlike the situation of
Ceylon and Sri Lanka, where it is possible that someone might make the
mistake

that

of supposing

two separate

these were

no one - at least

places,

tomy knowledge- has entertained the hypothesis that theremight exist two
sources

God

of being,

and not one!

and the Tao,

it is difficult

Indeed

to see

what sense such a contention would make. Second, by invoking the criterion
of identity

of spatio-temporal
that God

be stated

and

space

occupy

that,

insofar as it can

time at all,

they are indeed

it seems clear

occupation,

or the Tao

spatio-temporally identical in their extent, since both are said to occupy all
God

all of time. This

and

of space

the Tao

and

as one

and

seen

would

a plausible

reason

for regarding

the same.

I have stated that common predication is a necessary condition for


numerical identity (identity of reference), but by means of this criterion my
argument

may

also be challenged.

In the example

of Sri Lanka

and Ceylon,

we are justified in identifying the two islands as long as common predication


continues consistently. But it only takes one instance of divergent predication
to indicate fairly conclusively that we are dealing with two referents and not
one. Suppose it were to be shown that:
Ceylon contains many elephants.
Sri Lanka contains no elephants.

No matter what degree of common predication could thereafter be found,


this pair of facts would in themselves provide conclusive proof that Ceylon
could

not

conceivably

be

the same

island

as Sri Lanka.

There are corresponding problems here regarding the possible identification


of God
which

and

the Tao,

for it might

can be said of the Tao which

be objected
cannot

that

there are certain

be said of God,

things

and vice versa. Thus,

Alan Watts writes:


... itmust be clear from the start that Tao cannot be understood as 'God' in the sense
of the ruler, monarch, commander, architect, and maker of the universe. The image
of the military and political overlord, or of a creator external to nature, has no place
in the idea of Tao.1
I Alan Watts,

Tao:

The Watercourse Way

(Harmondsworth:

Penguin,

I979),

p. 40.

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GEORGE
D.CHRYSSIDES

Again, the Tao is not worshipped. As Chuang Tzu puts it, 'The Great
Tao does not admit of being praised '.IAnd, as John Blofeld more forcibly
expresses thematter:
For creatures to sing the praises of such a Mother
in the form of hymns or psalms
is simply to make a noise. The Tao is never obtrusive, demanding
or flamboyant.
To sing of its glories would be a waste of breath; what needs to be done is to observe
the manner of itsworking and take that for a model. To live by the Tao is to function
like the Tao, to conform with that marvellously
effortless way of getting all things
done, and to produce what is of use to others as the Tao produces beneficial rains
and dews with never a thought of praise or thanks, still less reward.2

The situation might be summarized as follows:


God is a person.
The Tao is impersonal.
God

isworshipped.
is not

Tao

The

worshipped.

Since these are instances of divergent predication, itmay be contended these


two concepts ought to be dissociated, not identified.
In reply
example,

although

the same God,

not

it

First,

to be mistaken.

as I have

are,

that what

entail

are necessary.

or Principle

Being

and Allah

Jehovah

this does

of comments

of a Supreme

for a description

is possible
For

a number

to this objection

one

argued,

is predicated

and

in each

of God

religious tradition is always the same. If thiswere the case, Christianity and
Islamwould not be two separate religions but one. Consequently, Christianity
may

affirm

that God

has a son, whereas

the Islamic

tradition

emphatically

rejects this assertion.3 In view of the fact that different religions ascribe
different predications to the Supreme Being or Principle, a slight modification
is required to the criterion which I offered earlier for determining identity.
It is a necessary
admit

condition

of common

of A's

predication,

identity

but

with

that A and B simply

B, not

that A

rather

and B admit

of common

truepredication. Thus the evidence that


Ceylon contains many elephants.
Sri Lanka contains no elephants.
should

only

us to regard Ceylon

cause

if both claims are true. (On

the other

as mutually

we

Indeed

incompatible,

it is precisely

Jehovah-

the Muslim

would

be

theological

matters

(such as whether

a different

being

'Allah'

by

hand,

presuppose

this point which

and

if we

regard

that

they have

should

unable

'God'

as two separate

and Sri Lanka

God

cause

the pair of assertions

has a son)

1 Chuang
Tzu, op. cit., Book ii, Part I, Sect. II, para. 7.
2
Taoism: The Questfor Immortality (London:
John Blofeld,
3 The Koran, suras 2: I I6 & I7: III .

the same

referent.

us to identify Allah

to contradict

respectively.)

places

if each

I979),

on

named

religion

Consequently,
Unwin,

with

the Christian
God
p. 44.

