Yin and Yang are powerful concepts stemming from Chinese philosophy, and religiously from Taoism. I was recently reading a book that leveraged the concepts of Yin and Yang to explain why liberals and conservatives (in America) are both needed. The point is brought out that opposites are interconnected, interdependent, and their harmonization is critical to success in our world.
This got me thinking about what our Mormon Yin Yang might consist of. So I thought I’d come up with just a few ideas and then leave it to you, dear readers, to elaborate on the Yin Yang in your own life and how they interconnect to make your life better.
- Mormon exclusivity and ordinances by proxy (perhaps not quite yin yang-esque but complementary nevertheless). You’ve got to be Mormon to make it to the Celestial Kingdom. Fortunately, we provide the means for that to happen and our theology grants a person plenty of opportunity to accept the Gospel before Judgment.
- Self-sufficiency and sense of community. We stress self-sufficiency first and foremost. We believe it’s how we learn and grow. But we work hard to provide for those within our group through fast offerings, Bishop’s storehouse, etc. As much as we stress being self-sufficient there’s comfort in knowing people have your back. (NOTE: I know this doesn’t always work. I have been on the receiving end of NOT getting help when I needed it most. But I know it also DOES work for many)
- Individualism, Family, Community, Socialism. Mormonism does a pretty good job of balancing our groupishness and our individuality. We obviously stress individualism in our self-sufficiency and in gaining salvation. But we tie it STRONGLY to a sense of family first (family history, ancestry), and to our community (since church is really a large group activity). At the other end of the spectrum, Mormonism has a history of communal living particularly for addressing physical needs. Although this last bit has waned in recent years it is still in our roots – perhaps to an alarming extent to many Republican Mormons.From a metaphorical standpoint, it’s a rather beautiful concept that individually we work out our own salvation but it is interdependent on our communal worship at church. Spiritually we’re responsible for ourselves, but the mechanisms for increasing that spirituality are HIGHLY dependent on our community.
- Female and Male. Despite the imbalance in power and stereotyping that BOTH genders experience, Mormonism teaches that a woman and man need to come together to be exalted. That relationship is the capstone of our saving ordinances and I think the interdependency between husband and wife is captured pretty well even as theologically we recognize the authority of the priesthood.
- Grace and Works. Much has been written about the balance of grace and works in Mormonism, and I tend to agree that we fall a bit hard on the works portion often at the expense of grace. Nevertheless, in Mormon theology, I think our reliance on grace is pretty clear as we all recognize that we are nothing without the Atonement of Christ. Personally, I’m pretty happy with our balance in this area.
Over the course of my life I have become more and more comfortable embracing the paradoxical ideas that complement each other and interconnect to enrich my life by demonstrating the complexity and messiness of living on earth.
So what are your favorite yin yang concepts?
I was just listening to Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth where he discusses Yin and Yang as a symbol of gender and how the white has a black dot and the black has a white dot indicating that each is a little of the other allowing them to relate. I love the imagery of Yin and Yang as feminine and masculine.
Captain Moroni and his army vs Anti-Nephi-Lehi and the Anti-Nephi Lehies
Flocking to the title of liberty and covenanting to fight vs covenanting not to fight and prostrating one’s self before one’s enemies
There were several of these I hadn’t thought of. This principle is about the complementary nature of opposing principles. It differs slightly from the paradoxical ideas Jesus puts out there:
– the meek shall inherit and he that sayeth raca shall be in danger of hellfire vs cleansing the temple and calling people thieves
– the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Exalted abased and vice versa.
– hide not your light under a bushel vs cast not your pearls before swine
– render unto caesar vs without purse or scrip
Just a few I thought of.
Re Howard #1
I love Joseph Campbell’s work! Very moving.
Yeah that story sort of highlights some of the paradoxical ideas Jesus laid down along the lines of losing one’s life to save it.
Yeah slightly different but nevertheless useful paradoxical ideas that still fit together.
If I can pontificate a bit more on the topic I think part of the problem in our modern society is that too many of these paradoxical ideas have been stressed as certain rules with no room for context. We don’t see how they complement each other to come together. What Yin Yang teaches us is opposing ideals are often interconnected and contextually we may be inclined to choose some of one and a little of the other. I think the US gov’t did a good job of this until about the last decade or so.
“You’ve got to be Mormon to make it to the Celestial Kingdom”…..but if you’re Catholic, you can go to their heaven. Etc. etc.
To me Captain Moroni vs. Anti-Nephi-Lehi is not a paradox. It is more like a yin/yang thing. The anti-nephi-lehis repeatedly provided a place to go for Lamanites who were sick of fighting. They helped the war effort a lot. On the other hand, they neeeded the protection of the Nephite army or they would have been wiped out. Maybe you are better off with both righteous warriors and righteous pacifists in a society.
Paul 2 – kind of like Yin Yang as a codependent society?
My fave “Yin-Yang” expression is the concept that “in times of peace, prepare for war”. Reasons? (1) To be able to deal with whatever military situation may crop up, and (2) deterrence. So, we accomplish peace by preparing to fight. Just one of life’s contradictions which demonstrate why we are supposed to reason rather than merely respond to programming. Is there a fallacy? Surely. Just watch “Fail-Safe” for a plausible scenario of a flaw in this sort of thinking.
The other way, to beat the swords into plowshares, as practiced by the Anti-Nephi-Lehites, worked for them because they were so committed to renouncing their warlike ways that they were willing to risk annihilation and rely on their newly-found faith. Of course, it didn’t hurt that they had allies and their sons, the 2000 Stripling Warriors, hadn’t taken that oath! I wouldn’t recommend unilateral disarmament, but if the Prophet declared that we should…