11/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Ancient Child's Play

I'm on a Tao Te Ching kick. It's the second most translated document in the world. The first one is the Bible. Lao Tzu is the alleged author; his name translates as "ancient child." Clever, huh?

One of the 81 has captivated my imagination. It's #18. The translation I'm going to share here is by John H. McDonald and was published by Chartwell Books this year.

Consider this:

When the great Tao is abandoned,

charity and righteousness appear.

When intellectualism arises,

hypocrisy is close behind.

When there is strife in the family unit,

people talk about "brotherly love."

When the country falls into chaos,

politicians talk about "patriotism."

Do you find this tiny verse as chilling as I do?

I do not pretend to be a Taoist, nor even a Taoist scholar, just someone who is intrigued by the writings of a wise and wonderful man of olden times.

But let's take the verse apart:

Tao, the way of living that benefits all beings, has definitely been abandoned in our world.

So what's happened? Charity -- consider all the fundraisers we have in our country. Righteousness -- consider all those who comfortably tell us how we ought to live.

Has intellectualism arisen? You betcha. Intellectualism is what's behind a lot of things in our world these days. The dismissing of climate change as a problem, the "that's their problem" mentality that approaches poverty, hunger, health insurance and the prison industry in our country. Can anyone else say hypocrisy?

Why not? For the years of the latest Bush administration, they cited scientists who said global warming was unproven. Our current crop of Republicans seems determined to gyp much of the population of health insurance because of some crazy idea of socialism they continue to bandy about. And the prison industry? Oy, don't get me started. That it's an industry at all is appalling.

So would you say that family units are strife-riddled these days? How many families do you know of who actually have dinner together most nights? How many nuclear families are even left? If statistics are correct, and more than half of all marriages end in divorce in this country, then we have just that many nuclear families left. (No mistake, the use of that word nuclear. Most of the rest of the time, we use that word for things that we blow up!) I'm a fan of chosen families myself.

Oh, but brotherly love is surely recommended for all Americans, no? First, what the hell have you done with our sisters? Let's start there. Second, that's a neutral, impersonal kind of love which is fine and dandy, but it doesn't keep you sheltered or held close at night. Brotherly love is a theory; family love is a practice.

So we're down to a country that has fallen into chaos, as ours surely has. Business is no longer trustworthy. Banks, too. Government is in the iffy column on this front right now in the United States. And so, what do we do?

We let the politicians -- our elected officials -- quibble about who's wearing a flag pin and who's not, and who has a real copy of President Obama's birth certificate. Yeah, that's real patriotism, isn't it?

Lao Tzu wrote this little ditty as a warning to all of us, dear one. When these sorts of things happen in a nation, we must remember the Tao, the great way of life that honors all beings.

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