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and

THE
AND
TAO
GOD
the Tao

may

but

be identical,

the fact of the matter

well

may

be

that

the

respective religions disagree about the reasonableness of worshipping a


Supreme Principle. Perhaps the Jew and the Christian arewasting their
breath

in singing

Taoists

such

and

hymns
Tzu

as Lao

prayers.

saying

were

Tzu

and Chuang

on

Perhaps

the other

hand

critical

wrongly

of

the

religious rituals which were characteristic of their Confucian rivals.


Second, it is to be remembered that the predicates which are used of the
Supreme Principle are not to be taken literally, but analogously, and thus
it follows that divergent predication by different religious traditions may not
involve

such

a political

a sharp

importance

clash

as at first sight

is merely

ruler

ascribed

some

to give

to God,

and

To

appears.

kind

talk of the deity

of indication

no doubt

such

of

a concept

as

the degree

of

of God

is a

reflection of the kind of political society inwhich such an analogy originated.


to death

runs the analogy

One

for example,

if one

if one

asked what

as one would

takes it literally,

colour

God's

crown

be doing,

or how much

was,

it

weighed!
Since

it is not surprising

is analogous,

predication

that we can come

across

other pieces of predication within one religious tradition which seem to


approach the apparently divergent predicates which are found within the
other.

For example,

there are places


for instance,
of

the Tao

one

than

The Christian

'mother'
may

is more

not present

that, since he spoke of God

as impersonal,

typically

us with

The

fact

referred

too much

cause

of it, when,
that

the God

to as

'father'

for concern.

'he' but yet he is not conceiving

use the pronoun

completely anthropomorphically:

regarded

characterizations

to as 'the Mother'.1

tradition
need

is generally

finds personalistic

is referred

the Judaeo-Christian

rather

the Tao

although

where

of God

no Christian would draw the conclusion

in the masculine

gender,

God must

therefore

have

male reproductive organs! Because it is recognized that apparent attributions


of gender to the Supreme Principle are metaphorical, there is nothing
surprising in the fact that a Taoist text can occasionally switch from feminine
characterizations of the Tao tomasculine ones, for example, when Chuang
Tzu describes the Tao as 'theGreat and Most Honoured Master'.2 Perhaps
it is surprising that theJudaeo-Christian tradition has eschewed all feminine
characterizations of God. However, whether the vocabulary used is imper
sonal or personal, masculine or feminine, both traditions are plainly aware
that since neither God nor the Tao can, strictly, be expressed, neither set
of vocabulary can do justice to the unsayable. As John Hick reminds us,
God is beyond the concepts of both 'he' and 'it'.3
I have

so far argued

that God

and

the Tao

can be identified

if they both

admit of common true predication, and that divergent predication may


1 Lao Tzu, op. cit., vv. 56 & I 17.
2 Chuang
Tzu, op. cit., Book vi, Part i, Sect.
3 John Hick, Death and Eternal Life (London:

vi.
Fount,

1979), p. 453.

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GEORGE

D.

CHRYSSIDES

simply indicate the existence of error on the part of one or both sets of
religious practitioners. However, the situation is somewhat more complex
than

this. The

that Allah

contention

for the Muslim,

a statement

but

has a son is one which

such as 'The Tao

is blatantly

has a son'

false

is a statement

which is not evenfalse for the Taoist, for the issue of whether or not the Tao
has a son is a question which cannot even arisewithin the religious discourse
'The Tao

of Taoism:

has a son'

is an expression

which

finds no use within

the Taoist's religious discourse or the form of life associated with it.
Does this show that theTao cannot have the same referent as 'God '?Must
it be

the case

for A

that

to be

identical

B, everything

with

which

can

be

meaningfully predicated of A can also be meaningfullypredicated of B? This


is certainly a difficulty for the thesis which I am putting forward, but I do
not believe it is an insuperable one. Both the Christian and the Taoist alike
have affirmed that, whatever language is used to describe the ultimate
principle underlying the universe, that language will always be inadequate,
at best analogous.

therefore

and
sense,

one has always

from

the analogy.

