In today’s episode, Kurt discusses Taoism and Shintoism with Dr. Ken Samples who wrote a book called God among Sages: Why Jesus Is Not Just Another Religious Leader that delves into comparative worldview leaders Buddha, Krishna, Confucius, and Muhammad.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill, where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. It’s a pleasure to be with you here again, week after week, coming to you from West Chicago, Illinois, and if you’ve already picked up on it, yes. My voice is a little hoarse. I was in fact away up at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin for the week at their annual teen camp. I was a boys’ counselor, and so my voice is a bit hoarse from all the singing, the talking, and sometimes even the shouting and carousing of young ones, but that was a great opportunity to minister to the campers. It was really just a great time to introduce people to apologetics, to be able to answer some of their questions. I even had a chance to hold a small gathering, sort of an ask-me-anything session and there were eight campers that showed up which was nice. It’s a bit difficult because I scheduled it during the free time so sometimes they want to go off and do things which they might think are more fun, but little do they know of how sweet the taste is of apologetics. But no really, the eight campers that showed up, they asked some really great questions. Some of them ranging from the compatibility of divine providence to human freewill to what happens to shoe who never hear the Gospel, and all sorts of other questions that are really tugging on their heartstrings. It’s really high school for some of them and for me it was a time I explored these deep questions of life and that’s one of the reasons I love to go and minister to the campers when I’m able to at Lake Geneva Youth Camp, so a great program that they run their too, so if you have a chance to check them out go to LGYC.org. I had a great time. Today’s episode is on our worldview series. If you’re a long-time follower of the show you know that the first Saturday of each month, we devote to a worldview. Today we are going to be talking about two worldviews actually, that aren’t as popular in the United States, but they’re popular in other parts of the world, chiefly over in Asia. Before we get into talking about Shintoism and Taoism, I’ve got just a couple more announcements here.
Did you know that Defenders Media is partnering with churches to equip and empower believers to know the Christian worldview and share it? So we are actually partnering with the Lightouse Community Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan to bring you the Deeper Roots Conference, which exists to deepen faith through understanding, equip believers to share that faith, and connect believers to one another, so this conference, the Deeper Roots Conference, is a program of the Library of Historical Apologetics and Defenders Media. I hope that you will join me along with cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace and Dr. Timothy McGrew among other respectable names, Lydia McGrew, Rob Bowman, and others, and it’s going to be in Kalamazoo, Michigan on September 8 or 9. I hope maybe you’ll consider making a weekend trip out of it. It should be a lot of fun. I’ll be hosting, I think I’ve been told by the coordinator, I’ll be hosting sort of a roundtable discussion. I’ll also be talking on the importance of apologetics. I’ll be presnting an apologetic for it. What are the reasons why we should do apologetics, and implementing that in how to do we do evangelism so I’ll be giving some tips on it so it should be a lot of fun. Now if you want to join us on the show here and you have got a comment or a question, you can give us a call. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. But if you’re a little bit shy of having your voice heard, you can text me at any time you want. Just text the word VERACITY to the number 555-888, and once you do that I’ll be able to see the messages and any questions you might have for the guests or for myself, or if you have a topic or guest requests. I’m happy to consider those as well. I’ve got my texting plan up right here so if you want to text in with questions, I will be attuned to those. So without further ado, I would like to introduce to you, Dr. Kenneth R. Samples of Reasons To Believe. Dr. Samples. Thanks so much for joining us on the show today.
Ken: Hi, Kurt. It’s good to be with you. I’m excited to get a chance to talk about worldview ideas.
Kurt: Wonderful. Tell us a little bit about, for the listeners, tell us a little bit about your work at Reasons To Believe. First, what type of organization is Reasons To Believe and what is your position and role there at the organization?
Ken: Yeah. Right. Reasons To Believe could I think probably best be described as a science-faith apologetic organization. The strong focus behind the organization is really trying to show that science and historic Christianity are compatible. Our founder, Hugh Ross, has been doing apologetics for probably 35-40 years and we have a scholar team of six full-time scholars. I’m the only non-scientist on the scholar team. My training comes in philosophy and in theology. My role is in large measure to emphasize the faith and kind of the science-faith orientation. I give talks. I write articles. I write books, that talk about Christianity and talk about the philosophical interface between science and faith.
Kurt: Yes. And one of your, I guess your most recent book, is God Among Sages which came out this past January. Tell us a little bit about this book and your purpose for writing it.
