Archives For Japanese Christianity

Sinister Initiations

March 25, 2013 — 58 Comments

fumieSomething unbelievable just happened in America. Something offensive, abusive, and utterly intolerant.

At Florida Atlantic University, one of the professors taught a lesson so distasteful that, had it maligned any faith other than Christianity, it would have led to his dismissal. Instead, the student who challenged it was suspended from the course.

The class is entitled “Intercultural Communication,” and the instructor happens to be the county vice-chair of one America’s major political parties.

So, what was the malicious class exercise? The students were instructed to write the name “Jesus” in large letters on a piece of paper which they laid on the floor in front of them. Then, they were directed to stomp—yes, stomp—on the name of the person millions of people throughout the world regard as their Savior.

It’s difficult to comprehend anyone would design such an offensive “lesson,” let alone that they would actually attempt to implement it. And, since lessons are created to teach someone, one wonders precisely what Deandre Poole wanted his students to learn by encouraging their blasphemy . . .

C.S. Lewis would not be surprised by this event. He foresaw precisely where the wholesale rejection of God within academia would lead. There is a passage in his book That Hideous Strength that seems almost prescient. In this scene the protagonist, a sociology professor named Mark Studdock, is being initiated into an elite and secretive inner circle at the Institute where he has come to work. The organization has global plans and great influence. Studdock is a confirmed agnostic, yet he is disturbed by something his mentors describe as a “minor” portion of the initiation process.

Meanwhile, in the Objective Room [where candidates are taught to think properly], something like a crisis had developed between Mark and Professor Frost. As soon as they arrived there Mark saw that the table had been drawn back. On the floor lay a large crucifix, almost life size, a work of art in the Spanish tradition, ghastly and realistic.

“We have half an hour to pursue our exercises,” said Frost looking at his watch. Then he instructed Mark to trample on it and insult it in other ways.

Now whereas Jane had abandoned Christianity in early childhood, along with her belief in fairies and Santa Claus, Mark had never believed in it at all.

At this moment, therefore, it crossed his mind for the very first time that there might conceivably be something in it. Frost who was watching him carefully knew perfectly well that this might be the result of the present experiment. He knew it for the very good reason that [he had briefly experienced, and dismissed, the same thought during his own initiation].

“But, look here,” said Mark.

“What is it?” said Frost. “Pray be quick. We have only a limited time at our disposal.”

“This,” said Mark, pointing with an undefined reluctance to the horrible white figure on the cross. “This is all surely a pure superstition.”

“Well?”

“Well, if so, what is there objective about stamping on the face? Isn’t it just as subjective to spit on a thing like this as to worship it? I mean— damn it all— if it’s only a bit of wood, why do anything about it?”

“That is superficial. If you had been brought up in a non-Christian society, you would not be asked to do this. Of course, it is a superstition; but it is that particular superstition which has pressed upon our society for a great many centuries. It can be experimentally shown that it still forms a dominant system in the subconscious of many individuals whose conscious thought appears to be wholly liberated. An explicit action in the reverse direction is therefore a necessary step towards complete objectivity. It is not a question for a priori discussion. We find it in practice that it cannot be dispensed with.”

The parallels are evident. I can readily imagine Dr. Poole justifying his own exercise in similar language. However, that something like this could happen in a civilized land is sobering indeed.

This incident reminded me of powerful scene in the book and miniseries Shogun. [Appended below.]

Christianity had been embraced by a number of provinces early in Japan’s history, but the rising ruler had vowed to extinguish it. The Shogun required that samurai suspected of being “Kirishitan” prove they were not by stepping on holy images of Christ or Mary. The Christians (all Roman Catholic in the seventeenth century) would not abuse holy images and were arrested on the spot. Fumi-e were images created for the sole purpose of desecrating, and some examples (like the tile shown above) have survived to this day.

If the individual failed to recant their faith in Jesus, they would be tortured and ultimately martyred. As recently as 2008, the Roman Catholic Church beatified a new group of 188 Japanese Christians. They joined 45 saints and 395 previously beatified martyrs. They represent only a small segment of the estimated 35,000 believers who accepted death rather than denying their Lord.

The newly beatified include 183 lay people, four priests and one monk. The laity included thirty samurai warriors, as well as farmers, artisans, civil servants, teachers, painters, writers, former slaves, pregnant women and even children as young as three.

