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The photo on top is my spouse Muriel on the left and my sister Taeko on the right taken in South Africa. Picture on the right is me, Tad Mitsui and my cat, George.
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DEMISE OF RELIGION WAS HIGHLY EXAGERATED
That’s too bad
The recent resurgence of passionate, often barbaric, dedication to a religion, such as ISIS ( Islamic State), among the youths took me by a complete surprise. Why do middle class educated young Canadians frock to the cause of an extreme religious fanaticism? Today, I thought it was cool among the youths to be atheists and to predict a demise of organized religions. They point to the diminishing size of many Christian congregations as a proof. But religious fanatics who don’t mind dying for the cause? What is happening?
Demise of traditional religions has been predicted for a long time. Already during the 1940’s, Dietrich Bonheoffer, who was executed by Adolf Hitler predicted that: “As science advances, the space God had occupied is getting smaller.” This is why some of us were hoping that such a wake-up call would motivate us to a more vigorous search for a true mission of the authentic religions.
Violence and barbarism by religious people are nothing new. Officially blessed by a respectable denomination in the Southern U.S., the violently anti-Black, anti-Catholic, and anti-Semitic movement Ku Klux Klan went on to killing rampage in the United States only several decades ago. There were many bloody conflicts among Buddhist denominations in Japan for many centuries too. Warrior monks were legends I grew up hearing about. Crusaders like Knights Templars were officially glorified for mass killing of Muslims. Intolerance to differences that led to the burning at stake of many heretics is another crime committed by the organized religion. Even the supposedly most tolerant Hinduism had a recent history of violence against other religions for the cause of Hindu-nationalism. But I thought those were passing or the thing of the past.
Why do religions drive some people to such violent inhuman acts? I think that the basic mistake they make is confusing faith from knowledge. Religion is a matter of belief. Belief is not knowledge. Faith, by definition, always acknowledges possibilities of error. Hence, no one has the right to cause death of another person in the name of faith. This is why I am happy to put religions to a rigorous test. That is the only way to keep religions honest and away from delusions, fanaticism, and superstitions. This is why I am sad that religious fanaticism and fundamentalism are thwarting the journey of religions towards their true mission.
IS THERE UNIVERSAL VALUE? OR IS IT A MERE MIRAGE?
I watch an old Marilyn Monroe movie recently and was surprised by her figures: she was voluptuous, unlike today’s’ Barbie doll anorexic standard. Another example in a similar vein: When I went to Africa in 1968, people were worried that I my wife was not happy and I was not treating her well because she was slim. African standard of a happy wife has a well endowed body, well fed and ready to bear many children. These examples tell us that people’s taste in values shifts constantly with time and place.
A Chinese colleague of mine in the United Church of Canada, who like me recently arrived to Canada from Hong Kong made a terrible faux pas at a women’s missionary event. When asked his impression of Canadian women, he answered, “They are wonderful people, they are fat and look old.” In China, like in Japan, old people were respected and considered to be wise. You always ask elders for their opinions. Also only successful people could afford to be fat. They congratulated fat people for their success in business. In Japanese you congratulate successful people saying, “Kappuku ga i-idesune” meaning, “You look filled up, you must be successful. Congratulations! Fat and old mean successful and wise. Things could have changed since I left Japan. But the point is: you must be careful not to read antiquity and understand it according to our norm.
The Bible describes Sarah, Abraham’s wife, as a very beautiful woman, who charmed Pharaoh instantly. When you run into a passage like this, question is: does this give an image of a person who can be understood as a beautiful woman according to our standard? Surely not. Our views change as times change.