Comparative religionists mock both believers and constructionists

A religious studies blog I follow, Religious Studies Project, has a rather telling April Fool’s joke today. Since they might delete it after April 1, I will take the liberty of quoting the whole post here.

BREAKING NEWS: Today, the RSP is “born again” – as the Theological Dispatch.

Due to a huge donation from the Templeton Foundation, we are now going in a slightly different direction. As of today, our mandate is to investigate how religion and spirituality brings positive change to society, and helps make us all better citizens of God’s world. We shall not rest until the Christian and the Muslim can go on a date together in a Chinese restaurant without fear of criticism.

It’s time to admit that spirituality is REAL. We hereby disown our previous cowardly epistemological agnosticism and cynical critical thinking. From here on in, our only theory is Truth, and our only method is Faith. God will be remembered long after Fitzgerald and McCutcheon are forgotten.

Donald Wiebe got it right, there is no future for the religious studies. But there is advertising revenue for theology.

Since this is a joke, the bloggers (mostly Ph.D. candidates, I believe) must think that the idea that “spirituality is REAL” is amusing in some way. That might sound like a harsh generalization, but this was the general attitude of my undergraduate classmates, who openly mocked religious groups at parties etc., and I am aware that this was also the fashion at several other undergraduate religious studies programs. Considering that someone who chooses to do a doctorate program in religious studies must be somehow attracted to the state of the academy, I think it is probably fair to say that the Ph.D. candidates writing for this blog find spirituality amusing.

Here is another joke: “As of today, our mandate is to investigate how religion … helps make us all better citizens of God’s world.” I would deeply respect someone who offered this as a mission statement for a book, even an academic publication. After all, the idea that the world does not belong to us alone, that it is “God’s world”, is something it is hard to be neutral on. A past generation of religious scholars, including Huston Smith, often embraced something like this sentiment. The current generation, though, is generally critical of this, and of any sentiment towards the world. The only truly scholarly attitude, they have learned, is an alienated one.

For example, Mama Lola, a sympathetic account of a scholar’s acceptance by a voodoo community that verges on a statement of personal belief, was published in 1991. Could a similar book be published today? An example of an academic publication recently reviewed at Religious Studies Project is Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict, which consists of a list of assertions like “people are nicer when they are being watched” and “as groups increase in size and social complexity, belief in ‘Big Gods’ or moralizing Gods increases”. It is a mystery to me how the author of this book would engage with Porphyry, Jayadeva, or Zhuangzi. But I do not think there is any attempt at understanding here, only the self-assured superiority to all human feeling that comes with “scientific” knowledge. The spirit of Mama Lola has been totally purged from the academy, which is why the Templeton Foundation gets the scholars’ scorn.

Finally, the post gets in a good-natured dig at Timothy Fitzgerald and Russell T. McCutcheon, two scholars who question the validity of the scholarly concept of “world religions”. It is true that both Fitzgerald and McCutcheon are atheists, which prompts the joke “God will be remembered long after Fitzgerald and McCutcheon are forgotten,” an… uh… imitation of Christians’ attitudes towards Nietzsche, Darwin, etc. But it seems like the author of the post does not really understand the practical meaning of constructionism. By putting into question the tools that scholars use to compare cultures, Fitzgerald and McCutcheon actually doubt the methodological superiority of scholars to believers, which is why McCutcheon calls for an open confession of atheism on the part of scholars. In fact, the great Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton made the basic constructivist argument long before Wilfred Cantwell Smith, when he expressed his skepticism of the comparative methodology employed by H.G. Wells:

[Religious studies] seeks to classify Jesus … by inventing a new class for the purpose and filling up the rest of it with stop-gaps and second-rate copies. I do not mean that these other things are not often great things in their own real character and class. Confucianism and Buddhism are great things, but it is not true to call them Churches; just as the French and English are great people, but it is nonsense to call them nomads. There are some points of resemblance between Christendom and its imitation in Islam; for that matter there are some points of resemblance between Jews and Gypsies. But after that the lists are made up of anything that comes to hand; of anything that can be put in the same catalogue without being in the same category.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (1925)

The post concludes with a joke that sounds slightly somber: “Donald Wiebe got it right, there is no future for the religious studies.” As my grandma likes to say, “with every joke, there’s a meaning.”

