Yin Yang dualism, CS Lewis and Christianity

(See follow on post  “Yin Yang, God and the devil: a cosmic chess game”).

Does Christianity have an equivalent philosophy to Yin Yang? I examine this question in terms of C.S. Lewis’s discussion of dualism.

Yin Yang is a “dualistic” philosophy that teaches that there are two equal principles in the universe. Yin Yang is not itself a power or a substance. It’s merely a description of the universal principle of opposites that exists in both the material and spiritual realm.

In my poverty (Yin)  is my wealth (Yang); in my wealth (Yang) is my poverty (Yin). The Yin of death generates the Yang of life; the Yang of life generates the Yang of death. If life disappears, so does death; if death disappears so does life. Yin and Yang are locked in an eternal cyclic dance (battle?).

I remember one of my Greek philosophy courses where I was very interested in one of these early dualistic systems; that of Empedocles‘ “Love and Strife.” This is equivalent to the “light and dark” opposition in gnosticism, which is also found in the Yin Yang philosophy.

In Christianity, there is much about “light” and “darkness” but  darkness  is not equivalent in power too light; it is an absence of light. Now who would have thought that “absence” could create so much strife!

Here is C. S. Lewis on dualism (Mere Christianity, Chapter 7):

A universe that contains much that is obviously bad and apparently meaningless, but containing creatures like ourselves who know that it is bad and meaningless. There are only two views that face all the facts. One is the Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been. The other is the view called Dualism. Dualism means the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of every thing, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war. I personally think that next to Christianity Dualism is the manliest and most sensible creed on the market. But it has a catch in it.

The two powers, or spirits, or gods–the good one and the bad one–are supposed to be quite independent. They both existed from all eternity. Neither of them made the other, neither of them has any more right than the other to call itself God. Each presumably thinks it is good and thinks the other bad. One of them likes hatred and cruelty, the other likes love and mercy, and each backs its own view. Now what do we mean when we call one of them the Good Power and the other the Bad Power? Either we are merely saying that we happen to prefer the one to the other–like preferring beer to cider–or else we are saying that, whatever the two powers think about it, and whichever we humans, at the moment, happen to like, one of them is actually wrong, actually mistaken, in regarding itself as good. Now if we mean merely that we happen to prefer the first, then we must give up talking about good and evil at all. For good means what you ought to prefer quite regardless of what you happen to like at any given moment. If ‘being good’ meant simply joining the side you happened to fancy, for no real reason, then good would not deserve to be called good. So we must mean that one of the two powers is actually wrong and the other actually right.

But the moment you say that, you are putting into the universe a third thing in addition to the two Powers: some law or standard or rule of good which one of the powers conforms to and the other fails to conform to. But since the two powers are judged by this standard, then this standard, or the Being who made this standard, is farther back and higher up than either of them, and He will be the real God. In fact, what we meant by calling them good and bad turns out to be that one of them is in a right relation to the real ultimate God and the other in a wrong relation to Him.

The same point can be made in a different way. If Dualism is true, then the bad Power must be a being who likes badness for its own sake. But in reality we have no experience of anyone liking badness just because it is bad. The nearest we can get to it is in cruelty. But in real life people are cruel for one of two reasons–either because they are sadists, that is, because they have a sexual perversion which makes cruelty a cause of sensual pleasure to them, or else for the sake of something they are going to get out of it–money, or power, or safety. But pleasure, money, power, and safety are all, as far as they go, good things. The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much. I do not mean, of course, that the people who do this are not desperately wicked. I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong, way. You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. You can do a kind action when you are not feeling kind and when it gives you no pleasure, simply because kindness is right; but no one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong–only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him. In other words badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled. We called sadism a sexual perversion; but you must first have the idea of a normal sexuality before you can talk of its being perverted; and you can see which is the perversion, because you can explain the perverted from the normal, and cannot explain the normal from the perverted. It follows that this Bad Power, who is supposed to be on an equal footing with the Good Power, and to love badness in the same way as the Good Power loves goodness, is a mere bogy. In order to be bad he must have good things to want and then to pursue in the wrong way: he must have impulses which were originally good in order to be able to pervert them. But if he is bad he cannot supply himself either with good things to desire or with good impulses to pervert. He must be getting both from the Good Power. And if so, then he is not independent. He is part of the Good Power’s world. he was made either by the Good Power or by some power above them both.

Put it more simply still. To be bad, he must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent. And do you now beg to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things-resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself. That is why Dualism, in a strict sense, will not work.

But I freely admit that real Christianity (as distinct from Christianity-and-water) goes much nearer to Dualism than people think. One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe–a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin. The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel. End of Lewis.

