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    “See to it no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

    « Of Love and Lust: "The Wasteland" vs. "Song of Songs" | He's Got the Whole World in His Hands »

    Wisdom and Education: "Proverbs" vs. "Tao Te Ching"

    (Originally written December 5, 2009)

    The book of Proverbs and the Tao Te Ching are interesting to compare as they are both ancient texts, written by kings (in Lao Tzu’s case, possible king) (Majka) renowned for their wisdom, and used as religious writings.


    The Biblical proverb, “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Solomon, Proverbs 4:7) may be contrasted with the work of Lao Tzu, author of Tao Te Ching who seems to think much less of wisdom and knowledge, "When we renounce learning we have no troubles." (Tzu, Poem 20).

    Many examples from both works either emphasizing the importance of gaining learning (proverbs) or the importance of discarding it (Tao) may be found. “The wise hears and increases learning; and understanding ones get wisdom” (Solomon, Proverbs 1:5). “…Call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding…look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure” (Solomon, Proverbs 2:3-4).


    According to the Bible, wisdom, knowledge, and understanding are priceless things that bring strength of character, closeness to God, and happy lives. “Get wisdom, get understanding…” (Solomon, Proverbs 4:5). “Hold on to instruction. Do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life” (Solomon, Proverbs 4:13). In gaining wisdom, a person acquires truth, “and the truth shall set you free” John 8:32.


    Opposite this thinking is the Tao Te Ching which insists that the pursuit of knowledge is a dangerous thing which leads to nothing but chaos and destruction. "Therefore the sage... empties their minds…He constantly (tries to) keep them without knowledge and without desire, and where there are those who have knowledge, to keep them from presuming to act (on it). When there is this abstinence from action, good order is universal" (Tzu, Poem 3).


    Lao Tzu exhorts leaders and those being led alike, to put aside or suppress desire, including the pursuit of knowledge, in order to find contentment. The Tao seems to say that it is better to live in ignorance and poverty with peace and order, rather than wisdom, wealth, and chaos. “If we could renounce our sageness and discard our wisdom, it would be better for the people a hundredfold” (Tzu, Poem 19).


    “The ancients who showed their skill in practising the Tao did so, not to enlighten the people, but rather to make them simple and ignorant. The difficulty in governing the people arises from their having much knowledge. He who (tries to) govern a state by his wisdom is a scourge to it; while he who does not (try to) do so is a blessing” (Tzu, Poem 65).


    The value and application for contemporary life and culture of the Biblical proverb which extols wisdom and understanding, is something to consider. It would seem that the United States publicly adheres to the ideas in Proverbs.


    In America, much importance is placed on education (the attainment of knowledge and wisdom). “Americans spend more money per student than any other country in the world” (Chavis). Constant revisions are made to policies regarding education, and new schools and programs are being formed all the time.


    It is currently tough to land a good-paying job without some form of higher education, and teachers are publicly regarded with honor.


    Looking to the Tao Te Ching however, one could argue that the horrendous violence now prevalent in public school systems proves that education only leads to destruction. Studies also show that despite the availability, funding, and acquirement of education, American students rank poorly compared to other countries in the world,


    “By grade 4, American students only score in the middle of 26 countries reported. By grade 8 they are in the bottom third, and at the finish line, where it really counts, we're near dead last” (4Choice). Is the Tao right about education after all, or are there missing pieces of the puzzle? If given a choice, is freedom in truth (which might lead to chaos) better than order without knowledge?



    4Choice. International Test Scores:Poor U.S. Test Results Tied to Weak Curriculum. 2001-2009. 5 December 2009 <http://4brevard.com/choice/international-test-scores.htm>.

    Chavis, Ben. What If: Commentary: Who Says Public Schools Need More Money? 2009. 5          December 2009 <http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/09/07/chavis.education/>.

    Majka, Christopher. Lao Tzu: Father of Taoism. 5 December 2009             <http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/Philosophy/Taichi/lao.html>.

    Sarah Lawall, General Editor. The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Volume A: Second     Edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002.

    Solomon. Proverbs. 950 B.C.

    Tzu, Lao. Tao Te Ching. 6 B.C.

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    Reader Comments (2)

    I think that wisdom weighs more than knowledge but I also think that wisdom would have difficulty without knowledge. So far the best humanninvention for humanity to gain knowledge is the scientific method. It is a young invention (Since Galileo) and it is based onna very true premisse that human perception is flawed and biased. It therefore has ways to try and remove these flaws from the process (Double Blind Experiments, Control Grouos etc). The two ways knowledge is gained in science is empiricism and rationalism. The other ways humans used to claim knowledge have been feeble and flawed attempts and we now know that revelation, tradition, intuition and authority are simply not a valid source of knowledge... nor wisdom.

    October 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWolf Nelson


    Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and respond. I really appreciate it. I have one question. Science cannot comment on morality, since morals are subjective and science (as you pointed out) sticks to "just the facts, Ma'am".

    In other conversations we've had, you have cited secular philosophers as good sources of morality. Since their ideas are also based on revelation (whether personal or divine), tradition (whether religious or secular), intuition, and authority, are you not holding a double-standard?

    October 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterA Christian

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