Posted: April 1st, 2014 | Secular-Religious 8 Comments »

First ever English translation of the Hitsuki Shinji

I cannot claim to have made the first translation of the Hitsuki Shinji. It was made in March 1949 by unknown of Okamoto’s followers. Unfortunately I don’t have the whole thing. The top half of it was printed in 『岡本天明伝』 in 2012 and I would have to go to the National Diet Library to see the rest. I don’t have time to do that

[edit: April 2015 — Today I had the time to go to the National Diet Library and inspect the original document. I’ve added some of the remaining English text to the transcript below.]



What is Hikarikyokwai Society?

Jehova revealed Himself to those elects of old Judea in the times when He felt that it is necessary to do so. Books of Moses were written like that and those books of prophets the same. However, if we limit that such a revelation could be given only to them, St. John’s revelation as the last and never afterward, doesn’t it sound unreasonable? Why can’t Jehova have any elects among those nations which are not Jews? Isn’t hat also thinkable that God is willing to reveal Himself to the Asiatic nations sometimes?

Swedenbrog had to explain exactly the same sort of thing while he was woking hard to write down what the Lord has shown him in 18th century. Zeal of these notes is to introduce that we have the same sort of case which has taken place here in Japan since June of 1944.

It was in the suite of Shinto shrine Mahgata, in Kohzu-mura, Chiba prefecture, when a Japanese painter Mr. Okamoto was there. He got a kind of shock and painful impulses to write. He wrote down what he himself could not read at all at the beginning. But it was much afterward that those writings were found to be quite valuable.

They can be said a revelation of Ameno Hitsukunokami dictated by Hitsukunokami, that is a kind of divine revelation that was given to Japanese nation at the close of the war. However, we are convinced that this revelation is not addressed only to Japanese alone but to whole nation of the world, and that’s the reason the Hikarikyokwai Society started to publish this tabloid both in English and Japanese.

Concerning the reasons why it can be said divine revelation addressed to the whole nation of the world, shall be understood with the study of the said revelation itself, which would be introduced here afterwards. However, some characteristic points of the said revelation is that it shows very intimate relationship between so called divine scriptures of the world.

There are many who found very deep truth in it and who are convinced that things shown through the revelation are true and the commandments written in it must be fulfilled. Hikarikyokwai Society is the name to the group of such people.

Following is the English translation of another part from the revelation. [This is from Book 1, Chapter 1. –AHM]

Behold! Fuji has driven off clouds of chaos, and all heavens are cleared.

The time has come at last when true God of kingdom of maruchon will show His mighty power. Buddhism, Christianity, and even Islamism shall be united for this sacred mission.

There shall be no need of difficult theories nor logics, neither any hardship of livelihood. God will provide you such a happy and merry world, therefore, seek after the truth with earnestness, purifying your spirit in cessantly. Hoewver, there lies a tribulation before the Kingdom of God comes. Unless you are purified and cleansed, you shall not be able to preserve yourself through this tribulation. Becauss this is the tribulation, such as was not since the very beginning of the world to this time, nor shall ever be. And the end of this tribulation shall never be brought unles God’s power is revealed.

Everything that shall happen from now on is absolutely beyond the capacity of human conception.

Kingdom consisted of purified souls shall gain real power, however, kingdom of dirty spirit shall not be able domminant any more.

Cities must be purified and the rustic place must be purifies as well, but the most significant of all is the purification of man.

Example of original writing. 一んねんTけ二〇かmaruchonの三三一四もの一二四キ・T一八〇二もか〇二もか三〇つれ十も四で

English translation from the original writing, illustrated. “This revelation can be understood in the measure of the depth of each soul destined to understand. The time has come the divine truth shall be preached. If not even stones shall take the role of human souls. Let us hear that the nature, mountain river and else, is revealing the divine truth day and night.”

[Bibliography removed for revisions]

Posted: July 24th, 2013 | Kokoro, Secular-Religious

A Wider View of Shinto

Japanese shrines, called jinja, have a poor relation to the Western view of religion. Japanese people often complain that shrines are improperly viewed as religious, owing in great part to a legal intervention by the American Occupation. Having researched this in an academic capacity for several years, I will now state for the record that it is meaningless to list “Shinto” as your religion, because there are so many views of the jinja and ways of the kami, and none of them is officially endorsed by any establishment. You should rather put “Japanese” as your religion if you want to act like one. However, it is possible to be a “Shintoist”, that is, a researcher who studies Shinto history and expresses views about kami.

