Atheism in Taoism

J.C. Cooper, Taoism: the way of the mystic
(Aquarian: Wellingborough GB 1972)

The word 'Tao' is always left untranslated as it is regarded as indefinable. Its import is too great to be contained in any one word. It is best understood by inference. It it is translated, it is usually called the Way.

In no circumstances can the Tao be thought of or used as 'God'; that term is too confined, too restricted, and in any case, not permissible since Taoism is a non-theistic religion. That is not to say it is a-theistic, for the atheist is as vitally interested in the idea of God as the theist and devotes as much time and energy to writing and arguing against his existence as the theist writing for him, and both the personal 'he' for God, while the Tao is totally impersonal. Nor is there any word in Chinese which may fairly be translated 'God,' for T'ien is also completely impersonal as is 'Heaven,' or 'The Heavens,' or 'The Powers That Be,' as well as heaven as a state of being. Taoism is non-theistic because the limitations of the finite human mind are realized, practically and sensibly. The transcendental would no longer be transcendent if it could be described, formulated, named.

Non-theism not only avoids the pitfalls of anthropomorphism but puts the stress on the otherness of the divine, which, nevertheless, is not wholly transcendent but equally immanent. Western theistic thought, if not definitely anthropomorphic, is, as [Herbert A.] Giles [Taoist teachings] says, 'undeniably anthropopathic.' There is no such element in any of the three religions of China, all are too profoundly impersonal. Only in decadent Taoism and Buddhism did a pantheon of gods arise ...

if you didn't catch the reference above as the Dao as "God",
check out John Heider's translation that translates it so, and see what you think.

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created 1jun1996, revised 20mar98     |     comments on this site? tpkunesh@atheisms.info