Tuesday, May 31, 2016

All Religions are Universalist Religions - Shinto Edition

Ms. Manson. On the case like
white on rice. Literally.
In a very interesting display of synchronicity, just as I was wrapping up my week-long series on metagenetics, and specifically making the point that the same logic used to deny Europeans their ancestral religion is also used to deny Asians, Africans, and Amerindians their ancestral religions, one of the writers over at Pathetic Pagan comes along and proves my point with a textbook example. Marvelous.

Specifically, one Megan Manson published a piece entitled Is Shinto Truly a Religion for All? Naturally, as someone who believes that every ethnic and racial group is entitled to their own ancestral religion, my answer would be "no".

Only certain religions claim universality, and coincidentally those are also the ones that go in for aggressive proselytizing; Christianity, Islam, and (historically) Buddhism. While Hinduism does have a sect that engages in aggressive proselytizing (the "Hare Krishnas"), it's by far a minority group.

But apparently Ms. Manson, who according to her biography "...is an eclectic Pagan from the UK who also practises [sic] Shinto..." feels qualified to tell 2,700,000 Shinto practitioners, supported by 85,000 Shinto priests (a whopping seven of whom are not ethnically Japanese) and 81,000 Shinto shrines that their traditional ethnic folk-religion is really a universal one, and suitable for everyone.

In short, it's the worst sort of self-indulgent, self-entitled, religious and cultural appropriation that those on the left usually decry. But in this case, since Ms. Manson attempts to link Shinto with Japanese nationalism (not just Japanese ethnicity), that makes it okay. Because nationalism is bad, so by opening up Shinto to everyone, nationalism is harmed, which is a more worthy goal than protecting non-white religious expression. Or something; gods it's hard to keep track of the intricate hierarchies these liberals make in determining which SJW goal outweighs which other SJW goal, or whose minority rights take precedent over whose.

Having wormed their way into Asatru,
the Unis and SJW's set their sites on a new
Let us examine the central thesis of her article:
If Shinto cannot be universal religion, as [Sophia University professor Nakano Koichi] claims, this is quite a blow for non-Japanese like me who follow it. But is it actually true that Shinto is not a form spirituality that can be practised by anyone regardless of race or nationality?
And right here, we see the problem. Here is the self-described "eclectic pagan" telling a Japanese professor of Japanese politics and political theory that he's wrong and she's right when it comes to interpreting how Shinto should be viewed.

And the best part? She's not even frigging Shinto as it's practiced in Japan! She practices something called "the Shinto-Pagan Path" that uses...
"Shinto as a framework for my Pagan beliefs ... I consider myself a Shinto-Pagan, practising both religions side by side. I celebrate the eight festivals of the Neopagan Wheel of the Year in addition to Japanese festivals. I participate in a local moot where our rituals are very much Wicca-influenced, invoking the Great God and Goddess and involving circle casting and calling the four elements; I also make regular offerings and Shinto norito prayers at my Inari altar. To me, it seems natural to combine western Paganism with Shinto."
But turning back to her original article, Megan "I'm an entitled white girl who will tell you why you poor benighted yellow people are wrong about your ancestral faith" Manson cites six different authors who ostensibly support her claim that Shinto is a universalist faith, rather than something indigenously Japanese.

Was conspicuously not asked his opinion
Half of those six are westerners, so we're off to a rolling start. There's Aidan Rankin, who's written a couple of books on Jainism and Shinto, but doesn't seem to be a practitioner of either. There's John Dougill, who seems to be trying to invent his own sort of New Age "Green Shinto." And there's Ann Llewellyn Evans, who is apparently one of the very few legitimately ordained non-Japanese Shinto priests in the world.

0.82% of all Shinto priests are non-Japanese.
That's 8 out of 85,000, and all affiliated with the same shrine.
. But it's completely normal for all of Shinto!
About them, by the way; according to the Historical Dictionary of Shinto, the decision to license the first non-Japanese Shinto priest "was not without controversy at the time". It turns out that the Shinto shrine in Japan with which those non-Japanese priests are affiliated, while a major locale in and of itself, hardly speaks for all of Shinto in this (or any other matter), and many others disagreed. So, the situation seems analogous to that of contemporary Asatru; under pressure from "progressive" elements who want to change the traditional ethnic nature of the religion, one specific organization that represents a minority of practitioners decided to open up its doors to outsiders. and now that's the example that's held up as "normative".

Especially by people like Ms. Manson, who want to indulge their Japanophile fetishes and appropriate an ethnically indigenous set of practices to suit her own weird eclectic whims. You just gotta know that she's got a Pikachu costume in a box under her bed or something.

