For the past several decades in the United States many parents have gravitated toward one extreme or the other in terms of allowing religion in public schools. It is generally understood these days that our public school system is not a religious organization, and should not promote one religion as a state religion, over others. Of course, this does not mean that morality or other ideas that call on the revelation of religion cannot be taught, but we try to keep things as secular as possible. Yet, many would call down a secular version of fire and brimstone on the teacher or administrator who brought students to pray at the local cathedral on a field trip.
For those of you who do not keep up with Japanese politics (I grew up there and so keep one eye on current happenings) the current government recently issued a bill proposing an amendment to the basic laws of education. This is the first revision of this sort that has been put forth since the Allied Forces, occupying Japan following World War II, drafted the Japanese constitution and laws. The current law requires the education system to “respect individual dignity, aim at raising people who will aspire for truth and peace, and seek universal and characteristic culture.” The changes to the law propose “the teaching of values such as patriotism and respect for Japanese culture and tradition.”
While the changes may sound innocent enough, especially to Western ears, this is a very loaded phrase. Many of you might be aware of the yearly controversies surrounding Prime Minister Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine to worship the war dead of the Emporer. It usually enters the news because of demonstrations, especially in China and Korea. The problem with the shrine visit is that it is a state event, not merely personal, and that among the war dead are many convicted war criminals from World War II. This “cultural” event is in fact state-sponsored Shintoism. Other “cultural events” include the worship of ancestors and idols at various shrines and temples; “cultural events” that even President Bush (gasp) has participated in by clapping his hands and bowing in prayer. While this is not a massive problem for those Japanese who are Shinto (it should be a problem, even to them), imagine the message that this sends to Japanese, and other, Christians around the world. (more…)