Saturday, March 19, 2011

Compassion Without Evangelism: What Japan Needs Vs. What Japan Will Get

What if Japan needs compassion but not evangelism? After all, it's not quite that ... primitive.

The stamina and resilience of the Japanese people throughout history has been amazing. Since 1849 and the entrance of Commodore Perry into Yokohama,* Japan has slowly (at first) but steadily managed to adapt through industry and perseverance. But, as with most cultures, times of stress can make even the most resilient people vulnerable. And in the wake of the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear meltdown catastrophe, the critical question is not if Japan will be vulnerable, but to what: economic manipulation? political maneuvers? social movements?

Many westerners hope that the Japanese will be vulnerable to (i.e., receptive of) religious evangelism: evangelism at the other end of compassion, that is. What they may find out, however, is that a new kind of compassion is emerging: meet the basic needs of humanity (food, shelter, clothing medical supplies) and forget the rest. The Japanese can take care of themselves in all the other categories, thank you very much. 

That form of self-assurance is evident in the first-responders to Japan's crises: they were immediate and humanitarian. They were not, however, dogmatic. They did not affix their responses to any belief system. In other words, they did not attribute their compassion to being "the Christian thing to do," nor were they spurred on by a list of morals in front of their courthouses. The fact that they acted in compassion, of course, may be attributed to the fact that they were responding to the terrible plight of their own people, as so many Americans bravely responded in relief efforts for the victims of Katrina. But when it comes down to the reasoning of people like (pseudo) historian David Barton, compassion and humanitarianism must be compared in relation to how "Christian" the country perceives itself. 

Japan is therefore, an anomaly that Christian evangelists should treat with the utmost respect. 

They won't, of course. Already we are experiencing the declarations of "God's retribution." It is unfortunate, but the Christian Right in our country will never act in a solely humanitarian way without taking the chance of voicing some form of self-righteousness:
Jan Markell, founder and director of Olive Tree Ministries, is hopeful the events in Japan will open the eyes of many to things spiritual.
"These so-called 'birth pangs' really are intensifying and getting greater and more frequent -- and I think it's a wake-up call, not just for the Japanese," she offers. "We'd all like to think that the nation of Japan would turn and repent as a result of what happened. [While] we know that won't happen, we know individuals will." (emphasis mine)
A Matter of Education

Maybe the problem lies in education: the Japanese may be too educated for the Christian Right to pierce through. And remember that almost all of that education is (horrors!)... secular. For the last four decades, Japan has towered over the United States in matters of education: its students have scored in the top 10 (out of 57 countries) in the world arenas of science, math and reading comprehension (U.S. students rank in the lower third). Most of the country believes in evolution and looks upon Christian scriptures as allegory and metaphor, as it would any religious system. (Aside: contrary to the belief of most Christians, Buddhism is not really a religion - at least not in the sense of placing gods or a God at its core. It is quite possible for a Christian to practice many tenets of Buddhism without becoming an apostate. Confucianism is a system of ethics and government. Both of these "religions" make up the bulk of Japanese philosophy and both aspire to the Golden Rule. As for the Shinto religion, it is ingrained into Japanese history and mythology and is coupled with Buddhist philosophy on spirituality**)

The generalization of all Japanese as "atheists" is a silly mistake, but one that Fundamentalists are always prone to make, since their arrogant stance of one-and-only will not allow for any other religion or philosophy to have merit. People like Cindy Jacobs, ruminating that Japan's disasters were caused by its inability to embrace Christianity and its adherence to "pagan" theologies, are quite willing to insult the Japanese intellect because they cannot conceive of anything being superior to their beliefs. We can only hope that the Japanese will not take the insult seriously. 

Ed Schultz, in taking a different stance on the "looting question" (see below) inadvertently pointed out that Glenn Beck was pointing to Japan as having ethics and morals despite being "atheist." Ever the prince of fools, Beck didn't realize that he was making it very difficult for evangelists and Mormon missionaries to proselytize ... and insult. 

The end point of this whole polemic is that evangelists will insist on taking advantage of Japan's tragic events (for which I must call them - as many readers know is my pet phrase - "God's Ambulance Chasers") and Japan will politely but firmly decline their offers of "conditional compassion." 

And the "good" people of Japan will continue doing "good" and being "good" - without the remonstrations of Jan Markell, Lou Engle or Cindy Jacobs. 

* wikipedia: On July 8, 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy with four warships—the Mississippi,PlymouthSaratoga, and Susquehanna—steamed into the bay in Yokohama and displayed the threatening power of his ships' cannons during a Christian burial which the Japanese observed. He requested that Japan open to trade with the West. These ships became known as the kurofune, the Black Ships.

**wikipedia: The era of State Shinto came to an abrupt close with the end of World War II, when Americans decided to bring separation of church and state to Japanese shores in the wake of the Japanese surrender.

Most Japanese had come to believe that the hubris of Empire had led to their downfall. The Shinto system included the belief that the emperor, in this case Hirohito, was divine. Soon after the war, the Emperor issued a statement renouncing his claims to the status of "living god" (arahitogami). 

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