It would be interesting to compare Lewis’ “third thing in addition to the two Powers” (his 3rd paragraph) with the TAO (Ultimate) from which the twins of Yin and Yang arise. Yin Yang originate together. Thus, Yin and Yang spring arm in arm out of the TAO – out of the ULTIMATE – into existence. If Yin disappears, Yang disappears. Yang is the masculine principle and Yin is the feminine principle. They can’t live without each other. Even monks need a woman to get born – if not to get born again.

Judaism finds in ADAM (man) a masculine-feminine principle:  “Our sages, says Jacob Neusner, lay stress on the utter uniqueness of  Adam (man/woman, born androgynous [ andros – man; gyne – woman]). Sin was the result of the “mixed character” of Adam.  (Jacob Neusner, Christian Faith and the Bible of Judaism: The Judaic Encounter With Scripture, 1987, William B, Eerdmans,  p. 32). No prizes for guessing who – Andy or Gyne – was responsible for sin’s entry into the Garden of Eden.

Yin and Yang originate out of the overarching principle of the TAO, which is ULTIMATE Being. If this is the theory, then it follows that there is a Third (Lewis’s “third thing”) overarching principle that creates the other two, namely, Yin and Yang.

Yin produces (what we call) the “bad”, the negative, and Yang the “good”, the positive.” The problem is that “bad” cannot be conceived as anything other than “not good”. The question now is: “What rule did the TAO use to produce the opposites of Yin (“bad”) and Yang (“good”). It couldn’t be a “good” or “bad” rule because the TAO is supposed to transcend the good and the bad. If the TAO is either “good” or “bad” then the TAO could not have produced Yin (“bad”) or Yang (good) because this would mean that the TAO itself is either Yin or Yang. It would then follow that Yin or Yang created Yin and Yang – which is daft.

Wait! I’ve got it. Yang is the good, Yin is the bad – and the TAO is the UGLY.

CIAO for NIAO.

(See follow on post “Yin Yang, God and the devil: a cosmic chess game”).

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15 thoughts on “Yin Yang dualism, CS Lewis and Christianity

  1. Pingback: Yin Yang, God and the devil: the battle for the human soul « OneDaringJew
  2. Thank you Liat. I have corrected the error.

    I read your article and tried more than five times to post a comment on your site, but after about a dozen tries of trying to read and hear the illegible inaudible passwords (to prove I was a human) to enter your site, I gave up.

    Here is what I said, which perhaps you could put on to your site:

    Hi Liat

    Thanks for some interesting insights. Let me comment on your
    “God’s empower (empowering) only comes when we initiate actions. It takes two to accomplish the work and word of God.”

    How do you understand Ephesians 2:1-10? What I mean is how can someone who is dead co-operate with God in coming to faith?

    You seem to espouse the Arminian/synergistic view of salvation.

    • The definition of grace as unmerited favor is wrong and not biblical. See http://christianity-rediscovered.blogspot.sg/2006/08/grace-is-unmerited-favor-this-common_30.html. Grace is defined as the power of God’s presence in us to enable us to Christ-like lives…. it the power of Christ within to live out the good works of Eph 2:10. Saving us is part 1. We are saved for good work to glorify God in and through us.

      Yin-Yang is a way of thinking and not Satanic as some many misinformed Christians think. Yin-Yang concept comes from the earlest father of the Chinese and exist long before the Taoism and other religions that use a similar pattern. It is the conerstone of Chinese philosophical thinking. It is very biblical consider that God is both LOVE and JUST at the same time. Either attribute of God is incomplete by itself. Yin-Yang are the two faces of the same coin. Consider also, deny yourself take up yourself and follow Christ. One part is denying yourself and the other part,, at the same time, is following Christ.

      • Hi Liat, I’m so glad to hear from you and sorry for the trouble of trying to post a comment from a non-wordpress site. I’ve also nearly been driven mad trying to post a comment on a site outside of wordpress – prove that you’re not a robot a thousand times!

        Your first bit on grace:

        “The definition of grace as unmerited favor is wrong and not biblical… Grace is defined as the power of God’s presence in us to enable us to (live)Christ-like lives…. it (is) the power of Christ within to live out the good works of Eph 2:10. Saving us is part 1. We are saved for good work to glorify God in and through us.”

        I don’t see any problem; your description of grace above sits beautifully well with the fact that grace is an ummerited favour (gift). Here is Eph 2:1-10:

        1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

        And your second bit on Yin-Yang:

        If this is what you mean by Yin and Yang, there’s nothing in it inimical to Christianity at all. But I thought Yin-Yang also comprised darkness-light. If so, then, from the Biblical (Jewish and Christian) view, Yin-Yang is wrong.

        • Thanks for your reply. It helps me to understand your view point.

