• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    By any other name

    The anniversary of Japan’s World War II surrender always brings controversy over visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where fourteen men convicted as Class-A war criminals by the international tribunal are enshrined along with fallen military personnel. Yesterday, former Prime Minister Koizumi went, but of the sitting cabinet, the only member to make a pilgrimage was Sanae Takaichi, State Minister for (of all things!) Okinawan Affairs. The Mainichi also ran an article citing high-ranking sources stating that Emperor Hirohito believed that including the fourteen Class-A war criminals in the enshrinees at Yasukuni was a diplomatic error: “While the Shrine gives repose to the souls only of those who died in the war [itself], this would change its nature,” and “[This move] will plant the seeds for deep-rooted trouble in the future with nations that were affected by the war.”

    I’ve always been of two minds about the Yasukuni issue. I have no trouble explaining why I disagree with the shrine’s official position. (This is from the English site.):

    According to the faith conveyed to us by the mythical accounts of the Nihon Shoki and the Kojiki, the Kami, Izanagi and Izanami, in giving birth to the country of Japan, also gave birth to the people. This is to say that the Japanese islands and people are both born from the Kami. Therefore, the soul of man is identical with the Kami. And so long as this universe continues to exist, the soul of man can be nothing else than eternal.

    Isn’t it a fact that the West with its military power invaded and ruled over much of Asia and Africa and that this was the start of East-West relations? There is no uncertainty in history. [!] Japan’s dream of building a Great East Asia was necessitated by history and it was sought after by the countries of Asia. We cannot overlook the intent of those who wish to tarnish the good name of the noble souls of Yasukuni.

    To bring an end to war is the earnest wish of mankind. Regardless of whether we can realize this or not, the act of despising the souls of those who offered their lives for the national community by those who were left behind is no more than extreme ingratitude of a people without a country.

    Note the way this allows the administrators of the shrine to have it both ways—positioning Japan as in line with the rest of mankind in desiring world peace while justifying the practice of honoring those who presided over Unit 731 and the Rape of Nanking. Japanese theology regards the souls of good and evil alike as passing into the next world-—fine. But that doesn’t mean it provides a good defense for failing to draw moral distinctions among their actions while they were alive in this one.

    On the other hand, one can visit a house of worship without necessarily buying into the full line pushed by those people in charge of it. Koizumi’s stubbornness about making pilgrimages to Yasukuni always struck me as politically unwise, but his positions on the WOT, economic liberalization, and individualism were enough to convince me that he wasn’t a closet Tojo fan. Koizumi probably does believe that you can perform rituals at Yasukuni without letting all the kami off the hook for their war conduct. Not so sure about others, including those on the cabinet.

    Speaking of conflicting religious conceptions, this (via Instapundit) strikes me as very worrying, though hardly without precedent:

    A Roman Catholic Bishop in the Netherlands has proposed people of all faiths refer to God as Allah to foster understanding, stoking an already heated debate on religious tolerance in a country with one million Muslims.
    Bishop Tiny Muskens, from the southern diocese of Breda, told Dutch television on Monday that God did not mind what he was named and that in Indonesia, where Muskens spent eight years, priests used the word “Allah” while celebrating Mass.

    A survey in the Netherlands’ biggest-selling newspaper De Telegraaf on Wednesday found 92 percent of the more than 4,000 people polled disagreed with the bishop’s view, which also drew ridicule.

    Huh? Words refer to ideas, and ideas have consequences, to coin a phrase.

    It’s one thing for Christians in a mostly non-Christian country to call God by the best local equivalent. Professor Bainbridge says, “Words matter. To a person of faith, no word matters more than the name of God,” but in my experience, there is some give there. For example, Japanese Christians also call God 神様 (kamisama: kind of like “God, Sir”). However, those I’ve meet are keenly aware of the difference between their god and the Japanese kami themselves. And Dutch, presumably, already has a perfectly good word for “God.” The substitution of “Allah” would presumably imply to the average listener that the speaker was mindedly shading it with the conception of God in Islam. I’m not sure what can be accomplished through that at this historical moment except the beclouding of distinctions between religions that it would be wise to keep in mind.

    4 Responses to “By any other name”

    1. fenneke says:

      I think mr Muskens idea about referring to God as Allah is a nice thought-exercise. He wants people (christians and muslims alike) to realise that their ‘branches’ of faith all stem from the same faith and hence the same god, and that therefore there is no need for them to fight each other but that they should consider each other as family instead. However, I think most religious people in the Netherlands do not want or are not able to do this.

      By the way, mr Muskens is known for his thought-provoking ideas. For example, a couple of years ago he proclaimed that it’s ok to steal a loaf of bread if you are very poor and don’t have money to buy one.

      Oh, and Dutch indeed has a name for God, namely “God” :) only then pronounced with a g as in the scottish ‘loch’.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      “I think mr Muskens idea about referring to God as Allah is a nice thought-exercise.”

      Fenneke, I’d agree if it were possible to isolate it from the current political context. Remembering that other people’s beliefs can be based on good faith (in the sense of trustworthiness and not religion specifically) and reason, even if they differ radically from one’s own, is one of the foundations of Western liberalism. Trying to adopt someone else’s point of view can be a useful exercise.

      But when done this way, it can also look a lot like a lack of backbone and lack of belief in the verity of one’s own position. Even if we concede that the sort of Muslims who want to establish Sharia law in European countries are a small minority, it’s a very poor idea to give them encouragement.

    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      Oh, and thanks for the language lesson. I’ll try to remember that. :)

    4. Fenneke says:

      I agree, but then ofcourse we/mr Muskens could invite muslims to try the reverse as well. Although somehow I get the feeling they would be even less up to it than christians…

      A cartoon in a dutch newspaper suggested that we (christians, muslims, jews, etc) all should simply replace the name of our god with ‘nonsense’, that would solve the problem for all of us :)

    Leave a Reply