Ken: Yeah. Thank you very much. About 25 years ago, Kurt, I was teaching philosophy and religion courses at a public community college here in southern California and I had lots of students. Southern California is a very diverse ethnic and religious place. I had Buddhists in my class. I had Hindus. I had a couple Muslim women who took my course. Of course, many Christians, and they would ask me questions. They would inevitably discover that I was a Christian and they would ask me, “Why did you pick Jesus instead of Krishna? Why Jesus over Muhammad?” I remember thinking at the time as I was talking with them about their religions and talking to them about Jesus I thought, “I wish I had a book I could just hand them that would give this kind of comparison.” That kind of thought never really left my mind as I continued to do apologetics and I decided that I really wanted to write a book that would compare Jesus with four of the most important religious leaders and those would be Krishna, Buddha, Confucious, and Muhammad. They’re certainly a lot of other important religious figures in the world, but that book looks at the historic view of Christ, who He is, what He accomplished in His incarnation, His atonement, His resurrection, and then it really does try to compare Jesus with the other religious leaders. I use criteria where I try to be as fair and as careful and as objective as I can. I’ve been very pleased with not only the fact that the book actually came into fruition, but I’ve had a number of dialogues and debates. I debated both Hindu and Buddhist scholars on a show called Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley that airs out of London. It looks like I may also have an opportunity maybe to dialogue and debate with a leading Confucian scholar out of Hawaii. It’s been exciting to actually talk with people who hold other religions. I know you know as an apologist, you actually want to interact with people who hold different religious views, different worldviews, and I’m thankful to the Lord that this book has given me opportunities to sit down with the Buddhist and Hindu scholar and go back and forth about these critical issues.
Kurt: And it seems great because the book itself is not super-academic. It’s geared towards popular audiences. People that maybe just have no familiarity, no previous familiarity with Krishna or Buddha or Confucius, and for those reasons it sort of serves as a great starting point for people interested to learn more about those worldviews.
Ken: Yeah. I really tried to write a book that is accessible. A book that somebody could pick up, of course, my central audience is Christians who want to learn about other religions and feel confident that they know enough about their faith and other faiths that they can have a conversation. I was pleased that both the Hindu and the Buddhist read the book, at least read the chapters on Hinduism and Buddhism, and they thought that I was fair. I tried to write a book that would be an accessible book because there’s just so much to know about all of these particular religious perspectives.
Kurt: So what we’re
going to do, for those that are interested to get quick access to that book,
we’re going to provide a link so you can purchase it on Amazon from our website
once we post this episode in the next couple days so that way you can check out
Dr. Samples most recent book, God
Among Sages. Now Dr. Samples, let me ask you, getting into our discussion
here. I know we’re going to try to talk about two worldviews and they’re two
worldviews that Americans just tend to not be, they don’t have much knowledge
of. Let me first start with Shintoism which is the largest religion in Japan.
Tell us, I’ll just sort of throw it out there and let you take it away. What is
Ken: Yeah. I like the way you described it. Shintoism is a nationalistic religion of Japan. It is a deeply mythological religion. It has its own creation myth of the deities, they call them kamis. They’re the ones that are responsible for creating the Japanese nation. Shintoism is kind of an untraditional religion. They have spirits that they believe in called the kamis. If you think about World War II, you think of the kamikaze, the pilots in the Japanese air force that saw themselves as protectors of the Japanese islands. Shintoism is that kind of religion. It is really a belief that there are spirits that you can interact with that can come on your behalf, that you can benefit from. I would compare Shintoism in some ways like Native American religions, that is, their belief that there are spirits and you want to placate them, you want to get them on your side. The Japanese religion of Shinto is very difficult than believing in a personal God who has revealed Himself. It’s much more of a folk religion. It’s much more of a religion that emphasizes the placating of spirits.
Kurt: Would you say it’s similar to sort of ancient Greek religion as well?
Ken: In some respects, yeah. I think that while there are these myths about the original couple that were responsible for bringing the world into existence, that there certainly isn’t an infinite, eternal, transcendent deity, and typically, that god really isn’t a god that you can know in personal terms, but there are these various spirits that are available and those are the ones that you want to have connection with.
