Compare and contrast Taoism with Christianity, including monotheism or pluralism, salvation, afterlife, heaven/hell, suffering and justice, works, knowledge, devotion, reincarnation, and nirvana. What parallels do you find with Christianity? What are major differences with Christianity?

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Taoism and Christianity are both systems of religious and philosophical thought based on ancient texts, the origins of which are at least somewhat obscure. Tao Te Ching, the central text of Taoism, is attributed to a philosopher called Lao Tzu, of whom nothing is known, though various myths and traditions surround him. It may have been the work of more than one hand and was written in the third or fourth century BCE. The Christian Bible consists of the Jewish Tanakh together with the much shorter New Testament, which deals principally with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. It was written over several centuries and compiled by the Church Fathers long after the crucifixion of Christ. This makes it quite a different type of book from the shorter, more unified Tao Te Ching, even if the latter was composed by more than one author.

Although the Tanakh or Old Testament was clearly composed in a polytheistic society, by the time of Christ, Judaism had become a monotheism, and Christianity is similarly monotheistic, though the doctrine of the Trinity holds that there are three Gods in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Taoism, Lao Tzu himself is regarded as a deity and forms part of an immense pantheon, from which the Taoist can choose to concentrate on whichever gods seem most appropriate to the time and place. None of these gods are regarded as omnipotent or even eternal. They represent the energy of the cosmos.

The Tao in Taoism is usually translated as the “way.” Jesus Christ also referred to himself as the “way.” However, while the Taoist way refers simply to the correct way to behave, the most harmonious way and the way which causes least suffering to oneself and others, most Christians make far larger claims for Christ, claiming that he is the only way to God, the path of salvation by which one may attain Heaven and avoid Hell. Taoism originally had no concept of Heaven and Hell. In China, however, these ideas were adopted and grafted onto Taoism from other religions, but they were never a central part of Taoist philosophy and are most prominent in religious art.

Taoists, like Christians, believe in eternal life, but Taoists take a somewhat different perspective, since they believe that nothing really dies and each apparent death is merely a metamorphosis into something else, which ultimately leads to immortality in becoming one with the Tao. Christians generally believe in a personal God and the resurrection of the dead. Christians also often regard suffering as a positive thing if it leads the sufferer to penitence and ultimately to God. A Taoist, however, would view suffering as a sign that one had departed from the true path of the Tao.

The Christian position on good works is divided, with the Catholic tradition generally encouraging them as pleasing to God, whereas most Protestant churches, while sometimes performing good works for their own sake, emphasize that works have no effect on salvation, which can only be achieved by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and transferring your sins to him. Taoism teaches that one who is following the Tao will act virtuously and harmoniously. This involves keeping to the laws of nature, which Lao Tzu says people are too inclined to violate. Justice is achieved by the same process, whereas in Christianity, Justice comes from God. However, since the Christian God is personal, he also shows mercy (principally in sending his son to bear the burden of sin). Mercy is the suspension of justice, and such a suspension cannot occur in Taoism since there is no omnipotent personal God.

It is important to bear in mind that these two systems of thought, which have influenced countless people for millennia, have been interpreted in extremely diverse ways. In Christianity, particularly, every person who claims to be a Christian is regarded as a heretic by someone else who claims to be a Christian. About the central precepts of Taoism, particularly the Tao itself, there is more agreement, but this is far from universal.

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