IRANIAN RELIGIOUS ADVICE
Iran's cool-headed, always-makes-sense president says the West must follow God or vanish. But as far as we can make out from the stories about this, Mahmoud Amadinejad didn't specify which God the West should follow. Seems an odd bit of information to leave out.
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THE ROLE OF RELIGION IN JAPAN
On this, the 65th anniversary of the bombing by Japan of Pearl Harbor, I'm going to throw some (perhaps politically incorrect) questions at you that I've often wondered about but have never had time to research much.
My basic questions are this: What, if any, role did religion play in shaping the thinking and values of the aggressive Japanese leadership that launched the attack on the United States? And what, if any, role did religion play in helping form the opinions of Japanese citizens who fought in the war or who were left at home to hold things together while others fought?
The population of Japan today is predominantly (about 84 percent) Shinto and Buddhist. (The image here today represents Shinto.) Other religions, including Christianity, account for most of the rest of the population, though not even 1 percent of the population is Christian. I can't say this with certainty, but my guess is that these figures were roughly the same in the 1930s and 1940s. For some background information on religion in Japan, click here. And for more, click here.
I am aware that ancient Japanese religion of Shinto and its priests, before World War II, were at least an unofficial -- and perhaps official -- part of the Japanese government, though after the war they lost that status. Also after the war, the emperor was forced to give up the idea that he was somehow divine.
In some ways, what I'm asking today is perhaps a simplistic question that might well be asked of leaders and citizens of the United States and the wars in which we've fought. Did America's predominantly Judeo-Christian values in any way shape the decisions to go to war in Vietnam or in the Gulf War or in the war in Iraq, to say nothing of World Wars I and II? No doubt you'd get a million different opinions about all of that, and perhaps that's what we can expect in answers to questions about the influence of religion in Japan.
But I've never thought of Shinto and Buddhism as religions that encourage war-like thinking. And yet that's what we found coming from Japan. Perhaps geopolitics and many other concerns simply overwhelmed religious values.
Who out there can help us with this matter today? Bring on your wisdom.
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here.
P.S.: Conservative Jews in the U.S. yesterday adopted essentially a local option approach to the question of whether to ordain gays and lesbians as rabbis. It's the approach some people thought my Christian denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), adopted earlier this year, though that was a mischaracterization of what happened.