Of course, I'm just guessing. Still...
And the other three people that Ms. Manson quotes; the Japanese ones? She completely twists the meaning of their quotes, painting them as talking about the actual practice of Shinto, rather than the larger spirit in which Shinto operates (i.e., the general idea of honoring the ancestors and spirits of nature, which is something that any Asatruar would find completely acceptable). Incredibly, this is even shown in the very quotes she uses:
“People of all races and climes cannot help but express gratitude to the spirits of the land and of nature, to their ancestors, to the benefactors of society and state…Thus, while Shinto is a racial faith, it possesses a universality which can enrich the lives of all people everywhere.” – Sokyo Ono, Shinto: The Kami Way
Here, Sokyo Ono admits flat out that Shinto "is a racial faith", but then praises the general idea of "expressing gratitude" to "the spirits of the land of their nature, to their ancestors". She takes that general idea, and tries to turn it back into a specific claim that Shinto as it is practiced in Japan is somehow universal, which turns the quote on its head. She does the same with the next:
“Shinto is an authentic, indigenous spiritual tradition of the Japanese people. Many of its outward forms and practises are therefore specific to Japan, but its essence is valid for all of humanity.” – Motohisa Yamakage, The Essence of Shinto: Japan’s Spiritual Heart
Again, she is taking a statement of the general mode of Shinto worship - a respect for the land-spirits and ancestors - and applying it to Shinto as a specific religious practice, even though the very quote she uses says exactly the opposite: "Many of its outward forms and practices are therefore specific to Japan". The essence is universal, but the same could be said of Asatru or any folk-religion. And that essence is  worship of the gods of the folk; the spirits of nature, and the ancestors. Indeed, Yamakage writes elsewhere in the same book:
"Shinto is undeniably a religion unique to the Japanese people. It is a natural religion born and nurtured in the Japanese islands, unlike Buddhism or Christianity, which are world religions that have come to Japan from foreign countries."
Does that sound like someone who is advocating the universality of Shinto?

And finally, she manages to turn about the most milquetoast and meaningless sentence into some endorsement of universalism for Shinto:
“In the world of Shintoism…we look to the future embracing truth and harmony. Now more than ever we must unite our hearts and walk together.” – Shin’nyo Kawai, The Wisdom of Ise Jingu
Yeah, that's a real ringing endorsement of... anything.

So, basically what this comes down to is an entitled white girl, a self-described eclectic pagan, appropriating those parts of traditional Japanese folk-religion that she likes and then turning around and telling the Japanese why it's okay.

Nobody batted an eyebrow, right? Oh, wait.
It is precisely the same as the history of Asatru in the US - what started as an ethnic religion has been targeted by a small cadre of "progressives" who want to turn it into a universalist religion. Because reasons.
All of this [association of Shinto and Japanese nationalism in postwar Japan] isn’t good news for those trying to promote Shinto as a universal faith with beliefs and values that speak to all human kind – the celebration of life and love of nature.
Nationalism is somehow anti-life or anti-nature? Shinto, which is based in large part on a worship of nature-spirits, was closely identified with the Japanese nation for centuries. Just because an anime fan decides she wants to glom on to their religion doesn't mean she gets to make that decision for them. And that's exactly what she's doing. Spoiled white girl whitesplaining why she can appropriate a bunch of Shinto practices into her own eclectic neopagan mish-mash, and it's really okay. And she's got the mis-quoted quotes from real Japanese people to prove it!

Why is this so difficult for some people?
But in a larger sense, it's emblematic of the SJW mindset that says nothing actually "belongs" to anyone, and no practice ultimately belongs to any people. Anything that even remotely smacks of someone saying "you can't take that; it's mine" is wrong and must be fought. Mostly those battles have been fought in a broad attempt to redefine everything as Western as either non-culture (because of its association with imperialism and/or colonialism) or somehow global property.

But it's hard to not feel a bit of schadenfreude when the SJW's start turning on each other, in fights about who gets to appropriate what from whom, such as when the white SJW's get the tables turned on them by Black Lives Matter activists who don't like their hair, or the ongoing hypocrisy of modern feminists in refusing to see misogynistic abuses within Islam. As they go further and further down the road to restricting individual rights in the name of rights for specifically protected groups, and thus requiring that those protected groups get prioritized, that's only going to get worse.

Eventually they'll come for the Africans, or the Amerindians, or... the Japanese. Everything is just grist for their universalist über-eclectic mill.

This is a textbook case of cultural imperialism and cultural appropriation. It's bad when non-Europeans do it to Asatru, and it's bad when misguided Europeans do it to Shinto, or other non-European faiths.

EDIT: Added because I am kicking myself for not thinking of it before.

1 comment:

  1. I linked your article in a comment on Megan Manson's post and she answered 'I can't fault the research he's put into this topic, and he raises some good points. It's good to discuss all issues that the concept of a "universal" Shinto brings up.' Not too bad...