The postwar organization created by the American Occupation, called Jinja Honcho (“Shrine Authority”), is often assumed by both scholars and amateurs to propound an orthodox theology, when in fact it does not endorse any religious views at all, but only encourages an orthopraxy of respect towards shrines which Japanese people naturally have anyway. Obsessing over Jinja Honcho, as some Western books have done, gives you a very limited perspective on shrines in the public mind.

21st century religious treatment of shrines falls under the purvey of many different groups. This complex system is not thought about very much by the scholars I have read. Shrines are actually treated as public institutions and religious groups are free to theorize about them just as much as the “ordinary” Japanese people to whom they cater. Here are the players at work:

Independent shrinekeepers legally own all 80,000 shrines of Japan and can basically run them how they like. The majority of full-time shrinekeepers are atheists trained in Jinja Honcho-linked universities as ceremonial specialists whose main interest is continuing tradition, with an occasional view to historical awareness, or in rare cases attracting new worshipers with advertisements.

Jinja Honcho has organizational influence over the shrines but their main concern is continuing traditions. All shrines are privately run and free to leave Jinja Honcho at any time.

[edit] It should be noted that Jinja Honcho sponsors the Shinto Political League, which is, as the name implies, a right-wing political organization that, rather than propounding religious doctrine, calls for the restoration of imperial era traditions and practices, and espouses right-wing political views generally. Its mission statement says that it “aims to convey Japan’s culture and traditions to future generations”.

Public and legal opinion control how shrines are treated in government and by the courts. The general public sees shrines as an old public institution with vague links to history and religion. Ordinary people visit their local shrine roughly twice a year, for holidays and special occasions. Books about shrines from the “public opinion” side are often about issues surrounding Yasukuni Shrine.

Supporters’ organizations are set up by frequent shrine visitors and donors as independent groups to control how individual shrines are run, most notably at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. These are basically non-religious groups.

Hobbyists are often atheists with a mania for medieval architecture and sculpture. They do not exert any control over shrines but write a lot of books about them. Surprisingly, I recently met a foreigner who falls precisely into this category.

Spiritualists are a tiny minority of Japanese people who hold strong religious faith in shrines and donate a notable amount of money to them. Their view of shrines is often vague, and similar to that of the general public, except that they see them as old religious institutions that house powerful beings. Shrinekeepers do not cater to these people whatsoever, since they see their mission as public and not religious.

Occultists, who I might also call independent Shintoists, promote an eccentric intellectual view of shrines, often linked to martial arts, kotodama, parahistory, or the Oomoto movement. While they engage with Japanese history and occult tradition much more than spiritualists, they are fundamentally disorganized independent researchers. Their books can be found at large bookstores in the “UFO/occult/conspiracy” section.

The Shinto Kokusai Gakkai is a private organization linked to the religious group Worldmate which encourages awareness of shrines and belief in them. Worldmate, the brainchild of Toshu Fukami, is an interesting group which sells “spiritual services” to people but also encourages people to worship at shrines, which they have no control or social influence over. Worldmate is a rather large religious movement but is extremely poorly documented by religious scholars. I have never seen a shrine acknowledge them (see “spiritualists” above).

Buddhists and friendly new religions treat shrines with respect but focus on their own objects of worship.

Unfriendly new religions and some Christian sects prohibit members from visiting shrines, but this is very rare.

Japan only has a handful of medievalists, academic Shintoists, and religious scholars but they obviously promote a view of shrines to the general public as well.

When a Japanese or foreigner claims that they are “a Shinto” they usually mean that they fall into the spiritualist group. But let’s not be so hasty. If you would like to study the Japanese occult you can become an occultist, or if you want to learn about Toshu Fukami’s theory of the universe (which is very interesting), you can join the Shinto Kokusai Gakkai and be a sort of superpowered spiritualist. These other categories are equally part of “Shinto” in that they are interested in shrines and want to promote respect for them.

Furthermore, documenting shrine architecture and history is an equally important part of preserving tradition, so hobbyists and spiritualists should be friends.