          1) On Grace. The para of Eph 2:1-10 gives a contrasting picture of sin of v1 to good work of v10. It is a war of sin,darkness vs good work and glory. The means is through grace (which I want to stress its Godly power to overcome sins and produces good work) and it is not a power of man but of God as a gift that we can choose to receive or to reject by our faith. While we don’t merit it yet it is a choice we must make. This is unlike the Sun & rain of Mat 5:45 that are given to good and evil. That is truly unmerited favor and goodness of God. For me the key in Grace is not in the unmerited part but in the Power for righteousness & goodness of God and the choice that we must make by faith. Then it is very clear that we don’t use grace as a license to sin … sinning to make grace abound!

          2) Yin Yang is part of a Chinese world-view started in i-Ching (Book of and for change) on the how the world was created and how one should llve in harmony with heaven, earth and man. I-ching is the foundation where other Chinese philosophies like Daoism, Confuciusnism, Art of War school, etc come from, See http://christianity-rediscovered.blogspot.sg/2011/10/similar-verses-in-bible-and-chinese_21.html for the Chinese Creation Story.

          Yes, Yin-Yang is about light and darkness or day and night to be more accurate or male-female. It is like modern day positive and negative.The darkness is not evil but just the attribute of no light. Good and evil in iChing is settled earlier. Good or Righteous is the Way of God. Yin-Yang is carried over into Chinese Medicine as well as Heat-Cool. Sickness comes from imbalance of Heat-Cool either too heaty or too cold. If it is too heaty, we are to take cooling foods or medicines. If it is too cool, then we take heaty food or medicines to counter-act to restore good health.

          However, we should be aware of the evil forces that will take any good things and distort it to become bad. The best way to mislead and cheat people is to start on the acceptable ground first and then distort it. So the yin-yang concepts are adopted and distorted and are filled with spiritual concepts that could be misleading.

          • Liat, your

            “The means is through grace (which I want to stress its Godly power to overcome sins and produces good work) and it is not a power of man but of God as a gift that we can choose to receive or to reject by our faith.”

            Response – Here is Ephesians 2:8-9 again: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” The “grace referred to here is saving grace, and only for those whom God saves.

            And

            “While we don’t merit IT yet it is a choice we must make.”

            Response – “IT” seems to refer to “grace.” Or does your IT include “faith.” You seem to be saying that “faith” (and “grace”?) is a choice we make. If so, then your meaning seems to be that it’s up to you to choose or reject the GIFT of faith. If this is correct, consider Ephesians 2:5-6:

            “(he)made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…”

            When you say you choose faith (grace?), do you do so before or after God raises you from spiritual death (“dead in transgressions)?

            And

            “This is unlike the Sun & rain of Mat 5:45 that are given to good and evil. That is truly unmerited favor and goodness of God.”

            Response: This “unmerited favour” (that is, “gift” – “grace” means “free”) is called “common grace” because it is given to all without exception (those who will be saved and those who will not be saved).

            And

            “For me 1. the key in Grace is not in the unmerited part 2. but in the Power for righteousness & 3. goodness of God and 4. the choice that we must make by faith.”

            1. “the key in Grace is not in the unmerited part.”

            Response – My understanding of Ephesians 2:1-10 is that the key in (saving and common) grace is indeed the unmerited part.

            2. “but in the Power FOR righteousness.”

            Response: Do you mean the power that God gives the regenerated (born again) sinner to do good deeds?

            3. (key to grace is in the) “goodness of God.”

            Response: Yes.

            4. (key to grace in) “the choice that we must make by faith.”

            Response: I understand you to mean that your choice to have faith (accept the gift of faith) is the key that unlocks the door of grace. Correct?

            • I want to stress that “Godly power for right living” of grace rather than just the saving from sins part of grace. If grace is just for saving and forgiveness of sins, then grace become the license or the safety nets for sins! But grace is about power to live rightly for God’s glory and not just for saving one’s sin,

              Secondly, it is the choice part of receiving the grace. We receive the grace by believing (faith in the meaning of trust and not to mean the religion). God does not force His grace on anyone. His grace only work for those who receive it by believing in Him. In that sense, grace is not completely merited — we ‘merit’ it because we choose to believe Him. See James 4:6 .., God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. If we are proud then we don’t get the grace.

              Sorry to be so wordy.

              • Liat, your “I want to stress that “Godly power for right living” of grace RATHER than just the saving from sins part of grace. If grace is just for saving and forgiveness of sins, then grace become the license or the safety nets for sins! But grace is about power to live rightly for God’s glory and not just for saving one’s sin.”

                You say you want to stress “right living” above “saving from sins” (regeneration, justification, reconciliation with God). The Bible, however, does not stress the one above the other, which is clear in Eph 2:8-10. God doesn’t regenerate/justify sinners BECAUSE without being regenerated/justified we would not be able to live a godly life (sanctification). It seem you are putting making the world a better place as the main reason for God saving those he appointed to salvation. Indeed, God main motive is to save a people for HIMSELF (John 17 – Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane – “I pray not for the world,” and many other places)

                8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
                (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV).