Kurt: Right. And I guess that would make it different from sort of the ancient Greek or even Roman religions where the gods had human form, these are immaterial spirits in Shintoism and as you mentioned sort of Native American religion. So tell us a little bit more about Shintoism. They have this creation myth and these gods are protectors of the nation. What is their view of say the nature of man? Is man sort of born into a neutral state? Is he born into a state predisposed to fall short of a moral code if there is a moral code. Those sorts of questions we Christians might be thinking about.
Ken: Yeah. In some respects it is absent of a lot of particular doctrine and theology. More it is human beings are living in a world where they are open to the divine, where they’re open to the spiritual realities. They really don’t have anything like original sin or a fallen condition of human beings, but there is certainly the belief that people can, in fact, benefit by interacting and having the various kamis on their side, so again it is a very kind of untraditional religion. It has more I think rather than theism or polytheism or pantheism. I would see Shintoism as reflecting kind of a mysticism and a spiritism and so in that way it is kind of a worldview that doesn’t have, you think of the philosophical categories. What is your metaphysical view of the world? What is your view of human beings? What is your view of salvation? It is much more mystical and much more native in terms of its orientation and in that way kind of lacking in traditional doctrinal or theological positions.
Kurt: So while Christians might be divided over doctrinal issues, are there different types of Shintoism or is it a monolithic worldview? Are there different approaches to how to engage the gods through their mystical offerings?
Ken: Yeah. I think probably the closest thing that we get to in Shintoism is historically it’s kind of unfolded in three stages. There is what we call primitive Shinto that talks about the migration of the religion and the worship of the various deities, then they have what they call Mixed Shinto. That’s probably an issue that we should develop a little bit. In Mixed Shintoism, and Kurt, this is very different than what we find among the theistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is very common in the ancient world to have what is called a religious consensus, and that is to hear people say, “Look. I am a Buddhist. I am a Taoist, and I’m Confucian.” What is interesting there is even in Japan, it is in this middle period, this mixed period, where other religions begin to interact with Shinto and you have the Chinese religions of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism impacting the Shinto religion. You have kind of a religious competition if you will and you have kind of smorgasboard if you will. That would be kind of reflective of the mixed period. Then finally you have more of a concentration into the modern world and so during World War II, one of the conditions of the Japanese surrendering unconditionally to the Americans was to say the emperor was not a god. It was thought at the time that the emperor was a descendant of the Kamis of these various gods, and so General MacArthur demanded that the emperor say that he was not a god. That’s an extraordinary thing. You can begin to see that there is this national religious connection and it does strike me again as a bit more somewhat like the Greek religions, but maybe even more like the primal religions or the native religions of America, South America, and even Africa.
Kurt: Right. Having only studied a little bit of Western civilization’s religious views, even the Roman religion, Caesar was believed to have been a descendant of the gods.
Ken: That’s right.
Kurt: You do that similarity. I’ve got a question about how they view purity, because that’s an aspect to their religion. Tell us a little bit about that. What does it mean for someone to be impure and what is the process to become pure?
Ken: That is a distinguishing feature of Shintoism. Their form of worship and their meeting in various shrines. You have a strong emphasis upon acts of purity and the pouring of water and the washing of an individual. Again, this is a representation that Shintoism is a way of both physical purity and kind of spiritual purity. You can see this a lot in the specific rituals that take place within the Shinto religion and the purity idea also carries with it not only the washing and the purifying of various rituals, but that would also imply the idea of a spiritual and a moral purity of the national people of Japan. Again, they don’t have Communion services, they don’t have what we might see of practices that you could find, for example, in some of the Western or monotheistic religions, but this idea of purification is a very strong element.
Kurt: That’s fascinating. So they don’t hold to in the view that we hold to a doctrine of original sin, but that people can become impure because of their deeds and so they’ve got to go become pure so they perform these rituals in order to sort of have a clearing of their mind I guess. Is that what it would be?
Ken: Yeah. They don’t have commandments so to speak. There is no canonical Scriptures if you will. There isn’t a particular founder as if you would think of Muhammad or you might think of Moses or the Buddha or Confucius for example, but there is the idea of the goal of life is in some sense a deep commitment to one’s nation, to one’s values, and again kind of a mystical idea of the recognition of almost a veneration if you will of ancestors and a recognition of kind of following in that tradition or in that authority, but Shintoism doesn’t have a lot of what we could call doctrinal theological particulars.
Kurt: Now here’s a question and this question very much comes out of my place of ignorance here. Is there a, I take it in the East there is a strong sense of honor-shame dichotomy in a number of societies. Is that in the case in Japan and specifically with Shintoism?
