Thursday, 26 July 2007

Finding a faith

My lifelong search for a faith which would not require me to accept preposterous beliefs, which would add a touch of class to ceremonies (marriage, funerals, etc), which would not discourage me from having any fun yet would make me a better person, has so far been unsuccessful.

My observation has shown me that in general the devout are neither happier nor more virtuous than the irreligious. The Society of Friends strikes me as the only sect whose members are actually improved by their beliefs: I have never met, nor can I imagine, a nasty or dishonest Quaker. More, I gather that some Friends (principally in the United States and the United Kingdom) now consider themselves universalist, agnostic, atheist, nonrealist, humanist, postchristian, or nontheist, or do not accept any religious label. This seems sensible, so bully for them; but the need to attend Meetings, which sound tedious and a bit peculiar, puts me off.

Perhaps Shinto is the thing for me. Jeffrey Somers in the New Statesman has described it thus:

Some will know that it is Japanese but knowledge of the subject stops there. This is strange when almost the entire population of Japan, almost 128,000 million people, practise this religion to some extent. Even this is curious because we may discover that almost the same number of Japanese are nominally Buddhist. Most Japanese, then, are followers of two religions and can perceive no anomaly or problem with this.

Ask a Japanese person if he or she follows Shinto and the answer will mostly be no. Ask them to explain what Shinto is about and a blank look will come over them and they will be at a loss for words.

A certain French professor of religion had read most (there are not many) books in European languages on Shinto and saw a need to write his own. Being very intelligent he quickly realised that he would have to conduct his own research in Japan, and went to see the Cultural Attaché at the Japanese Embassy in Paris to ask for some letters of introduction to senior Shinto priests. The attaché was most helpful and the professor flew to Japan.

He realised that it would be good to visit some of the major shrines in Japan before meeting the priests. He did this, and then came the day for him to meet two of the senior Shinto priests. They welcomed him and he thanked them in advance for them agreeing to see him and to answer his questions.

He put his first question: “I have visited already”, he said, “some of the major Shinto Shrines and I would like to begin with a simple question”. The priests nodded. “In every shrine I have visited I have seen a priest or sometimes priests moving around the shrine carrying a carved piece of wood in both hands. Why is this?”

The priest answered, “We do not know”.

The professor was not happy. He said, “Look, this seems to be very common practice and I have come a long way. Can you please consult and find a better answer”.

The first priest spoke with the second priest and then answered, “Well, you see, it is to help us remember something.”

“Good”, said the professor writing the answer in his notebook. “And what does it help you remember?”

“We have forgotten”, said the priest.

I think I would fit quite nicely into that world, but I suspect you really have to be Japanese and I do like to use a hanky.


Anonymous said...

Hi! Saw my grandpa's name in one of your posts dated oct10th 2006- T.D. Rangaramanujan. Just thought you may like to know that he is well and still as active as ever.


Tony said...

Dear Hema
I was delighted to read your comment. When you see your grandfather will you please give him warmest greetings from Anne and Tony Brooks who have very happy memories of him.


I settled for a pick and choose, and I keep it utterly simple. No rituals, no dogma. I read what the great religious writers have to say, just to share in their feelings. And I talk to whomever might be up there to listen. It works for me, but I realize each of us who have minds free to question, take different routes which often take a life of travel.

Eiron F said...

Have you considered this :

Tony said...

Don't like the sound of that one at all; anyway, it appears to be mainly for women.

Tony said...

Also, I've never been keen on cephalopods.