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Way to Go

Taoism (which we are nowadays supposed to write as “Daoism,” though neither spelling is more correct than the other) is the country cousin of major world religions: generally thought to be long on gaudy superstition and short on intellectual content.

There is more to be said about that: I’ve reported a sympathetic encounter with Taoism here, and Joseph Needham considered Taoism to be the “source of intuitive scientific philosophy” in China. The country-cousin gaudy-superstition side is certainly on display in this Wall Street Journal piece, though:

In December 2008 … Wong Tai Sin introduced its groundbreaking digital initiative: e-praying. Worshipers too busy to visit the temple can send a free e-mail prayer to the temple’s monks via the Sik Sik Yuen website. Monks receive the prayers, filter out hoaxes and print the rest on prayer paper before burning them in the traditional Taoist ritual. Wong Tai Sin says it receives about 30,000 electronic prayers annually, roughly half from Hong Kong and half from abroad.

That iPhone Confession app the Vatican is in a tither about must look positively quaint to the folks at Wong Tai Sin.

[Note please that the subject here is religious Taoism, a different thing from philosophical Taoism, though the two phenomena have considerably interacted. They are denoted by two different words in Chinese: Dao-jiao for the religion, Dao-jia for the school of philosophy. Religious Taoism is a real polytheistic religion, with scriptures, priests, and temples. It even has a Pope, though there are persistent schismatic tendencies. Nor is it the case that religious Taoism was founded by Lao Tsŭ; it is an autochthonous folk religion, like Hinduism, with no one founder, although, again like Hinduism, it took in much metaphysics from the philosophers.]


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