Posted: January 7th, 2013 | Secular-Religious, Shinto 17 Comments »

Does God Exist? A Japanese Children’s Book Explains

かみさまはいる いない? (2012)
Shuntaro Tanikawa

I was surprised to see my local library put in its childrens’ rack a book about the existence of God, supplementing their amusing and popular series about the Buddhist Hells. This book is written in very simple script and it seems the audience is 4 to 7 year olds. Remember that Japanese has no plurals and sex is usually unspecified, so all instances of “he” could also be “she” or “they”.

God exists (it seems).

We can’t see Him anywhere

But God exists somewhere (it seems).

God doesn’t speak.

Instead, humans speak for him.

God can’t be seen.

Instead, humans depict him.

How many Gods are there?

Some people think there is one God.

These people build a house for God.

Some people think there are many Gods.

These people build a house for the Gods.

Some people think there is no need for God.

These people build a house for themselves instead.

Did God make Man?


Did Man make God?

Did God exist before the beginning of the world?

What is He doing now?

Is God not doing anything anymore?

Could it be that after leaving us with this bountiful world, He has nothing left to do?

The people who God left in charge of the world have big shoes to fill.

Posted: August 6th, 2012 | Secular-Religious 3 Comments »

Frithjof Schuon on Shinto

Frithjof Schuon’s essays on Shinto, included in Treasures of Buddhism (2003), are a record of Schuon’s discovery of two obscurantist like minds in Motoori Norinaga, about whom nothing more need be said for those familiar with this subject, and Genchi Kato, whose work I have summarized in a past essay.

Schuon is writing about a subject he knows nothing about, so I will be brief. Repeating Norinaga’s unique and unjustified pseudo-Christian interpretation of the Kojiki, he seems to believe that the first kami named in the Kojiki is equivalent in the Japanese mind to the creator God, when in fact each national history assigns a different name and function to that original kami. This is irrelevant to someone who lives in the real world, though, because the closest thing to a “creator God” you’d find in the average Japanese mind is Mr. Sun (お天道様), who brings warmth to all human beings and is always watching over us. The Kojiki has been fussed over considerably by Norinaga, but we should be reminded that both it and the Nihon Shoki are first and foremost a record of the imperial ancestors and their noble deeds, and are cited in Japan’s traditional society for this reason and not for their mythical symbolism. He constructs an analogy between Japanese and Greek “myth”, which I have also taken a look at and found not very intellectually profitable. Anyway it seems that if this symbolism can be better understood by a foreigner than it can by most Japanese people then is really not relevant to how the Japanese tradition functions at all, and is the mission field only of syncretic religionists and people with too much time on their hands.

Posted: July 30th, 2012 | Japan, Secular-Religious, Tradition

Mysticism and Strength

The simplest method for humans to achieve power is through use of force. Battering your opponent, regardless of laws or rules, will give you a temporary power over them. But force itself is brute and limits one’s strength to the abilities of the body. Mysticism multiplies strength. A single exercise of force, accompanied by the mysticism of power, can resonate in distant, unaffected observers as if they themselves were the actor or the victim.

In its primitive form, we describe this as sympathetic magic. By sticking pins into a voodoo doll, the superstitious believe that they can cause injury to an unknowing victim. Its civilized form is more complex, but no less mystical: by sticking planes into the World Trade Center, a handful of individuals caused hundreds of millions of people to feel pain and sorrow; by assassinating Osama bin Laden, we felt a thrill as if we ourselves had punched the enemy in his turbaned face.

Should these feelings be denounced as irrational? It is in fact crucial that we feel them. For millions of people to live in close society, the bonds of mysticism must be exercised constantly. When we come into dispute, we must rely upon our shared faith in the value of communication, heritage, religion, money, and so forth. These things are all mystical ideas, which are only able to prevent injury if both sides well and truly believe in them. If those fail, we must fervently believe that the law will resolve our problem, for without society or law, we have no method of resolving our dispute but brute force.

Mysticism is the world’s most dangerous weapon. It is the belief that a policeman can be summoned or that a missile can be launched, a belief which is more present in our everyday lives than the policemen or missiles themselves. Its form gives the weak superhuman strength, even life after death. Its ruin renders nobles savage and heroes villainous.

A society without mystical ties cannot exist. Aiming to build a society of unbelievers is not a “rational” idea because it does not account for human nature; it is antithetical to how human beings operate. In fact, those who reject the ties of society are detrimental to its function, until the point when they find something in society that they can appreciate.