God

has

On

eyebrows.

the other
about

is possible

to hide

one

one

hand,

what

God

one

one draws

is not

to infer

inferences

to which

that
the

from

and whether

'see',

extent

The

which

can draw

can

in an analogous

language

conclusions

the eye of God,

from God.

anything

uses

of the exact

talk about

From

'the eye of God'

phrase

When

to be wary

or not

one

can

it

press

an analogy is always a difficult question, and one which is likely to generate


disagreement. Thus, while God is described in the Christian tradition as
'Father', this has permitted inferences about God having a son but
other

certain

disallowed

a time when

have

been

into

existence

at a point

therefore

a limit

be drawn

from

it, and which

legitimate,

but,

no further

analogy,

In

having

of apparently
at what

the case

of

inferences

this can only

are permitted

from

are not

'mother'

be a very

is

may

in question

of the faith

the description

the Tao,

there

which

and which

legitimate

the proponents

that

recognized

is employed
conclusions

logical
are

conclusions

by looking

to accept.

an analogy

in time). When

to the number

can only be decided


are willing

statement
such as Arius'
that there must
inferences,
the Son of God did not exist (since sons typically come

is

inadequate

as a universal

this, such

mother begetting children. The difference between the Christian and the
Taoist

is therefore

as to how

their disagreement

far certain

religious

analogies

may be legitimately extended. To pursue thispoint would require considerable


about

discussion

the

role

of

and

analogy

its implications

for

theology.

However, although this issuewould no doubt benefit from fuller discussion,


I think
can

I have
out

pick

the

between
predications,

said enough
the
two
about

same
religious
which

to indicate
referent,

traditions
analogies

that while

there

can

about
are most

the words

nevertheless

'God'

the meaningfulness
appropriate,

and

'Tao'

be disagreement
of certain

and how

far an

analogy should be pressed. The fact that some Christians have pressed

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AND

GOD

analogies

than others

further

of sonship)

does

TAO

as Arius

(such

that

not entail

THE

on

and Athanasius
in discrete

they believe

and

the notion

separate

gods.

Another problem which may be posed concerning my thesis is this. Plainly


it can be a serious
B both

of one or both

A and B are

issue as to whether

is an open

identical

that A and B are identical

can one state

exist. But

If the prime

question?

when

when

criterion

and

the existence

for determining

identity of reference is the occupation of the same spatio-temporal co


ordinates, then plainly non-existent entities cannot begin to satisfy this cri
terion

they do not occupy

since

It might

be

is simply

thought

to state

the Tao.

But

that my

expression

like 'The Tao

the context

of Taoism.

existence-if

it has,

take to be implied

thesis

not

this will

any

space

the obvious

that

one

on

this problem

the existence

would

have

of God

and

at all clear

than

an

a legitimate

place

in

it is not

thing,

is one which

with

of dealing

way

is dependent

do. For

exists'

or time at all.

As Chuang Tzu writes,


'The Tao cannot have a (real)
it cannot be made
to appear
as if it had not'.' What
I

in Chuang

Tzu's

somewhat

remark

cryptic

is that the Tao

is not an additional entity over and above the totality of entities within the
physical world. The Tao, rather, is their organization, themeans by which
things

in the universe.

flow

on

Equally,

the Christian

side,

it has

been

questioned by theologians such as Paul Tillich whether God is an entity over


and above the totality of entities comprising the universe, and Tillich insists
that

exist. He

'God does not

Whatever

status

ontological

is being-itself
is given

beyond

either

essence

to God

and

existence'.2

or to the Tao,

it is not

necessary to assert any form of reality to pairs of concepts in order to claim


their identity:
difficult.
DrJekyll

This

if one

is unable

to do so, this only makes

can be illustrated

and Mr Hyde.

These

by

the example

two persons

identification

of the fictitious

can be said

more

characters,

to be identical

even

though neither of them actually exist. Although neither Dr Jekyll nor Mr


Hyde actually inhabit space and time, the author of the novel has placed
them in identical hypotheticalspaces and times. Similarly one might contend
that, just as it may

be false that the universe

is governed

by an all-pervasive

God or controlled by a natural flow of things which is provisionally called


the Tao, the claims which are made by the respective religions at least
hypothetically
place God and theTao in identical spaces and times- in this case,
occupying

all space

and

all time.

