The Tao of Politics

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The Way of Politics, Chapter Two

This column originally appeared as part of the Tao of Politics series for the Democracy Cell Project, an IRS-approved 501(c)(3) created by former members of Kerry-Edwards 2004 blog team. The Tao of Politics attempted to explore the intersection of religion, spirituality, and politics from a contemporary Deistic or secular and spiritual perspective.

In the second chapter of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tse turns to the inevitable problems introduced through human beings’ tendency to unnecessarily compare and contrast things, to judge them – often as a means of bolstering one’s own self-esteem, or imagined standing in God’s eyes, or reputation within a community.

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

So, for instance, with regard to a form of human expression like homosexuality – which scientists increasingly tell us represents a genetic disposition, and not the impact of inappropriate parenting or a character defect – it is my view that Lao Tse here is suggesting that it is our need to rigidly define “beautiful” and “ugly” that unnecessarily sows disharmony in a nation, and within the larger human family.

Lao Tse continues:

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

The sage’s meaning here should be self-evident: seemingly irreconcilable dualities are a natural expression of the essential harmony of things, of a thing's wholeness. Eliminate one and you distort the other. For instance, when a repressive society forces gay men and lesbians into the closet, our understanding of the natural range of possible healthy sexual expressions is artificially curtailed. Centuries after the biological imperative to “be fruitful and multiply” had been utterly accomplished (and with its achievement, the end of any possible justification for homophobic attitudes), we remain psychically, and I’d argue spiritually, diminished. In the place of natural expression, these religious ideologues furiously struggle to restore an ideal of gay men and lesbians marrying members of the opposite sex – for whom they feel little sexual desire. This creates a dynamic where heartbreak, betrayal, and emotional estrangement in the family are inevitable. And yet these ideologues pretend that this unnatural situation is healthy for either spouse, or for any offspring they might produce – and proscribe it as supporting “family values”. Burdened by thinking like this, it's no wonder that the institution of marriage is in such a sorry state.

While it is certainly true that many of us were taught that homosexuality is evil, I’d argue that this teaching reflects not the light of wisdom or experience, but ultimately the remnant of a dark era when one could be killed for not keeping the Sabbath, or being thought somehow guilty of blasphemy, or accused of practicing witchcraft. This is exactly the worldview that Enlightenment thinkers overthrew. And there was no greater expression of the Enlightenment ethos than the birth of the United States of America, and the creation of its Constitution. But for those religious Americans for whom this proof is insufficient, and who remain gravely troubled by the alleged “sin” of homosexuality, let me close with Jesus’ words, as expressed in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 7, Verses 1-5:

Judge not, that ye be not judged.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

Have wiser words ever been spoken?


This translation of the Tao Te Ching is by Stephen Mitchell, copyright 1988. It is available in paperpack editions from Harper Perennial Classics (ISBN: 0060812451) and Harper Perennial Persona (ISBN: 0060812451).

Matthew Carnicelli, 2005. All rights reserved.
Originally published on February 27, 2005, as part of The Tao of Politics series for the Democracy Cell Project.