Ken: It is. It certainly is. That idea runs very deep, not just in the Middle East, but it runs very deep throughout most of Asia and so these religions that we have in Taoism, Shintoism, Confucianism, there’s a strong sense of honor and shame culture and certainly Shintoism which is so closely associated with the nation of Japan, that there would be again, it would be a great breach to go against your parents. It would be a great breakdown morally and spiritually to go against your roots and your foundation and so definitely that is part of it and that can affect your life in the context of relating to these spirits. If you are acting in a shameful way, that would be a very strong negative, and of course, this I think is an important component as we think about the religions of Asia. People act differently. If you were to leave the religion. Let’s say, Catholicism is pretty influential in Japan although most of the studies that come out, the PEW report, Gallup polls, and things like that indicate that Japan is increasingly secular in orientation, but if you have the idea that if you were to leave Shintoism and embrace Christianity, that in some ways could be seen as turning your back not only on your parents and your culture but virtually on your country, and we see those implications in the Middle East if somebody were to leave Islam and embrace Christianity. There’s a great shame that would come upon the family.
Kurt: Yeah. I guess I didn’t mean to laugh there, but it just seems odd that if you were to change religions, that you might be considered sort of a traitor to your nation. That concept is very, in the most proper sense of the word, foreign to our American sensibilities, which us being in a pluralistic society there’s this robust freedom for us to convert to any religion that we choose and that’s not so the case elsewhere.
Ken: Absolutely and I think if you look both at Shintoism and then throughout Asia, there is much less an emphasis upon individuality or choosing your own path, but conforming yourself to the community, to the nation, submitting yourself in that way. In some ways we have to think very differently when we start looking at these religions of Asia.
Kurt: This is my last question regarding Shintoism. What do Shintos think about Jesus generally speaking? Who do they think He was?
Ken: Yeah. That’s a very good question. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a specific statement in Shintoism about the person of Jesus like I see in Buddhism, like I see in Islam, like I see in a lot of other religions. My educated guess would be that they may begin to think of Him as one more of the spirits that one would submit one’s life before. I think it would be very easy for somebody in Shintoism to have a god-shelf and you might put Jesus’s statue up there and He would represent that spirit that would relate to you. That’s my educated speculation about the way they kind of relate to this and so the critical idea there Kurt, I think would be to show how distinct, how unique, how fundamentally different Jesus would be to all other spirits and dieties and spiritual realities.
Kurt: Great. Good point. Dr. Samples. We’ve got to take a short break, but after we take this break from our sponsors we will touch upon Taoism so stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
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Before we get back to our discussion with Dr. Ken Samples, let me just mention a couple of the articles that I’m reading this morning or have read this morning and this afternoon. I had one article that I saw on Facebook through my friend Brett McCracken. He shared this article from the Atlantic called “Have Smartphones Destroyed A Generation? More comfortable online than out partying, post-millennials are safer physically than adolescents have ever been, but they’re on the brink of a mental health crisis, and so this article is fascinating because the author has been doing surveys and studying society for over 25 years and has seen various blips and what not between mental health indicators, for example, one of those being the rate of suicide or suicide attempts, and that’s just one of other factors that she looks at, and she has noticed that since 2012, there have been huge increases in mental health cases. Why is 2012 sort of the point? She argues that in 2012, more than 50% of Americans had a smartphone and of course that number has simply been increasing ever since, so the author argues that giving smartphones to teenagers, especially young teenagers, is not the way to go. It’s damaging to their mental health and we’ve really got a problem on our hands. Now let me say this. The reason why I found this article interesting today was having just come from a Christian camp for the week where teens had their smartphones, I began to witness this a little bit insofar as that the camp has certain rules. The camp used to not allow phones at all, but then they sort of viewed that as just simply a losing battle and so they sort of made a compromise that phones wouldn’t be used in the dining hall or in the chapel or in the cabins. Right? Because the whole point of especially those locations is to foster community with each other and to not have one’s gaze and focus in on their smartphone. Nevertheless, as part of my duties as a counselor, I had to keep tabs on some of the campers that were paying attention to their smartphones. Time and time again I had to ask people to put their phones away and sometimes it would be the same people as if they hadn’t quite learned it because they were simply so enthralled with what was happening on Snapchat or some other social media outlet that they just couldn’t put it away. I think that article is fascinating and I will go ahead and share this on our website as well so if you’re interested to look at that you can.
