The Logos and the Tao
The theme of today’s posting was suggested by the commentary to the earlier post on “Too Much of a Good Thing”, in which C.S. Lewis’s use of the term “Tao” was raised. I wondered why Lewis, a devout Christian as we know, would have preferred the name “Tao” over “Logos“, since they are equivalent in meaning. A comparison of some of the fragments of Heraclitus (who first used the term “Logos”) with the writings of Lao Tse on the Tao pretty much confirms that the Logos, the Tao, and (in some contexts) the “Dharma” of Buddhism are the same. In the passages cited from Lewis in the comments, you could substitute “Logos” or “Dharma” for “Tao” without any loss of meaning.
It then occurred to me that Lewis had to use the term Tao rather than Logos, because the term “Logos” has been debased and devalued, and has decayed over generations of abuse, having been emptied of value and meaning by reductionism and fundamentalism. It’s a prime example, in fact, of what Nietzsche describes as the dynamic of nihilism — “all higher values devalue themselves”. Although the Logos remains central to the concerns of science and religion in the West, either as the “logico-mathematical” method (or “mental-rational consciousness”) or as the “Logos” of St. John in Christianity (translated as “the Word” or “Christ”), the term has been emptied of all meaning, and to such an extent that Lewis likely felt it was necessary to employ the term “Tao” where he would have preferred to speak of “the Logos”. Lewis, in order to redeem and recover the true meaning of the Logos, had to resort to engage with another idiom — either Taoism or Buddhism — because the name “Logos” has been usurped and corrupted.
I would suggest that this devaluation of the Logos into the merely “logical” (as we understand the logical today) parallels the devaluation of the Whole into a mere Totality, and the collapse of the real meaning of the former into the latter. This is a fateful and fatal confusion since they differ as life and death differ since the very word “whole” pertains to the things of life, while “total” pertains to the things of death (“tot” or Tod being the Germanic for “dead” or “Death”). This is why totalitarian systems are not only deadened, but are really the corpses of a previously vital era from which the spirit (or life) has flown. And this is, essentially, the meaning of Nietzsche’s remark that “the will to a system is a lack of integrity”. That is, essentially, an objection to the confusion of the totalistic and the holistic. In this, our time of a completely haywire or pretzel logic, to invoke the “Logos” would be completely unintelligible to most people.
But there is also risk in Lewis’s invocation of the Tao where he would probably have preferred to say “Logos”. The Tao of Lao Tse is not the Tao of Confucius, and Taoism represented a direct attack on Confucianism. It may be said that Confucius was the spokesperson for Iain McGilchrist’s “Emissary” mode of consciousness and perception, while Lao Tse is the spokesperson for McGilchrist’s “Master” mode of consciousness and perception. (I refer those who might be confused by this reference to Iain McGilchrist and his neurodynamics of “Master” and “Emissary” modes of consciousness and perception to his wonderful and enlightening book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. (Or, for that matter, Jill Bolte-Taylor’s “Stroke of Insight” which substantially corroborates McGilchrist’s interpretation of the divided brain). For those of you already familiar with McGilchrist, I would suggest investigating this relationship between Confucius and Lao Tse as parallel to that described by McGilchrist as “Emissary” and “Master” and their very different understandings of the Tao as being (basically) either “totality” or “whole”, respectively. In Nietzschean terms, we might say that Confucius aimed for a perfect and total “system”, while Lao Tse aimed rather for “integrity”. The history of China also reveals the influence and struggles of the “Divided Brain” as much as the history of the West.
“The Vision of Christ that thou dost see, Is my Vision’s Greatest Enemy” is also Blake’s objection to the corruption of the meaning of Logos. It’s understandable then, why Lewis would resort to the “Tao”, or why Nietzsche engaged with Buddhism. They are simply fulfilling one of the prime teachings of Christianity: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it“. So much for the “identity politics” that characterises so much fundamentalism these days, and that likewise underlies Gebser’s complaint in The Ever-Present Origin about “Christian sects posturing like ideologies”. Losing one’s identity and being transfigured is precisely “Christian”.
A “Christian” identity politics is just as banal and superficial as any other form of identity politics, and just as much a “Bubble of Perception”. This is why Lewis had to resort to a different idiom derived from Taoism, or explains Blake’s antipathy to religion, as well as Nietzsche’s, who believed also (contrary to the beliefs of most “Nietzscheans”) that Christians could only rediscover or redeem the meaning of Christianity and its values by engaging with other religions. For it is indeed one of the many ironies of Nietzsche that he fulfilled, through his “stare into the abyss”, the principle that “whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” It was precisely Nietzsche’s faith that carried him through the “stare into the abyss” and allowed him to endure and survive it, albeit, transfigured.
Lewis demonstrates, I think, that quality that I find most admirable in the emerging “global soul” — a willingness to forgo a narrow “identity” (Christian or otherwise) and assume the Earth and the entire human experience of the Earth as its own autobiography. “Be true to the Earth!” as Nietzsche also exclaimed. In that willingness to step out of narrow identities (or narrow, and narcissistic, “perspectivising consciousness” as Gebser described it) we begin to see the potential foundations for Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s own project of a “universal history” and a planetary civilisation as the counterpart, or manifest reality, to Gebser’s “integral consciousness structure”.