Sages, straw dogs, and same-sex marriage

By Zac Alstin, MercatorNet

Heaven and Earth are ruthless;
To them the Ten Thousand things are but as straw dogs.
The Sage too is ruthless;
To him the people are but as straw dogs.

A “straw dog“ was a ceremonial object used in place of an actual dog in ancient Chinese sacrifices. Sacrificing a dog made from straw fulfils the requirements of ritual without the cost or the burden (or the mess) of killing an actual hound. A straw dog looks the part and plays its role, but no one really cares about its loss. It is form without substance, a placeholder without value.
This verse from theTaoist classic, the Dao De Jing, tells us that a sage should emulate Heaven and Earth in viewing the people as straw dogs, looking upon them with a ruthless (literally “not compassionate”) detachment. From a Western perspective this does not sound like sage advice. We appreciate above all else the primacy of the individual and the value of personal feelings. We are eminently empathic and easily won over by the emotional narratives of others. So in the debate over same-sex marriage, people have been greatly moved by the simple request that couples who love one another be allowed to express their love in “time-honoured tradition”, regardless of their sexual orientation.
“Marriage Equality” is being fought for not only on the grounds of justice, but on the grounds of compassion. Who among us has the will, let alone the right to deny marriage to people who love one another, and thereby imply that they are not worthy, or that their love is inferior? Who has the audacity to stand in the way of happiness for such ardent couples?

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