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The Invention of a New Religion   By: (1850-1935)

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THE INVENTION OF A NEW RELIGION

By B. H. Chamberlain

EMERITUS PROFESSOR OF JAPANESE AND PHILOLOGY AT THE IMPERIAL UNIVERSITY OF TOKYO, JAPAN 1912

Transcriber's Notes: A few diacritical marks have had to be removed, but Chamberlain did not use macrons to represent lengthened vowels. What were footnotes are numbered and moved to the end of the relevant paragraphs.

THE INVENTION OF A NEW RELIGION (1)

(Note 1) The writer of this pamphlet could but skim over a wide subject. For full information see Volume I. of Mr. J. Murdoch's recently published "History of Japan," the only critical work on that subject existing in the English language.

Voltaire and the other eighteenth century philosophers, who held religions to be the invention of priests, have been scorned as superficial by later investigators. But was there not something in their view, after all? Have not we, of a later and more critical day, got into so inveterate a habit of digging deep that we sometimes fail to see what lies before our very noses? Modern Japan is there to furnish an example. The Japanese are, it is true, commonly said to be an irreligious people. They say so themselves. Writes one of them, the celebrated Fukuzawa, teacher and type of the modern educated Japanese man: "I lack a religious nature, and have never believed in any religion." A score of like pronouncements might be quoted from other leading men. The average, even educated, European strikes the average educated Japanese as strangely superstitious, unaccountably occupied with supra mundane matters. The Japanese simply cannot be brought to comprehend how a "mere parson" such as the Pope, or even the Archbishop of Canterbury, occupies the place he does in politics and society. Yet this same agnostic Japan is teaching us at this very hour how religions are sometimes manufactured for a special end to subserve practical worldly purposes.

Mikado worship and Japan worship for that is the new Japanese religion is, of course, no spontaneously generated phenomenon. Every manufacture presupposes a material out of which it is made, every present a past on which it rests. But the twentieth century Japanese religion of loyalty and patriotism is quite new, for in it pre existing ideas have been sifted, altered, freshly compounded, turned to new uses, and have found a new centre of gravity. Not only is it new, it is not yet completed; it is still in process of being consciously or semi consciously put together by the official class, in order to serve the interests of that class, and, incidentally, the interests of the nation at large. The Japanese bureaucracy is a body greatly to be admired. It includes most of the foremost men of the nation. Like the priesthood in later Judaea, to some extent like the Egyptian and Indian priesthoods, it not only governs, but aspires to lead in intellectual matters. It has before it a complex task. On the one hand, it must make good to the outer world the new claim that Japan differs in no essential way from the nations of the West, unless, indeed, it be by way of superiority. On the other hand, it has to manage restive steeds at home, where ancestral ideas and habits clash with new dangers arising from an alien material civilisation hastily absorbed.

Down to the year 1888, the line of cleavage between governors and governed was obscured by the joyful ardour with which all classes alike devoted themselves to the acquisition of European, not to say American, ideas. Everything foreign was then hailed as perfect everything old and national was contemned. Sentiment grew democratic, in so far (perhaps it was not very far) as American democratic ideals were understood. Love of country seemed likely to yield to a humble bowing down before foreign models. Officialdom not unnaturally took fright at this abdication of national individualism. Evidently something must be done to turn the tide. Accordingly, patriotic sentiment was appealed to through the throne, whose hoary antiquity had ever been a source of pride to Japanese literati, who loved to dwell on the contrast between Japan's unique line of absolute monarchs and the short lived dynasties of China... Continue reading book >>




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