Another article here was shared by my friend and one of Defenders Media regional associates, Zak Schmoll. Zak, he shared an article about, it was a 3D map of the electoral results from the 2016 campaign and I thought that was really fascinating, someone who’s interested in politics, especially election results. Usually, we see it in the 2D map, but the 3D map showed the variation between, the disparity between Democratic voters and Republican voters and so that was really fascinating because you could really see the height of disparity in different parts of the country between Democrats and Republicans and, of course, the isolation since statistically speaking we see Democrats tend to be more in the larger cities, and that’s generally speaking. Some cities have high Republican populations. At any rate, that’s a really cool article because you can explore this 3D map that I’m sure some coder took loads of time to create, but it’s really neat. I’ll share that as well on the website.
In the first half of today’s episode, we talked about Shintoism and the mystical practice there of the largest religion in Japan, but now we’re going to jump across the pond a little bit, at least maybe the pond, not the Atlantic of course, but a bay if you will between Japan and going over to China where Taoism is, I’m pretty sure it’s the largest, if not it’s the most recognized religion there in China, especially because of its founding, so Dr. Samples, again like I did with Shintoism, I’ll just sort of throw this out there and let you take it away. So what is Taoism?
Ken: Yeah. You’re right on target to shift now from Japan with Shintoism to China with the religion of Taoism. Sometimes it’s spelled with a T, but pronounced with a D, the Tao. Taoism along with Confucianism are considered the two major kind of religious or philosophical traditions. I would say again that similar to Shintoism, Taoism is not kind of a traditional religion. It has very few kind of theological and doctrinal parameters and I could also indicate that you could be a religious Taoist or a more philosophical Taoist and that would take you in a very different direction. The religion of Taoism can also be kind of a philosophical system, not unlike religion of Confucionism where you have a greater emphasis upon moral development and living in this world than it does in kind of thinking about or projecting to the spiritual world, but I would again point this out Kurt, that often in the Asian world it’s common, and you won’t find too many people describing themselves as a Jew, Christian, and Muslim, because you right away recognize, hey, even those three religions are monotheistic, they have some real differences, particularly when it comes to the identify of Jesus, but it’s very common for a person to say “Look. When it comes to the life and death issues, when it comes to reincarnation, I’m a Buddhist. When it comes to my basic ethic, I’m a Confucian, but when it comes to my spirituality and my view of the spirits, then I’m a Taoist.” This idea of the Tao, it’s this mysterious force, kind of causal force in the universe, and it kind of reflects both the idea of opposites that are seen interestingly in kind of complementary terms in kind of the yin/yang. You can follow the Tao in a much more philosophical orientation, in a much more mystical orientation, but there is also a form of Taoism that is very religious with lots of gods, I don’t know that sin would be the exact right word, but there is kind of a moral breakdown that needs to somehow be addressed and so again, Taoism is an untraditional religious/philosophy and you can go in a very philosophical direction or you can go in more of a traditional religious section as well and it would involve things like venerating relatives. It would involve kind of a recognition of the spirituality and so I would put Taoism similar to Shinto, I would say that it’s a mystical, spiritual, and even kind of a moral philosophical tradition. It’s very difficult to kind of categorize, because it just kind of defies our Western categories.
Kurt: Yeah. So in attempting nevertheless to sort of understand it and maybe place categories upon it, which is something you don’t always want to do, do they, like Shintoism, not have doctrinal positions or would they be more similar to us insofar as they do have sort of theological or philosophical camps?
Ken: It’s a good question and I agree with you. We have to try to kind of categorize things even if their orientation doesn’t fit that neatly, we still have to ask kind of fundamental questions. I would put it this way Kurt. I would say that philosophical Taoism is far less doctrinal and theological in orientation. It’s a bit more mystical. It’s a bit more philosophical. I would say religious Taoism, there you have a stronger orientation. You do have deities. You have something like kind of polytheism or something like basic or Native American type religions. You also have moral violations that somehow need to be worked out and so definitely the religious Taoism is going to have a much deeper religious flavor, but that religious flavor is less theism and I think more basic religion or a bit more mystical or polytheistic.
Kurt: Fascinating. So with the religious Taoism, would we say that there is this view of the nature of man again? Similar to my question about Shintoism, do they believe humans are created with this neutral state? You mention that they think something has gone awry. Maybe elaborate on that more if you could.