                “Salvatian” consists of the whole logical process from 1. the Father giving those he has elected to the Son, 2.regeneration to 3. justification to 4. sancification to 5. glorification. In eph 2:10 10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” we see that it is God who has prepared good works for us “beforehand.” What God prepares with come to pass without fail. This does not mean, of course, that once you’ve signed your “salvation card” you can sit on your nelly and ignore God’s directive to do good works. If you do, he will punish you; But once you have been born again (regenerated), you can never lose your “salvation.”

                “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40 )

                Could I ask you: Do you believe that Christ took the curse on himself – through the shedding of his blood – that sinners deserved?

                • Yes. I believe that Christ died on the cross for our sins and took the curse for us and enables us to enjoy the blessings of Abraham Gal 3:13-14.
                  Grace has two parts, the saving side (forgiveness, taking away the curse, eph 2:9) and the empowering side (the blessings, the good work of eph 2:10). The saving side of grace is well understood but the empowering side is not and hence that is why I say I want to stress the right living power of grace.
                  If your salvation is the whole the process from from election, regeneration, justification, sanctification and glorification(5 parts) and grace is for salvation, then grace will include not just the justification but also the sanctification and glorification. Grace is needed not just for our forgiveness but also for our sanctification, for our growth to conform to the image of Christ.
                  Most believers that I met stress on the forgiveness part and then wanting to go through the growth process of sanctification by their own
                  efforts and lead to a very stressful life. They forgot that God’s grace is also needed and provided for us to live the Christ-like life that we are not able to live by our own effort in the 1st place. We need grace in this whole journey of life and not just for the starting of rebirth as Son.

  3. You might try to consider yin/yan as active/passive. It doesn’t seem appropriate to apply a good or bad label to either part of yin/yan. Good things have yin/yan elements, and bad things have yin/yan elements, as I understand things.

    Perhaps good/evil are opposite sides of a coin, one man’s good is another man’s evil. I don’t know, I only have one perspective, my own, from which to view things, but I’ve never met a sane person who believed themselves to be evil. I do tend to believe my enemies are evil, and those who kill my enemies are good. (This, despite every teaching that has taught me that killing is wrong.)

    Humans have an unlimited capacity to rationalize their actions, so that they can write a narrative for why their evil actions were good, and in line with their cultural mores, regardless of how depraved or twisted. Many good teachings, like the Bible have been used as rational for very evil things, like the murder of abortion doctors, the subjugation of women, or the protesting the funerals of dead soldiers or children killed in massacres.

    I don’t mean to indicate that I think that Christianity is the only religion that is used to rationalize evil actions, they all do. Buddhists in Burma imprison, harass and kill Muslims, Muslims blow up Buddhist temples in India. This list isn’t meant to be all inclusive, it simply meant to illustrate anyone, even people who believe what they are doing is holy, can do evil in an attempt to be good. (And, likely, live their whole lives with no understanding or even a thought that they did anything except what was right and good.)

    It is the humans interpreting the religion then, that are deciding what is good and what is evil. Invariably the interpreters actions are good, the other person’s actions are bad. Yin and Yan simply are, there is no interpretation needed.

    • “One laozi poet”; that’s a good name. Thanks for visiting. Here are a few comments”

      “You might try to consider yin/yan as active/passive. It doesn’t seem appropriate to apply a good or bad label to either part of yin/yan. Good things have yin/yan elements, and bad things have yin/yan elements, as I understand things.”

      Both good and evil are active inclinations in the natural man (descendants of fallen Adam). Yin-Yang philosophy, as you say, has a different perspective.

      “I’ve never met a sane person who believed themselves to be evil. I do tend to believe my enemies are evil, and those who kill my enemies are good.”

      The Bible says that all of the human faculties – mind, will, emotions – are radically corrupt, that is, shot through with evil. I follow what the Bible says.

      “Humans have an unlimited capacity to rationalize their actions, so that they can write a narrative for why their evil actions were good….”

      True

      “It is the humans interpreting the religion then, that are deciding what is good and what is evil. Invariably the interpreters actions are good, the other person’s actions are bad. Yin and Yan simply are, there is no interpretation needed.”

      The Bible is very clear about what is good and what is evil.

  4. I’m not sure if you accidentally misunderstood or purposefully were departing from CS Lewis’ point. When Lewis is here talking about a “Third Thing” he is suggesting that that “third thing” we are naturally inclined to think of is in fact God, the God who is pure Good, by Whose standard of goodness we judge all other things, including evil or YinYang. You may very well say Lewis is wrong about that, but it helps to be clear that he is not in any way in agreement with your YinYang theory about Christianity.

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