Posted: July 16th, 2011 | Secular-Religious 2 Comments »

Mystics and Trainspotters

The bourgeoise disdain tidings of salvation, not because we are clever enough to see through all delusions, but because we have an unbreaking faith that we are already saved. Evidence of our soteriological accomplishment lies all around us, in the stores that carry our material needs, in the machines that provide us with companionship and entertainment. We are aware, perhaps, that we ourselves are deeply flawed individuals. But something, somewhere, must have gone right for this world to be the way it is; that is the bourgeoise credo.

Often enough, from this state of things both discomfort and curiosity emerge. This way of life does not, after all, make sense. We begin to understand that our lives are made safe and happy by civilization; that civilization has effects we cannot see, and that it is created by forces we cannot see; that its continued existence is by no means guaranteed. We may begin to study in books, to better understand how this time and place came to exist. And for the less historically aware, mysticism takes hold. Perhaps civilization is in danger. Perhaps it must be destroyed and replaced with a better one. Either way, a new path to salvation is laid out in the minds of the faithful, a series of stations ranging from practical, to obscure, to downright strange. A new object of devotion is found in the future state of humanity itself.

With enough history on hand to know how these movements work, though, a true intellectual cannot become a mystic. Disillusioned by the universality of error throughout human history, we are forced to stand on the sidelines and observe the forces at work, occasionally calling foul when they make an obvious error. Being treated to this game in and out every month of the year, we often become trainspotters. A particular movement will take over our interest, and we will become better acquainted with its inner workings than the mystics themselves. In America, the “leftist trainspotters” catalog the splits and merges of Trotskyist groups; in Japan, the “kyosan shumi” do the same. In Japan, the “Aumers” gain an encyclopedic knowledge of the once vast and murderous occult group Aum Shinrikyo; in America, unfortunately, this job is divided between atheists pushing their ideology and religious scholars pushing theirs, with neither group recognizing the exciting possibilities of a trainspotter’s life.

Trainspotters of the mystics always seem to be split between derision, curiosity, and sympathy. The last of these feelings may be the most profound. Mystics aim for nothing less than the creation of a new world in their image– and sometimes they are successful. For even though the mystics are often drawn to futile or dangerous activities, there is a creative power in their world that the trainspotters lack. For as we sit in our bourgeoise palaces, the concepts of laws, money, rights, government, society that we employ are nothing more than the unleashed and structured form of a latent mystical energy, the ability to believe in these unseen things and thereby determine how humans will behave. And to create a concept for tomorrow that does not exist today, we must again harness that power inherent in our minds.

Mystics are the enemy of the individual and the bourgeoise, but perhaps they are a friend to humanity.

Posted: June 11th, 2011 | Politics, Secular-Religious 3 Comments »

Interesting facts and opinions about Japanese and Greek mythology


All facts from 「日本神話とギリシア神話」 Japanese and Greek Myth by 大脇由紀子 Ōwaki Yukiko (明治書院、2010). All opinions are mine.

  1. Fact: Japanese did not have a word for “myth” until Basil Hall Chamberlain invented one in 1887. What they instead had was an official history that ranged from cosmic to national in nature. Not even those skeptical of that history borrowed the word “myth” from English; it took a foreigner to do that.
  2. Opinion: It is thus only natural to wonder, what is the meaning-function of the word “myth”, and why was it not invented in Japanese? In this book, one of the figures mentioned is Empress Consort Iwanohime, simply because she is mentioned in the official histories Nihonshoki and Kojiki. Her life has no supernatural aspect to it.
  3. Opinion: Japanese Wikipedia suggests the word 神語(り) kangatari was used to refer to myths in the Middle Ages, but a check of academic literature shows that it actually referred to recited poetry, five examples of which can be found here. Also, the true reading appears to be kamugatari. In ancient Greece, indeed, “mythos” was a term used for any recitation. Perhaps our use of the word “myth” is at its very heart a misunderstanding.
  4. Fact: The author makes a fascinating comparison between Iwanohime and Hera: both individuals were said to have intense jealousy directed not only at their closest relations but at other individuals who associated with them.
  5. Opinion: Certainly Iwanohime’s jealousy could have served as a cultural standard in the same way that Hera’s jealousy did in Greece. It is fascinating to imagine in this way the world that the writers of Nihonshoki and Kojiki may have lived in. But does that mean Iwanohime was a “mythical” figure, or a god, in the same way that Amaterasu’s story can be pigeonholed as myth? Perhaps it is better to view these figures in the same way the Japanese did: as characters in the official history.
  6. Fact: The exiled hero Yamatotakeru is shown as wandering all over Japan, much like Odysseus, except that the Odyssey doesn’t fall into the category of “myth” in this book for some reason…
  7. Opinion: In this book kami is defined as “a word encompassing beings with incorporeal power beyond human knowledge.” Aliens??
  8. Opinion: I bought this book to learn the full extent of parallels between Japanese and Greek mythology, but it seems like most elements can be dismissed as coincidence. The most confounding parallel is the one any student of mythology should know: the Greek story of the rape of Persephone is extremely similar to the Japanese story of Izanami’s death.
  9. Fact: When discussing this, the book quotes from Spirited Away (remember Chihiro starting to disappear and eating the food?). Mayhaps Ghibli movies are a better re-presentation of Japanese mythology than anything I could hope to write myself.
  10. Fact: But the book references Naruto as well…