Ken: Yeah. I think when you move in the direction of the more religious form of Taoism, there definitely is some kind of moral responsibility that reflects kind of a breakdown. In terms of kind of, the category of human being, there really isn’t anything like people being made in the image of God, but there is this orientation in Taoism that you’re kind of to align yourself with the way of nature. That’s another definition for the Tao. You are to kind of associate yourself with kind of the moral flow of the universe and because they do believe in deities, because they do believe in the appropriate worship and devotion to them, then you have kind of this moral responsibility to kind of align yourself with the divine, to align yourself with the idea of a religious tradition so again, I’m not trying to be vague, but I’ll tell you that Taoism and Shintoism are two of the religions that are the most difficult to describe because they move in different directions and in being mystical and in embracing some kind of spiritism, that’s a lot harder to kind of gauge and develop what we might call in Christianity a systematic theology.
Kurt: Right. Yeah. So for the philosophical form of Taoism, would that position be more focused upon an ethical framework, sort of how to live in the now, as opposed to the mystical, uniting one’s self to the gods or, I forget how you phrased it, but you phrased it so nicely…
Ken: Yeah. I think that’s right. I think when you think about Taoism and now you move away from the religious side to the more philosophical side, there is kind of a mystical view of nature. There is this force behind the universe, but now this force is impersonal and very different because it’s already…[NP1] in China, it is kind of going with the flow. It’s actually a religion where you try to do as little as possible. The Tao is seen to be associated with kind of a philosophical and mystical orientation, but there’s no religion because the deity, if that’s the right word to describe the Tao in the philosophical tradition, it’s not personal and therefore there’s no way to ultimately know it. I would even say Kurt, there’s a side of philosophical Taoism that strikes me as almost naturalistic, almost secularistic, and yet there’s always that kind of mystical element, kind of working on the outside. Instead of religion being something where you would have great zeal to accomplish things in the name of God or to be devoted to these kinds of things, in the Chinese philosophy religion of Taoism, there is much more this idea that you are to live your life along the parameters of the Tao and that life is found more in meditation. I guess to put it in a kind of popular parlance, in a much more laid back way of just trying to go with the flow. They have what they call the Wu Wei, and that’s kind of aligning oneself with the way of the Tao. In terms of your program of looking at worldviews, these two particular religions that we’re talking about I think are again, very challenging because they’re different. Taoism is different even than Confucianism. It’s very different than Buddhism, and yet there are plenty of people, I mean millions and millions of people, who feel very comfortable by saying, “Look. I like a little bit of Buddhism on this issue. I’m a Confucist on my ethical ideas, but I like the spirituality of the Tao.” Again, that kind of smorgasboard, that kind of mixing and blending is just so different than what we find in theism and the religions that are influencial coming out of the Middle East and into the Western World.
Kurt: Here’s a question perhaps for both Shintoism and Taoism. Perhaps this gets a little bit to the difficulty in explaining and understanding them, do they have religious books like the Western religioins do? Are there holy books or books on how to meditate? If that’s the right question.
Ken: No. Very good question. Very good question. Let me pick Shintoism for a moment. Shintoism doesn’t have kind of a revelatory book like you would have in the Qur’an or in the Old and New Testament, but there is a book that talks about the mythologies, but there’s no kind of Scripture in Shintoism if you will. A critical individual in Taoism is Lao-Tzu and it’s thought that Lao-Tzu was a contemporary of Confucius, although I have to tell you there are some historians who have doubts about Lao-Tzu’s actual existence. There wonder if there isn’t some deep mythology taking place there. You have writings that Lao-Tzu is involved in and the Tao Te Ching. That would be a very significant writing in China, but again it’s not kind of a revelatory Scripture, again if you think about the Bible or the Qur’an or something of that nature. Yeah. There are books, the Tao Te Ching would be seen as a spiritual text, a moral text. It may give people direction in terms of meditation, veneration of relatives, even the worship of spirits, but again I think that’s more like spiritism and more like mysticism than it is like anything in the West.
Kurt: Huh. That’s interesting. If you had to describe just a couple points of major difference between Western religions and Shintoism and Taoism, what would be a couple of those defining differences?
