At first glance, the teachings of Jesus in the gospels seem a world away from Daoism – the ancient Chinese religion which began well before Christianity in a completely different culture.
Yet if you look more closely, there are striking parallels: Jesus refers to himself as “the Way”, and the word Dao also translates as “the way”. Both Jesus and Daoist teachers – including Lao Tzu, believed to be the founder of Daoism – often use paradox to make a point. And both challenged the legal establishment of their day.
Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that the earliest Christians who arrived in China in the 7th century developed an understanding of Jesus and the gospels deeply imbued with Daoist thought.
Martin Palmer is a religious historian and environmentalist who has examined that fusion of two originally separate religions. The author of “The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Religion of Daoist Christianity”, he has a particular interest in China’s faith traditions and is a fluent Chinese speaker.
In conversation with Alison Hilliard, Martin Palmer explains how he learnt to see Jesus in a new light through the lens of Daoism, and how this helped him overcome what he found difficult in Christianity (particular its emphasis on good and evil) and ultimately led him back to his Christian faith.