Posted: April 6th, 2011 | Japan, Secular-Religious 3 Comments »

Fact Check: U.S. Capitol Tour with David Barton

I think David Barton is a pretty cool guy. He researches the mainstream of American religious history, and doesn’t afraid of anyone.

Barton specializing in discovering facts that make atheists angry. It is misleading to respond to him with other, unrelated facts. Obviously any atheist knows that the influential Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, was anti-Christian; and furthermore, that weird sectarians were openly tolerated from America’s earliest days, although they were sometimes driven out of mixed communities. However, that doesn’t disprove anything Barton says.

Here is is Capitol Tour video. My friend did some Snopes style fact checking, and I’ll add commentary.

His preface: “My intention isn’t to do war with the video or the message thereof, but merely to ensure that the truth is accurately portrayed. I have no idea if my sources, which include such questionable references as Wikipedia, are at all accurate. It is plain as day that the United States is a Christian country on account of the overwhelming majority of her citizens who profess that faith. The attempt to baptize the largely Masonic founding fathers is misguided nevertheless, and the attempt to appeal to the original intent of the framers represents the most appalling tendencies in American politics.”
Claim 1: Congress printed a bible for school use. (0:41)
Fact: The Aitken Bible was endorsed by Congress, but printed by Robert Aitken, a Philadelphia-based Scots printer in response to the embargo on the colonies during the Revolutionary War. There is no mention of it being for school use, although it was common for the Bible to be used in schools at the time. (Source: Wikipedia)
Avery’s analysis: At this time in Western history, printing a Bible was such a major undertaking that securing assistance from one’s government was standard, if not necessary. On the other hand, Congress was expressing approval and affirmation of the Bible, and George Washington added: “It would have pleased me well, if Congress had been pleased to make such an important present to the brave fellows [veterans of the Revolutionary War], who have done so much for the security of their Country’s rights and establishment.” So I’ll rank this one Mostly True

Claim 2: Capitol rotunda paintings “recapture Christian history of the United States.” (1:27)
Fact: “Christian” means something closer “European” in this context. It is true that the paintings depict religious scenes. The term “Christian history” is only provided for contrast with the Native history. (Source: common sense)
Avery’s analysis: I’m going to have to say, though, that the baptism of Pocahontas wasn’t exactly a seminal moment in American history. It’s good to draw attention to the link between Christianity and civilization in these  paintings. Ranking: True

Claim 3: The U.S. Capitol was used as a church building under the orders of Vice-President Thomas Jefferson. External churches were permitted to hold services in the old House room and the Marine Corps band was used for some of them. Thomas Jefferson regularly attended church in the Capitol. (2:26)
Fact: This is actually 100% factually accurate, but T.J.’s sentiments on such basic articles of Christian faith like the divinity of Christ and the importance of the Bible are well known. Most of the founding fathers only externally presented themselves as Protestants and in fact hewed to the Masonic religion privately. (Source: Library of Congress website)
Avery’s analysis: T.J.’s church attendance despite this only emphasizes the role of Christianity in the early 19th c. Ranking: True