One further problem demands a response. It may be objected that my


equation of God and the Tao fails to reflect the way in which religious
believers use language. It may be argued that when religious believers use
a word like 'God' they are precisely not intending to refer to a principle of
order which is found within the universe, and which is co-existent with it,
but to a transcendent being who stands outside the universe and exists as
1 Chuang
Tzu, op. cit., Book xxv, Part
2 Paul Tillich,
Systematic Theology, Vol.

iii, Sect. iii, para.


I (Welwyn: Nisbet,

i i.
I953),

p. 227.

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GEORGE

10

D.

CHRYSSIDES

a separate entity over and above the totality of terrestrial beings. Is the
contention that 'God' and 'the Tao' have identical references a description
of how religious language is used, or is it a prescriptionabout how it ought to
be used?
A number of comments are in order here. First, it should be noted that
my thesis isnot primarily about themeaningof the concept of God, but about
its reference.1 Thus, it is quite possible for religious believers to talk about
God as if he were a supernatural being who existed as an additional entity
over and above all other terrestrial entities, and, by so talking tomisdescribe
the Supreme Being or Principle to which their language really refers. As
Stevenson's novel clearly shows, itwould be perfectly possible for someone
to talk about Dr Jekyll and describe him accordingly, but simultaneously,
and indeed inadvertently, to refer toMr Hyde.
Second, it is by no means obvious that when Christians describe God as
'a person' (or perhaps as 'three persons') theymean themselves to be taken
as

as

literally

their

language

seem

might

to suggest.

I have

As

already

attempted to show, the Christian is typically unwilling to draw the sorts of


conclusion which one would normally draw when describing a human being
as 'a person'.

Thirdly, if my thesis carries with it a degree of prescriptivity, there is


nothing necessarily wrong in that. Prescriptivity is not only legitimate, but
necessary if religious concepts are to develop. If it is asked why it is necessary
to regard

religious

possessing

fixed meaning,

as dynamic

concepts

one answer

and

rather

changing

than

static,

if this had not occurred

is that,

in the

past, Christians would still be worshipping a God who had a physical body,
to the limitations

subject

which

made

and Eve

Adam

think

they could

hide

from him amongst the trees in the Garden of Eden. They would still be
a god who

worshipping
ill-advised

could

be

literally
should

lest one

to behold,

seen,

be struck

but whose

down

instantly.

face

one was

One

would

still be worshipping a 'portable' deity who could be physically conveyed in


and whose

an Ark,

was

the fact that one could

bewail
and

presence

to his enemies.

and destruction
one

would

of course,

appear

crude

forms

to his devotees
victory
like the psalmist,
be forced to
the Lord's song in a foreign country,

not

would,

sing

have

like Ezekiel,

presumably,

should

Yahweh

to confer

deemed

One

outside

his own

of primitive

home

Yahwism,

found

it surprising

that

territory. These beliefs were,


and even within
the Old

Testament itself one finds refinements and developments taking place. There
is no obvious
point

reason why

in the history

the Christian

of Christian

doctrine,

to one particular
such as the formation
of the New

needs

to latch on

I In this discussion
as well
that proper names have a meaning
the unargued
assumption
I have made
has focused
The thrust of my argument,
however,
I am aware that this is controversial.
as a reference.
of meaning.
the question
Thus, even if it were
on the issue of identity of reference, and barely touched
I have
I believe
whatsoever,
that proper names have strictly no meaning
demonstrated
convincingly
'God' and
to demonstrate
set of arguments
identity of reference between
a sufficiently plausible
provided
'the Tao'.

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GOD

AND

THE

TAO

II

Testament, or theApostles' or Nicene Creeds, and regard them as the points


at which religious concepts and doctrines are to be frozen for all time. One
of the reasons in the past for developing religious concepts was the Judaeo
Christian interaction with alien intellectual and religious environments: the
identification of Jesus Christ with the logos by St John is only one fairly
obvious example of certain Christians' readiness to contend that the Greek
philosophers and themselves shared certain basic concepts in common. Now
that the sacred writings of the east are becoming better known amongst
western scholars, it is surely to be expected that common elements will be
noted which may influence the future shape of Christian philosophical
thought.

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