Daoism Explained to Atheists


I consider Atheism a branch of Christianity because it privileges the centrality of belief.  My apologies to any true atheists out there!  I hope to meet you some day.  On the other hand, most people I talk to have some atheist tendencies.  So this explanation of Daoism is for everyone. 

Daoists establish the experience of emptiness, or rather non-conceptuality. Essentially, we have access to a raw experience which is not framed or named by concepts, metaphors, words or images. This experience makes it self-evident that the idea of agency is not essential. By agency I mean external causes for things and events. Spinoza came across a similar idea when he posited that everything is made of the same stuff, and therefore there can be no external cause--which led him to assert, among other things, the possibility of feminism, and that miracles can not be real.

We really do not know the ultimate causes of things, much less the ultimate causes of our own behavior. We do, as a habit of mind, tend to ascribe agency. And, of course, we can use rational processes like deductive or inductive reasoning to walk back, or walk around, discrete causation. Within the boundaries of a closed system of logic, these processes can become praxis.  That is, they become a "way of seeing, doing and testing," like engineering, or ballet. The dominant versions of this are 1) the one true god wills everything and/or 2) we are accidents of meaningless evolution.

Daoists, instead, beginning from that original non-conceptual experience, use imagination to create temporary forms of agency. This process of imagination uses all the senses, especially spatial perception. It can be done solo, with a partner, in small groups (as ritual), or in large communities over long periods of time (cults, nations). What makes the process Daoist is that these images of agency are understood, and felt, to be illusions--they are conceptually understood to be processes of the imagination as praxis. They are therefore subject to renewal, review, or cancelation. Gods, ghosts, and all images of agency, are like puppets on a stage.

When a house falls down, was it gravity that did it? Or bad construction, or a flawed architectural school, a bad government inspection official, his boss, corruption in general, a particularly strong earthquake, god's will, or simply age (entropy)? Causation is always an infinite chain. Truth is relative to language and conventions, word choices and assumptions. It is not just that we can imagine the cause, it is that we do it automatically. But imagined agency can always be dumped, we can always return to zero, and start over with fresh forms (or norms) of imagination.  The capacity to forget is part of how our mind heals itself.