Lenten Observance: Day 15

Tao 29 & 30:

“Do you want to improve the world?  I don’t think it can be done.”  Wow!  What a start to this pair of readings.  Of course, there is a reproof here of all “reformers,” which would include many Christians, who see the world as fallen and need of improvement.  There are such feelings on the left and the right.  Still, if one is going to take this all the way, mightn’t one say that the very movements of reform are themselves part of the world, and part of the world that can’t be improved?  As 29 continues: “The world is sacred.  It can’t be improved.”  That would argue that any such reforms are themselves folly, but as such reforms are part of the world, are they not also part of the sacredness?  Does this section advocate apathy?  Or even inaction?  The work has often advocated inaction as a way to act, and I can see where blundering into a situation to fix it only makes the situation worse, or at least fails to improve the situation.    29 continues with something that sounds very much like Ecclesiastes, “a time to… and a time to …”  In both works, the advice seems to be that there is an appropriate time for certain actions, and one gets the cues for those times from the world around us — by listening closely we can enter into dialog with the world, or join the world in a dance, where both sides play their parts. 

30 takes the point of the violence of action a bit further: “Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon oneself.”  It also states a point I find very powerful in matters of religion:  “Because he believes in himself, he doesn’t try to convince others.”  To what extent do we try to convince others as a way of shoring up our own apparently shaky position?  I have to say that, in reading Unitarian history, I note this tendency — once Unitarianism became the “orthodoxy” of Massachusetts, people like Emerson, who wanted to push the sources of religious inspiration past the Bible and tradition into the living experience of the world around us, or Parker, who suggested that a lot of the things taken by many Unitarians as permanent, were not permanent parts of Christianity (e.g. miracles), were seen as threats and were denounced.  As the Western Unitarian Conference began in the 2nd half of the 19th c. to become more humanist and eclectic, the Unitarians at HQ in Boston denounced them, and complained that they were going too far.  And some Unitarian churches now make people who aren’t humanist enough, or Christian enough, or earth-centered enough feel unwelcome.  And it seems to me such a waste — if Unitarianism has a great strength, it is the diversity of belief and the marketplace of ideas, not as is sometimes imagined, a place more like a boxing ring, where only one can come out “Winner and Champion,” but where ideas can play one off the other.  But that doesn’t happen if humanists won’t listen to theists, or pagans won’t listen to Buddhists.  And that, to me, seems rather sad.

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