The ancient, over 2000 year old, Eastern religion of Taoism is atheistic in outlook; it’s also said to be more of a philosophy than a religion. Its founder is said to have been a Chinese philosopher by the name of Lao-tze (also known as Lao-zi or Lao-tsu) who was said to have been born sometime between 604 and 570 B.C. Based on poems called Tao-te-eching (which means “The Way of Life”) that were said to have been written by Lao-tze, Taoism is evidently a mixture of political, philosophical and religious ideas. Taoism teaches that Tao (“the Way”) can be achieved by living a life of virtue via exercising compassion and humility. One summary of its teaching sees it as “recommending doing nothing and resisting nothing” (1). Taoism has also had much influence on Chinese culture (several times being nominated as a state religion) as well as on other Asian cultures, and as the religion/philosophy grew it was compiled into a canon (the Daozang; a body of literature of some 1400 texts collected by Taoist monks in order to unify the teachings of Taoism) and published. Some of its core practices involve physical cultivation (exercises, spiritual journeys, and martial arts), rituals (animal sacrifices, the burning of paper, the maintaining of vegan diets, expressions through festive street parades, and fortune telling), and fasting. Taoism has also had influence on the creative arts (notable artists being that of Wu Wei, Mi Fu, and others).
However, at some later in the development of Taoism, Lao-tze became a divinity. This would also include the forces of nature such as the sun, moon, stars and tides that were some, among many hundreds of elements, that were deified and worshipped. As Lyall articulates: “Taoism quickly degenerated into what it is today – a polytheistic system of spiritualism, demonism and superstition.’ (2) Contemporary Taoism as an entity is nearly non-existent (especially after it lost popularity during the 17th century) although in some places within modern China “many still cling to it as magic” (3). It still has some adherence in other places like Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan (4).
1. Cook, C. 1971. Pears Cyclopaedia.
2. Leslie Lyall in The World’s Religions (1975) by Norman Anderson. p.226.
3. Noss, J. 1949. Man’s Religions. p. 274.
4. You-Sheng, L. 2010. The Ancient Chinese Super State of Primary Societies: Taoist Philosophy for the 21st Century. p. 300