Ken: Yeah. Very good. I think that you would have a very different sense in Shintoism and Taoism, there is no ultimate creator of the world, of the universe. You would not have, like you have in theism, where you have an infinite eternal God who calls all things into existence out of or from nothing or so there is no kind of ultimate creator, sovereign king and ruler over the universe, that you would have in Scripture and to some extent you would see it in Islam. I think secondly, you have no kind of fundamental idea of salvation. You have mysticism. You have spiritism. You have a placating of the deities, but you don’t have the category of salvation where human beings have rebelled against God and somehow need to be reconciled, and so creation, salvation, I think probably a third category, no strong sense of a final revelatory Scriptural authority. I think those three certainly jump out at me when I think of Taoism and Shintoism differing from what we would call the Middle Eastern religions that have had so much influence both in Europe and North America.
Kurt: Great. Wow. If we had to talk about two worldviews within an hour, I think we just did it.
Ken: I wish I could give you and your listeners a lot more specific details. It’s just that even when I teach either comparative religions or world religions, Taoism and Shintoism are the ones that are the most, in some ways, frustrating, simply from the vantage point that they just don’t have the same kind of categories and so in some sense, that’s the way I think we should think about the world’s religions, Kurt. In one sense they get certain things right, but there’s also a lot of confusion and a lot of deep challenges to the view of God and man and salvation. Some good sources here, Gerald McDermott has a little book on the world’s religion that has some introductory chapters both on Shintoism and on Taoism. My friend Win Corduan also has a little book through Varsity where he introduces you to these ideas. Those would be good little sources to kind of go a little further on Shinto and on Taoism.
Kurt: Great. Before I let you go, let me ask you one more question. You’ve talked about how you’re an advocate, I should say elsewhere you’ve talked about how you’re an advocate for this notion that all truth is God’s truth and here, you’ve just stated that some of these folks who aren’t Christians, there is some good thing, there are some true things in there. Could you describe a little bit more about how and why you think that that’s the case?
Ken: Yes. Let me put it in these terms, Kurt. God has created all people in His image and so people in Asian religions, people in monotheistic religions, even people in basic or kind of spiritistic religions, these are all people who are made in the image of God. According to Scripture they have a certain awareness of God. They’re aware of God testifying. Psalm 19. Romans 1. They have a conscience. I would say from a Biblical point of view everybody’s made in the image of God. Everybody is a recipient of general revelation, and what’s interesting here Kurt, is that when it comes to morality, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, have a very similar ethic. That is, they have the second five of the Ten Commandments. Tell the truth, don’t steal, avoid illicit sexual relations, and so I would argue that they’re going to get certain things right. It would be unbiblical to say people in other religions hold everything false. No. I think they’re going to get certain things right, but then it’s going to be mixed with some terrible error. They’re going to be false gods, false Christs, false Gospels, and I think that’s what we see. What we see in other religions is they have some awareness and I think from an evangelistic point, we can build a bridge from talking about morality, from talking about spirituality. We can talk about the idea of finding meaning and purpose, but when it comes to the individual deities and things of that nature, they’re going to have a very different understanding of who God and Christ would be. That’s kind of my perspective on that. I think it’s tempting for Christians to think that if there are these false religions, they’re completely false, but I think that that would be unbiblical. It would remove what Paul said in Romans 1 and what King David says in Psalm 19, and what the book of Genesis says in terms of us being made in the image of God.
Kurt: Awesome. That’s a great answer and I am strongly sympathetic to everything you just said there so thanks for that great description.
Ken: Thank you, Kurt. It’s been a real pleasure being with you and I wish you and your program great success. I hope you’ll continue doing your show because Christians need to learn how to think and how to reflect and they certainly need to learn to put their iphones and smartphones down and do a lot more thinking and reflecting. I think that can really enhance their life and spirituality.
Kurt: Absolutely. Dr. Ken Samples. Thanks so much for joining us on the show today.
Ken: Been my pleasure. God bless you.
Kurt: Same to you. Thanks. Bye-bye.
That was Dr. Ken Samples. He is a senior research scholar at Reasons To Believe and if you want to learn about that ministry and to see some of his resources, you can go to reasons.org. So. That does it for the show today. I am grateful for the continued support of our patrons and partnerships with our sponsors. Defenders Media. Consult Kevin. The Sky Floor. Rethinking Hell. The Illinois Family Institute. Evolution 2.0, and Ratio Christi, and I want to again thank our guest, Dr. Ken Samples, and finally, I’d like to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
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