If Dr. Poole was historically-informed, he would recognize that the odious ritual he thrust upon his vulnerable students carried a significant deal of baggage. And that’s not to mention the direct affront it poses to those who believe Jesus’ claim that he “is the way, the truth, and the life.” Ultimately, all people of goodwill—believers and atheists alike—will find his behavior repugnant.

Excerpt from Shogun:

In James Clavell’s book, it is the English protagonist who ironically desires to weed the [Roman Catholic] Christians out of his samurai contingent. (Their loyalties rest in a cause other than his own.)

. . .

“Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”

“No, Sire, so sorry.” Uraga was looking up at him in front of the assembled samurai vassals, the Dutch crew gathering into a nervous knot near the quarterdeck railing. “Please excuse me, but it is most important you find out at once. You are their most enemy. Therefore you must know, for your protection. I only wish to protect you. Not take long, neh?”

“Are they all on deck?”

“Yes, Sire.”

Blackthorne went closer to the railing and called out in Japanese, “Is anyone Christian?” There was no answer. “I order any Christian come forward.” No one moved. So he turned back to Uraga. “Set ten deck guards, then dismiss them.”

“With your permission, Anjin-san.” From under his kimono Uraga brought out a small painted icon that he had brought from Yedo and threw it face upward on the deck. Then, deliberately, he stamped on it. Blackthorne and the crew were greatly disquieted by the desecration. Except Jan Roper. “Please. Make every vassal do same,” Uraga said.

“Why?”

“I know Christians.” Uraga’s eyes were half hidden by the brim of his hat. “Please, Sire. Important every man do same. Now, tonight.”

“All right,” Blackthorne agreed reluctantly.

Uraga turned to the assembled vassals. “At my suggestion our Master requires each of us to do this.”

The samurai were grumbling among themselves and one interrupted, “We’ve already said that we’re not Christians, neh? What does stamping on a barbarian god picture prove? Nothing!”

“Christians are our Master’s enemy. Christians are treacherous—but Christians are Christian. Please excuse me, I know Christians—to my shame I forsook our real gods. So sorry, but I believe this is necessary for our Master’s safety.”

At once a samurai in front declared, “In that case, there’s nothing more to be said.” He came forward and stamped on the picture. “I worship no barbarian religion! Come on, the rest of you, do what’s asked!”

They came forward one by one. Blackthorne watched, despising the ceremony.

Van Nekk said worriedly, “Doesn’t seem right.”

Vinck looked up at the quarterdeck. “Sodding bastards. They’ll all cut our throats with never a thought. You sure you can trust ’em, Pilot?”

“Yes.”

Ginsel said, “No Catholic’d ever do that, eh, Johann? That Uraga-sama’s clever.”

“What’s it matter if those buggers’re Papist or not, they’re all . . . samurai.”

“Yes,” Croocq said.

“Even so, it’s not right to do that,” van Nekk repeated.

The samurai continued to stamp the icon into the deck one by one, and moved into loose groups. It was a tedious affair and Blackthorne was sorry he had agreed to it, for there were more important things to do before dusk. His eyes went to the village and the headlands. Hundreds of the thatch lean-tos of the Musket Regiment camp spotted the foothills. So much to do, he thought, anxious to go ashore, wanting to see the land, glorying in the fief Toranaga had given him which contained Yokohama. Lord God on high, he told himself, I’m lord of one of the greatest harbors in the world.

Abruptly a man bypassed the icon, tore out his sword, and leaped at Blackthorne. A dozen startled samurai jumped courageously in his way, screening the quarterdeck as Blackthorne spun around, a pistol cocked and aimed. Others scattered, shoving, stumbling, milling in the uproar. The samurai skidded to a halt, howling with rage, then changed direction and hacked at Uraga, who somehow managed to avoid the thrust. The man whirled as other samurai lunged at him, fought them off ferociously for a moment, then rushed for the side and threw himself overboard.

Four who could swim dropped their killing swords, put their short stabbing knives in their mouths, and jumped after him, the rest and the Dutchmen crowding the side.

Blackthorne jumped for the gunwale. He could see nothing below; then he caught sight of swirling shadows in the water. A man came up for air and went down again. Soon four heads surfaced. Between them was the corpse, a knife in his throat.

“So sorry, Anjin-san, it was his own knife,” one called up over the roars of the others.

“Uraga-san, tell them to search him, then leave him to the fish.”

The search revealed nothing. When all were back on deck, Blackthorne pointed at the icon with his cocked pistol. “All samurai-once more!” He was obeyed instantly and he made sure that every man passed the test.

Then, because of Uraga, and to praise him, he ordered his crew to do the same.