Courtesy Reuters

Japan Harnesses Religion in the National Service

NO one can study the development of the Japanese drive for power without being impressed by the fact that in Japan as almost nowhere else in modern times religion has been made an instrument of national policy. The rulers of Japan assume that the chief and indeed almost the only purpose of religion is to advance the fortunes of the state, not to satisfy the needs of the individual.

The Japanese tendency to think of religion as an instrument of national policy grew out of the conception of the universe as revolving about the nation. Such gods as were known to exist were concerned directly with the organization and control of Japanese life and they worked for the Japanese only, not for the human race as a whole. What concerned other people and their origin or destiny was, then, of no practical importance to the Japanese. And even if, outside of their ken, there were a God of mankind -- of the universe -- what did it matter? Japan had her own gods. Why look beyond that basic fact?

A naïve cosmogony? Yes, but such was Japanese religion in the early centuries. Such was Shinto, the so-called Way of the Gods. It may be said that Shinto is not a religion; controversy has waxed warm over this question, and state officials have been assiduous in trying to prove that it is not. But whether it is a religion or not, Shinto is certainly the basis and source of religious consciousness in Japan. It can be thought of as the Japanese attitude toward life, toward nature and toward destiny. It was a natural psychological development, with no assignable origin, no creed, no affirmations or ethics or duties, other than the requirement that those who held it be at home in the world and live naturally -- in other words, that they follow their own impulses and obey the laws of the state. It was an attitude whose uses were early recognized.

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