Claim 4: President Garfield used to be a minister, and furthermore one quarter of the statues in the rotunda are ministers. (5:02)
Fact: James A. Garfield had an eclectic career before he went into politics, including a stint as a minister, which he reportedly disliked. According to the Capitol Architect website, the rotunda contains statues of Presidents Lincoln, Eisenhower, Garfield, Grant, Jackson, Jefferson, Reagan, and Washington, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Secretary Alexander Hamilton, nine statues in all. King and Garfield were ministers— one-quarter of nine is two and one-quarter. (Source: Wikipedia, Architect of the Capitol Website)
Avery’s analysis: Barton supporters will be hard pressed to show me the extra 1/4 of a person. This is stretching the facts. Ranking: Barely True

Claim 5: Thomas Jefferson authorized federal funds for missionaries and church construction as part of a treaty with the Kaskasia. (6:56)
Fact: Actual text is “Whereas, The greater part of the said tribe have been baptised and received into the Catholic church to which they are much attached, the United States will give annually for seven years one hundred dollars towards the support of a priest of that religion, who will engage to perform for the said tribe the duties of his office and also to instruct as many of their children as possible in the rudiments of literature. And the United States will further give the sum of three hundred dollars to assist the said tribe in the erection of a church.” (Source: Oklahoma State Digital Library, Treaty with the Kaskaskia, 1803, Article 3)
Avery’s analysis: Here, again, Christianity is synonymous with civilization. It is often forgotten that this is so. Even 20th century Japan, hardly a Christian state, funded Christian missionaries in the South Pacific. Ranking: Mostly True

Claim 6: Twenty-nine of the fifty-six signers of the declaration of independence held seminary or “bible school” degrees. (7:12)
Fact: All colleges at the time were what we would consider today seminaries. (Source: my 7th grade history teacher)
Avery’s analysis: Indeed. Harvard Divinity School is hardly Bob Jones. This is only Half True

Posted: February 26th, 2011 | Secular-Religious 10 Comments »

Parallel Developments of Christian Science and Tenrikyo

Tenrikyo and Christian Science are both faith healing religions founded by women in the late 19th century on the basis of direct revelation from God. Both lived in an age where the powerful concept of faith healing was being crowded out or suppressed by more controllable, institutional behaviors, these being “Churchianity” in America and “non-religious Shinto” in Japan. Both attracted highly intelligent individuals from outside the mainstream, who eventually gave both groups unexpected relevance in 20th century society. Here is a brief sketch of their development from someone who is only somewhat acquainted with the church histories.

Splinter groups

It was expected that Tenrikyo Shrine of God and foundress Oyasama would live to 115 years per her own prediction. When this did not happen there was confusion in the movement. Many believed in the 天啓待望論 (tenkei taibou-ron), the doctrine that a new Shrine of God would be appointed at the end of Oyasama’s 115-year era. At least two splinter groups formed when the 115 years were up in 1913: Oonishi Ajirou’s Honmichi, and a group called 茨木一派 (Ippa Daidou). I think there were others, but this is not clear to me. Individual Tenrikyoists, dissatisfied with the direction of the church, also founded basically unrelated groups like Moralogy.

Christian Science also splintered after its founder’s death. The Christian Science Parent Church was founded in England in 1912, two years after Mary Baker Eddy’s death, and gained a small following in America as well. Like Honmichi, the Parent Church emphasized its leader’s position as the next inheritor of revelation. In this case, leader Annie C. Bill wrote a book called Science, Evolution, and Immortality which supplemented Science and Health. Unlike Honmichi, this group is now completely extinct. This information comes from a fascinating 1926 encyclopedia of religious bodies issued by the U.S. Census, which also includes an early official recognition of non-Christian “religious groups”.

Making faith healing relevant

The paths taken by both organizations in the 20th century are fascinating as stories of how marginal spiritual groups plant themselves in their home societies. Christian Science, of course, is known through the United States for two things: its reading rooms, which dot main streets throughout the country, and the Pulitzer-winning Christian Science Monitor, propped up entirely on Christian Scientist donations for many years with scarcely a mention of religion in the paper itself. Tenrikyo has worked the same way: in Japan they are known throughout the country for Tenri University, which has a famous judo team, and on a lesser scale for the excellent Tenri Hospital and Tenri City in which both organizations are located. If you ask an American about a Christian Science Reading Room, they will often be familiar with its existence as a neighborhood staple even if they don’t know exactly what it means; Tenri University has the same associations in Japan.

More to come as I research more.

Posted: October 10th, 2010 | Secular-Religious 1 Comment »