May 19, 2023
by Audrey Davis
Magazine Extra for the Spring 2023 Mars Hill: The Magazine
A loved professor and alumnus of Mars Hill University, Dr. Marc S. Mullinax, released a podcast this past January that delves into his recent book from 2021, Tao te Ching: Power for the Peaceful. The podcast is meant to be experienced with the book, for those who seek to learn more about the rich Chinese philosophy, religion, and lifestyle of Taoism.
Though Mullinax’s book is actually a translation of Lao Tzu’s original Tao te Ching, it still captures the mystery of Tao, the true nature of the universe, while using real quotes, lyrics, and writings from other historical figures that make the complex verses easier to understand, or as Mullinax describes them, “essentially saying the same thing.” For his students that love his signature rambles and rants, it’s a moment of academic excitement. The podcast is currently available to stream on most podcast services, including Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
Mullinax describes his podcast as “carefully scripted, 30 minute episodes” that can be listened to by all ages, but he especially hopes to appeal to young adult audiences. He also entertains the possibility of inviting guest speakers on episodes, as well as holding Q and A sessions that answer real questions from listeners. By providing discussions, he hopes to not only educate young scholars on the topics of Tao, but also to generate new interest in it.
When explaining his 2021 book, Tao te Ching: Power for the Peaceful, the inspiration for this podcast, Mullinax says, “there was a lack of support from the press, when the book was initially released.” Though a promotional video was released with the book to raise awareness about it, he felt there was more left to be done. It was then that the idea for a podcast came about, and he began planning topics to discuss on potential episodes.
The initial, driving force behind Mullinax’s Tao te Ching: Power for the Peaceful was the fact that he felt “unhappy with the other portrayals of Tao. We haven’t really gotten what Lao Tzu was trying to tell us.” The original Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu was written between 600 or 400 BCE, a long Chinese poem that would significantly impact Eastern society and leave lasting impressions for centuries to come. Dr. Mullinax sought to translate this ancient writing with his own twist, phrasing the verses in his own unique way, and began framing the layout of the book about a year prior to its release.
Mullinax says, “I tried to translate it with a sense of being streetwise, but also with a sense of being scholarly.” Alongside all 81 verses, he cites other famous literature, music, sayings, and stories that carry a similar, more digestible meaning that can be understood by his students, voices ranging from Pink Floyd to Margaret Atwood to Jesus Christ himself. He expressed that wanted to “canvas the world’s wisdom, traditions, pop cultures, books, novels, philosophers, [and] religions for parallel sayings. And so I have this little ‘choir’ of voices at the end of each of the 81 verses.”
In addition to this wide array of quotations, he also includes his own voice, reflecting on how Tao speaks through each verse, including what he interprets the poem to be saying. He explains the integral Taoist concept of Wu-Wei, the “non-interfering action, perfectly timed, to promote peace and prevent injury.” Often, he compares Wu-Wei to water, something that flows effortlessly and without force. All of these concepts and more have made an appearance throughout his podcast, something he hopes listeners will enjoy in companionship with the 2021 book.
Marc Mullinax began teaching at his alma mater, Mars Hill University, in 2001. Before retiring in December of 2022, he passionately taught Appalachian and Asian religions, Christian theology, and the role of human imagination in religious studies. Over the course of his life, he has spent time studying and learning in South Korea, where he gained exposure to some of the ideas expressed in his book. A deep advocate for social justice and lover of science fiction, he currently spends his free time biking, taking photographs, and spending time with his family.
Mullinax also hints at the possibility of another book in the future, one that spotlights the concept of “liberation theology.” He explains this idea as repeating anomaly throughout history, an idea that a group who suffers oppression will one day triumph, much like Moses and the Israelites or Martin Luther King fighting for civil rights. After 30 years as an educator, on and off the Mars Hill campus, Mullinax hopes that his new podcast will inspire students past and present.