Mormons ought to read Taoist scripture

Just as every member of American society should be familiar with the contents of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, I believe Mormons would benefit from a familiarity with the Tao Te Ching.

I had opportunities to study the Tao Te Ching–the ancient Chinese text associated with the figure Lao Tzu and considered the scripture of Taoists–in two different classes. My experiences constituted little more than an introduction, but as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I found the text fascinating.

Mormons believe their church’s teachings come straight from God through prophets. LDS historians love to study how the teachings appear to be influenced heavily by the historical context of the teachers. I found ideas in the Tao Te Ching that agree with LDS Church teachings even though the historical contexts are as different as apples and orange xylophones.

One example is an emphasis on mountains and valleys. The Old Testament in the Christian Bible is full of allegorical stories involving mountains and valleys. The stories taught in the LDS Church are full of mountains and valleys. The same is true for the Tao Te Ching.

References to similarities and differences between men and women are common in the Tao Te Ching, as they are in the Bible. The Bible is full of rules and anecdotes relating to sex, marriage, children and family life. The LDS Church possesses many unique beliefs relating to these topics, as well.

Sometimes, the message of the Tao Te Ching is interpreted as the strength and peace possible through a life of passivity or nonaggression. Scriptures and teachings unique to the LDS Church emphasize similar teachings.

The Book of Mormon, the LDS Church’s second book of scripture, contains a story about a group of people who converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and consequently refused to fight their aggressors. Their committed pacifism guaranteed their own salvation and inspired others toward higher good.

I recently read teachings on passivity and nonaggression in LDS Church magazines from the period when the federal government was attacking church leaders because of polygamy. The articles suggested that while being oppressed by the government, the LDS Church members would have more success if they led righteous lives and slowly expanded their numbers and wealth than if they openly fought and opposed their enemies.

The place I find the most LDS teachings that remind me of the Tao Te Ching is in temples. I propose that the ancient Chinese philosophers were trying to teach the same concepts as many of the LDS prophets. I’m not suggesting there are similarities; I’m suggesting they are the same ideas.

Many students say it is useful to hear the same academic principles taught by different teachers because the different explanations of the same ideas enhance understanding. From what I understand of the Tao Te Ching and LDS theologies, I believe many other readers would agree that some of the same principles are taught in both books even though they are explained so differently.

The Tao Te Ching should be read, along with the teachings of Confucius, to better understand Asian culture. Educated people should become familiar with the Quran and Bhagavad Gita to better understand the people of the world. Anyone interested in Europe and the Americas should know the Bible. But I believe the Tao Te Ching has the unique possibility of also enhancing understanding of LDS doctrine.